My family moved to Toronto when I was a kid. When we first arrived, 10 years old me found this big diverse metropolis fascinating. I remember being so excited to go up the CN Tower and eating a gooey cheesy poutine for the first time ever.
Fast forward to today, Toronto has been my home for nearly two decades. Although some days I love to complain about the subway system and the crazy winters, I do really adore this city. The multicultural communities, the endless options of good restaurants, the easy access to beautiful nature in Ontario, the RAPTORS! Tdot has got a lot going on. In this article, I share a fun-filled Toronto itinerary that is great for first time visitors in the city. Feel free to use the menu to quick skip to sections you are interested in and make sure to grab the condense PDF version of the itinerary at the end!
*My experiences at the CN Tower and Ripley’s Aquarium were sponsored. All opinions expressed are my own. This post may contain affiliate links, which means, at no extra cost to you, I may earn a commission if you make a purchase. Thanks for supporting!
Arriving in Toronto
Toronto Pearson International Airport is the biggest airport in Canada. This where all the major domestic and international flights arrive. It is about a 40 minutes drive to downtown Toronto. There is also public transportation available. A ride on UP Express will take you to the central Union station in 25 minutes.
Billy Bishop Toronto Airport is a regional airport located in the Toronto Islands. It services many U.S. destinations. The 509 streetcar goes from Billy Bishop to Union station frequently and it takes less than 15 minutes.
Getting around Toronto
The Toronto Transit Commission, AKA the TTC, is the best way to get around the city. No matter how far you go on the subway lines, a single trip costs the same. It’s important to know about the transfer slip for when you need to change between buses, trains and streetcars. This slip that you get either from the bus/streetcar driver or from subway stations, is your proof of payment and allows you to get on another vehicle without paying fare again within 2 hours.
Here are the different fare types:
PRESTO card: contactless loadable transit fare card that works on all subways, buses and streetcars. It makes transiting very convenient. A single trip costs $3.10 on PRESTO. The card itself costs $6 to purchase. So unless you are staying awhile, it’s probably not worth it to get a PRESTO.
Cash: $3.25/trip. You pay coins into a fare box when entering subway gates, buses or streetcars.
Token: $3.10/trip. You must purchase 3 or more tokens at a time. You pay one token into a farebox when entering subway gates, buses or streetcars.
Day Pass: $13 for unlimited rides for one person within the calendar day. On weekends and holidays, an additional adult plus 4 youths aged 19 or under can travel on the same pass.
Children under 12: Ride for FREE!
Where to stay in Toronto
With 140 neighborhoods spanning 630 square km, Toronto is a huge city. As tourists, it is best to stay in the central core areas so you can easily access the main landmarks and attractions. Here are some recommended districts for…
First-time visitors: Entertainment District
The Entertainment District is at the center of all the actions in the city. From strolling along the Harbourfront to visiting the CN Tower, to watching a sport’s game, to bar hopping, everything is just a short walk away. Check accommodation in Entertainment District here
Budget-conscious travelers: Chinatown
You can always count on Chinatown for being budget-friendly. There are many hotels, hostels, and guests in this bustling neighborhood. The best part? You are surrounded by cheap delicious restaurants. Check accommodation options in Chinatown here
Arts and fashion lovers: West Queen West
The west section of Toronto’s Queen Street is the city’s trendiest neighborhood. Here you will find hip boutique hotels, tons of great shopping, and a lot of fashion-forward people walking down the streets. Check out the Drake Hotel, a funky chic hotel that is highly applauded for their A+ hospitality. And yes, it shares a name with the famous Toronto rapper, Drake. 😛 Check accommodation options in West Queen West here
Toronto Itinerary Map
Day 1: CN Tower + Ripley’s Aquarium + Chinatown + Kensington Market
Evivva Breakfast and Lunch
Start your first day with a big brunch as you will need the energy. Evivva Breakfast and Lunch is one of my go-to brunch spots in the entertainment district. The food portions are generous and the staff are very friendly. Not to mention the interior decor of the restaurant is on point. I recommend getting here before 8:30 am, as the place is popular and gets crowded after 9 am.
10 minutes walk away from Evivva is Toronto’s most iconic landmark, the CN Tower. The CN Tower is a proud emblem of Toronto and Canada. Standing at 553.3 m (1,815.3 ft) high, it was the world’s tallest free-standing structure until it was surpassed by Dubai’s Burj Khalifa in 2007. Its brilliant architectural design earned its place as one of the modern Seven Wonders of the World.
