Toronto: Where Culture, History, and Modernity Meet!

Top Tourist Attractions and Hidden Gems in Toronto

It’s been a while since I last shared my travel experiences, but I’m excited to finally write about my recent trip to Toronto, Canada. Over the course of fifteen days, I had the pleasure of staying with a friend while discovering the city’s many attractions. Planning was key, so I crafted a detailed itinerary that took into account our work schedules and included must-see landmarks and restaurants. Despite having only two weekends to spare, we made the most of our vacation by visiting a plethora of incredible destinations. If you’re planning a trip to Toronto or are a local looking for new spots to check out, I highly recommend these places. Now, let me take you on a journey through my unforgettable experiences!

1. Niagara Falls: My husband and I drove from New York to Toronto. The drive was wonderful! (Tip: try to avoid the toll road/highways if there’s no time crunch because the scenic route made the journey more fun). When we reached the border, we stopped to complete the immigration process, which thankfully only took 15 minutes. After that, we headed to the Canadian side of Niagara Falls and were immediately struck by the stunning sight of waterfalls before us. Despite the frigid temperature and biting winds, we stood in awe of this natural wonder for some time before making our way to a Tim Hortons for some hot coffee. My Canadian friend suggested the “double double,” which we found to be quite delicious. Once our fingers and toes were no longer numb, we decided to indulge our inner children and hopped on a ferris wheel that was conveniently located outside the coffee shop. The ride was not too impressive but I still recommend it as you can see the Niagara Falls from the top and also the city lights in the night.

Night view

2. Presto Card in Toronto Downtown: During our stay in downtown Toronto’s Wellesley neighborhood, we found it convenient to use the PRESTO card for public transportation. This contactless smart card can be purchased for a one-time fee of $6 and loaded with any amount you choose. It’s easy to obtain at a station kiosk and can be used on the subway, TTC, and buses. If you plan on using public transportation frequently during your stay in Toronto, I highly recommend getting the PRESTO card for a hassle-free experience.

3. Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO): I am a huge fan of art galleries and museums, and the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) did not disappoint. The diverse art collection was truly impressive, featuring modern, contemporary, Canadian, and European works. I was particularly captivated by Tom Thomas’ collection, which included paintings and ship models. However, the most unforgettable exhibitions were Her Flesh, You Look Beautiful Like That, and JÓNSI: HRAFNTINNA (OBSIDIAN). The latter, by Icelandic artist Jónsi, was a unique experience that evoked sensations in a dark space, making me feel like I was inside a volcano. It transported me into a forest, where I could imagine the life my ancestors led, relying solely on sounds and scents. It was truly a memorable experience. Then next was the Infinity Mirrored Room by Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama, which was also good, but didn’t quite live up to my expectations.

The admission price is $25 per adult, but those under 25 can enjoy free admission!

4. Casa Loma: You cannot leave Toronto without visiting the castle, Casa Loma. It is the city’s beloved heritage landmark and one of its top tourist attractions. This massive castle will leave you in awe of the lifestyle of Sir Henry Pellet, its original owner. With 200,000 square feet of space, three floors, and over a hundred rooms (sorry, I lost count!), the castle boasts an array of wonders, including a dining room fit for a king, a study room, and the enchanting Peacock Alley (lovely name, isn’t it?). I was transported to a different world as I explored the library of my dreams and the tea rooms that I always imagined being a part of my home. Then there were estate gardens, the conservatory, the stables, the wine cellar, and even an underground tunnel! And don’t miss the vintage car exhibition that’s sure to delight car enthusiasts.

But the towers – the Norman and Scottish towers – are truly the highlight of the castle. I absolutely enjoyed climbing up the steep, narrow, wooden staircase, feeling like a little girl again, exploring and finding secret rooms and alleys.

Many famous movies have been filmed in this castle which you will find out when you are in the tunnels. You might even recognize some famous movie scenes that were filmed right here. The admission ticket will cost you around $40. It’s a bit pricey, but if you’re a curious, fantasy-loving, dreamy person like me, it’s absolutely worth it. Just remember to wear comfortable shoes, as there’s a lot of ground to cover in this enchanting castle!

