12 Unique Things to Do in Downtown Toronto

by Alyssa James  |  Published May 29, 2018

Toronto is Canada’s largest and most diverse city where more than 140 languages are spoken and nearly half the population was born outside of the country. This global environment in an urban setting has spawned a city of cosmopolites, artists, leaders, free thinkers, and adventurers. So, when it comes to things to do in downtown Toronto, there is no end of unforgettably unique experiences.

dundas square, downtown toronto, things to do in downtown toronto

Dundas Square in downtown Toronto is full of energy (Photo: Paul Bica via Flickr)

If you know where to look, Toronto is a city that will take you by surprise. A long history and strong cultural mosaic means that Toronto’s restaurants, activities, and sights are multiple and unlike anywhere else in the world. Here are 12 unique things to do in downtown Toronto.

1. Hang 1,168 feet above the city

Forget just going up the CN Tower. Why not see the city from its outer edge instead?! Edgewalk takes you up 116 storeys up and outside the tallest free-standing structure in the Western Hemisphere where you can do a full-circle hands-free walk around the ledge of its main pod. You’ll be attached to a safety rail, leaning back over downtown Toronto, taking in views of Lake Ontario and the cityscape below.

WHERE 301 Front St W

2. See the world’s largest collection of shoes and related artefacts

While travelling around the world in the 1940s, Sonja Bata began collecting shoes. In 1979, her collection outgrew her private storage space and thus, the Bata Shoe Museum Foundation was born. Today, the collection spans 4,500 years of history and features more than 13,000 shoes, ranging from Chinese foot binding shoes, ancient Egyptian sandals, and footwear from 20th century celebrities. Your visit and donations also contribute to the Foundation, which funds field research to collect and examine footwear from places where traditions are rapidly changing.

WHERE 327 Bloor St W          HOURS 10AM – 5PM Mon-Wed, Fri-Sat; 10AM – 8PM Thurs; 12PM – 5PM Sun

bata shoe museum, unique things to do in downtown toronto

All about shoes (Photo © 2018, Bata Shoe Museum, Toronto, Canada)

3. Try funky fusion food

In a city where restaurants comprise nearly 7% of total businesses, you’ve got to do something different to stand out. Fusion cuisine in downtown Toronto is quintessential Cultural Mosaic in action.  Head to Kensington Market for Hungary Thai (196 Augusta Ave) or Rasta Pasta (61 Kensington Ave), a Jamaican-Italian fusion restaurant that serves up ackee and saltfish alongside gnocchi, homemade spaghetti with Jerk meatballs, and Jerk chicken paninis. When it comes to the upscale, people often head to Momofuku (190 University Ave) or Rasa (196 Robert St) for their global inspiration; for something more targeted, Doma (50 Clinton St) combines Korean flavours with French techniques. Dishes like pork belly served with grilled nectarines, parsnip purée, and lotus root are typical of the fusion.

4. Visit some of Toronto’s quirky houses

Downtown Toronto is home to four quirky houses that are both private residences and tourist attractions. First is the curious ‘Half House’ (54 ½ St. Patrick St) that isn’t just a nickname—it really is half a house. In the 1950s, its owner refused to sell the 19th century  duplex to a developer, so half the house was demolished along a load bearing wall. Next is the Little House (128 Day Ave) which is just that: the smallest house in Toronto. The house was built in 1912 in what was originally meant to be a throughway for cars. It’s not just a playhouse for kids—fully grown adults live in this 300-square-foot house. Head to Leslieville to see Tchotchke House (37 Bertmount Ave), a house crammed with dolls, toys, figurines, and animals. There are many more to discover, including a Cube House and a Terracotta House.

doll houses, quirky houses, things to do in downtown toronto

Just one of Toronto’s quirky houses (Photo: Gypsy and the Fool via Flickr)

5. Experience Canada’s 11 landscapes in one place

In the middle of Toronto’s upscale Yorkville neighbourhood is… a rock. ‘The Rock’, actually. The Rock is a 650-ton piece of granite fragment of Canada’s glacial shield that was taken from the Lake region and reassembled piece-by-piece in Yorkville. The urban park is a meeting spot and place for reading, people watching, and relaxing after shopping in the nearby boutiques and stores. The park represents Canada’s 11 landscapes, including upland forests, marshes, groves, praries, and orchards, and The Rock is the centrepiece.

