Global Marketing Manager and Chief Mischief Maker @ Urban Adventures. Traveller, cheese fiend, wine-o, map nerd, runner, Oxford comma lover, and, apparently, mountain climber.
We asked Lindsay, our Digital Marketing Manager and Toronto native, what her favourite things to do in Toronto are. She could’ve gone on, but we limited her to five…
Toronto is a fun, exciting, vibrant, and diverse city, but it’s easy for visitors to get sucked into the really touristy parts of town. Problem is, there’s so much more to Toronto than the CN Tower. So, we’re here to help you with our guide to the real, local, top 5 things to do in Toronto.
5. Find a Festival or Event
We’re kind of obsessed with festivals here, especially in the summertime. It’s not uncommon for a summer weekend to be full to the brim with about ten different events! Whether you love jazz, street food, beer, theatre, spicy food, wine, dogs, or drinking with dinos (seriously), there’s always something on in Toronto.
Skip the big headliners like Taste of the Danforth and the Beaches Jazz Festival (they’ve just gotten so big that the crowds make it not worth it anymore), and find smaller events that are either super niche or have ticketed admission.
My favourites include Woofstock (yep – all dogs, all awesome), Friday Night Live at the ROM (drinking with dinos aka the dream you never thought you had), The Stop Night Market, AGO First Thursdays, Cask Days, Shakespeare in High Park, Hot Docs Documentary Film Festival, City Chase, and Jane’s Walk (which Jason from Toronto Urban Adventures participates in every year).
4. Explore the Neighbourhoods
Toronto is a city of neighbourhoods, including many ethnic ones, so it’s best to head out of the downtown core and explore them. You’ll find most of the neighbourhoods are very accessible by transit, and far less touristy than the main drag. For one of the best Little Italy neighbourhoods in North America, head to College St, west of Bathurst. Have a hankering for Greek? Head to the Danforth, east of Broadview. Little Portugal is around Dundas St West, west of Bathurst. Little India? Gerrard St. East between Greenwood and Coxwell.
Some non-ethnic neighbourhoods are also fun to explore, including the super popular Leslieville, on Queen St East just east of Broadview. Further afield is The Beach (or The Beaches, depending who you ask), on Queen St. East just east of Woodbine. Both are great communities filled with restaurants, unique shops, and fun festivals. Back west on Queen St West is Trinity-Bellwoods, which features the same-named Trinity Bellwoods Park at its centre. Farther west, Roncesvalles Ave hits Queen St West, and north on Roncesvalles will put you smack in the middle of Roncy. There’s also Kensington Market (central), the Junction (northwest), and Parkdale (west) to keep you thoroughly entertained. Regardless of where you head out in the city, there are incredible and vibrant pockets, you just have to be open and ready to explore!
3. Graffiti Alley
Graffiti Alley (Rush Lane) is one of the coolest parts of Toronto. Duck down south off Queen St West around Brant and Portland (west of Spadina) and you’ll find mid-block alleys filled with bright colours and magnificent graffiti works of art. It’s also where Rick Mercer films his famous rants!
The alleys are seemingly endless, and the talent is obvious. There’s also some great graffiti peppered throughout Kensington Market, and it’s featured on our Kensington Market and Chinatown tour.
In Toronto, brunch is a bit of an institution. While weekdays are filled with trips to coffee shops to grab something quick to go, Torontonians live for their weekend brunches. As such, brunch in Toronto is more than just eggs, toast, sausages, and bacon – it’s an art. There are several great places to grab sit down brunch in Toronto, and most of them are outside of the downtown core. We recommend: School, Aunties & Uncles, Cheesewerks, Swan, Morning Glory, Lady Marmalade, Saving Grace, Wish, and dim sum in Chinatown (to name just a few!).
1. St Lawrence Market + Toronto Island
Recently voted the best urban market in North America, St. Lawrence Market is a favourite amongst locals and visitors. The produce is fresh (and local in the summertime) and the vendors are varied and wonderful. The market is full of food (and samples!), and one of our favourite stops is Kozlik’s mustard.
Something we love to recommend is to grab picnic-style food, like baguettes, cheese, deli meats, mustard, fruit, etc, and head for the Toronto Island (weather permitting, of course!). The ferry costs about $6 return, and the island is a beautiful, accessible respite from the city. It’s the perfect place to have a picnic, enjoy the summer sun, and take in a stunning view of the city.