In my backyard – 5 things to do in Toronto

toronto skyline
Toronto, Ontario

I was recently approached by WorldNomads.com to participate in their Blog your Backyard project. All I had to do was answer a simple question from a local’s perspective – what to do in Toronto?

But I don’t often recommend people visit and usually suggest Vancouver or Montreal. The reason is Toronto is an amazing place to live but it’s a bit difficult to get to know as a tourist and I’m constantly frustrated that every single What to do in Toronto post I have read is lame: CN Tower, St. Lawrence Market, Royal Ontario Museum.

 

Yawn.

 

I don’t want you to be bored with my city, instead let me tell you the 5 things I think you should do in Toronto over weekend:

 

Take the ferry to Toronto Island

Torontonians who aren’t lucky enough to have a cottage flock to Toronto island on weekends for a brief escape. If you don’t want to take a picnic basket there’s plenty to eat and drink on the island and if you are feeling adventurous there is even a nude beach!

kensington market

Head to Kensington Market 

Sure St.Lawrence Market is a pretty place to go and I have shopped there but honestly it’s a bit of an old school yuppie market. If you want a more interesting, ethnic market head to Kensington Market.

In the early 1900s it was known as the Jewish Market but in the last century it has turned into a multi-cultural food area intermixed with vintage clothing whatever will appease the hippies and hipsters who somehow peacefully co-habitat, eat cheap empanadas and overpriced grilled cheese sandwiches.

susur lee restaurant

Eat at Lee.

Susur Lee is my absolute favourite chef. I have never left another restaurant saying wow I don’t even know where to begin on how to make that… Susur is a genius and his food is untouchable. On Top Chef Masters his fellow chefs were constantly in awe of his skill and were shocked that he didn’t win. Go there and get his signature dish, Singapore Slaw.

dakota tavern

Have drinks at the Dakota Tavern

The biggest miss for tourists is that they think they should go for drinks downtown and end up at some generic chain bar.

Instead go to Queen West or Ossington, sure the neighborhood gets a bit of hipster-hater backlash but it’s where the locals go and the bars are interesting. The Dakota Tavern is a favourite amongst locals so go early.

graffiti toronto

Take your camera to graffiti alley

One of my biggest tips is a kilometer of walkway that is central but most people never see. Almost every inch of the alleyway behind Queen Street West  is completely covered in graffiti art.

Each summer for the past few years the alley is repainted over a 24 hour period – not as a means to clean up the alley but to reinvent it with new art.

On Google Maps just look for Rush Lane.

So there you go, my five quick tips on what to do in Toronto. If you have any questions or disagree with me be sure to let me know in the comments.

 

Comments

  1. says

    Dakota Tavern looks awesome. I love intimate venues and live music. Your top 5 things all seem so fun and “put of the box”. I have never been to Canada but this intrigues me. I may have to make sure I stop by and check out Toronto.

    • Ayngelina says

      Given your love of music I would definitely suggest coming during NXNE, there is tons of great live music at that time.

    • Ayngelina says

      It is really a nice break from the city, we do need a bit more green space there, especially in the core.

    • Ayngelina says

      It is a nice primer to the city, although even after ten years living there I didn’t make it up to the CN Tower once!

  2. says

    I absolutely, positively adore Kensington Market. My only regret is not having eaten at Susur Lee’s restaurant when I was in TO :(

  3. says

    Ah, Toronto! I have a love/hate relationship with you… I grew up in Brampton but found Vancouver when I was 19 and haven’t had a thought of returning to you ever since

      • Ayngelina says

        I don’t know a lot about the program so I asked for you.

        Apparently it is not possible to enter without posting on WorldNomads. However, they are okay with you creating a jourrnal and post on their site and then also posting on your own site – so long as you link the ‘Blog your Backyard’ boilerplate at the bottom, as you have done.

        I think all the information for rules, copyright etc are on the World Nomads site.

      • says

        Snob away! I make fun of Brampton ALL the time and I’m from Mississauga. That is the problem, who would want to go back to Brampton or Sauga while we’re at it.

        The thing with Toronto is that there aren’t many ‘sights’. We have a few as you mentioned (CN Tower etc) but it is cannot compare to a city like London, UK where I currently live. However, I think the strengths of the city lie in the different neighbourhoods and the multiculturalism of them.

        My list would include these places:

        Drake (as already mentioned)

        Island Foods for amazing Jamaican food

        Salad King for amazing Thai food

        Little Korean for cheap and awesome karaoke

        Yonge-Dundas Sq – canadian version of Times Sq/Picadilly Circus – often times something cool/fun/interesting is going on here. Other times there is free music

        Also PRIDE, Caribana, Jazz festival to name a few yearly celebrations that are always popular. Hm I may just do a post about this now.

