Toronto | The Best Weekend or 48 Hour Travel Guide to Toronto, Canada
Toronto…I have to admit I used to dislike Toronto. After living and working in Montreal when I had a job at Vice, I tried my luck in Toronto. That lasted a short six weeks. The city and I didn’t jive at the time (2000) plus let’s be real, I’m not a fan of winter. After 6 weeks I left and decided that Toronto was not for me. Fast forward to 2013 when I visited Toronto for a travel-related conference and to see my cousin. The city seemed different. Perhaps it was the city, perhaps it was me, but my opinion changed and I was now a fan.
*Updated June 2019*
Table of Contents
Toronto – A Destination Guide
If you are flying into Toronto, you are either flying into Pearson International or Billy Bishop Airport. Most people will be flying into Pearson, which is out in the suburbs and not close to Toronto’s downtown core. Billy Bishop is on an island right near downtown but that airport services mostly short-haul flights by Air Canada and Porter going to places like NYC, Montreal, Ottawa, Chicago, etc.
For my last trip to Toronto in June 2015, I was not in a rush so I decided to take the bus and the subway. From arrivals, I followed the signs out of the airport that said buses, etc. Scanning the area, I found a large group of people and the TTC bus stop. Look for the 192 Bus going to Kipling Station. From the airport, it’s quite quick to get to Kipling Subway Station.
My final destination was near Union Station downtown so I took the Bloor-Danforth Line. Once I was on the subway (green line), I got off at St. George stop, transferred to the Yonge-University Line (yellow line) and then got off at Union Station. With my T-Mobile phone, I have access to data when I travel so I was able to use Google Maps to get transit schedules. The fare cost me $3 CDN (be sure to get some change at the airport).
There is a new train called the UP Express that takes you from Pearson to Union station in 25 minutes. At the time of my most recent trip, they were charging $27.50 CDN but lowered the price to $9 after many complaints about the price (March 2016). For future trips, I will be taking the UP Express since it’s so quick and affordable.
Toronto’s transportation system makes it easy for travellers. There isn’t really a need to have a rental car unless you are staying out in the suburbs. Using the subway, buses, and streetcars are really easy. If you are at a subway station, many of them have Wi-Fi to connect to! Click here for the Toronto Transit Commission.
A Toronto Subway Station
Uber does exist in Toronto but from the few personal experiences with the drivers in Toronto, the service needs to get ironed out a bit more. Out of the 5 times that I used it, I only had one satisfactory experience with it. It’s been many years since my last trip, so I am sure everything is fine now.
**Disclaimer: This post may contain affiliate links. There is no additional cost to you, if you click through an affiliate link and make a purchase, I may make a commission.**
Where To Stay
Novotel Toronto Centre
Normally I stay with my cousin in Toronto, but this particular visit I stayed at the Novotel Toronto Centre. It is located right in the heart of downtown, steps from the St. Lawrence Market and close to Union Station. It was an ideal location for exploring Toronto.
When I went to Toronto, it was a busy time to visit the city so many hotels were booked out. To find something so centrally located and not too expensive was pretty lucky.
Look up Toronto hotel rates with cancellation on Booking.com
What To Do
In no particular order here are a few things that I have done in Toronto and really enjoyed:
Toronto Bicycle Tours
When I visited in 2013, I took a tour with Toronto Bicycle Tours. Weather permitting, I would recommend taking a tour. Bicycle tours are a great way to get a good overview of the city and then go back to areas that piqued your interest. The guides are great and even if you’re not the best cyclist, you’re in capable hands.
Making a stop on our bicycle tour
The Royal Ontario Museum is fantastic if you are a museum lover. There are several floors and different wings ranging from natural history, world cultures (I love the Canadian section of course), costumes, textiles, and more. The entrance called the “Crystal” is also unique and designed by architect Daniel Libeskind.
Outside of the ROM
The Art Gallery of Ontario is a smaller gallery but has great exhibits. During my last Toronto trip, they had an exhibit by Patti Smith and Ai Wei Wei’s exhibit was set to open.
Part of the new wing designed by Canadian architect Frank Gehry
Aga Khan Museum
Since we’re talking about museums, don’t miss visiting the Aga Khan Museum. It’s not in central Toronto but located in Don Mills, which is a suburb. It’s a bit of a trek there but in my opinion, it’s stunning and worth the effort.
*On Wednesday afternoons from 4 pm till closing, admission is free to the Aga Khan Museum.*
Outside of the Aga Khan Museum
Stunning details of the central courtyard
I guess this sunset made up for the fact that I didn’t get to explore inside!
Going to observations towers with views is my jam. It is an extremely touristy thing to do but I love them for a reason. In 2013, I visited the CN Tower during the day and went again this year but decided to visit as the sun was going down. While I didn’t catch a crazy sunset due to an overcast sky, I did get some great night shots of Toronto.
Started from the bottom now we here!
St. Lawrence Market
If you have visited my blog before, you may know that I’m a lover of markets. If you love food, a visit to St. Lawrence Market is a must. It was voted the world’s best market by Nat Geo a few years back. They also have an incredible farmers market on Saturdays that start at 5 AM!
Read more here: The Best Markets In The World
St Lawrence Market
St Lawrence Market Farmers Market on Saturdays
The Distillery District is a historic and entertainment area just east of downtown. Here you can find cafes, restaurants, and shops all within the heritage buildings of the former Gooderham and Worts Distillery. This area is about a 15-minute walk from St. Lawrence Market.
While I didn’t make time to go to Mill Street Brewery, I’m a huge fan of their craft beer. If you enjoy craft beer be sure to visit. One place I did have drinks at was the Ontario Spring Water Sake Company.
