It’s sometimes called the New York City of Canada, and it’s not hard to see why. It’s a fantastic hub for arts, culture, food, and sports, and the many sights cater to all kinds of travelers, whether you’re doing some solo exploring or visiting as a family.
There’s so much to do it would almost certainly take multiple trips to see it all — but if you’ve only got one day to see the highlights, we’ve got you covered.
From iconic Toronto attractions to can’t-miss markets, here are our best recommendations for getting the most out of a single day in Toronto as a family!
- Best Time to Visit Toronto
- Getting Into the City of Toronto
- How to Get Around in Toronto
- Where to Stay in Toronto
- The Best Areas of Toronto for Family Dining
- Things to Do During a Day in Toronto By District
- How to Plan One Day in Toronto With Kids
- Where to Next From Toronto?
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Any prices quoted are in Canadian Dollars, correct as at late 2023
Best Time to Visit Toronto
The best time to visit Toronto depends on what activities you’d like to do and things you’d like to see. Eastern Canada’s weather tends to operate at extremes, meaning that the winter month are very cold and harsh while the summer months are very hot.
Autumn and springtime in Toronto are milder and may be more comfortable for younger kids, but there’s plenty to do year-round in Toronto.
June through August is the peak travel time in Toronto. The city has plenty of annual summertime things to do, including outdoor movies, foodie festivals, pedestrian Sundays at the market, the Chinatown festival, and more.
Once autumn hits, the beautiful fall foliage takes over the city, and it’s a visually beautiful time of year. Come November, the lead-up to the holidays begins with light festivals and Christmas markets, and there may even be some early snow!
Getting Into the City of Toronto
Assuming you are arriving by air, Toronto Pearson International Airport (YYZ) is located about 40 kilometres (25 miles) from the downtown area. There are several public transportation options for getting into the city without a car.
The fastest option is the UP Express, a direct rail link from the airport to Union Square that takes less than half an hour. Ticket kiosks can be found at the airport (adult fare is $12). There’s free Wi-Fi and lots of baggage space, so it’s a smooth and relaxing ride into town.
If you’re headed somewhere other than downtown, you can get off at either of the two stops along the route which connect to bus services or the TTC Subway, but keep in mind that those services are a separate fare.
The cheapest option would be bus transit. This costs only $3.25 for the full route, but you’ll need to transfer at Kipling Station and switch to the TTC or another bus. Ask the driver about this when boarding and they’ll sell you the ticket for the full journey.
If you’re prepared to pay around $75-100, Uber or taxis are the easiest journey since you don’t need to worry about missing your stop! It may also be the least stressful option if your kids are young and you’re worried about corralling the family onto public transit.
How to Get Around in Toronto
Although Toronto is pretty big, you probably won’t need a car if you’re planning on staying in the downtown area. Traffic can be unpredictable—especially on the weekends – and it will be cheaper to get around on foot or via public transit.
Riding the TTC (Toronto Transit Commission) – that includes the subway system, streetcar lines and bus routes – adults pay $3.35 per ride, youths (13-19 years) are $2.40 and your under 12’s are free to ride making it a great option for families to get around in Toronto.
If you think you’ll be hoping on and off public transit several times in one day, get a PRESTO day pass.
The TTC Subway also connects some of the outer municipalities with the rest of the city. Lines 1, 2, and 3 are the ones that are most closely connected to downtown Toronto.
There are also buses, and a streetcar network that spans the entire downtown area, so public transportation is a great way to get around. Plus, it will be more cost-effective than a rental car, Uber, or taxi.
In nice weather, Toronto is a great city for exploring by foot, especially if you follow the harbourfront.
Where to Stay in Toronto
Toronto is Canada’s largest city and covers a lot more than just the downtown area. The GTA (Greater Toronto Area) includes a lot of boroughs and large municipalities, with Toronto proper located in the middle, bordering Lake Ontario. This is where most of the city’s most exciting attractions will be.
Some of the best neighbourhoods include the Entertainment District (which has many of the city’s most iconic sights like the CN Tower and Ripley’s Aquarium).
The Old Town is great for specialty markets and the popular Museum of Illusions, or Cabbagetown and Corktown, both historic neighbourhoods home to heritage buildings, museums, and even an indoor botanical garden.
And pretty much no matter where you are, there are lots of cafés, restaurants, and unique shops at every turn!
If you are staying overnight, there are tons of hotels downtown. A few of the most popular ones catering to families include:
- The Chelsea Hotel is just a few blocks from Yonge-Dundas Square (aka “Times Square of Toronto.”)They have an indoor pool with a slide, a game room, and even family-specific rooms with toys.
- InterContinental Toronto Centre, located across the street from the CN Tower. They do a family getaway package that includes a suite, an in-room movie night setup (complete with snacks), and even a tent in the living room!
- For budget options, you can’t go wrong with the Holiday Inn in the Downtown Centre. This hotel is very central, has a pool, and kids under 11 eat free when accompanied by an adult ordering from their restaurant.
The Best Areas of Toronto for Family Dining
Being the largest city in Canada, the sheer amount of options you have when it comes to food is seemingly limitless. There’s something for everybody, regardless of what kind of food or dining experience you’re hoping for.
