Do you know the feeling of being in a place and feeling compelled to visit every single thing out there? Yes? Great, then you’ll understand me. If not… just read on because this is how I felt in Toronto.
About 3 months ago I left my home in Belgium to depart on what would be the biggest journey of my life: living abroad! I decided to go on exchange, and here I am, in Canada!
Of course, the first thing I did when I heard I could leave was checking all the amazing destinations I could see, which are A LOT. So, one of the destinations on my Canadian bucket list was Toronto.
After a few online checks, I learned that Toronto is Canada’s biggest and most modern city. I can hear you thinking… definitely worth a visit.
There was only 1 problem… no one wanted to go with me… Of course, that did not stop me from travelling (it never does, not having anyone to travel with is nonsense, you will meet incredible people along the way).
So, as soon as I decided on a date, I booked a bus and an Airbnb. Now, don’t think I had a lot of time because some people forget that you actually have to study while being on exchange. (No, you cannot spend weeks on a beach or skiing in the mountains. It’s a disappointment, I know…)
I made great use of the Canadian Thanksgiving weekend and I took about 3 days off of schoolwork. This would mean, 2 full days to visit all I could see during a weekend in Toronto.
But what do you visit in a weekend?
Below, I will give you an overview of all things Toronto has to offer and I will share with you the most original place to spend your nights!
What to visit during a weekend in Toronto: an overview
1. Casa Loma
I started visiting Casa Loma. This immense castle takes you back in time from the moment you walk in. Although it is not as old as you would think it is, it is definitely impressive. You can easily picture prince charming on his horse in front of the castle. The whole castle is basically a museum.
If you dream of time travelling, this is your spot! But don’t think this is some medieval castle.. it was built in the late 1800s. Fun fact: as soon as the cell phone was invented, the landlord placed about 50 of them in his castle and possessed one of the first real showers!
2. Nathan Philips Square – Toronto Sign
The next stop on my tour led me to the Nathan Philips Square, where you can find the one and only Toronto sign! You can find a sign in every city so it was on my checklist taking a picture of it. But essentially, this was only a mark on my route to the Toronto Eaton Centre.
3. Toronto Eaton Centre & Yorkdale mall
The first thing I saw when climbing out of the bus was a huge shopping mall, called Yorkdale Mall. For some people, this might not seem very big, but for someone coming from a tiny country like Belgium, it is HUGE.
But why visit only 1 shopping mall if you can visit 2 of them?! From Victoria Secret’s to a Disney Store, in the Toronto Eaton Centre has it all! I had never visited a Disney store before so the cuteness was overwhelming
4. The Cathedral Church of Saint James
This stop was actually not on my list, but I accidentally ran into a church. Now you should know, I have a weird obsession of going inside every church I encounter. This is because it gives me peace of mind and the architecture is just so incredibly beautiful!
Whenever I feel like getting some rest, I walk into a church (it is a great place to think about your life too). Thus I visited the Cathedral Church of Saint James. It was wonderfully different from any European church I had seen before, so I would highly recommend this place.
5. The distillery district
Where I originally tried to get when ending up in a church was the distillery district. For any soul who likes small shops, the history of alcohol or just the vibe of creativity, it is a must!
There are many tiny shops selling wonderful little things, from home-made chocolate to indigenous art and this in a place outside the city centre you would totally not expect. I would almost compare it to a Christmas market kind of atmosphere.
There is a place called SOMA where they have the most lovely chocolate, which is considerably harder to find in Canada than it is in Belgium.
6. The CN Tower
Of course, the number one big tourist attraction everyone thinks of when you say the word Toronto is … the CN tower! Duuh! So you definitely can’t miss this during your weekend in Toronto.
And yes, I visited it too! Some local citizens advised me to visit the tower by sunset, so that is what I did. On my first day in Toronto, I took an Uber to the CN tower, bought a ticket, calculated the exact time before sunset so I would be in time, all of this to hear that… THE WAITING LINE WAS 1.5 HOURS.
