Toronto, Canada: 48 Hour Travel Guide + Helpful Tips
Planning a trip to Toronto??
Toronto…I have to admit I used to dislike Toronto. After living in Montreal and trying to decide on my next step, I tried to live in Toronto. That lasted a short six weeks. The city and I didn’t jive at the time plus let’s be real, I’m not a fan of winter. I left and decided that Toronto was not for me.
Fast forward to 2013 when I went for a travel-related conference and to visit 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.
Table of Contents
Toronto – A Destination Guide
If you are flying into Toronto, you are either flying into Pearson or Billy Bishop Airport. I usually fly 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. I looked for large groups of people and the TTC bus stop. Look for the 192 Bus going to Kipling Station. From there it’s quite quick to get to Kipling Subway Station. I was needing to get near Union Station downtown so I took the Bloor-Danforth Line. Once on the subway (green line), I got off at St. George stop and took the Yonge-University Line (yellow line) and got off at Union Station. I have access to data when I travel with my T-Mobile plan so I was able to use Google Maps to get transit schedules. This 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 but it costs
$27.50CDN $9 – after many complaints about the price, UPEXPRESS changed the ticket price in March 2016. Totally great price and only 25 minutes into the city!
Toronto’s transportation system makes it easy for travellers. There isn’t really a need to have a rental car unless you are staying far out in the suburbs. I use the subway, buses, and streetcars without any hitches. Oh, and 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. I use Uber all the time in other cities and have never had a problem.
What To Do
In no particular order here are a few things that I have done in Toronto and really enjoyed:
Toronto Bicycle Tours
I took a tour with these guys a few years ago and definitely recommend doing one weather permitting. Bicycle tours are a great way to get a good overview of the city and then go back to what you are more interested in. The guides are great and even if you’re not the best cyclist, you’re in capable hands.
I’m a big museum and gallery nerd so of course, I loved visiting the Royal Ontario Museum. There are several floors and different wings ranging from natural history, world cultures (I love the Canadian section of course), costumes and textiles and more. I also love the entrance called the “Crystal” which was designed by architect Daniel Libeskind.
The outside of the ROM
I actually wrote a blog post about the ROM from my visit in 2013 along with new updated photos from my visit from June (2015). Click here.
The Art Gallery of Ontario is smaller than the ROM but I’m a huge fan of this gallery. While I was not able to visit during my June 2015 visit, I did go in 2013 and enjoyed all the work as well as a temporary exhibit by Patti Smith at the time.
Part of the new wing designed by Canadian architect Frank Gehry
I did write a post about my visit to the AGO with more photos. For more, click here.
Aga Khan Museum
Since we’re on the museum topic, I definitely recommend a visit to the Aga Khan Museum. It’s not quite in central Toronto but in Don Mills, which is a suburb further out. It’s a bit of a trek there but in my opinion, it’s worth going. I was only able to go for a short visit due to an Uber driver mishap, but just visiting the outside grounds was worth it. It’s so beautiful there.
*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!
I admit it! 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.
A photo of Toronto from the CN Tower at night
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!
If you love markets, you may want to check out my post about some of my favourite markets around the world here.
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. I really like this area. It’s 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. I recommend going there because their beers are tasty. I did have a sake tasting at 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. So one day I took a harbour tour that took you around the lake and to take a better look at the islands. You can book a ticket ahead of time but down by the waterfront, there are stands that sell tickets and offer you more flexibility if you don’t want to plan too far ahead and just jump on a boat. I went with Toronto Harbour Tour.
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, the Ripley’s Aquarium is a super fun place to take the tots. There are tons of things to look at and tons of activities. I had a short amount of time but was mesmerized by the Dangerous Lagoon which is a clear underwater tunnel with a moving walkway. I stood under some shark and didn’t realize it and then nearly had a heart attack!
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
While I visited this park during the Great Heart Festival, this park is popular to hang out in. It’s 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 hangs out.
Toronto is a city that loves festivals. So if you love festivals whether cultural, music, or whatnot, you’ll have many to choose from here. While I was in town this last visit Bestival, Luminato, Taste of Little Italy, Great Heart Festival and North by Northeast 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 and 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)
Nomad for Menswear – 819 Queen West
Gravity Pope for shoes – 1010 Queen West
Kensington Market is a great little shopping area. If you’re into vintage, there are some really good spots here
Courage My Love, a very popular vintage shop in Toronto
Livestock for sneakers – 116 Spadina
Sneakers on sneakers on sneakers at Livestock
Hudson Bay Company in Toronto. I think it’s better than Holt Renfrew (IMHO)
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. I love finger sandwiches and sweet treats. 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. Speleotherapy is the treatment use of caves. Both forms of therapies have been practiced for centuries. Halotherapy uses Speleotherapy as the main healing factor via the natural benefits of the salt caves microclimate. 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. I also felt relaxed. I would try this treatment more if there were some locations near me in San Diego. 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 cave. I brought my handbag with me and when I left I had no battery power left 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. I was fine but just a heads up.*
Good places to take photos (hint Toronto Instagram spots):
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. I came here for shelter from the rain plus I’m a fan of 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
Where To Stay
Normally I stay with my cousin in Toronto, but this particular visit I stayed at the Novotel Toronto Centre. It is right in the heart of downtown and steps from the St. Lawrence Market and close to Union Station.
It was an ideal location for exploring Toronto. It was a busy time to visit the city so many hotels were booked out so I was happy to find something so centrally located.
Need a hotel for Toronto? Booking.com gives the best rates and has an awesome cancellation policy
*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.**