One thing to keep in mind is that despite the huge selection of restaurants to choose from and the fact that Toronto is a relatively kid-friendly city, a surprising amount of restaurants don’t actually have a kid’s menu. But, there are lots of great places that do cater to families. Some of the best family-friendly spots include:
- Steamwhistle Biergarten: a brewery, but with a kid’s menu that even has plant-based options
- Sportsnet Grill: a classic sports bar, but it has a kid’s menu and looks into Roger’s Centre where the Blue Jays play — great for kids who love baseball!
- The Rec Room: there are technically two restaurants inside, The Shed and Three10. Aside from the kid’s menu, this location has arcade games, a bowling alley, and even a swimming pool.
- Dairy Cream: a Toronto classic and a local favourite! Serving classic soft serve with a variety of flavoured dips, it’s a great summer treat spot.
Things to Do During a Day in Toronto By District
If you’ve only got one day to explore the city, seeing the iconic sights is the best way to get the most out of it. If you have the extra time, try to add in a few hidden gems, too — Toronto has plenty!
Entertainment District / Old Toronto
- The CN Tower is a must-see. Though it’s long been dethroned as the world’s tallest building, it still clings on as #10 on that list, and the view from the observation deck are pretty incredible.
- It’s also well-known for its Edgewalk Experience, where you can walk on the edge of the tower over a glass floor (this is an expensive sight at $195 per person, but it’s definitely one of the coolest things you can do in the city!). If that’s not your thing or you’re not keen on heights, there’s also a great revolving restaurant inside where you can sit and enjoy a meal with a view.
- Rogers Centre is the home of the Toronto Blue Jays (the only Canadian team in Major League Baseball) and the largest stadium in the city. It’s just down the street from the CN Tower so it’s easy to do both before moving to a different area. It’s a great experience to catch a game here if you have the time!
- The Hockey Hall of Fame is another great option for sport-loving kids. Home of the famous Stanley Cup and with lots of interactive experiences, it’s great for both kids and adults, especially if you’re an NHL fan!
- Ripley’s Aquarium is another family favourite, and it’s very kid-friendly. It’s got plenty of exhibits that kids will love, like the tunnelled conveyor belt where sharks swim overhead and the colour-changing jellyfish exhibit.
You won’t fit all of these into one morning but we’d set your one day Toronto itinerary to experience at least one to these top attractions.
The Distillery District
The Distillery District is a cool neighbourhood made up of brick heritage buildings that once housed a huge whiskey distillery. Today, it’s full of cobbled streets and heritage buildings, distilleries, restaurants, and shops.
This is considered a great spot for foodies so would make an excellent place to time your lunch stop. You can also find foodie walking tours around here. Some places to check out here that would interest the kids:
- SOMA Chocolatemaker for homemade sweet treats. They even make their own chocolate from scratch!
- Cluny Bistro & Boulangerie for French-inspired dishes in a very chic setting
- Madrina Bar Y Tapas for Mexican and Spanish dishes, and they have a kid’s menu
- The St. Lawrence Market is about halfway between the Entertainment District and The Distillery District, but it’s worth a stop! Divided into two main market areas, South and North, it’s home to dozens of vendors selling fresh produce, artisanal meats and cheeses, homemade baking, and even gifts. There are also regular flea and craft markets.
Yorkville and North Toronto
Yorkville and North Toronto have a few gems of their own worth the journey. This isn’t too far from the downtown core, so you can do a loop of Toronto and hit these up before heading back down towards the harbourfront later in the afternoon.
- The Royal Ontario Museum (the ROM) is worth a visit if your kids are interested in natural and cultural history! There are exhibits on dinosaurs, Ice Age animals, and birds — and even a bat cave exhibit (Allow 1-2 hours here).
- Casa Loma would be an easy sell to any kids once you tell them it’s a real castle. Comprising three floors and a sprawling garden estate that includes preserved horse stables, even adults will love this historic landmark. The inside includes a turn-of-the-century library, private chambers, a huge great hall, and even a conservatory. There’s also a rifle museum on the top floor. (All a further 1-2 hours)
Even just wandering through these areas will reveal endless things to do, whether it be cafés, boutiques to peruse, or quaint streets to explore.
How to Plan One Day in Toronto With Kids
If you’re looking for ideas on how to structure the day, consider starting in the Entertainment District to try and beat the midday crowds, then move east towards Corktown/the Distillery District before heading towards Yorkville.
If you didn’t already capture the views from CN Tower in the morning, sunset can make an excellent (though busy!) time to visit. Alternatively, grabbing tickets to a Blue Jays Baseball game would be the ideal end to your day in Toronto!
In any case, no matter the order it’s a sure thing that you’ll fall in love with the diverse family activities Toronto has to offer.
Where to Next From Toronto?
Toronto is normally only the start of your adventure through the eastern provinces of Canada. You may like to read next:
- Pick up a hire car in Toronto and try these easy day trips and weekenders in southern Ontario
- Further afield, these are some of the most stunning scenic drives in Ontario
- For a longer journey, try this Toronto to Halifax drive for the highlights of Canada’s east coast
- A slightly shorter drive taking in Quebec too, you’ll want to make these Essential stops driving Toronto to Montreal
- Head across the border into the United States, try one of these drives Toronto to Ney York City or Toronto to Boston, taking in Niagara Falls and much of Upstate New York
- Ready for a real Canadian cross-country adventure? Try this epic driving itinerary Toronto to Vancouver on the west coast
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