Last updated on April 9th, 2018 at 11:01 am
When was the last time you read about visiting Toronto? Did you totally dismiss the article, bored with the prospect of traveling to Canada’s largest city? Toronto is one of the most multicultural and diverse cities in the world, but most travel articles recommend seeing the same old attractions. This makes it hard to get to know the city’s hidden gems. Toronto is definitely worth visiting, but if you want to experience something special, skip the tourist traps and check out some local favorites instead.
Experience Cottage Country in the City
You can escape the city to cottage country quickly and easily. The Toronto Islands are just a 10-minute ferry ride across the harbor, launching at the base of Bay Street. Torontonians flock to the islands to relax on the beach (there’s even a nude one) or to stroll and enjoy the laid-back vibe of island life.
When you visit the artistic communities here, expect pangs of jealousy. Residents of Algonquin Island and Ward’s Island enjoy a peaceful, kid-friendly community with little pollution and absolutely stunning city skyline views. Picture clutches of cottages amidst towering maples. The island is actually 15 little islands all connected by bridges and pathways. The whole thing is only 5 kilometers long, from Ward’s Island to Hanlan’s Point, and you can easily explore all of the islands by bike or on foot. No cars are allowed here.
During the Summer
- Summer fun includes music festivals and you’re guaranteed to find one on Electic Island every long weekend during the summer.
- Check out Centerville Amusement park, a great place to visit with kids and\or be a kid yourself again!
- Have fun and get fit with Toronto Island SUP. Take a stand up paddleboard lesson or even do yoga on a board! A great workout with the best view of the city’s skyline from the water.
- There are lots of fun ways, aside from walking, to get around the islands in the summer. Bike, canoe, peddle boat, or kayak and enjoy a unique outdoor adventure and see the best of the islands and the city too. You can rent canoes, peddle boats, and kayaks at the Boat House. If biking’s more your speed, you can rent a bike at Toronto Island Bicycle Rental. Both rental businesses are located close to one another at Center Island Dock.
- There is no better place to enjoy a picnic or cookout in Toronto than the Toronto Islands. There are many lovely grassy spots on the islands but best picnic sites are on Center Island, Olympic Island, and at Hanlan’s Point. Some sites are equipped with barbeques which are free to use. Just remember to bring your own charcoal.
- Enjoy a variety of outdoor sports including beach volleyball, tennis or frisbee golf. There is a frisbee golf course between Ward’s and Center Islands. It free to play but you need to bring your own frisbee.
Like the Summer, there are many fun Winter activities to enjoy on the islands too. One of the biggest benefits of visiting during the Winter months is there are a lot fewer crowds. A uniquely peaceful outdoor experience in bustling Toronto not to be missed if visiting in the Winter.
- You can cross-country ski and snowshoe on the islands! The wide open, flat spaces make the perfect terrain. For skiing, begin right off the ferry dock and head West all the way to Center Island! If you’re snowshoeing, you’ll get to see even more of the islands if you venture off trail. Most visitors don’t travel with skis or snowshoes, that’s no problem. You can rent some at the Mountain Equipment Co-Op in the city and bring them over on the ferry.
- The ice skating is exceptional on the islands various waterways and lagoons. Remember to be careful when skating on any of the frozen waterways. Only go out on the ice if it’s clearly marked safe to do so.
You can take the ferry or a private water taxi to get to the Toronto Islands. Most people use the city’s ferry service to visit. The Jack Layton Ferry Terminal is located on Queen’s Quay right between Yonge Street and Bay Street. Check this map to help you find your way.
Know, the parking near the ferry terminal is often crowded, and extremely expensive ($20-$30 a day).
Taking public transit is easy, and a more budget-friendly. Grab the subway or the GO train to Union Station. From there, it’s a 10-minute walk to the ferry docks or you can grab a Streetcar and ride one stop to get to there.
The docks are also served by the Bay Street Bus. Get off at the Queen’s Quay stop to access the docks.
Soak Up the Eclectic Culture at Kensington Market
The Kensington Market is multicultural Toronto at its most authentic. Here you’ll find an eclectic mix of shops stocked with goods from South America, the Caribbean, the Middle East, Europe, and Asia. The world converges at Kensington Market. It’s laid out in an organized fashion over a few different streets; in the center of Augusta, Baldwin, and Kensington. It also extends all along College Street.