Ride the high-speed elevator to the observation deck and feel your ears pop on the way up. That’s when you know you are going really high! Get a panoramic view of Toronto out of the floor to ceiling glass windows. You can even download the CN Tower Viewfinder App that helps you identify buildings in the surrounding area in 5 languages. My favorite part is the see-through transparent glass floor that lets you stare straight down to the earth below your feet. Ooh, scary…
Want to take the visit to the next level? Do the CN Tower Edge Walk! Walk hands-free on the ledge encircling the top of the tower’s main pod and feel the adrenaline pumping through your veins. This is definitely a thrilling experience that deserves to be on everyone’s bucket list for Canada.
Right below the CN Tower is another can’t miss attractions in Toronto, Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada. No matter how old I get, I still feel joy and wonder every time I step into this place.
Featuring a variety of marine and freshwater habitats from around the world, the aquarium is home to more than 20000 aquatic species. This is a very family-friendly place to go for those traveling with children. Even adults will have a lot of fun here.
Observing life under the sea is simply fascinating. You will encounter all sorts of creatures that you can’t even imagine exists. Ripley’s has 17 exhibits in all. My favorites include Rainbow Reef, a colorful gallery with all sorts of beautiful fishes, the Dangerous Lagoon, an underwater tunnel that gives you the coolest close up look of sharks, stingrays and turtles, and Planet Jellies, a mesmerizing display of jellyfishes swimming under color-changing lights.
Also, make sure to catch one of the daily interactive dive shows at Ray Bay you can see divers feed the adorable stingrays!
Your stomach must be rumbling by now. Don’t worry, it’s time to eat your way through Chinatown. Walking through Toronto’s Chinatown may have you feeling a little overwhelmed by the sights, sounds, and smells. The countless signs and advertisements fixed to buildings, the roast ducks and pigs being displayed in windows, the amount of traffic on the sidewalks…. What’s that strange scent? Oh, it’s durians being sold in one of the fresh fruit markets.
I absolutely adore this neighborhood, not only because it represents my culture (I’m Chinese), but because there are so many good food options here. Some of the best restaurants on Spadina street include Mother’s Dumplings, Little Sheep Mongolian Hot Pot, Dim Sum King, & Canton Chilli. There are a couple of famous Vietnamese foodie spots too like Pho Pasteur and Bahn Mi Nguyen Huong.
If you are shopping for souvenir, step into Royal Canadian Gifts, the store with the best selection and prices for souvenirs in Toronto.
Kensington is a bohemian neighborhood with lots of cool vintage and indie shops, specialty grocers, chill cafes and hipster bars. In 2005, Kensington was designated as a national historic site of Canada.
Take a stroll around and soak up the artsy creative vibes. You may chuckle at the hilarious mannequins outside of Exile, a famous vintage store in the block. You’d never know if the model will be sporting a frog’s head or a chicken head today. Go inside and be dazzled at the fabulous array of costumes. A couple of other noteworthy shops to see include Cinderella Vintage and Courage My Love.
If you are still hungry, there are tons of iconic places to grab a bite here. The tacos at 7Lives and the jerk chicken at Rasta Pasta are my top recommendations. For dessert, check out Wanda’s Pie in the Sky.
Day 2: Allan Gardens + Eaton Centre + Nathan Phillip Square + AGO + Queen Street West
After you’ve grabbed breakfast somewhere near your accommodation, preferably at Tim Hortons, Canadians’ favorite coffee chain :P, head on to Allan Gardens. This is one of the locals’ best-kept secrets. The free conservatory has been around since the Edwardian-era, making it over a century old.
Underneath the pretty glass dome, there are six greenhouses, The Palm House, The Cool Temperate House, The Tropical Landscape House, The Arid House, two tropical houses and a children’s conservatory. Standing in this green oasis, you may find it hard to believe that this belongs in the middle of a metropolis like Toronto. If you are lucky, you may catch one of the seasonally themed shows like the Chrysanthemum Show in Autumn.
The Eaton Centre is the heart center of Torontonian life. This is where everyone comes to meet, shop, and hang out. In fact, Eaton is the busiest shopping mall in all of North America. Yes, it receives even more annual visitors than the Mall of America.
Check out Dundas Square right outside the north entrance of the mall. It is kind of like a mini version of New York’s Times Square. You’ll always see some street performances going on here. Hip hop dancers, musicians, artists…you might even meet Sarko, AKA the ‘Jesus Guy’. He is an infamous dude who yells “BELIEVE” or “JESUS!” to people who walk by. The day you get Jesus-ed is the day you can say you had the true Toronto experience. (But don’t worry, sweet Sarko is totally harmless).
Nathan Phillips Square
Next, head to Nathan Philips Square. Here you will find the quintessential Toronto sign that everyone takes photos with. Many events take place in this central plaza every year, including concerts, markets, art festivals, and demonstrations. My favorite is the annual New Year’s Eve bash. The pool in the center of the square turns into an ice skating rink in the winter, which would be a fun activity to do if you are visiting during the colder months.
