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.

 

97 Comments

  1. Meg | One Love Meg on the August 1, 2011 remarked #

    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 on the August 5, 2011 remarked #

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

  2. Manyu on the August 1, 2011 remarked #

    Nice list. Kensington Market was my favorite place when I visited Toronto last summer.

    • Ayngelina on the August 5, 2011 remarked #

      Did you have a chance to go during Pedestrian Sundays, it really is such a great time

  3. Raymond @ Man On The Lam on the August 1, 2011 remarked #

    I have been to Toronto a gazillion times and have only done one of these…oh Lord… :)

    • Ayngelina on the August 5, 2011 remarked #

      Really, which one

  4. Debbie Beardsley on the August 1, 2011 remarked #

    Wow all of these sound like great things to enjoy. I especially am intrigued by the tavern and the innovative chef.

    • Ayngelina on the August 5, 2011 remarked #

      I am sure Susur ranks very high internationally, he makes such complicated but wonderful dishes.

  5. Bluegreen Kirk on the August 1, 2011 remarked #

    Graffiti alley looks like a winner in my book and of course you can never go wrong with eating unless the food is bad! I think my wife would love Toronto island.

    • Ayngelina on the August 5, 2011 remarked #

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

  6. Cathy Sweeney on the August 1, 2011 remarked #

    Cool tips! I’ve only done the typical “What to do in Toronto” things, but I did enjoy them.

    • Ayngelina on the August 5, 2011 remarked #

      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!

  7. Ana on the August 1, 2011 remarked #

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

    • Ayngelina on the August 5, 2011 remarked #

      Well now you have a reason to come back…

  8. Andi of My Beautiful Adventures on the August 1, 2011 remarked #

    I visited Toronto about 5 years ago and really enjoyed myself! I’d love to return.

    • Ayngelina on the August 5, 2011 remarked #

      I’d love to hear where you want, I am sure all the places I am not chic enough to go :)

  9. Michael Figueiredo on the August 1, 2011 remarked #

    Thanks for the fun tips! I’ve never been to Toronto (except to a hotel near the airport.) I really want to go sometime.

    • Ayngelina on the August 5, 2011 remarked #

      Oh that is so sad, the airport is so far away!

  10. Nomadic Samuel on the August 1, 2011 remarked #

    I’d love to visit graffiti alley – taking shots of graffiti in South America was one of my favorite subjects.

    • Ayngelina on the August 5, 2011 remarked #

      Me too, so much great art in South America.

  11. Sailor on the August 1, 2011 remarked #

    Sounds like you are having more fun in your backyard than cruising around the world.

    • Ayngelina on the August 5, 2011 remarked #

      At times I am! But I think I appreciate it more now that I have seen so many great things elsewhere.

  12. Cam on the August 1, 2011 remarked #

    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

    • Cam on the August 1, 2011 remarked #

      I’m checking out the Blog your Backyard program, is it possible to enter without using one of World Nomads journals?

      • Ayngelina on the August 1, 2011 remarked #

        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.

    • Ayngelina on the August 5, 2011 remarked #

      Well not to be a city snob but I believe the problem is obvious, you grew up in Brampton :P

      • Melissa on the August 5, 2011 remarked #

        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.

  13. Annie on the August 1, 2011 remarked #

    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!

    • Ayngelina on the August 5, 2011 remarked #

      I like the project too, it’s a really great way to do research for travel.

  14. Italian Notes on the August 2, 2011 remarked #

    Love the suggestions. Now I just need to find an excuse to go:)

  15. Sabina on the August 2, 2011 remarked #

    This is great insight into Toronto. I haven’t been yet but I’ll likely end up there some day. Thanks a lot!

  16. The Travel Chica on the August 2, 2011 remarked #

    You guys have nude beaches up there? Shocking!!

    • Ayngelina on the August 5, 2011 remarked #

      There are a few, although I must admit I have never been to one.

  17. Emily in Chile on the August 2, 2011 remarked #

    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 on the August 5, 2011 remarked #

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

  18. robin on the August 2, 2011 remarked #

    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 :)

    • Ayngelina on the August 5, 2011 remarked #

      It’s a nice hidden touch to the city that many people don’t see.

  19. Jade on the August 2, 2011 remarked #

    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 on the August 5, 2011 remarked #

      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…

  20. Sebastian on the August 2, 2011 remarked #

    These places sound very nice! I hope I get to Toronto one day! I’ll make sure to remember your post!

  21. Sophie on the August 2, 2011 remarked #

    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.

  22. Georgia Pellegrini on the August 2, 2011 remarked #

    I’m so using this when I go to Toronto! I’ve been wanting to go for a while too.

    • Ayngelina on the August 5, 2011 remarked #

      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.

  23. Natalie T. on the August 2, 2011 remarked #

    These are good! I guess you haven’t read my posts then? Tsk Tsk for not reading my Toronto Guides and Destination List. Though I didn’t have Graffiti Alley in there.
    My Toronto Resto and Bar List: http://nearafar.wordpress.com/2011/05/29/toronto-favorites-restaurants-and-bars/
    Singapore Slaw is good. NOM.

    and my favourite neighbourhoods list: http://nearafar.wordpress.com/2011/05/29/toronto-favorite-neighbourhoods/

    • Ayngelina on the August 5, 2011 remarked #

      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.