  4. says

    Great tips! I have never been to Toronto but I always struggle in a new city with finding the line between simply being a tourist and finding what defines the city.

    I like the blog your backyard project! I’m learning so much about people’s home cities!

  5. says

    I feel the same way about Santiago – it’s harder to get to know for tourists than somewhere like Buenos Aires or Rio. But at the same time, that’s made me love living here because I feel like every cool thing or place I know about has been earned. I’ll keep your tips in mind if I’m ever up in Toronto, it sounds like a great way to spend a few days!

    • Ayngelina says

      I think Auckland, NZ is also a bit like that too. Fortunately I visited friends there and really loved the city.

  6. says

    You make your city come across as highly likeable! I was especially interested in graffiti alley as I’m posting some street art myself today :)

  7. says

    Yay- travel your own city blog posts… I love these. Bob and I are hoping to get to Toronto soon- with a combined trip to NYC. Will have to check this bookmarked!

    • Ayngelina says

      I had always planned to do one of these posts after I read your site, when you go let me know as this is just the tip of the iceberg. But Kensington Market does have great tacos…

  8. says

    I’ve never really seen Toronto, except get an impression of a nice, celan city. I was there years ago with my then 7-year-old and spent the entire time at Centre Island… or is it Centreville Island… anyway, it was a nice, low-key amusement park. I should come back for a closer look. Kensington Market looks fun.

    • Ayngelina says

      Definitely look up Natalie T’s site, the girl really covers Toronto well including food picks that I wholeheartedly agree with – and I know good food is important to you too.

    • Ayngelina says

      I actually recommend your site to everyone who says they want to go to Toronto because you really do need a locals perspective, all outside guides get it so wrong.

  9. says

    I lived in Toronto for years and thank my lucky stars that I don’t anymore. (The love-hate thing Cam mentions.)
    Having said that, I do think you capture some great things to do. The Jamaican Toto’s (gingery type of cookie) are worth looking for at the Kensington Market.
    Also suggest a bike ride down to the Beaches area – on paths that parallel the Don Valley Parkway. Also love ravine walking, anywhere in the city where there are ravines.
    And poking through the LCBO stores – who are one of the biggest wine buyers in the world; many of the stores have an impressive selection of wines from all over the world – at good prices – at least for Canada.

  10. says

    Last summer we while visiting for a week, we hit the Drake and Kensington Market regularly, but we managed to miss everything else you mentioned. Now we’ve got more fodder for next time.

    • Ayngelina says

      The Drake is a great place to go, I spent far too much time up at the sky bar.

      Natalie T has also commented on this post and she has a great blog about Toronto. She knows the city well and even surprised me with a few tips. Her site is a must-visit for anyone heading there.

  11. says

    Damn, I wish I had known about the Graffiti Alley…

    I tried to find Kensington Market, but I never quite made it there. I can say that AGO was pretty awesome as well as the Bata Shoe Museum.

    • Ayngelina says

      Grafitti Alley is my best tip for Toronto because it is so central but most people would never think to step one block away from Queen St.

    • Ayngelina says

      It’s exactly why I wanted to write this post, people who love the city see an entirely different side of it and it never involves the CN Tower.

  12. says

    I think being a tourist in your own backyard can almost be more fun than being a tourist somewhere else because of the emotional attachment you feel!

    You’re making me want to go to Toronto now!

  13. says

    I used to live in Kensington and besides those silly little rodents that would live in our walls, it was spectacular!

    If anyone ever asks me what to do in Toronto, I just tell them the name “Honest Ed’s.” And just say, “go.”

    • Ayngelina says

      That is a great recommendation. Definitely one of the more unique places to go.

      I once lived in a house at Yonge and Eg and also had rodents in the walls, I tried to think of them as extra insulation in the winter.

  14. says

    I’m thinking about riding the train from Toronto to Niagara Falls this week… Have you heard anything about that and/or do you recommend it? It’s an hour out of my way so any feedback would be appreciated! Thanks!

    P.S.- Great suggestion on graffiti alley… I always suggest checking out the graffiti alley in Dallas, TX in the Deep Ellum area. I’d love to visit the one in Toronto.

    • Ayngelina says

      Niagara is not my favourite place to go but it’s one of those touristy things you just have to see. But I should warn you it’s pretty tacky. You don’t need much time there. If you have more time I would go see the vineyards in Niagara, they are nice and there are quite a few companies that do day tours.

  15. says

    Uggggh! I wish you had written this 7 months ago when we spent several days in Toronto. This kind of stuff is so our thing. We did several of the more traditional things. Ya know, a couple of things you have read about in th snoring posts about Toronto…next time we will definitely check these spots out.

