How To Spend One Day In Toronto, Canada – A Local’s Guide

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Got One Day in Toronto? Your Complete Itinerary From A Local!

So, you’re in Toronto and short on time? No problem. Whether you’re passing through while on your way to another city (like Ottawa, Kingston, or Niagara Falls) or you’re on a stopover flight, there are some must-do’s for how to spend 1 day in Toronto, Canada.

We love Toronto. Having lived there (in both Liberty Village and The Beaches), we have a pretty good idea of what a first-time visitor might be looking for when exploring Toronto in a day.

There are top attractions like the CN Tower and Casa Loma, plenty of activities to do and museums to visit, lesser-known places to eat and drink, and much more.

So, here’s our version of a Toronto day itinerary (for both the summer and winter seasons). We’ve also included various activities and food options to suit different interests along the way.

Oh, and if you are staying for the night, check out One King West Hotel and Residence or Holiday Inn Toronto Downtown Centre – both are very popular accommodations in central areas.

Toronto Tour Options

As the largest city in Canada, Toronto is a popular destination to explore. There are many great tour options to help you discover Toronto in different ways!

Wake-Up Activity: Catch the Sunrise at Lake Ontario

Navigation Address: Aim for the Harbourfront Centre at 235 Queens Quay West

girl sitting on rocks with sunrise behind over lake ontario.
This is an actual Toronto sunrise we caught one time.

Good morning! If you are already in the city after spending the night, you might be interested in being up for the sunrise. If not, then you can just skip this section and head to breakfast when you are awake.

If you want to see the sunrise (or just enjoy a fresh morning walk), head down to the waterfront at Lake Ontario. If you go to Downtown Toronto, you’ll end up at the Harbourfront and look out across to Billy Bishop Airport towards the Islands.

There’s a waterfront pathway that extends for bikers, runners, and joggers. You might even see the planes come and go in the early morning sunshine.

The photo above was taken in Toronto – but over in the east end in a neighbourhood called The Beaches.

You could go there for sunrise (the views might be better) – but it’s a 40-minute streetcar rise, so that might not be a trip you want to make. Just thought we’d let you know!

Breakfast: Classic Toronto Breakfast

pancakes on plate on wooden table with slices banana beside.
Lisa had the French Toast at Cafe Landwer!

Now it’s breakfast time – and you are going to need a good meal to fuel up for the day of sightseeing!

Toronto prides itself on its ability to serve an amazing breakfast/brunch. We’ve been to several places for brunch across the city – literally across the city from the west end to the east end.

For a one-day visit, a breakfast in downtown Toronto is a good idea. You’ll get full and waste less time getting to your next stop.

We recently went to Cafe Landwer on University Ave (a very central location) and liked it. Lisa had the Belgian Waffles and Eric had their “Landwer’s Shakshuka” with eggs, a fresh salad, dips, and pita.

Some other classic options that always deliver would be Sunset Grill (there’s one at the corner of Yonge and Richmond) or OEB Breakfast Co. (the really popular restaurant from Western Canada. Had it in Vancouver and loved it).

One of our favourite places in the whole city is Lady Marmalade – but it is over in the east end (265 Broadview Avenue). If you did sunrise in The Beaches, then you could easily stop by on the way back to downtown.

Depending on the day you visit, the potential lineup is worth the wait (in our opinion) – they are known for their variety of Eggs Benedicts!

Getting Around Toronto

The city of Toronto (around downtown and near the water) is very flat – but it is pretty spread out. Many top areas/attractions around downtown are walkable – but you might opt for public transit to get around.

You can check out the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) website for subways, buses, and streetcars. You can tap your debit or credit card, or use a Presto tap card or Presto paper ticket to use the system. Day passes are available at a Presto self-serve Fare Vending Machine at all TTC subway stations.

Cycling is also an option. Bike Share Toronto has a decent network of stations and bikes for quick and easy rentals. You’ll need a ferry ticket (or water taxi) to get to Toronto Islands.

You can also use a Hop-on Hop-off Bus Tour to get around and see the sights!

Morning Activities: Explore Toronto’s History, Culture, and Art

Okay, so once you are done with breakfast, it’s time to explore. We think it would make sense to spend the morning exploring the best areas and attractions further north of downtown and work your way down to the centre of downtown (for the afternoon).

There are numerous museums and attractions loosely clustered together around (and south of) Bloor Street, which makes for easy exploring. Just pick the things you want to see to fill your morning and take the subway or streetcar up there.

As for things to see in these areas of Toronto during your morning wander, we’ll give you a few ideas in the following sections. We’d suggest picking one or two and immersing yourself, rather than trying to see them all!

