A multicultural melting pot, Toronto is a city of serious cool where all four corners of the globe converge in everything from art and design to food and shopping. Here’s what to do, see, and eat next time you’re in the cultural heart of the Great White North.
Perched on a hill overlooking downtown Toronto, this is Canada’s answer to Germany’s many gothic castles. The brainchild of Canadian financier Henry Pellatt, Casa Loma was built in the early 1900s and retains the magnificent craftsmanship, gorgeous art and furniture of its heyday. Explore the sumptuous suites, secret passages, grand reception rooms, and the cozy conservatory. When you’re ready, head underground and go through the 800-foot tunnel that connects to the stables and carriage rooms.
Toronto is home to a plethora of diverse neighborhoods, and it’s worth dedicating some time to exploring a number of then. The Harborfront came into its own in the 90s and now houses theatres, music venues, festivals, museums and F&B options, while Chinatown offers — of course — great Chinese food and “wet market” experiences where you can buy Asian fruits and veggies. The intersection of Younge and Dundas Streets is the local equivalent of New York City’s Times Square, while the historic Distillery District is a cobblestone entertainment destination of boutiques, art galleries, outdoor markets, and yes, great food and drinks.
It’s no secret that Toronto gets frigidly cold and tons of snow in the winter. Luckily, they have the PATH. This underground city spans over 30kms through downtown Toronto, connecting hotels, department stores, subway stations and office buildings. You could easily spend a day cruising the PATH’s restaurants, shops and cafés without once emerging to street level.
Toronto has a long and storied history of brewing, so explore the best on a tour with The Beer Lover’s Tour Company. You’ll visit enduring local favorites like Steam Whistle Brewery, relive the glory of lost breweries at Corktown which was the beer center of pre-Prohibition Toronto. You’ll also venture to the Distillery District to sip a few brews at the Mill Street Brewery.
Yes, Toronto is a city. But did you know it also has a collection of 15 islands dotted through Lake Ontario? Catch a ferry from the Jack Layton Ferry Terminal at the bottom of Bay Street, and within 15 minutes, you’ll be living the island life. There’s plenty to do here, from paddle-barding and kayaking to cycling and picnicking, and there’s even a small amusement park. If beaches are your thing, there are a few of those, too — including a nude beach on Hanlan’s Point, if you’re feeling brave. The islands are connected by paths and bridges, so you’ll be able to wander at will.
One of Canada’s largest museums, this repository houses over 13 million objects and artworks over 40 galleries. You’ll find everything here, from textiles and costumes to dinosaurs, statues, furnitures and everything in between. The museum also regularly hosts compelling exhibitions — most recently, ones about the royal arts of Jodphur, India; the traditions of Chinese New Year; and an armoured dinosaur.
100 Queen’s Park, Toronto, +1-416-586-8000, rom.on.ca
Rising from the ashes of a fire in 2006, this dining destination in historic Yorkville is a popular choice for the city’s movers and shakers. The open-plan dining room features a vaulted glass ceiling and waterfall, while the seasonal menus specializes in market-fresh Canadian cuisine inspired by French traditions. The extensive wine list also boasts more than 300 labels from all over the world.
100 Cumberland Street, +1-416-964-2222, sassafraz.ca
A bright pop of personality in Toronto’s financial district, Drake One Fifty celebrates modern Canadian cuisine. Expect well-executed comfort food like steak & fries, lobster & gifts, and butter-poached Nova Scotia lobster with cheesy grits. Don’t miss the award-winning cocktails being shipped up behind the marble bar, and be sure to take the time to take in the geometric floor tiles imported from Morocco and art installations by local artists.
150 York Street, +1-416-363-6150, thedrake.ca/drakeonefifty
Another celebration of Canada’s culinary traditions, Canoe’s menu focuses on fresh ingredients from all across the country — think foie gras from Quebec, Pacific Ocean fish, and Ontario dairy. The elegant restaurant offers stunning views of Lake Ontario from its perch on the 54th floor, and if you’re celebrating with a good, you may want to check out the two private dining rooms.
54/F, TD Bank Tower, 66 Wellington Street West, +1-416-364-0054, canoerestaurant.com
This Spanish tapas bar brings a touch of Barcelona cool to the heart of Toronto. The perfect spot for a casual, convivial meal, you’ll be able to enjoy craft cocktails and spirits with a fine selection of jamón, pintxos and — of course — tapas. The menu is always changing, so there’s always something new to try. Check for daily specials and the trays of baked goods.
505 College Street, +1 647-344-8001, thisisbarraval.com
Helmed by Carl Heinrich, the season two winner of Top Chef Canada, this subway-themed eatery offers serious food and tongue-in-cheek interiors. White-tiled walls are adorned with photos from the city’s archives and antiques, while the kitchen dishes up technique-driven dishes that allow ingredients like Cajun fish and braised beef to shine. Keep an eye out for the daily chalkboard specials.
1 Richmond Street West, +1-647-748-1444, richmondstation.ca
Tucked away in Toronto’s Chinatown, this is a intimate, time-tested favorite for French food. With dishes like steak frites, patés and xxx, you could close your eyes and fool youself into believing you’re at a corner bistro in Paris. Don’t miss the Grand Marnier soufflé — or the cocktail specials at happy hour.
744 Gerrard Street East, +1-416-462-9965, batifole.ca
Your boots better be made for walking, because you’ll want to do a lot of it while getting around Toronto. Central Toronto can be navigated by subway, though if you’re going a little further afield, you may want to grab a taxi — or an Uber.
An architectural marvel anchoring the city’s posh Yorkville neighborhood, the sleek and sophisticated Four Seasons Toronto is one of the best properties in town. You’ll have easy access to the best of Toronto from here – if you choose to leave the hotel, that is. Earth-toned rooms feature wood, granite, deep-soak tubs and all the mod cons, while chef Daniel Boulud’s meat-focused Café Boulud Toronto dishes up elegant fine-dining that draws the city’s movers and shakers, and a lush 17-room spa offers pampering treatments. Did we mention that the Four Seasons brand originated in Toronto (if not exactly from this hotel)?
60 Yorkville Avenue, +1-416-964-0411, fourseasons.com/toronto
Check out our Outside HK section for more travel guides.