15 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Toronto
Toronto, the capital of Ontario and the country's largest city, is home to a dynamic mix of tourist attractions, from museums and galleries to the world famous CN Tower and, just off shore, Toronto Islands. The city also offers a vibrant Entertainment District, featuring the latest musicals and other performing arts, and the historic Distillery District. The city center is still relatively easy to navigate, with many of the top attractions within walking distance of each other and a subway system to cover longer distances.
1 CN Tower
Toronto's famous landmark, the 553-meter CN Tower, is one of the city's must see attractions and also the most impossible to miss. Towering above the downtown, the structure can be seen from almost everywhere in the city. Visitors have the option of simply appreciating the building from the ground, or taking a trip up to one of the observation areas or restaurants for fabulous views of the city and Lake Ontario. The CN Tower, built between 1972 and 1976, was once the tallest freestanding structure in the world, but has long since been surpassed.
The highest viewing area on the CN Tower is from the Sky Pod at 447 meters above the city with views that, on clear days, extend to Niagara Falls and New York State. To get here requires taking two elevators. Below this, at the top of the main elevator is the LookOut at 346 meters where the Horizons Restaurant is located. One floor below this is the Glass Floor and the Outdoor Sky Terrace. As the name suggests, the Glass Floor offers a bird's eye view directly down over the city as visitors stand on a glass floor.
For those looking for a little more adventure, or perhaps a lot more adventure, there is the "Edge Walk." This involves a hands-free walk on a 1.5-meter wide ledge around the outside edge of the main pod, at an elevation of 365 meters. Participants are attached to a safety harness and rope.
Located at 351 meters is the revolving 360 Restaurant, featuring fine dining and some of the best views from a table anywhere in the Toronto. 360 is open for lunch and dinner, and visitors who dine here also receive complimentary access to the Lookout and Glass Floor levels of the tower.
Horizons Restaurant, on the Lookout Level, offers a more casual dining experience and is open throughout the day from lunch until dinner.
2 Royal Ontario Museum
The Royal Ontario Museum, known as the ROM, is one of Canada's premier museums with an international reputation for excellence. It houses an outstanding collection and also features major exhibitions from around the world. A controversial expansion of the facility saw a modern wing featuring glass and sharp angles added on to a very traditional older building. The museum contains collections covering a great variety of periods from all over the world.
Address: 100 Queen's Park, Toronto
3 Rogers Centre
Immediately adjacent to the CN Tower is Rogers Centre, a massive domed sports arena. The unique design includes a roof, which slides back, allowing it to be opened in favorable weather. This mega-structure, completed in 1989, is Toronto's answer to the ambitious Olympic Stadium built by its arch rival, Montréal. Rogers Centre can accommodate many thousands of spectators and is a venue for every kind of sport, baseball and football in particular, as well as for rock and pop concerts. The center also offers one hour guided tours with a behind-the-scenes look at the facility.
Address: 1 Blue Jays Way, Toronto
4 Art Gallery of Ontario
The renowned Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) occupies a unique looking modern building on the west side of the city center. A whole series of temporary exhibitions are mounted throughout the year by this exceptionally well endowed gallery. Highlights include the collections of Canadian, African and Oceanic, and European art. The museum also holds a particularly impressive collection of Canadian paintings.
Address: 317 Dundas Street West, Toronto
5 Casa Loma
Standing in beautifully kept grounds, Casa Loma is an extraordinary building somewhat reminiscent of a medieval castle. It was originally constructed for Sir Henry Pellatt, an eccentric Canadian multi-millionaire who was among the first to recognize and exploit the money-making potential of Niagara Falls. With close to 100 rooms, including three dozen bathrooms, the house is now a museum. Visitors can take a look back in time to a period of European elegance and splendor. Canada's foremost castle is complete with decorated suites, secret passages, an 800-foot tunnel, towers, stables, and five acres of estate gardens.