About Niagara Falls: If you absolutely must visit Niagara Falls when you’re in Toronto, you could also do that as a day trip. With a car, you can travel there yourself. Otherwise, we’d recommend an Early Bird Niagara Falls Day Tour.

Areas to Explore

colourful shopfronts with intersection in foreground in kensington market in toronto.
A stroll through Kensington Market is a great idea!
  • Kensington Market – An eclectic area with lots of history as well as street art, bars, eateries, unique shops, and so much more. You can explore the neighbourhood on a guided tour to truly appreciate its uniqueness.
  • Chinatown – One of Toronto’s oldest neighbourhoods is bustling with lights, food, and things to check out. Consider a tour to learn more about it.
  • Yonge-Bloor – If you want to do any shopping (particularly high-end shopping), this area (known as Bloor-Yorkville) is a great start.
  • University of Toronto Campus – The University of Toronto is one of Canada’s oldest universities and has some nice architecture and green spaces. It touches Bloor Street and surrounds the Royal Ontario Museum (see below).

Attractions to Explore

Lunch on Queen Street West

storefronts in city with road and sidewalk in front.
Just walk down Queen Street W – you’ll find something to eat!

So it’s now lunchtime and if you followed this itinerary, you might be back downtown and closer to Queen Street. If so, perfect – you can have lunch on/around Queen Street West. It’s also another really good shopping street, FYI.

Also known for its many, many shops, it’s loaded with eateries from all cuisines. We used to work around the corner on Richmond Street, so Touhenboku Ramen was often our favourite lunch spot!

Of course, you’ll find pretty much anything you’re craving – from burgers and fries to pizza, nice cafes, vegan places, and even a semi-famous hot dog stand that’s been there forever.

Depending on the weather and your hunger levels, you could walk the distance to Trinity Bellwoods Park searching for grub.

Otherwise, you can grab something to eat anywhere you fancy close to the heart of downtown. If you want a Canadian classic, you can try poutine (fries, cheese curds, and gravy) at Smoke’s Poutine.

It’s located on Adelaide (218 Adelaide St W) making it a convenient – and very filling – stop between morning and afternoon activities.

Afternoon Activities: Explore Old Toronto, Islands, or East End

Alright, so it’s the afternoon. You’ve had some lunch and now it’s time to explore more.

From the heart of downtown (Nathan Phillips Square – we’ll explore later), we’d generally suggest heading south towards the lake and/or east to explore less popular (but worthwhile) areas and attractions.

For this itinerary, we’ll give you three different options: Explore Old Toronto Attractions, explore the Toronto Islands, or explore The Beaches (in the East End).

Each of these options would be enough to fill an afternoon (and then some) on its own, so you kind of have to pick which one interests you. It also depends on the weather or the time of year you’re visiting.

Indoor activities in Old Toronto are better for winter whereas the Toronto Islands or The Beaches (East End neighbourhood) are nicer in the sunshine. Here are the afternoon options, in detail:

Discover Old Toronto Attractions

Navigation Address for Hockey Hall of Fame: 30 Yonge St, Toronto, ON M5E 1X8

red brick flatiron building in toronto with tall buildings behind.
The iconic Gooderham Building is a must-see!

It’s no surprise that the area closest to the lake would have strong historical and cultural significance to the city.

There are quite a few really important places here that are great to see and historically relevant, so this is certainly an area you may want to explore in the afternoon! Many of the places below made our list of great places to visit in all of Ontario.

In order from west to east (all on foot), you can see/visit the Hockey Hall of Fame, The Gooderham Building, St. Lawrence Market, and the Distillery District.

man posing with statues of hockey players outside museum.
Eric is excited and ready to go inside the Hockey Hall of Fame!
red brick district with christmas tree clock tower and people walking around.
The Distillery District is a pretty place to visit any time of year!

In December, the Distillery District transforms into one of the more picturesque Christmas Markets in Ontario.

Visit the Toronto Islands

Navigation Address for Jack Layton Ferry Terminal: 11 Queens Quay W, Toronto, ON M5J 2H3

water taxis in the water with trees beside on land and city skyline in distance.
The water taxis are just one way to get to the Islands!

The next option on the list is to get out of the busy city and see it from a different perspective: Toronto Islands. As North America’s largest urban car-free zone (great for walking and biking), these 15 islands make for a nice mini-adventure.

There is a lot to do once you’re on the Islands: relax at various beaches (Hanlan’s Point and Centre Island, among others), visit the amusement park for kids (Centreville), play disc golf, enjoy the green space, places for food and drinks, rent canoes or kayaks, and more.