      • Natalie T. on the August 5, 2011 remarked #

        Thanks! Yours is awesome too. That’s why I wrote the post. People are always asking “where do the locals go?” so I told them. :)

  24. Leigh on the August 2, 2011 remarked #

    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.

    • Ayngelina on the August 5, 2011 remarked #

      You are right about the bikes, in fact biking all along the lakeshore is really lovely.

  25. Matt on the August 3, 2011 remarked #

    good list. I’d love to come up there and visit NOW. It’s over 100 degrees here today. Plus Toronto looks pretty amazing…

    • Ayngelina on the August 5, 2011 remarked #

      Toronto is going through a heat wave as well, hopefully it cools down soon.

  26. Mike on the August 3, 2011 remarked #

    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 on the August 5, 2011 remarked #

      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.

  27. ehalvey on the August 3, 2011 remarked #

    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 on the August 5, 2011 remarked #

      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.

  28. Jeremy Branham on the August 3, 2011 remarked #

    I’ve been to Toronto twice but never done any of these things. If I make it back, I will have to check it out!

    • Ayngelina on the August 5, 2011 remarked #

      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.

  29. Kent @ No Vacation Required on the August 3, 2011 remarked #

    You are really going to get us to THAT side of Canada.

    Well done :)

    • Ayngelina on the August 5, 2011 remarked #

      It’s pretty over here too :)

  30. Kyle on the August 3, 2011 remarked #

    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!

    • Ayngelina on the August 5, 2011 remarked #

      Just don’t go in the winter, oh so cold!

  31. Michi on the August 4, 2011 remarked #

    I wish I were Canadian.

    • Ayngelina on the August 5, 2011 remarked #

      Well we are taking applications from qualified candidates…

  32. Sarah on the August 5, 2011 remarked #

    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 on the August 5, 2011 remarked #

      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.

  33. Lyndsi on the August 6, 2011 remarked #

    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 on the August 6, 2011 remarked #

      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.

  34. Liane on the August 6, 2011 remarked #

    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 on the August 9, 2011 remarked #

      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.

  35. Vanny on the August 7, 2011 remarked #

    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 on the August 9, 2011 remarked #

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

  36. Sarah Wu on the August 8, 2011 remarked #

    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 on the August 9, 2011 remarked #

      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.

  37. Natalie T. on the August 9, 2011 remarked #

    I’ve lived here my whole life and I always find there’s something to do or something new to see. That’s what is so awesome about Toronto!

  38. Roy Marvelous | cruisesurfingz on the August 9, 2011 remarked #

    I cannot believe you left out the Communist Daughter….

    • Ayngelina on the August 9, 2011 remarked #

      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!

  39. Ceri on the August 9, 2011 remarked #

    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

    • Ayngelina on the August 9, 2011 remarked #

      You never know, beauty is in the eye of the beholder…er maybe the outsider.

  40. wandering educators on the August 13, 2011 remarked #

    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.

    • Ayngelina on the August 13, 2011 remarked #

      I do love how cultures intersect in Toronto, it’s one of the many things that make it really special.

  41. Harvest KItchen Sisters on the August 14, 2011 remarked #

    As a Torontonian myself, you’ve really the hit the nail on the head.

    Nice work!

    ab

  42. May Macatugal on the August 16, 2011 remarked #

    Hi Ayngelina im so impressed with your journey :) i hope one day i could also visit your country i am reading your post and be inspired goodluck :)

    May

  43. Kyle on the August 16, 2011 remarked #

    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

  44. Pola on the August 16, 2011 remarked #

    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 on the August 16, 2011 remarked #

      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.

  45. Carol Perehudoff on the August 29, 2011 remarked #

    Nice list! Love Toronto. Can I add an urban cycle along the Don Valley in the evening when the sky and the river are pink? Great mix of nature and urban grit.

    • Ayngelina on the August 29, 2011 remarked #

      I also love rollerblading along lakeshore :)

  46. susan daly on the October 27, 2011 remarked #

    toronto is toronto. i lived there for seven years and know it’s a piece of crap.

  47. Simone on the April 15, 2012 remarked #

    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

  48. Tash on the May 8, 2012 remarked #

    Ohhh, awesome! Cannot wait….T minus 1.5 weeks till I am there for the Summer!
    Tash recently posted..Seuss Landing

  49. Toronto Live Music on the January 14, 2013 remarked #

    Dakota Tavern is great… there’s also Cameron House… nice venue! I saw Two Green Cats there and it was awesome!
    Toronto Live Music recently posted..Two Green Cats | Canadian Rock Band in Montreal

  50. Melissa @ Suitcase and Heels on the January 16, 2013 remarked #

    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

  51. USACanadaRVrental on the February 15, 2013 remarked #

    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.

  52. Cassie on the April 10, 2013 remarked #

    I was just researching AirBNB listings in Toronto for TBEX and found a great-looking place in Kensington Market. Wondered what the neighborhood was like, googled it, and found your post. I’ll take your word for it and book it :)
    Cassie recently posted..Wild Boar Ramen Movie Night With ForageSF

  53. BakoymaTravels on the October 16, 2013 remarked #

    I love posts like these, especially since the things you mentioned first are the only things I’ve ever heard of in Toronto ;-)

    Thanks for the tips!
    BakoymaTravels recently posted..Where to go?

  54. Xylene on the November 21, 2013 remarked #

    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.

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