These Toronto attractions draw millions of visitors a year and span the modern to the historical and the cultural to the commercial.
Toronto is a big, bustling multicultural city, with attractions that will appeal to a variety of people: culture lovers, sports lovers, nature lovers, shoppers, foodies and those who like to explore off the beaten track.
The attractions on this list are the most popular and most visited by tourists, but the city warrants deeper exploration. Just wandering Toronto's best neighborhoods gives you a great sense of the city and its people.
If you're planning to visit a few attractions, the Toronto City Pass offers half price admission and VIP entry.
These attractions are all easily accessible (within a 20-minute walk or 5-15 minute public transit ride away) from Union Station in downtown Toronto.
The Toronto Eaton Centre
The Eaton Centre is a bright and airy shopping mall in the heart of Toronto's downtown that covers two city blocks and houses more than 230 stores. The stores will appeal to the budget conscious and spendthrifts alike.
Along with the CN Tower, the Eaton Centre is the most popular tourist attraction in Toronto.
Between 2010 and 2015, the shopping hub has undergone major upgrades and renovations, including the addition of an impressive and diverse food court.
More than just a place to shop, the four-level, glass domed Eaton Centre is of architectural interest and features a huge Canadian geese mobile, "Flight Stop," designed by artist Michael Snow.
Erect a disproportionately tall building in the middle of a city and they will come. The CN Tower attracts millions of tourists 364 days of the year for its bird's eye view of Toronto.
At 1,815 feet the CN Tower has lost its title as the tallest free-standing structure in the world, but as of 2015 held rank as the tallest structure in the Western Hemisphere and was classified as one of the "Seven Wonders of the Modern World" by the American Society of Civil Engineers.
A glass elevator whisks you to the 1,122 foot high indoor/outdoor observation deck where a portion of the floor is transparent. Instead of buying your admission ticket, you could also make a reservation at the tower's top-floor restaurant, 360, to get the view, one of the best ways to get the whole experience.
There is really no other way to get such an elevated, panoramic view of Toronto, which is a great perspective on the city, Lake Ontario and surrounding areas. That said, visiting the CN Tower is not inexpensive and it can be very crowded and busy. If this is not your thing, perhaps a quiet drink at the Rooftop Lounge of the Park Hyatt may adequately satisfy your quest for a bird's eye view of the city.
For history or architecture buffs especially, Casa Loma is a fascinating visit but most anyone can appreciate the grandiose home built by wealthy Toronto businessman Sir Henry Pellatt in the early 1900s. Casa Loma is similar to Hearst Castle in California, in that it is one man's ambitious architectural vision. In the case of Casa Loma, Pellat's dream went awry and contributed to his downfall.
Notable for its location proudly overlooking the city, the "House on the Hill" boasted many modern-day conveniences, such as central vac and an elevator. The Casa Loma building also was used as a location shoot for the 2002 movie "Chicago."
Royal Ontario Museum (the ROM)
Even if you don't step inside the ROM, it's worth checking out the bizarre, jagged glass exterior that tends to either delight or offend passersby.
With more than 40 galleries of art, archaeology and natural science, the ROM offers up a world of interest and fun. The diverse ROM galleries feature one of the world's finest collections of artifacts from China, a more than six-story tall totem pole and much more. A discovery gallery at the ROM and other interactive exhibits mean everyone's senses get a workout and kids stay interested.
Escape the hustle and bustle of downtown Toronto to lakeside charm. Centre Island is one of a series of small islands that comprise the largest urban car-free community in North America (some service vehicles are permitted). Centre Island, also called Toronto Island, offers a place for recreation and relaxation and features an amusement park, recreation areas, beaches, a yacht club, and restaurants.
Centre Island is a 10-minute ferry ride away from downtown Toronto.
The Distillery Historic District is a great place to spend a few hours if you're in downtown Toronto and you want to get away from the usual downtown stuff: there's not a Starbucks or McDonalds in sight. This pedestrian-only village is set amidst fabulous heritage architecture and is devoted to promoting arts and culture. The area also features a wellness center, plenty of cafés, restaurants and pubs.
Walk along Front Street east from Union Station for about 15 minutes. Lots of cute shops and restaurants along the way as well as the St. Lawrence Market, a great, inexpensive lunch spot if it's open.
Yorkville is a charming anomaly amidst Toronto high rises and shopping malls. Tucked into a pocket of downtown, the quaint Victorian architecture in Yorkville houses dozens of restaurants, boutiques and art galleries. The dining and shopping are upscale and the galleries represent some of the finest Canadian and international artists. Many celebrities have been spotted strolling the sidewalks of Yorkville, especially during the Toronto International Film Festival.
Hockey Hall of Fame
You don't have to be a diehard hockey fan to enjoy a visit to the Hockey Hall of Fame, which is an outstanding facility, full of interactive exhibits that put kids or adults in the heat of NHL action. The Broadcast Pods let you call the action of some of the most famous hockey games, including the 1972 Canada / Russia series: "Henderson shoots, he scores." Also featured is a replica NHL dressing room (minus the smell), a trophy room, and of course a gift shop.
Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO)
The AGO houses an impressive collection of more than 40,000 works, making it the 10th largest art museum in North America. The AGO is a superb document of Canadian art heritage but also features masterworks from around the world, spanning 100 AD to the present and housed in a stunning Frank Gehry building.
The AGO is in an eclectic part of downtown Toronto adjacent to Chinatown and Baldwin Village, providing an interesting choice of restaurants and shops to peruse before of after your gallery visit.
Toronto has the second largest Chinatown in North America. People will find bargains on exotic trinkets, jewelry, clothing and household items. Plus, of course, where there's a bustling Chinatown, there's delicious food, and Toronto's Chinatown is no exception. There are dozens, maybe hundreds, of restaurants serving not just authentic Chinese, but also Vietnamese and other Asian fare.
Canada's largest aquarium opened in 2013 in Toronto next to the CN Tower.
The aquarium is a 12,500 square-meter (135,000 square-foot) boasting more than 5.7 million liters (1.5 million gallons) of water home to 15,000 animals, including sharks, jellies, rays, and green sea turtles.
The aquarium will not be home to dolphins, seals or other mammals. No doubt some lesson has been learned by the Marineland scandal in which the Niagara Falls family attraction was called out publicly for its inhumane treatment of its animals—namely the marine mammals.
If you're in Niagara Falls, bypass Marineland, and head straight down the highway for Ripley's Aquarium instead.