To get there, you can book a return ferry ticket to one of the three docks. You can also consider a private water taxi which makes frequent crossings (usually a little more money but faster overall to get there).

We went to the Islands a few years back and had a great day just exploring. We went to the beach, sat in the grass by the water had a mini picnic, and ate a Beavertail (sweet Canadian treat), among other things.

Explore the East End

Navigation Address for Woodbine Beach: 1675 Lake Shore Blvd E, Toronto, ON M4L 3W6

lakefront beach with trees in the distance with fall colours.
The Beaches are beautiful any time – but especially with fall colours.

Lastly, if you want to use the afternoon to get away from the hustle and bustle of downtown, you could always see a completely different side of Toronto. For this, head to the east end of the city – a neighbourhood known as The Beached awaits!

We used to live in The Beaches – and still visit often – so we know it well. Named after the many rocky/sandy beaches along Lake Ontario, it’s a very nice neighbourhood with shopping, places to eat, and a few green spaces – including waterfront parks (Kew Gardens) with some walking paths.

Head for Woodbine Beach as a starting point – you can then just follow the large wooden “Beaches Boardwalk” as it snakes along the waterfront heading east.

Back on Queen Street East (you take the 501 Streetcar to get here from downtown), you might stop for coffee at Bud’s Coffee or get a drink and food at Breakwall!

Afternoon Break Tip: If you need a late afternoon break in/near Downtown Toronto/Old Toronto, we like Dineen Coffee Co. or Versus for coffee or iconic Steam Whistle and Bier Markt for something stronger!

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Early Evening Activity: CN Tower or Nathan Phillips Square

Depending on how busy you made your afternoon – and how busy you plan to make your evening after dinner – there’s time for an early evening activity.

For this, we’ve thought of two iconic Toronto attractions you can check out: visit the CN Tower (and potentially catch a sunset) or visit Nathan Phillips Square (can do ice skating in winter).

CN Tower

Navigation Address: 301 Front St West, Toronto

toronto city skyline seen from water with cn tower in middle and blue sky above.
The one, the only – the CN Tower.

The first option has you heading up the most iconic structure in the country – the CN Tower. Standing at 533.3 metres tall, the CN Tower was the world’s tallest structure for a few decades.

These days, it’s still pretty tall and offers amazing views of the city and the lake below. There are several attractions up there like the different observation decks, a glass floor, and the Edge Walk – where you hang over the edge on the outside ring.

If you know you want to go up there, you can check out tickets for the elevators up and the different observation areas on the official website for the CN Tower. Eric has been up once or twice, while Lisa is yet to get up there.

You could combine your evening experience at the CN Tower with dinner at the restaurant at the top of the CN Tower. Known as the 360 Restaurant, it rotates while you eat and won numerous awards serving Canadian dishes with Canadian ingredients!

You should plan ahead and make a reservation if you do want to do dinner this way. Otherwise, we list many dinner options below.

Nathan Phillips Square & Toronto City Hall

Navigation Address: 100 Queen St W, Toronto

iconic curved buildings in toronto with fountain in front and toronto sign behind.
Summer or winter – Nathan Phillips Square is worth a visit!

The other option for a nice evening activity in the winter is to head up to Nathan Phillips Square for ice skating. The public rink in the famous Square (where you find iconic Toronto City Hall) is free for all.

If you have skates, you can just change and hop on. If not, there is a skate rental shop right beside the rink with lots of rentals available.

There are also food stands nearby, but that’s just a side note. It’s a very classic Toronto winter activity – and with the “Toronto Sign” all lit up it makes for a great photo opportunity.

If you haven’t passed by during the day already, this would be the time to go.

Dinner at a Classic Toronto Restaurant

Navigation Address: 101 Portland St, Toronto

Dinner time in Toronto – and again, you will be overwhelmed by the options!

Toronto prides itself on being one of the most culturally and ethnically diverse cities on the planet.

For this itinerary, we’ll suggest three places that we’ve been to for dinner (and really like). They are all different cuisines, so you can choose.

If you haven’t already noticed, Toronto prices can be a little higher than you might be used to – and the same goes for a good dinner out. Many eateries are Toronto staples and are worth it, though.

If you’re ever in a pinch, just head for the intersection at King Street West and Portland – there are so many good food places here – French, Spanish, Caribbean, etc. – serving up their dishes.

Gusto 101

Navigation Address: 101 Portland St, Toronto

Gusto is a very popular place for brunch, lunch, dinner, or drinks. It’s primarily Italian cuisine – but there are a few menu items that might catch you by surprise. 

Located in an old auto repair shop, they added a rooftop patio space and the place is always a hit. Eric has been there before – and honestly, Gusto is great.