I thought I got a nervous breakdown. But, brave little Emma, who already bought the ticket (which expired that day) decided to stand in line and wait. But thank god, only 30 minutes later I was able to take the elevator to the top, just in time for a magical sunset.
When buying a ticket for the CN tower you have 2 choices: or you buy a regular ticket, or you opt for a ticket to the Skypod (which is what I decided to do).
The Skypod is a little capsule higher than the regular platform and according to my experience worth a visit. You pay about 20 (Canadian) dollars extra, but you get an even more amazing view without being in the mass.
This was definitely the highlight of my trip. I watched the sunset and the lights of the city go on while thinking about life, future plans and how I ended up in this beautiful place. I recommend putting your camera aside and just enjoying the moment when, for once, time stands still and life just is what it is.
7. Royal Ontario Museum
The Royal Ontario Museum was one of my favourite visits during my weekend in Toronto. It is the biggest museum in Canada and is basically a museum about everything. From ancient cultures to nature and dinosaurs, it is absolutely amazing!
One room I highly recommend is the First Nations hall. Although most people outside of the American continent do not know a lot about indigenous people there, it is the most important part of Canadian history and Canadian society today. The hall left me both amazed and sad at the same time.
In total, I believe I spent about 5 hours in the museum. For people who like to see a museum but don’t fancy a long hour visit, they provide 1-hour tours of the most important highlights for free.
8. China Town & Little Italy
For a light culture shock you should be in China Town or Little Italy. You’ll find street names in other languages, street vendors selling products you don’t directly recognize and weird-looking shops you might like to visit. The population suddenly changes and it feels like you’ve just been teleported into another country. I love it!
9. Toronto Islands
The most famous pictures of Toronto are all made from the Toronto Islands. If you want THE perfect picture, this is the place to be! In summer there are numerous activities going on, but when you visit in fall – as I did – you can find ultimate peace and silence.
The islands are easy to reach by ferry, so pick yourself a nice place and enjoy the Toronto skyline…
Related: fall destinations in Ontario
10. Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada
If you’re an underwater animal lover the aquarium is where you should be! If there would exist more than 24 hours in a day, I would have definitely visited the aquarium. So if you have more time than a weekend in Toronto, definitely put this on your list!
Tickets for the aquarium can be bought in combination with tickets for the CN tower, which includes a little discount. So if you plan to visit both, make sure you get it.
11. Hockey Hall of Fame
You cannot go to Canada without seeing some hockey and while you might opt for a hockey match of the Toronto Maple Leafs, the real hockey freaks can visit the Hockey Hall of Fame. The ultimate hockey experience!
Related: fun facts about Canada
The most original place to spend your nights in Toronto
It’s still hard to believe I did, but I spend my nights in a Buddhist temple!
Yes, you read that right! A Buddhist temple! In Toronto!
And no, it’s not one like you find them in Asia, but I stayed in a modern-life Buddhist temple just a metro ride away from the city centre of Toronto and I LOVED it!
The temple was originally founded by a monk from South Korea and nowadays you can find people there who devote their time to Buddhism. Not everyone is living there full-time, they run retreats and some people live there a few days a week in addition to their ‘normal’ life.
What to expect? Silence, amazing people with great stories, a very friendly cat and being waken up at 5 a.m. (only on weekdays though, and no, you don’t have to get up).
I would recommend this place to everyone since it’s a very enriching experience (in the first instance a bit of a culture shock to me) and you’ll meet a lot of lovely people! I also had some amazing conversations there.
If you’re interested you can take a look at their available rooms on Airbnb by clicking on the link below! (Note, this is my affiliate link for Airbnb and if you purchase through this link I might receive a commission at no additional cost to you.)
Ready to discover Toronto?
These are about all the amazing places you can come and see in Toronto. I believe your stay in Toronto can easily be longer than just a weekend city trip with these 11 places as highlights of your experience.
I loved being in Toronto, feeling small standing in between huge buildings, getting emotional in the CN tower and exploring the big-city vibes that come with it. Hopefully, soon to be repeated!
If you have ever been to Toronto, I would love to hear your thoughts about the city in the comments! Interested in more information about Canada? Read my other posts about East-Canada!