Travel Writer Alex Carter reflects on his unmissable experiences in Canada’s largest city

Written by Alex Carter

Situated on the expansive shores of Lake Ontario, Toronto is the largest, most popular and perhaps the most well-known city in Canada, attracting tens of millions of tourists every year. It is brimming with vibrant and varied neighbourhoods full of famously welcoming and kind people. Despite its reputation as a tourist hotspot, it is still full of hidden gems off the beaten path. Here is a guide to some of my personal favourites, with a mixture of famous and lesser-known attractions and activities from multiple visits over the years.

Brimming with vibrant and varied neighbourhoods full of famously welcoming and kind people

Royal Ontario Museum

An ideal first place to look for in any new city is a museum, and the ROM does not disappoint. Its unconventional appearance is courtesy of acclaimed architect Daniel Liebskind, who was also behind the Jewish Museum in Berlin and the Imperial War Museum in Manchester. Inside, its four floors are packed with fascinating exhibits, with everything from natural history to contemporary artwork – you will want to set aside at least half a day to see it all. I would particularly recommend the First Nations exhibition, developed by aboriginal curators and artists, which highlights their fascinating and nuanced cultures. What’s more, it offers free admission on Wednesday evenings and substantially discounted student tickets at other times.

ONoir Restaurant 

A short walk away from the ROM is ONoir, a truly unique dining experience that sees you plunged into complete darkness whilst you eat your food. ONoir is the first of its kind in North America, and beyond being an out of this world experience, it employs a staff of completely blind waiters. Eating in complete darkness may not be everyone’s idea of an enjoyable night out, but I would strongly encourage anyone visiting Toronto to try it out. Beyond providing a hilarious group experience, ONoir partners with charities that help visually impaired individuals find gainful employment, so you will also be supporting an excellent cause. 

Fran’s Diner

If you are looking for a more conventional dining option, Fran’s is the best place to go for some traditional North American comfort food. A daily haunt of legendary Torontonian musician Glenn Gould, Fran’s has been open since 1940 and is practically a Toronto institution. With North American classics like pancakes, waffles and more, you cannot go wrong with their menu. 

The islands are a truly unique asset to the city – being the largest urban car-free community in North America

CN Tower

A building synonymous with Toronto as probably its most famous attraction, the CN Tower is the tallest building in the city. It gives you an expansive view of the city, and the glass floor section at the top is equally beautiful as it is terrifying. Ticket prices are surprisingly reasonable – starting at CA$43 (about £25). Whilst you will have no regrets when you see the view from the top, you may want to prioritise cheaper (and frankly more authentic) alternatives if you are travelling on a budget.

Toronto Islands 

If you are feeling in need of respite from the famously bad downtown Toronto traffic, visiting the Toronto Islands, situated just south of the city in Lake Ontario, is the perfect way to relax. Just a 5 minute ferry ride (for only nine dollars) gives you access to beaches, parks, trails, a theme park and even a petting zoo. As a whole, the islands are a truly unique asset to the city – being the largest urban car-free community in North America – and make for an unbeatable night out. 

Final Thoughts

Toronto is a gem of a city that, as the cliche goes, truly has something for everyone. Whilst it is undoubtedly quite expensive (nowhere is perfect), its combination of walkable streets, compact downtown area and cheap and efficient public transport system means it is easy to move around and find something that suits every budget. Hopefully, this itinerary has provided a good starting point for 48 hours in a city that is impossible not to love.

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