Toronto Harbour Tour
While I was at a travel conference in Toronto, one of the events we went to was on one of the Toronto Islands. Prior to this visit, I didn’t even know about these islands. One afternoon after my conference, I went on a harbour tour that took you around the lake and to take a closer look at the islands. You can book a ticket ahead of time or down by the waterfront, there are stands that sell tickets. Here you can have more flexibility if you don’t want to plan far ahead and just jump on a boat. Toronto Harbour Tour was the company I used.
The boats on the tour are very much like the ones you take along the canals in Amsterdam
Views of Toronto from the water
If you’re travelling with children, Ripley’s Aquarium is a fun place to take the tots. There are tons of things to look at and tons of activities. Even though I had a short amount of time for my visit, I was mesmerized by the Dangerous Lagoon. It’s a clear underwater tunnel with a moving walkway.
Double Trouble! Not a mirror image but two sharks swimming over me
This stingray photo makes me happy
Don’t be jealy of this jelly
Trinity Bell Woods Park
When I was in Toronto, I happen to be in town during the Great Heart Festival. Trinity Bell Woods is a bit on the hipster side but this is where people in Toronto like to hang out in the summertime. Everyone bikes here and then relaxes in the park.
Toronto is a city that loves festivals. If you love festivals whether cultural, music, or whatnot, you’ll have many to choose from here. While I was in town, Bestival, Luminato, Taste of Little Italy, Great Heart Festival, and North by Northeast all happened. There could have been more but those were the ones that I noticed or went to. In the future, I would love to come during the Toronto Film Festival or Toronto Gay Pride.
Taste of Little Italy (June 2015)
Luminato Festival – CIBC set up some illuminated swing
Luminato Festival – I attended the Kid Koala event (thx DJ Hedspin for the tickets)
Dundas West Festival (June 2013)
Gravity Pope for shoes – 1010 Queen West
Kensington Market is a great little shopping area. If you’re into vintage, there are some really great shops here.
Courage My Love, a very popular vintage shop in Toronto
Livestock for sneakers – 116 Spadina
Sneakers on sneakers on sneakers at Livestock
The Hudsons Bay Company
There isn’t a more Canadian company than the HBC. The oldest retail store in Canada! HBC downtown is much better than Holt Renfrew for upscale shopping.
The popular Five Point Blanket
Time permitting, I like to squeeze in some self-care time for myself when I travel. When I was in Toronto, I went to the Windsor Arms Hotel to have high tea as well as try out their healing salt cave.
The hotel itself is very discreet. It’s off of busy Bloor Street on a side street. The Windsor Arms has a really nice rooftop patio and you would never know because it’s such a low-key hotel. It’d be great to come here with a girlfriend to sip on some champagne before some manicures and pedicures.
Even though I’m a notorious coffee drinker, I do love tea time. Finger sandwiches and sweet treats, I can’t say no! Rather than have tea in the tea room, I had tea in a quiet nook of the spa area.
Delectable tea sandwiches
After tea, I went into a salt cave. Wait….what? Yes, a salt cave. It is a room filled from floor to ceiling with pink Himalayan salt blocks. It was amazing!
From the Windsor Arms website:
“From Halotherapy (halos means salt in Greek) is salt therapy. Our treatment room is darkened with ambient lighting – allowing for relaxation while inhaling the salt & negative ions in the air – designed to resemble the natural salt caves you would find in Europe. Step inside, sit back & relax enjoying the serenity of meditative music or the gentle rhythmic sounds of your own breath. Take it all in; breath, relax and rejuvenate.
The pink Himalayan salt
Studies have shown that regular treatments may improve the following conditions: Respiratory ailments & lung function (including bronchitis, emphysema & asthma), skin conditions (including psoriasis, eczema & acne), allergies, sinusitis & ear infections, Cystic Fibrosis, improve blood circulation & lower blood pressure, strengthen immune system & protect against respiratory viruses (incl. the common cold and flu) as well as reduce stress.”
I was a bit salty after but in a good way :)
After time in the salt cave, my skin did feel extremely soft and I felt relaxed. A man who was in the cave at the same time said he goes regularly and it helps his ailments.
*Tip: Don’t bring any electronic equipment (phone, camera, etc.) into the salt cave. When I went in, I brought my handbag with me and when I left I had no battery power on any of my electronics. If you know me at all, I’m always fully charged with a backup external battery. Nothing had power when I left the cave.*
Iconic Toronto photography locations
Right downtown is Brookfield Place. It’s an office building if I am correct as well as the home to the Hockey Hall of Fame. While I was finding cover from the rain, I came in here. Plus I wanted to see the Albert Lambert Galleria which was designed by Santiago Calatrava.
What an amazing piece of architecture!
If you’re a fan of street art, there are lots of great street art in Toronto. There’s an alleyway behind Queen Street that starts on Spadina (you can actually find it on Google) where there are some really great street art photo opportunities.
You can find great street art all over the city but here is a good bunch of it. There’s even a free walking tour that will take you here and go more in-depth about the artists. Look out for Skam’s work, he’s an old coworker of mine from when I was working out east.
More from Graffiti Alley
*Aga Khan Museum – see above
I love the buildings in the financial district in Toronto. I’m loving architecture more and more so I love some of the shapes of these buildings.
Puzzle pieces in Toronto’s skyline – be sure to look up!
The Gooderham Building aka Flat Iron Building
I think every city has a flat iron type building
Have any Toronto recommendations for me? Leave them in the comments.
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*Many thanks to Toronto Tourism, Art Gallery of Ontario, Royal Ontario Museum, Aga Khan Museum, Ripley’s Aquarium, Toronto Harbour Tours, Windsor Arms, and Novotel Hotel for their support. As always, opinions are my own. This post contains affiliate links. There is no additional cost to you if you click through an affiliate link and make a purchase, I may make a commission.**