Also, don’t forget to check out Osgoode Hall and Old City Hall to the left and right of Nathan Phillip Square, respectively. Both heritage buildings are ancient and so beautiful architecturally. The interior of Osgoode Hall especially looks straight out of Hogwarts with its majestic statues, columns and old paintings.
How can you not have a poutine while in a Canadian city? Grab lunch at Smoke’s Poutinerie. The chain has one location on Adelaide street that is a 10 minutes walk away from Nathan Philip Square. For those who don’t know, poutine is pretty much Canada’s national dish. Although it can have many different toppings, the base of it is a heaven trio: French fries, cheese curds, and gravy.
Smoke’s has a big menu offering many unique delicious poutine flavors. I mean…BBQ Bacon Mac poutine? Butter chicken poutine? Philly cheesesteak poutine? Veggie nacho poutine? All of them, please!
Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO)
After lunch, visit the Art Gallery of Ontario, which has a collection of 90000 works of art. The exhibits feature important works by Canadians, First Nations, and Inuit artists, as well as African, European, and Oceanic artists. You could really spend a whole afternoon in here as there are so many things to see.
Also, the museum often hosts traveling arts exhibitions, Yayoi Kusama’s famous Infinity Mirror Room came to the AGO as a pop-up but is now a permanent fixture in the collection. Don’t miss this photogenic room on the second level in gallery 224.
Queen Street West
Finally, end the day with a stroll down Queen Street West, one of the world’s hippest neighborhoods voted by Vogue magazine. There are many things to do on Queen street from boutique shopping to dining, to admiring the cool street arts.
Have a photoshoot in Graffiti Alley, one of Toronto’s best Instagram spots, or browse the awesome book collection in Type Book, or check out the cute terrariums and plants in Crown Flora’s Studio. Feeling peckish? Satisfy your sweet cravings at Cafe Crepe. You can also get pho for under $10 at Ginger. Night time on Queen Street West is even more fun with the variety of bars and clubs. Check out this full list of things you can’t miss on Queen Street West.
Day 3: Casa Loma + Royal Ontario Museum + The Annex + Koreatown
Casa Loma is Toronto’s one and only castle. This stunning property was originally the residence of a multimillionaire named Henry Pellatt. Today, it is a historic house museum and a legendary landmark in the city. Many big films took scenes here including X-men, Chicago, The Tuxedo, The Pacifier.
The castle is absolutely huge. The interior has three grand floors and the exterior includes a beautiful garden and several stables. Definitely check out the vintage cars exhibition in the carriage room.
If you want to take the visit to another level, come in the afternoon/evening instead for an escape room game in the castle! Casa Loma has multiple escape room games and they are top-notch immersive experiences featuring real actors. I played Dragon’s Song recently and it was phenomenal. Read about my experience here.
The Host Fine Indian Cuisine
Take Line 1 south from Casa Loma to St. George station and grab lunch in this area. I recommend The Host Fine Indian Cuisine to those who like Indian food. This restaurant serves delicious tandooris and the staff are very friendly.
Royal Ontario Museum
In the afternoon, visit the Royal Ontario Museum, the largest museum in Canada. From the outside, the building looks absolutely epic in the shape of a glistening crystal, and the inside of the museum is a whole other world.
The ROM has more than 6,000,000 items and 40 galleries in total, housing artifacts that display cultures around the world and throughout different eras, as well as specimens and fossils telling stories of natural history. Walking through the ROM is a very educational experience.
Psst, while the ticket for an adult is normally $20, ROM is now offering free admission to visitors on the third Monday evening of every month, between 5:30 p.m. and 8:30 p.m!
The Annex and surrounding area
Spend the rest of the day exploring the Annex neighborhood. Although the area is mostly residential, it is very lovely and vibrant. The people who live here are largely students since the University of Toronto is nearby. Stroll through the campus of Canada’s premiere university and see beautiful Gothic Revival style buildings enveloped in ivys.
Then, walk west on Bloor Street, a lively street filled with restaurants and pubs. If you are in the mood for a movie night, Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema is a special theatre that screens great documentary films.
Have dinner at Sunrise House, an authentic mom and pop restaurant in Koreatown. They make the best pork bone soup you’ll ever taste, and the food portions are really generous overall.
Finally, if you still have time, play some board games at Snakes & Lattes, an awesome cafe with an enormous collection of games that will entertain you and your company for hours.
Day 4: Distillery District + St Lawrence Market + Sugar Beach Park + Harbourfront
Still here? Good because Toronto has a lot more you haven’t seen yet! Start the day in Toronto’s Distillery District, a small village with cute cobblestone streets and narrow lanes that will give you European vibes. The area is a National Historic Site of Canada as it is home to numerous heritage buildings of the former Gooderham and Worts Distillery.
