Canada’s Queen City: A Guide to Toronto, Ontario

Toronto, Canada’s largest city, is probably one of my favourite cities in the world. The city, which was established in 1834 as York, and later renamed Toronto, is the capital of its province, Ontario, as well as the fifth largest city in North America. Home to a very diverse group of people, with 50% of its residents being born outside of the country, Toronto is also one of the world’s most interesting cities. The world’s third largest tower, the CN Tower, dominates the city’s thriving skyline, while the world’s largest underground pedestrian system, the PATH, keeps the city bustling even beneath ground. I lived in Toronto for three years, and both sides of my family have lived in Toronto for a combined total of over eighty years, so I know a lot about the city. Therefore, in this post, I am going to be guiding you through where to stay, what to do, what to see, and how to get around Toronto.

Transportation

Transportation within Toronto is very convenient thanks to the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC). The TTC is made up of a network of subways, streetcars, and buses that allow you to easily get from one spot in Toronto to another in a short amount of time for a small amount of money. The system stretches throughout the entirety of the GTA (check out its map here), and it is affordable (check out more info on rates here), reliable, safe and considerably clean, unlike many of major city’s transportation systems. Instead of renting out a car, like I’d recommend doing in other cities, I would recommend either walking or relying on the TTC for your transportation needs while you’re visiting Toronto.

Accommodation

Since most of my family lives in the GTA, we almost always stay with one of them, usually my grandma on my dad’s side, when we visit Toronto. Therefore, I don’t have a specific hotel in the city to recommend you to stay at. So, instead I thought I’d write about some of Toronto’s most well known hotels, one of them being the Drake Hotel. Toronto’s Drake Hotel is located in the city’s Queen Street West neighbourhood, one of the trendiest areas of Toronto. The hotel was originally opened as ‘Small’s Hotel’, renamed the Drake, and went through some hard times, before being purchased by a new owner in 2001 and being reopened in 2004. The reopening of the hotel helped transform the neighbourhood, and the hotel is well known throughout the city for its bar, nightclub, restaurant and cafe. It is in a prime location if you’re looking to explore Toronto mostly on foot or through the TTC, since it is in the heart of downtown. If you’re looking into staying there, you can read more about their rooms here.

Another one of Toronto’s famous hotels is its Fairmount Royal York. The Royal York is a very historic hotel, as it was once the tallest building in Canada as well as the entire British empire at the time of its construction. It is also the hotel of choice by Queen Elizabeth II and the Royal Family, since it is obviously a very luxurious place to stay. If you’re considering stay at the Royal York, you can read more about its rooms here. The city’s Omni King Edward (not shown) is another one of its most well known hotels, as it is also very historic. Many notable celebrities have stayed at the King Edward, including Elvis Presley, Britney Spears, and the Beatles. Having just went through a $40,000,000CAD renovation, it is a very affluent and modern hotel located in the city’s financial and entertainment districts. If you’d like to stay at the King Edward, you can read more about its rooms here.

Attractions

Old & New City Hall:

Starting off with some of the most important buildings in Toronto… the city’s two city halls! Above is Toronto’s Old City Hall, the former home to Toronto’s government from 1899 to 1966. Toronto’s Old City Hall was almost demolished when the nearby Eaton Centre was being built, but was fortunately saved by locals, and turned into a civic building and court house. It is one of Toronto’s most stunning buildings, standing out from the nearby office buildings and condos, as it is over a century old and was constructed in the beautiful Romanesque Revival architectural style.

Just across the street from Old City Hall, in Nathan Phillips Square (more on that later!), is Toronto’s current City Hall, or New City Hall. It is where Toronto’s government currently works, and has worked since 1966. The interestingly designed building(s) took four years to build, from 1961 to 1965. New City Hall is made up of two towers, with the east tower being 27 storeys high and the west tower being 20 storyes high.

