There’s something for every out traveler to explore in Canada’s Downtown. From the streets of the vibrant gay village to the world-class shops and eateries on Queen Street West, there are so many ways to experience the vibrant energy of the city. This is our perfect day in Toronto.
EXPERIENCE CANADA’S HISTORY AT CASA LOMA:
Built as a residence for financier Sir Henry Mill Pellatt in 1914, this Gothic Revival style house and gardens in midtown Toronto nestled in between verdant Spadina Park and George Brown College is now a museum and landmark.
Danielle’s Tip: The enchanted castle is stunning! You will be mesmerized at every turn. From the stained glass ceiling of the inside garden, to the top of the tower, and beautiful garden with a view of the CN Tower, there’s only one word to sum up Casa Loma, and that’s BREATHTAKING.
Kit’s Tip: Casa Loma is a short cab ride from the heart of the city, but you feel like you’ve been transported back to the 1800s. You really get a sense of history here. Take some time to explore the grounds and see the stables, the carriage room, the garden, and the “secret” garden.
John’s Tip: Not only a great spot to learn about the history of Canada, Casa Loma was also a really great spot to take some pictures. Be sure to climb all the way to the top of the towers and check out the carved signatures on the walls of people who have visited over the years.
On our way from downtown, we stopped by University of Toronto’s Saint George Campus just a short walk from Spadina Avenue to take in more of Toronto’s historic architecture. UofT’s Grecian-inspired Convocation Hall is an absolute must-see. The massive, circular structure was finished just after the turn of the 20th century, and the whole trip’s accessible by public transport!
KICK BACK WITH A GAME AND A COFFEE AT SNAKES & LATTES:
This neighborhood hangout is more than a coffee shop, bar and restaurant; it’s also a haven for game lovers.
Danielle’s Tip: I felt like a kid at a candy store. I could see myself spending hours at Snakes & Lattes without getting any work done. Board games, lattes, and pastries—what more could a girl ask for?
Kit’s Tip: The coffee and pastries were perfect; it was feeling like fall so we went with pumpkin spice lattes, pumpkin scones, and a Nutella cookie. Snakes and Lattes is a great place to get some work done, or catch up and have fun with friends.
John’s Tip: What they lack in snakes (zero, I repeat, zero snakes), they make up for with an amazing selection of board games. We’re talking walls full of every game you could imagine, like the library that the Beast gives Belle in Beauty and the Beast. I must confess, I lost at Jenga. Kit and Danielle will deny it, but I let them win to be nice.
Situated in in the heart of Toronto’s Little Italy, Snake & Lattes shares the neighborhood with a number of attractions unique in nature—like The Royal, an uber local cornerstone theater that showcases feminist and queer film series every month—along with Toronto’s own trattorias, gelaterias and international produce markets.
BRUNCH AT HAIR OF THE DOG ON CHURCH STREET:
Located on the southern fringes of Toronto’s Church-Wellesley Village—known as the gay village—Hair of the Dog is an upscale pub and restaurant with a rich history and diverse clientele. The locale reflects Church-Wellesley’s inclusive spirit and rests just north of Downtown Yonge’s city center, Yonge-Dundas Square.
Danielle’s Tip: Hair of the Dog is a cute and spacious pub on the corner of Church Street, where you can enjoy a peaceful brunch with friends. I ordered the veggie burger and fries and walked out stuffed. Be sure to pull out your camera when you leave because just a block away is the rainbow crosswalk that I happy-skipped through on my Insta story.
Kit’s Tip: I was excited to see that they had a quesadilla with tofu on the menu, so I went for that. It’s so nice when a casual pub has a vegetarian protein option. Our server was super friendly and kept the coffee refills coming.
John’s Tip: I got a perfect burger and an even more perfect bloody mary. I like my bloody marys big, and this one came in a pint glass with all the fixings.
STROLL, SHOP, AND SNAP SOME SELFIES IN KENSINGTON MARKET:
A bustling neighborhood marketplace on a tree lined street with dozens of creatively painted Victorian houses, Kensington Market is full of unique shops, boutiques, art spaces, bars, and cafes to explore.
