9 Toronto Attractions Every Canadian Should Visit
From the CN Tower to the Royal Ontario Museum, these are Toronto’s biggest and most culturally significant attractions. Oh, and did we mention that you should see them all at least once?
Best Toronto Attractions: CN Tower
There’s no mistaking it: the CN Tower remains the mother of all Toronto attractions. A 58-second elevator ride whisks you to the 114th story of the world’s ninth tallest free-standing structure—the 181-story, 1,815.5-foot communications tower built by Canadian National Railway in 1976. Breathtaking views from the glass-fronted elevator set the stage for more dizzying sights from the Look Out, where on a clear day you can see as far as the Canada-US border. Visitors with nerves of steel can walk on the Glass Floor for a view 1,122-ft straight down. For panoramic views, 1,465 ft above the ground, take an elevator up 33 more stories to the world’s highest man-made observatory.
Best Toronto Attractions: Hockey Hall of Fame
This shrine to Canada’s favourite sport celebrates all things hockey, including those who have achieved greatness in the game. Housed in a beautiful former bank building dating back to 1885, which is incorporated into Brookfield Place, the Hockey Hall of Fame contains the most comprehensive collection of hockey artifacts and memorabilia in the world, among them the first Stanley Cup trophy. Interactive exhibits run the gamut from multimedia trivia kiosks that test your hockey knowledge to a virtual reality puck-shooting game that allows visitors to go one-on-one against legendary players.
Best Toronto Attractions: Toronto Islands
Originally a peninsula, the Toronto Islands were formed when the rushing waters of the Don River separated a spit from the mainland during a ferocious storm in 1858. There are more than a dozen islets and mid-sized islands in this urban archipelago, some of them connected by bridges, others accessible only by boat. A thriving residential community of creative characters calls Ward’s and Algonquin Islands home, while Centre Island is a popular destination for its amusement park. No cars are allowed on the islands, adding enormously to their tranquility. Along with exploration on foot, two great ways to get the most out of the islands are to rent a boat or a bicycle and paddle your way through the extensive lagoon system or cycle to a secluded picnic spot. It is easy to forget that you are right beside one of the busiest ports in Canada.
Best Toronto Attractions: Toronto Eaton Centre
Named after Canadian retail legend Timothy Eaton—whose mail-order catalog and department store, Eaton’s, was a beloved national institution until 1999, when the company declared bankruptcy. This multi-story shopping centre is the quintessential downtown mall: big, busy and boisterous. Opened in 1979 and heralded as the anchor that would transform down-at-heel Yonge and Dundas streets into an upscale destinations, the complex houses some 300 stores, restaurants and cafes.
Best Toronto Attractions: Distillery Historic District
Walking the pedestrian-only cobblestone streets past the best-preserved Victorian architecture in North America, you’ll feel as if you’ve stumbled into another century. The 44 buildings of the 13-acre Distillery Historic District were, until the mid-1900s, part of Gooderham and Worts, once the world’s largest distillery. The distillery evolved from a grist mill founded in 1832 by Englishman James Wort and his brother-in-law William Gooderham. The 150-year-old districts has been infused with new life and is a vibrant community of cafes, restaurants, galleries, art studios, performance venues and specialty shops.
Best Toronto Attractions: Casa Loma
This medieval-style castle, completed in 1914 for a staggering $3.5 million, looms on a hill, overlooking downtown. Designed by famed Toronto architect E.J. Lennox, Casa Loma (Spanish for house on the hill) was the estate of prominent financier and industrialist Sir Henry Pellatt, who was forced by financial ruin to abandon his 98-room dream home less than 10 years after it was built.
Best Toronto Attractions: Art Gallery of Ontario
Founded in 1900 and now one of the more prominent art museums in North America, the wide-ranging Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) has over 79,000 works. The outstanding pieces of Canadian art (including works by the Group of Seven) are a national treasure. Along with superb Henry Moore plasters and bronzes, the gallery exhibits significant masterpieces of European art, from paintings by Vincent van Gogh to Pablo Picasso. A major renovation, designed by architect Frank Gehry, was completed in November 2008. It includes a free contemporary gallery with rotating exhibits, accessible at street level during gallery hours.
Best Toronto Attractions: Royal Ontario Museum
Canada’s Largest Museum, with more than six million objects, the Royal Ontario Museum, or ROM, was created in 1914 with the ambitious dual mandate of showcasing human civilization and the natural world. Galleries of archeology, science, art, world cultures, and natural history display significant collections of Chinese treasures, ornate mummy cases, and dinosaur skeletons. Hands-on exhibits invite children to excavate for fossils and examine species under a microscope.
Best Toronto Attractions: Ontario Place
This internationally acclaimed cultural, leisure and entertainment complex, designed by Ed Zeidller and opened in 1971, is centred on three man-made islands along the Lake Ontario waterfront. Although many of the park’s attractions are closed for renovation, there is still a lively marina, in addition to the Molson Canadian Amphitheatre and Echo Beach concert venues. The complex is open from late May to late September.