Address: 1 Austin Terrace, Toronto
6 Toronto Zoo
Toronto's huge zoo, with its collection of several thousand animals, lies on the Red River some 40 kilometers northeast of the city center. One of the major attractions is the panda exhibit, which opened in Toronto in 2013. The zoo is divided into several sections, each representing a major region of the globe. The North American section is unique with its spacious grizzly bear enclosure, vast bison park, and impressive polarium. Some of the other highlights at the Toronto Zoo include the African Savanna and Great Barrier Reef.
Address: 361A Old Finch Road, Toronto
7 St. Lawrence Market
The St. Lawrence Market houses a variety of vendors selling various food products, flowers, and specialty items. The St. Lawrence Hall was built in Toronto in 1850 and served as a public meeting place and a concert venue. The hall was restored in 1967, but has retained much of its old charm. The building provides a unique atmosphere for the market and is also occasionally used for film and television shoots. The interior features a grand staircase and a gas-lit chandelier.
Address: 92 Front Street East, Toronto
8 Entertainment District
Toronto's answer to New York's Broadway, the Toronto Entertainment District comes to life in the evenings. This is the place to come to see major theater productions with the latest shows and musicals, concerts, and other performing arts. There are also all kinds of restaurants and places for socializing, as well as hotels and shops. The main center of activity in the Entertainment District is along King Street.
9 Ripley's Aquarium of Canada
One of Toronto's newest attractions is the Ripley's Aquarium near the base of the CN Tower. This fabulous facility displays all kinds of marine life but the most impressive feature is the huge underwater tunnel with a moving sidewalk. Visitors can watch the ocean world go by all around them as sharks glide past and sawfish linger on the tunnel roof above. This is a truly serene experience for all ages. Another unexpected highlight is the jellyfish display, accented with creative lighting. Further on, touch tanks with stingrays and small sharks allow for a hands-on experience. And for the engineering minded, the building's open concept also allows for a look at the Life Support System and filtration equipment operating the facility.
Address: 288 Bremner Boulevard, Toronto
10 City Hall
Dominating the spacious Nathan Philips Square with its bronze sculpture, "The Archer," by Henry Moore, is the still highly acclaimed new City Hall. It was designed by the gifted Finnish architect Viljo Revell and built in 1965. City Hall consists of two arc-shaped high-rise blocks, 20 and 27 stories high respectively, wrapped around a lower central building topped by a flattened cupola. Out front in the square is a manmade pond, which becomes a popular skating rink in winter. This area is beautifully decorated for the Christmas holidays.
Address: 100 Queen Street West, Toronto
11 Eaton Center
The huge Eaton Center is located at the north end of the Central Business District. With its own subway station, this ultra-modern shopping complex extends over several blocks and is continually being renovated and enlarged. Strangers can quite easily lose their way in the bewildering maze of department stores, specialty shops, boutiques, restaurants, cafeterias, and snack bars, which crowd the different levels above and below ground. The original Eaton department store opened in Toronto in 1869 and grew into an enormous retail business.
12 Distillery District
Toronto's Distillery District is a restored historic area that has been turned into a trendy entertainment and shopping district. Visitors will find charming boutiques, galleries, artists' studios, and restaurants. The Distillery District also hosts a variety of entertainment events and is home to numerous performing arts venues and schools. This is an interesting place to come during the day or evening.
13 High Park
High Park is a huge green space with sunken gardens, hanging basket gardens, nature trails, natural ponds, and streams. The 165-acre country property, originally owned by the Howards, was deeded to the City of Toronto in 1873. This deed included the fact that the park was to remain "for the free use, benefit and enjoyment of the citizens of Toronto and it be called High Park." Animal paddocks, swimming and wading pools, playgrounds, picnic areas, and a scenic train tour are highlights. The grounds also include 19th-century recreated gardens, a Coach House, and the Howards' Tomb.
Annually, the Canadian Stage Company puts on a performance at the open-air theater in Toronto's High Park during the months of July and August, known as "Shakespeare in the Park".