    I love the idea of the blog your backyard project. So often our walkabouts are to unknown spots right close by. People so often overlook the cool places in their backyard…

    • Ayngelina says

      Don’t be hard on yourself, you would never find these places without a local and unfortunately most hotels just point people toward the typical things. But I agree i love backyard projects, which is often why I go to blogs first for information.

  16. says

    I lived in Hamilton until I was 26 and I’ve only done one on your list (Toronto Island). Will be visiting TO in Sept so I’ll be sure to check off at least one other item from this list!

    This may be the typical tourist thing to do, but I really like going to Toronto’s Chinatown, mainly for the all food.

    • Ayngelina says

      No I really do like Chinatown, on Saturdays I would do my grocery shopping in Chinatown and Kensington, the best of both worlds.

  17. says

    These are really great tips to suggest tourist to do. I always hear about people’s family live there and not many people telling me about attraction or things to do. This is a helpful post.

    • Ayngelina says

      Sometimes when you live in a city it feels like there is nothing to do. Actually maybe that is not true, I have found there is always lots to do in Toronto.

    • Ayngelina says

      Well it IS right around the corner so people can get there. Plus it’s much smaller and doesn’t have the music the Dakota has.

      But let’s face it we could write a whole blog on nightlife in Toronto, or even down to the Queen West/Ossington area!

  18. says

    Wow, what a great idea. Much better to hear recommended places from a local.

    Then again, I don’t think I could do something like this. My hometown’s an industrial working-class town: Not much for visitors to do/see. :P

  19. says

    what GREAT tips! i remember abt 15 yrs ago, in toronto, we were on a tiny street where there was an amazing cheese shop, and i had my hands hennaed at a very small indian shop. Food and culture – bravo! i love toronto.

  20. says

    I’m going to Toronto for a week at the start of September to visit an old friend so this is helpful. He said he’s going to take me to Sandbanks Provincial Park and Canada’s Wonderland. I think we’ll try to do Toronto Island too and that Graffiti Alley near Queen Street West looks good. Thanks for the recommendations.
    Kyle recently posted..Creative City and Innovation Guide: Vancouver, Canada

  21. says

    Toronto is one of my favorite places to visit. As it happens, I’m there once a year only for a few days at a time, and each time I discover a new piece.

    Kensington Market, murals – love those ideas! I once went to a comedy club a few subway stops north of downtown – and was the only non-local there. :)

    (I have to say I love St. Lawrence Market – perhaps because I have a thing for fresh markets and wish my Chicago had one just like that. Tourists could do much worse than that!)

    • Ayngelina says

      St.Lawrence is definitely a nice market and locals do go. Kensington just has a bit more ethnic diversity which I think reflects the uniqueness of Toronto.

      I wonder if you were at Yuk Yuks at Yonge and Eglinton, that’s my old hood.

  22. says

    This is great!

    I love Kensington & went to Lee a few years ago and was totally wow’ed (the braised melt in your mouth beef was a favorite). I’ve never been to the Dakota Tavern but totally second heading West for better bars. The bars in the entertainment district are all so cheesy and/or gross.
    Simone recently posted..How Simone Got Her Groove Back

  23. says

    When I’m in Toronto I like to spend some time at The Rex for live jazz. If you want an interesting drinking experience, check out Pravda: a Communist Russian themed vodka bar. A favourite cocktail bar of mine is Barchef. It’s probably a bit pretentious but I kind of like that now and then.

    Next time I’m in town I really want to try the CN Tower Edgewalk. No longer do I have to go all the way to Macau to walk outside a really tall building.

    You could also zip around the Distillery District on a Segway. Some people think they’re lame but I have fun on Segways.

    When I need a little greenspace and quiet time I head to Trinity Bellwoods Park, getting a coffee at White Squirrel on the way.

    I like the ROM when they have special exhibits like when I saw the Terra Cotta Soldiers, but in general it’s a typical museum.

    My main interest in the T-Dot though is shopping, I must admit.
    Melissa @ Suitcase and Heels recently posted..Reflections on Cloud Gate

  24. says

    Sounds nice. Toronto is stunning places to see on the earth. There are countless attractive locations for its visitors and tourism activities.. Liked your precious post which you have shared here about attractions of Toronto.

  25. Xylene says

    What a cool tips! Now I know what to do and where to go when I plan to go to Toronto. I will also recommend this to my friends and relatives who love to travel. Thanks for this info.

  26. Diane Greene says

    Love your post – well done. I live here during the summer and operate a B & B (on a boat) and I am constantly looking for new things to do. So funny that I just posted a “Top 10 List of things to do in Toronto” on my blog today. Have a read and let me know if you think ..YAWN.

    Cheers

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