Distillery District:

One of the most beautiful neighbourhoods in Toronto is its Distillery District, an area that was once a distillery for Gooderham and Worts, a Canadian distiller. Elaborating on the company, it was started by two English businessmen who moved to Toronto in the 1830s. Their distillery was headquartered in Toronto, and the facility for their company was located where the Distillery District is now. The area stayed a distillery for many years, even after the founders of the company past away, until it was shut down in the 90s.

Then, in 2001, a company purchased the land and reopened it in 2004 as a pedestrian only neighbourhood. The Distillery District is now one of Toronto’s most popular attractions, with its beautiful collection of Victorian era buildings (the largest in North America), that serve as homes to many shops and cafés. I wrote an entire post guiding you through the neighbourhood itself, which I highly recommend you read. Check out that post here!

Toronto Islands:

The Toronto Islands are a short chain of islands south of Toronto in Lake Ontario (read my post all about Lake Ontario here!). They are made up of Centre Island, the largest island, Algonquin Island, Olympic Island, Ward’s Island, Mugg’s Island, Snake Island, and a few other smaller islands. Most of the islands, which are reachable by ferry, are covered in parkland that makes up the Toronto Islands Park. Other things that can be found on the islands include an airport, many yacht clubs, beaches, and Centreville Amusement Park. The islands were closed from mid May to late July due to major flooding, and they only very recently reopened. Since I was in Toronto during the time they were closed, I unfortunately didn’t get to visit the islands, though I have been a couple times when I lived near Toronto and I would definitely recommend you to visit now that they’ve reopened. Above is the view of the islands from the CN Tower (left), and the view of the islands from Harbourfront (right) which you can read more about in my Lake Ontario post linked above.

University of Toronto:

The University of Toronto, one of the world’s most renowned universities, is evidently based in Toronto. The university’s main campus, St. George’s campus, is located in the heart of downtown Toronto near the city’s beautiful Queen’s Park. St. George’s campus, or the downtown campus, is full of parks and many green spaces as well as a ton of beautiful buildings where the university’s students take their classes. Throughout the campus, you will find of course many students, locals, and occasionally some tourists exploring the area. I found it a lot of fun to explore the campus because I hope to attend U of T once I graduate high school and I really enjoyed getting to see the campus. Also, my mom, who attended U of T, had most of her classes in the downtown campus so she was able to show us where she used to go when she went to school there!

Nathan Phillips Square:

Nathan Phillips Square, named for Toronto’s mayor from 1955 to 1962, is one of Toronto’s main tourist attractions with over a million visitors annually. It is home to New City Hall, the well known ‘Toronto’ sign, three freedom arches, an elevated walkway, and a reflecting pool/skating rink in the winter. A huge parking lot, and a section of Toronto’s PATH are both located underneath the square, assuring that the public square is bustling above and beneath ground. Nathan Phillips Square may be one of the most touristy spots in Toronto, but it is definitely still worth a visit for an iconic photo in front of the ‘Toronto’ sign!

Yonge-Dundas Square:

Not too far from Nathan Phillips you will find Yonge-Dundas Square, another one of Toronto’s public squares. It is one of the busiest intersections in the country, hosting almost 150,000 pedestrians daily. Illuminated by dozens of billboards, 24/7 fountains, and often live music,Yonge-Dundas Square is comparable to New York City’s Times Square or London’s Piccadilly Circus, though somewhat smaller. It is across from Toronto’s Eaton Centre, one of the city’s largest and best malls.

Air Canada Centre:

Toronto’s Air Canada Centre is a multi-purpose arena that serves as a home to the Toronto Maple Leafs (NHL), Toronto Raptors (NBA), and the Toronto Rock (NLL). It is also known as the ACC or the Hangar, and its one of Canada’s largest arenas. The Air Canada Centre is owned by Canadian Airline Air Canada, hence why it is named the Air Canada Centre!