There are many local art stores, galleries, restaurants, and cafes here. Why not grab your morning coffee at the popular Balzac’s Coffee Roasters and sit outside to people watch for awhile?
From November until January, Distillery Districts hosts an annual Christmas Market where the village is transformed into a winter wonderland. So if you are in Toronto during this time, make sure to come get your fix of hot wine and Christmas caroling.
St. Lawrence Market
From the Distillery District, walk 14 minutes west on The Esplanade to St.Lawrence Market. This indoor market has been around since the 1800s. From fresh produce, meat & seafood to stalls selling ready to eat food, there is a dizzying amount shops in here. One thing for sure is that you will be hungry as soon as you step in to this place.
If the sheer number of choices got you stressed, a great thing to do is to join a St.Lawrence Market food tour. The knowledgeable guides will share some great historical stories with you as you munch down on delicacies that represent Toronto’s diverse cultures. From Indian samosas to Ukranian pierogies, you’ll get to sample a bit of everything!
Sugar Beach Park
If you are visiting during the summertime, Sugar Beach Park is a great place to soak up the sun by the water. The cotton candy pink beach umbrellas are very cute and make a nice little photo op. As we Torontonians live through a good five to six months of cold weather a year, we really appreciate summer and love to get outside whenever possible. So welcome to the place where we pretend we are somewhere tropical!
Of course, if you are in town anytime outside of late June to the end of September, don’t even bother coming to Sugar Beach Park. It will be a little depressing.
Finally, enjoy the tranquil views of Lake Ontario as you take a stroll along Queen’s Quay towards Harbourfront. Again, like Sugar Beach Park, while Harbourfront is relatively quiet in the winter, it is the place to be during summer time.
The shores are alive with festivals and activities when the weather is warm. Harbourfront loves good music. Check out the Enwave Theatre that offers regular live performances of mainstream and world music. And visit the Music Garden, a creative green space that was designed as a physical interpretation of a piece of music by Bach.
For dinner, have sushi at Oyshi Sushi right near the water. This small restaurant is cozy and their food is the real deal. (Trust me, I’m speaking from my experiences from living in Japan for two years) The sashimi is really fresh and the gyozas are very yummy.
Day 5 Toronto Center Island ($8.19 round trip)/Day Trip to Niagara Falls
Toronto Center Islands
The Toronto Center Islands is an easy getaway from city life to nature. The islands offer many fun things to do. You can rent a canoe, a kayak, or a paddleboat and get out on to the water. Or rent a bicycle and go for a ride around the island. There is also Centreville Amusement Park, a great place for families with little kids to play. If you are traveling with a group of friends, it’s a good idea to bring some food, drinks and a speaker and have a good ol’ picnic.
On the west, shore is where you’ll find the lovely Hanlan’s Points Beach. It is a beautiful sunset-watching spot and oh did I mention, the beach has a clothing-optional area.
From Harbourfront Center, you can buy your ferry tickets to the islands. It costs $7.50 per adult and $3.65 per child. The ferry runs quite frequently every 30-45 minutes.
The legendary Niagara Falls needs no introduction. Located on the Niagara River, this famous trio of waterfalls straddles the border between Canada and the US. I am totally not biased when I say the view is much better from the Canadian side. 😛 From Toronto, the drive is only about 1.5 hour to get to the falls. So there is absolutely no excuse to not do this trip.
There are actually three falls at this natural site. The American Falls and Bridal Veil Falls are entirely on the US’ side and are smaller. The main attraction is the Horseshoe Falls. It is the fastest flowing waterfall in North America. Prepared to pick your jaws off the floor watching the huge volume of water plunge from more than 50 meters high and crashing powerfully into the lake below. Make sure to not only watch from the front but also walk along the bank to get pass the mouth of the crest. It is an entirely different perspective from here as you can see the top of the waterfall.
Once you have enough pictures from the shore, get on the Hornblower Cruise and encounter the falls up close and personal. It’s so thrilling to feel the full force of the water spray as the boat approaches falls. Guaranteed you will not forget this experience.
Have even more time on your trip? Consider going on an eastern Canada road trip!
Toronto Itinerary Printable
That’s it for your 5 days Toronto itinerary! Honestly, there are a lot more things to do in Toronto. So if you have even more time, I encourage you to explore. How about watching a stage show in the Theatre District? Or catching a game at the Scotiabanks Arena when the Raptors are playing? Or taking more stunning day trips right outside Toronto? The choices here are endless. Make sure to download my Toronto Itinerary printable PDF below. Welcome to my city!