The food is great, the drink selection is great, the servers are great. If you know you want to go, try to reserve just in case!

WVRST

Navigation Address: 609 King St W, Toronto, ON M5V 1M5

Very close to the intersection of King Street West and Portland, you’ll also find WVRST. This is the original location – serving up meat-heavy eats and fries with various beers from around the world to pair with your food.

As a German/European-inspired place, you’ll find lots of different kinds of sausages (known as wurst in German). They also make schnitzels, sandwiches, Belgian fries (in duck fat), and other things like fondue, pretzels for snacking, and more.

Eric has been a few times and it’s always great. The big open atmosphere and beer hall-style tables make it a lively place. It’s been some time since we went last and Lisa – our German – has never been so we need have to change that.

PAI

Navigation Address: 18 Duncan St, Toronto, ON M5H 3G8

Last, but certainly not least, one of Toronto’s most famous Thai places: PAI. Having been a few times, it’s always good. The pad thai is excellent – but so are many other dishes.

It’s also a cool place to eat. Nothing too fancy, just good food and good vibes.

If you like Thai, there’s an ongoing debate about whether Khao San Road is better. We like them both (trying not to ruffle any feathers).

For a trendier but upscale Toronto restaurant, make a reservation at Richmond Station. Eric has been and it’s an experience, to say the least.

Evening: Drinks, Music, Show, Sports, or Evening Tour

two glasses of orange beer on wooden table.
Nothing like a stop at one of the Bar Hop locations!

Alright, so it’s the evening now and if you are still in Toronto and looking for the perfect way to end your day, you’ve got options!

For this post, we wanted to provide you with a handful of options to suit different interests.

So, at the end of the day in Toronto, here are some ideas for things you might want to do: Take a Night Tour, Find Live Music, Have Drinks Out, Attend a Toronto Sports Game, or Go to the Theatre.

Toronto Night Tour

If you still want to play tourist, there are a few ways to do so that show off the city’s night vibes, haunted past, and/or pretty lights:

Live Music

If live music is your thing, you might be able to find it at a bar or pub downtown. There are also a few concert halls and smaller venues that are known for their music on any given night.

Check out these places – we’ve been to almost all of them and had a great experience:

Toronto Sports Game

If you’re into sports and you want to attend an evening game while in Toronto, you could.

Depending on the season you are visiting in (and the schedule of the teams), you could theoretically have an early dinner downtown and squeeze in:

As a Toronto sports fan (this has proven to be a semi-unfortunate life choice), Eric has seen these teams play numerous times. But there’s nothing like live sports in a city that loves their sports. Toronto is one of those cities.

Drinks

There are so many places to go for a drink in downtown Toronto (we have a whole post on bars and pubs downtown).

For a safe bet, head for the Entertainment District or Ossington Ave (the portion between Queen West and Dundas West) where you’ll find plenty of bars and pubs.

If you want specific recommendations (both in the District and outside it) we like:

  • Bar Hop (cool place, with a massive beer selection in two great locations)
  • The Loose Moose (a classic watering hole on Front Street)
  • CRAFT Beer Market (very large selection, a solid chain for a reason)
  • The Ballroom Bowl (fun bowling alley, bar, restaurant, and more)
  • The Broadview Hotel’s “The Rooftop” terrace (not downtown, but worth it)

Theatre

Theatre lovers will be happy to hear that Toronto is home to quite a few theatres and quite a few excellent shows (partially thanks to Ed Mirvish).

There’s always something on – from large-scale productions to lesser-known smaller works. So have a look at some of the top theatres downtown and their schedules: Princess of Wales Theatre, Royal Alexandria Theatre, CAA Theatre, CAA Ed Mirvish Theatre.

Related Articles

We love and know Toronto – so here are a few other posts to help you plan your Toronto experience:

And there you have it, our sample itinerary for one day in Toronto. In the end, we could only mention so much but we are pretty happy with this guide. It’s a full day – but at least you can go home or travel onward knowing you made the most of your day in the city.

We’re always in Toronto, so let us know what you get up to – we’d love to add great food spots or activities to this Toronto itinerary!

As always, Keep Exploring, eh?
– E&L

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photo of tall buildings with train tracks in front with text overlay How to spend one day in Toronto, Canada.
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Author
Eric Wychopen is a Canadian content writer who loves to share his passion for Ontario. Originally from a small town in Simcoe County, he has almost 50 countries under his belt - but Ontario will always be home. Having travelled thousands of kilometres across the province for work and play, Eric has a wealth of knowledge about the province and is always looking for new experiences in Ontario.