Not just one of the biggest, most vibrant metropolises in North America, Toronto claims the accolade of one of the world’s most diverse cities — with 50% of its residents born outside Canada. This gifts the city a veritable kaleidoscope of cultural highlights, and one of the most distinct and exciting urban centres on the planet.
Museums, festivals, galleries, and national historic sites; Toronto has them all, and in abundance. Couple this with the unique cultural experiences available to you as a Scenic escorted tour guest, and a trip to Toronto promises an enriching stop-off during a longer tour of Canada’s magnificent sights and attractions.
From the panoramic vistas of CN Tower to the industrial charm of the Distillery District, our Toronto city guide offers a glimpse of the city’s cultural highpoints, as well as some of the best places to shop.
Regarded as one of the world’s most cosmopolitan cities, Toronto more than holds its own against the cultural heavyweights of London, New York and Paris. With galleries, venues and historic exhibits aplenty, you’ll be hard-pressed to unearth the city’s bottomless heritage in a single visit.
Looming 553m above the tarmac, Toronto’s CN Tower has become an icon for the city and a symbol of Canada — attracting two million international visitors each year. From its peak, visitors can enjoy breath-taking views of the city and neighbouring Lake Ontario, which stretches to Niagara Falls on the US border. Travel with Scenic, and you’ll go one better than simply taking in the views — savouring an unforgettable evening meal in the tower’s a la carte dining venue, 360.
Royal Ontario Museum
Internationally renowned for its collection of six million items (displayed in no less than forty galleries), the Royal Ontario Museum effortlessly claims the title of North America’s largest museum and art space. The museum exhibits historic objects from the realms of art, world culture and natural history, and is especially celebrated for its extensive collection of Art Deco designs. Competing for attention alongside these artefacts is the building itself, which, thanks to the work of Polish architect, Daniel Libeskind, is among the most distinctive cultural spaces on Earth.
Bata Shoe Museum
Shoe lover or not, you’ll find yourself reading every exhibit card in Toronto’s unique Bata Shoe Museum. Located in downtown Toronto, on the corner of the distinguished Bloom St. Culture Corridor, this quirky museum contains over 13,500 shoe-related items spanning thousands of years, many of which were collected by the gallery's founder, Sonja Bata. Between the 1940s and the 1970s, Banja built up a collection of traditional footwear from across the globe whilst travelling with her husband, and the origins of every pair can be explored throughout the museum.
As well as being a centre for arts, culture and heritage in Toronto, the Distillery District also boasts some of the best retail opportunities in the city. This is all thanks to legislation enforced by the Ontario Heritage Act, banning big businesses from opening chains and franchises on the site. Accordingly, only independent boutique shops are allowed in the neighbourhood, giving the district a vibrant and creative buzz.
Royal Alexandra Theatre
Affectionately known as the ‘Royal Alex’, Toronto’s Royal Alexandra Theatre, built in 1907, is the oldest continuously operating theatre in North America. This history is reflected in the theatre’s opulent beaux-arts style, meaning the building is easily recognisable against the city’s contemporary backdrop. Despite having only 1,497 seats, the Royal Alex is one of a handful of theatres in Toronto which plays host to the Canadian Opera Company and the National Ballet of Canada — so it’s the perfect place to enjoy an unforgettable show by these two performance troupes amid truly intimate and spectacular surroundings.
While it’s easy to get wrapped up in Toronto’s enviable culture and heritage, we’d recommend taking time to explore the city’s retail highlights, too. Thanks to its vibrant multiculturalism, Toronto offers some of the best retail pursuits in North America. Here’s a handful of the city’s best spending spots to get you started.
Queen Street West
Since becoming Toronto’s main art and design district in the mid-1990s, the Queen Street West neighbourhood has been transformed by shops, restaurants and boutique hotels — cementing this small district as the city’s creative heart. Alongside the numerous bars and cafes, visitors will find a wealth of independent shops selling everything from one-off fashion items to kitsch homeware. Not just great for shopping, Queen Street West is one of Toronto’s oldest enclaves — boasting a fine collection of Victorian-era industrial architecture.
Kensington Market is one of Toronto’s oldest daily markets, and still one of its very best. Food, drink, arts and crafts can all be sourced cheaply in this vibrant neighbourhood, and the ‘no car’ rule means you can peruse the stalls and stop off for some authentic local fare at your leisure. The marketplace is located in downtown Toronto, and offers public markets and events seven days a week.
If you’ve enjoyed reading this Toronto city guide and are keen to explore the city for yourself, click here to find out more about our selection of luxury escorted tours in Canada. We offer a number of Canadian tours visiting Toronto, giving you the opportunity to discover its cultural highlights in complete luxury.