Danielle’s Tip: Kensington Market offers something for everyone. The endless row is filled with people walking in and out of souvenir shops, bars, and restaurants. What really caught my eye was each and every alleyway full of street art from local artists.
Kit’s Tip: I loved walking around Kensington Market. I was particularly excited to see so many vegan and vegetarian restaurants in the neighborhood. We both got the signature salad at Hibiscus, which boasts over 42 ingredients, and then we walked over to Bunner’s for a vegan maple tahini cookie.
John’s Tip: Kensington Market was an amazing place to find souvenirs to bring back to our friends and family. I especially loved Good Egg for their selection of fun books, cards, art, and tchotchke’s. (I love a tchotchke!)
Even though the temperature in Toronto rarely breaks 80º, all the excitement of the outdoor market left us parched. We stopped in CoCo Fresh Tea & Juice just across Spadina Avenue from the market for a refreshing cup of boba tea before heading over to Art Gallery of Ontario a couple blocks southeast to round out the afternoon with 90,000 works of art from all over the globe.
BRUSH UP ON LGBTQ LITERATURE AT GLAD DAY BOOKSHOP:
Opened in 1970, Glad Day Bookshop is not only Toronto’s oldest surviving bookstore, it’s also the oldest LGBTQ bookstore in the world. Also a coffee shop, cocktail bar, event space, and dance club, it serves as an inclusive space in Church-Wellesley Village for everyone to amplify creativity, story, sexuality, liberation, and love.
Danielle’s Tip: Glad is so much more than a bookstore. Where do I begin? This LGBT owned bookstore is a bookstore, event space, café, bar, and nightclub. I have no doubt that if I lived in Toronto, the Glad crew would know my name, what I liked to read, and drink. I’d be a regular on Church Street.
Kit’s Tip: I love a neighborhood bookstore, and Glad Day Bookshop is so much more than a place to buy books. It’s also a community event space, and a great place to find out about new authors, drink coffee, and maybe even join a discussion group. I would absolutely be a regular here if I lived in Toronto. When we wandered in, there was a talkback with local authors and you could tell the crowd was filled with regulars.
John’s Tip: They also have one of the most eclectic cocktail menus in the neighborhood. All the bookshelves are on wheels, and at night they push them to the side and the store turns into a dance club. When I heard that I was suspicious (how much fun could a book store/club really be?), but we stopped back later that night and it was hoppin’!
One of the beautiful facets of Church-Wellesley is its walkability. Just five minutes on foot from Glad Day is Mattamy Athletic Center, which houses an NHL-sized hockey rink and regularly hosts touring musicians and artists. And just five minutes from Mattamy is Allan Gardens Conservatory, an historic site open to the public free of charge year round with over 16,000 square feet of greenhouse, annual flower shows and rich Ontarian history. Whichever direction your feet take in Church-Wellesley, you’ll find a signature Toronto experience.
DIVE INTO AN UNDERSEA ADVENTURE AT RIPLEY’S AQUARIUM:
Opened in 2013, Ripley’s Aquarium has 1.5 million gallons of marine and freshwater habitats from across the world. The exhibits hold more than 20,000 exotic sea and freshwater specimens from more than 450 species. Just steps away from the CN Tower and Ontario Lake-side Harbourfront Center, the aquarium is a must-visit stop in the Entertainment District.
Danielle’s Tip: I have been to my fair share of aquariums and this was my favorite, hands down. I crawled through the kids viewing tunnel to get a closer look at the sharks and poked my head through the “Nemo” tank. What can I say? I’m a big kid, but I guarantee you’d want to do it too. My favorite part was the endless tunnel of sharks and fish. My head was to the ceiling the entire time as the sea creatures swam all around us.
Kit’s Tip: This aquarium is HUGE, there’s so much to see and explore, you feel like you’re in a scene out of Finding Nemo. There’s a moving walkway through a tunnel with tropical fish and sharks swimming right above your head.
John’s Tip: There’s a ton of great places to get photos here, but be sure to get a silhouetted shot by the Jellyfish exhibit. So cool!
If you’re looking to plan your own experience OUT in Toronto, head to www.SeeTorontoNow.com for the best travel information, planning resources, and insider deals.