14 Ontario Science Centre
The Ontario Science Center is a family oriented attraction with many interesting exhibits to entertain children. It occupies a site overlooking the Don Valley, about ten kilometers northeast of the city center. Designed by the virtuoso architect Raymond Moriyama, this modern building was completed in 1969. Visitors to the center are brought face to face with the latest developments in technology, telecommunications, optics, biology, physics, space travel and meteorology, and much more, all presented in an absorbing and imaginative way. The emphasis is very much on visitor participation, with many interactive displays and widespread use of suitably installed computing and other equipment.
Address: 770 Don Mills Road, Toronto
15 Toronto Islands
The ferry trip from Queen's Quay Terminal to the Toronto Islands, about a kilometer offshore, is the prelude to a thoroughly enjoyable outing. There are lovely walks on the islands as well as the opportunity for rowing, sailing, swimming, and other outdoor activities. Marinas and the odd cluster of weekend homes bring a touch of variety to the scene. In summer, the islands are the venue for numerous open-air events. In favorable visibility, there is a stunning view of the Toronto skyline. The Centreville Amusement Park is located on Centre Island, one of the Toronto Islands, and features a variety of children's rides. The Toronto Islands Ferry Service runs from Queen's Quay and travels to each of the main Toronto Islands.
Where to Stay in Toronto for Sightseeing
For sightseeing and entertainment, the best place to stay in Toronto is right downtown in the heart of the action. The hotels listed below are all highly-rated and in good locations in Toronto's city center, within easy walking distance of many of the main attractions.
- Luxury Hotels: At the top-end of the luxury category is The Ritz-Carlton, with a convenient, central location near the Entertainment and Financial Districts. Delta Toronto, just opened in 2014, has a great location near the CN Tower, Ripley's Aquarium, and Rogers Center, and offers good views over Lake Ontario. Near Eaton Center Shopping Complex and Toronto's famous City Hall and winter skating rink are the Hilton and Sheraton, both luxury hotels with nice indoor/outdoor pools.
- Mid-Range Hotels: At the top-end of the mid-range selection is the Radisson Admiral on the waterfront. This is a great spot, particularly in summer, near many lakefront restaurants and an extensive waterfront pedestrian area and within walking distance of the CN Tower and other attractions. The hotel also has an outdoor pool. The Novotel is another good choice, on The Esplanade near the St. Lawrence Market and trendy restaurants with outdoor dining in the summer. North of The Esplanade and within easy walking distance of the Financial District and many attractions is the Holiday Inn Express, another quality mid-range hotel.
- Budget Hotels: With a good location in Chinatown, on the eastern side of the city center, is the reasonably priced Super 8. A few blocks north of the popular Yonge and Dundas Square area is The Saint James Hotel, which is always highly rated. The Comfort Inn City Centre is a little less centrally located but offers good value if you don't mind walking a little further or taking public transport.
Tips and Tours: How to Make the Most of Your Visit to Toronto
- Sightseeing: When it comes to sightseeing in Toronto, you can't beat the Toronto CityPASS for value. This is a nine-day pass that begins on the first day you use it, and offers savings on admission to some of Toronto's top attractions, including the CN Tower, Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto Zoo, Casa Loma, and the Ontario Science Center. For getting to the attractions, or just for general sightseeing, the Toronto City Hop-on Hop-off Tour is the best option. This is a three-day pass that allows you to explore the city at your own pace from the comfort of a double-decker bus. If you purchased the CityPASS, you can stop in and tour all the places listed on your pass.
- Day Trips: If you have not been to Niagara Falls, the Niagara Falls Day Trip from Toronto is a must-do. This is one of the biggest tourist attractions in Canada, and it's only an hour and a half away. This tour includes hotel pickup and drop-off, transport to Niagara Falls, a boat ride at the base of the falls, buffet lunch, a visit to the Whirlpool Rapids observation deck, and a stop at the beautiful town of Niagara-on-the-Lake.