5. Yonge-Dundas Square: If you have been to New York and know about the Times Square, then this is a mini version of it. It is a public square with with bright lights, bold colors, and a bustling atmosphere. You’ll be entertained by street performers, captivated by art displays, and amazed by public events that bring the square to life. It also has the famous Toronto Eaton Centre, the city’s premier shopping destination that’s just steps away. With its expansive indoor mall and endless shopping opportunities, you can indulge in all the retail therapy that your heart desires.

6. Graffiti Alley: In the alleyway between Queen and Richmond Street, you can discover city blocks adorned with vibrant street art and murals. Street art is a form of art that is publicly displayed on buildings or doors, showcasing an artist’s personal artwork or spreading awareness about social and political issues. Though street art is often done illegally, Graffiti Alley in Toronto is a legal street art alley. If you haven’t seen street art before, you’ll find this stretch of alley truly amazing. Don’t forget your camera; you can capture some fantastic photos.

I personally found the alley to be slightly underwhelming and wasn’t too impressed. I guess the reason for not liking the alley was also because I went there a day after a winter storm. The streets were still wet and covered in snow, making it difficult to walk around without worrying about slipping.

7. Aga Khan Museum: The museum is home to a remarkable collection of Islamic art and architecture, including stunning Arabic manuscripts and objects from Iran, Turkey, Syria, and the Middle East that date back to the 10th to 13th centuries. I was captivated by a variety of objects in the collection, such as an incense burner shaped like a bird, an intricately inscribed marbled tombstone, and an engraved white bronze basin featuring scripts and geometric patterns from the medieval Islamic world. Other highlights included a woman’s silk ikat woven robe from Uzbekistan that I would have loved to wear. I was also mesmerized by the gorgeous case for the Quran, and the ornate wooden double doors.

In addition to the collection, the museum also hosts exhibitions and live performances. We had the privilege of witnessing a Pakistani artist perform live Sufi music on a rubab, a traditional musical instrument.

To satisfy your appetite, you can indulge in delectable Middle Eastern and South Asian dishes at the Diwan Restaurant located at the museum’s entrance. Check out my next post about food travel in Toronto for more on the restaurant.

The entrance fee to Aga Khan museum is $20 per adult. The museum is a 15-20 min drive from downtown, Toronto.

8. The Distillery Historic District: The Distillery District was one of my absolute favorite places in Toronto, and it’s a haven for creativity and art. The industrial architectural design and cobblestone streets make for a charming atmosphere where you can take a leisurely stroll while admiring the quaint brick buildings and delving into the district’s rich history and heritage.

There’s plenty to do in the district, from browsing unique boutiques to dining at upscale restaurants, stopping at local bakeries for sweet treats, or relaxing at a cozy cafe with a cup of coffee. And that’s just scratching the surface! Be sure to plan your visit to coincide with public events or festivals and check out the image galleries too.

When I visited in early March, I walked around with a warm cup of mulled wine in one hand and a pie from Tartistry in the other. I indulged in so many chocolates, pastries, pies, and cakes that I had to make a resolution to give up sugar for the rest of the year (like that’s ever going to happen!).

9. Nathan Phillip’s Square: This vibrant spot is home to the iconic TORONTO sign that’s set against a backdrop of towering skyscrapers. It’s especially beautiful at night, when the city lights up. In the winter, the square is transformed into a wonderland with ice skating and plenty of events to enjoy. Even if you’re not there for a specific event, it’s worth a visit to stroll around and take in the atmosphere.

In conclusion, Toronto is a dynamic and diverse city with a rich history and culture that has something to offer to every type of traveler. There are countless iconic landmarks and hidden gems waiting to be discovered. With delicious cuisine, vibrant nightlife, and friendly locals, Toronto is a must-visit destination for anyone seeking a memorable travel experience. So come and immerse yourself in the bustling metropolis of Toronto and discover why it is such a beloved city!


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