The Baldwin stretch is food-focused, with some of the highest quality butchers, bakers, and fishmongers in all of Toronto. Kensington is about fashion with a great collection of vintage stores and College is loaded with Latin American shops and restaurants. As you might expect, eating here is absolute bliss, and shopping is as a blast.
Along with all of the fresh, unique produce, there is a huge variety of great restaurants and drink establishments to choose from in and around Kensington Market!
Some notable ones are:
- Kensington Brewery Company, a local craft beer right in the heart of Kensington. Brewing began in the back of a burger restaurant in the neighborhood. It was so good it grew into to a full-fledged brewery! If you like beer but like a delicious snack to go along with it, Otto’s Berlin Döner‘s got you covered. Their tagline is “German Comfort Food Done Right” and their delicious döner’s and currywurst are proof of that! They also offer a good selection of German beers, ciders, and wines to compliment their tasty food.
- Craving something sweet? Check out Wanda’s Pie in the Sky (incredible pies, and a lot of them), Cosmic Treat’s (amazing vegan dessert’s), Olenka’s (divine chocolate treats), or Wafels and More (authentic Belgian waffles with all the fixings).
- Other awesome authentic eateries include Nu Bugel (excellent bagels), Seven Lives (renowned tacos), and Burgernator (seriously good burgers).
Walking or Driving
If you’re already downtown, walking is the best way to access Kensington! You’ll see so much more traveling on foot. Only two Green P city parking lots serve the area so parking is extremely limited, and especially so on the weekends.
Walking or taking public transit is recommended to save you the time and frustration of parking.
Four Streetcar lines provide access to Kensington.
- From the Bloor Subway, grab the Bathurst or Spadina Streetcar heading South. Hop off at or along College Street.
- If coming the other way from the Yonge/ University Subway take the Dundas or College Streetcar heading West. Hop off at Spadina or the stop directly after.
- From Union Station grab the Queen’s Quay/Spadina Streetcar. Get off at Dundas or a couple of stops after if you like.
Hours and Things to be Aware of
The market is open seven days a week excluding some holidays like Christmas and New Years Day. Best time to visit is anywhere from 11 am to 7 pm. But know, grocers and fresh food stores open earlier and bars and restaurants stay open much later as well.
- In the Summer the streets are car-free on the last Sunday of each month. Shoppers come in droves and buskers flock to perform.
- Monday’s many smaller stores close so visiting any other day is recommended.
- Not all businesses accept credit cards or debit. Make sure to bring some cash along with you as well.
Snap Great Pics in Graffiti Alley
It would be hard to list all the mind-blowing urban art that adorns Toronto, so I’ll highlight just one really cool example. One kilometer of the alley behind Queen Street is completely plastered with graffiti art created by local and world-renowned artists. The colorful installation, redone each summer to cover every inch of space, keeps the art fresh for local fans.
Graffiti Alley is located in Toronto’s fashion district. The one-kilometer stretch of epic art runs behind Queen Street West to the South, from Spadina Avenue to Portland Street. This map can help you find your way from the surrounding area and Union Station.
Listen to the Best Live Music in Toronto at the Dakota Tavern
If you’re looking to have a more authentic experience when you go for an evening of food and drink, forget downtown and head to Queen West or Ossington. Two of Toronto’s coolest neighborhoods are home to interesting bars, great restaurants, and eclectic shops. Visit the Dakota Tavern on Ossington Avenue, a local favorite, and home to the best live music in Toronto. Make sure you go early to grab a good seat.
Hotels in Toronto
There are many good budget hotels in Toronto, so it’s easy to stay for cheap.
Chelsea Hotel Toronto
The Chelsea Hotel Toronto is conveniently located close to the College Subway Station and Eaton Center. A top pick for budget travelers to Toronto, this hotel offers amenities like great onsite eateries, a fitness center, and two indoor pools. Other nearby attractions include The Art Gallery of Ontario and Toronto’s entertainment district.
If you want to splurge and take advantage of some awesome Canadian service, though, stay at Hotel Le Germain Maple Leaf Square. This top-rated hotel is close to the CN Tower, Air Canada Centre, Ripley’s Aquarium, and the Hockey Hall of Fame, so be sure to save time for some of Toronto’s most popular attractions, too.