6. Roam the halls of the largest collection of rare books in Canada

The Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library houses nearly 745,000 volumes and manuscripts in its hallowed halls and open atria. This is the place to visit if you want to find first edition Anne of Green Gables, the early works (including hand stitched books she wrote as a child) of Margaret Atwood, or the original notes, charts, and other records documenting the discovery and development of insulin.

WHERE 120 St George St        HOURS 9AM – 5PM Mon-Wed, Fri, 9AM – 8PM Thurs

7. Recognize the influence of images at the CONTACT Photography Festival

The Scotiabank CONTACT Photography Festival is one of the largest of its kind in the world. the month-long celebration of contemporary photography brings local, national, and international talent to more than 200 venues around the city. You’ll have fun discovering different nooks of downtown Toronto, travelling from private galleries to local community centres to attend photography events, workshops, lectures, screenings, and installations.

WHEN May 1 — 31, 2018

contact photography festival, things to do in toronto

Installation view of Pacifier by Petra Collins (Photo: Toni Hafkenscheid)

8. Support a local team in the sports bar & restaurant owned by Wayne Gretzky

Toronto is the only Canadian city with teams in seven major league sports, among them, the Blue Jays (baseball), Argonauts (football), Maple Leafs (hockey), Raptors (basketball), and TFC (soccer). Year-round, you can head to Wayne Gretzky’s eponymous bar and restaurant to watch one of them playing in HDTV or to see his personal collection of memorabilia. In the summer, head up to Oasis, the rooftop patio that features cabanas, lounge furniture, and buckets of ice cold Coronitas.

WHERE 99 Blue Jays Way     HOURS 11:30AM – 1AM Mon-Thurs, 11:30AM – 2AM Fri, 10AM – 2AM Sat, 10AM – 11PM Sun

Wayne gretzky's, things to do in downtown toronto

Outside Wayne Gretzky’s on 99 Blue Jays Way — see what he did there? (Photo: Courtesy of Wayne Gretzky’s)

9. Ride the longest streetcar route in North America

The Torontonians who have to brave the 501 Queen streetcar to get to work may not be so thrilled to Ride to Rocket, but at 24.8 kilometres, this line is the longest surface route in North America and one of the longest in the world. Starting in The Beaches, you’ll move west through Corktown (Toronto’s old Irish neighbourhood), past Old City Hall, over to the hipster Trinity Bellwoods Park and Parkdale, and finish out in the West End via High Park where the spring cherry blossoms and blue herons draw visitors from around the world. Forget the hop-on, hop-off tour—get a TTC day pass and learn why National Geographic named this thoroughfare one of the top 10 streetcar journeys in the world.

10. (Don’t) get stranded at the drive-in on Polson Pier

This area of Polson Pier, Toronto’s entertainment complex, starts its day as a driving range; at sunset, the area is converted into a drive-in theatre. It’s the only drive-in movie theatre in Toronto and can accommodate up to 500 vehicles. Every weekend, rain or shine, you’ll be able to watch the hottest summer flicks from the comfort of your car. Not driving in the city? You’re welcome to cycle in or walk down to the pier—just be sure to bring a portable FM radio player to hear the film and faith that you won’t get stuck behind a giant SUV!

WHERE 176 Cherry St

11. Take a ferry to the Toronto Islands

This small chain of islands in Lake Ontario is home to parks, beaches, the Toronto city airport, and one of the largest urban car-free communities in North America. Pack a picnic, jump on a ferry from Queens Quay, and rent a Bixi (Toronto’s bike share program) to help you explore the island and admire Toronto’s 43 kilometre-long shoreline. Visit Hanlan’s Point Stadium on Centre Island, the venue where Babe Ruth made his first professional home run, or have a go around Centreville, the turn-of-the-century themed amusement park.

12. Catch an indie film at the TIFF Bell Lightbox

Toronto’s film industry supports more than 28,000 jobs and brought in more than $2 billion in 2016. It’s only right that the headquarters of the Toronto International Film Festival, one of the largest in the world, serves as a cultural centre for cinephiles and dabblers alike. The TIFF Bell Lightbox hosts year-round exhibitions and events for adults and children, including film camps, arts and crafts, and talks that have drawn the likes of Zadie Smith, Priyanka Chopra, and Angelina Jolie. The cinema also features specially-curated indie films and the latest blockbusters, while an extensive library holds archives of films and film-related documents.

WHERE 350 King St W     HOURS 10AM – 10PM daily (Box Office)

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A view outside the TIFF Soiree at TIFF Bell Lightbox (Photo: Courtesy of TIFF)