Toronto is a big city (the 7th largest in North America to be exact) with lots to do and always something to see. But with a simple public transit system and literally no hills, it’s easy to pack a lot into one day. Whether you’re in the city for a short time or a long time, this 24-hour itinerary has the perfect combination of must-do sights and insider secrets.
Getting Downtown from Pearson International Airport
Getting to the heart of the city from the airport used to be a pretty big pain in the behind with the only options being to take a bus to Kipling station followed by a super long subway ride, or opting to pay the $56 for a cab. Of course cabbing, or requesting an Uber is still a good option for those short on time (or just super exhausted from that red-eye flight) but I would recommend hopping on the new UP Train. UP stands for ‘Union to Pearson’, and that’s exactly what it does. For $12 you can take a comfortable 25-minute train ride into the city centre. With cushy seats, space for luggage and free wi-fi, it’s easily the best option for travelers. Once you get to Union Station, take the subway or an Uber to your hotel and either a) take a power nap or b) splash your face with cold water and start your adventure in the #6ix.
Visit the CN Tower and Nathan Phillips Square
Yes, these are the two most touristy parts of the city, and yes you have to go and take selfie with the glowing Toronto sign. The CN Tower and Nathan Philips Square can become extremely congested in the afternoon, so try checking these landmarks off your list ASAP to avoid the crowds. And to get up the tower with no lines, I suggest booking a table at the 360 Restaurant. You get to take in the same great view while sipping on beer, what could be better, eh? And once you’ve got these must-do’s sorted, you’re ready to experience Toronto like a real Canadian.
Grab lunch in Chinatown and explore Kensington Market
Walking along the parts of Spadina Avenue and Dundas West that make up Toronto’s Chinatown is an experience in itself. The streets are busy with produce vendors, souvenir shops, and plenty of locals. As one of the few Toronto neighbourhoods that hasn’t yet been gentrified, Chinatown offers a certain authenticity that is often hard to find in a city so modernized. And not to mention, it has some of the best lunch options for miles. The choices may seem daunting, but you really can’t go wrong walking into any of the restaurants along Spadina. Some local favourites include Pho Hung, a Vietnamese restaurant known as Spadina’s “noodle extraordinaire”, and Mother’s Dumplings, winner of the best dumplings in the city (they also have the best soya sauce). Or if you’re need of more meat-free options, walk a little further west on Dundas St. to get to Green’s, an all-vegan Chinese restaurant serving up ridiculous sized portions and bottomless jasmine tea.
Once your belly is sufficiently stuffed, walk along Dundas West and turn right onto Kensington Avenue. Brace yourself, because what you’re about to see will totally make you re-think Toronto. If Toronto was a person, Kensington Market would be the heart and soul. When the weather is nice, the market is buzzing with a comfortable mix of curious tourists, young hipsters, and Kensington veterans who can often be found hanging out at Casa Coffee. Kensington is a magical place, that is both whimsical, cozy, and effortlessly cool all at once. Have some fun exploring the row of vintage shops along Kensington Avenue, grab a churro from the Latin mini mall and then spend some time people watching. Because in Kensington, it’s all about the people.
Relax in Trinity Bellwoods Park
By now you’re probably looking to take a breather, rest your legs and enjoy the sunshine. Midafternoon is the perfect time to experience Trinity Bellwoods Park. Nestled between the ultra-hip Queen West, Dundas West and Ossington Avenue, Trinity Bellwoods is one of the best green spaces in the city to get a slice of everyday life in Toronto. On any given day, you’re sure to see people playing frisbee (and they really do play all year round); a baseball game at “The SkyDome”, which is an homage to the original name of the Rogers Centre; and dogs, lots and lots of dogs. The park is also one of the few places in the city where it’s no big deal to be drinking in public. While still illegal, it’s a common practice among the hipsters who call Trinity Bellwoods their personal playground.
Drink up at one of Toronto’s Microbreweries
Now that you’ve had time to rest, it’s time to drink. And like any proper Canadian city, Toronto takes pride in its local beer. One of the best ways to experience Toronto is by hanging out on a patio, sipping on a craft lager or IPA. Bellwoods Brewery, conveniently located near Trinity Bellwoods Park, has become a local hotspot thanks to the tasty beer and even better ambiance. But if you want to venture to a neighbourhood less hip and more gritty, check out Burdock on Bloor St. West. This restaurant and bottle shop duo is great place to have some beers, grab dinner, and even enjoy live music in the adjoining performance space.
And no visit to Toronto would be complete without a stop in the Distillery district. With it’s cobblestone pathways and 19th century architecture, the Distillery is by far one of Toronto’s most charming neighbourhoods. Being the former home of a whiskey distillery, you don’t have to travel far to get yourself a good drink. Check out the patio at Amsterdam Brew House for a cold one with the boys.
Let Toronto Entertain You
A day in Toronto wouldn’t be complete without a night of entertainment. Sports fans will have no trouble finding a game to watch, either at the Rogers Centre, the ACC, or even at a dive bar. If it’s game day in Toronto just follow the sea of blue and white Jerseys, they’ll lead you to the party. But if you’re in the mood to dance, King St. West is the place you need to be. The legendary strip is home to a never ending strew of bars and nightclubs. Try Citizen, Lavelle, or Odd Thomas for a long night of fun. And if live music is your thing, check out Sneaky Dee’s, The Horseshoe Tavern, or the Danforth Music Hall to see what future superstar is playing that night.