Rogers Centre:

Toronto’s other main stadium is the Roger’s Centre, a multi-purpose stadium located right next to the base of the CN Tower. This stadium is owned by the Canadian media company Rogers, so again, hence its name. Once called the SkyDome for being the world’s first stadium with a fully retractable motorized roof, the stadium is home to the Toronto Blue Jays (MLB).

St. Lawrence Market:

Located in Toronto’s Old Town district, St. Lawrence Market was named the world’s best food market by National Geographic in 2011. St. Lawrence Market is made up of three buildings, the North Market, which is currently closed for renovation; the South Market, where the main market currently takes place; and the Hall, a office and event building; all built in the 1800s. Plus, there is a small, non-permanent farmers market located south of the South Market. 100+ vendors sell things ranging from maple syrup to swiss cheese throughout the market, and pretty much anything you buy there will be delicious!

Gooderham Building:

Toronto’s Gooderham building, also known as Toronto’s flatiron building, is just west of St. Lawrence Market. It is located at the intersection of Wellington Street, Church Street, and Front Street, and it is an example of both the Romanesque Revival architectural style and the French Gothic architectural style. It was primarily built to be the headquarters of the Gooderham and Worts company, the same company that built the Distillery District, thus why it is formally named the Gooderham Building. On the back of the building, you will find the ‘Flatiron Mural’, a mural painted by Canadian artist Derek Besant of the Perkins Building across the street. The mural uses the troupe l’ceil effect, depicting the look of the painting’s edges flying away.

CN Tower:

The CN Tower, Toronto’s 553.3 meter tall tower, is probably the most recognized landmark throughout its country. It was the tallest tower in the world when it was built in the 70s, and it is now the third tallest tower in the world. It is one of seven Wonders of the Modern World, and it is visited by over a million people every year. I wrote an entire post talking about the history of the tower, facts about the tower, and my experience going up the tower a couple of weeks ago, which you can read here (that I highly suggest you read!).

The ROM:

Toronto’s Royal Ontario museum is Canada’s largest museum, as well as one of North America’s largest museums. It has over forty galleries, displaying World Culture, Natural History, and art. It is known for its interesting architecture, with its original building being an example of Italianate Neo-Romanesque style and its newly added Micheal Lee Chin crystal being an example of modern architecture. I wrote an entire post guiding you through the huge museum, which I worked very hard on, that you can read here.

Those are all of the main attractions in Toronto that I chose to write about. However, I wrote a separate post about some of Toronto’s Hidden Gems, or places that aren’t as popular but are just as good (or even better!) than some of the city’s most famous attractions. You can read that post here!

That’s it for my guide to Toronto, aka my final Toronto post. I truly hope that you enjoyed this series on my blog, all about Toronto, since I think some of my favourite and best posts came out of this series! I think my writing has improved a lot thanks to these posts, and I am that you all are able to come along with me on this journey.

Have you ever been to Toronto? If so, what was your favourite place you visited there? If not, where would you most like to visit? I know a lot of you reading (my family & friends) are from Toronto so I am interested to hear your favourite place in the city.

Thank you so much for reading!

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6 Comments

  1. PW
    August 6, 2017

    What a great final post about Toronto! Your photos are stunning, as usual.

    There’s no one particular place in Toronto that is my favorite, because the city is full of different ethnic (and authentic) neighborhoods that it’s really hard to pick just one. That’s the great thing about Toronto — it is truly a microcosm of our diverse world!

    Reply
    1. Hannah Travels
      August 13, 2017

      Thank you! I agree 🙂

      Reply
  2. nana jw
    August 8, 2017

    Hannah your post on Toronto was was excellent the writing and photo’s were great you are very talented writer and photo’s were beautiful .Looking forward to your next visit when we can see the sights together NJW

    Reply
    1. Hannah Travels
      August 13, 2017

      Thanks Nana!

      Reply
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    1. Hannah Travels
      August 29, 2017

      Thanks for the recommendation, I will check it out.

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