Best Museums in Toronto

While Away an Afternoon at the Best Museums in Toronto

Once upon a time in a land far, far away, people wrote letters. They also painted, sculpted, and created examples of the world around them with their hands. Their fingers were not cramped by days spent typing and texting. They were free to be creative.

Luckily, we can revisit the magical days of yore by going to a museum. Toronto is rich with top quality museums which are dedicated to keeping you historically aware, without boring you to tears (as your history teacher may have). It is fascinating how artifacts and art survive people. Having tangible examples of handiwork can help us to realize that even in the busiest of cities, everything is still connected.

You must make a stop at the Royal Ontario Museum, which is resplendent in relics of bygone eras underneath the dome of breathtaking architecture. Visit the dinosaurs or gape at gems which will far outweigh your friends' stunning engagement rings. Or brush up on your art history at the Art Gallery of Ontario, which has a magnificent collection, including such famous works as Portrait of A Seated Woman With A Handkerchief by Carel Fabritius. It was a work long attributed to Rembrandt, but turns out there were other phenomenal painters of the same era.

We could all use a little disconnection from our devices. In fact, it may be the trick to living "happily ever ever."


Museum for Textiles
Photo courtesy of Textile Museum of Canada Facebook page

Everyone has someone in their life who loves to knit. If you have ever tried to do it yourself, you know that even though it is repetitive, it certainly isn't easy. The Museum of Textiles is the only museum in the world dedicated to textiles that connect cultures through cloth and art. 12,000 objects from more than 200 countries unify the universal desire to create. The Textile Museum celebrates cultural diversity and a timelessness of crafting. It is one of the rare things that has stayed simple in our technology-driven culture. Turn your Smartphone off and visit fibrespace, their permanent hands-on gallery dedicated to exploring the possibilities of pattern and decoration.

Recommended for Museums because: Crafting has always been secretly cool. Take your friend with the knitting addiction and marvel at textile history.

Courtney's expert tip: Free tours begin at 2pm every day of the week. Meet in the lobby.

Read more about Museum for Textiles →

Spadina House is an upper-class historic home, built by businessman James Austin in 1866. An ideal place to visit in the summer, the six-acre grounds have Victorian and Edwardian gardens. From chestnut trees to forget-me-nots, it is an understated place to frolic. Inside, the furnished home had a major renovation in 2010, but still feels like you have entered a time machine. Spadina House provides a great sense of the different marks of different generations, from the 1800s until today. It showcases a different Toronto. This is the next door neighbour of Casa Loma, and it ideal to see the two in the same day.

Recommended for Museums because: This historic mansion reflects the contemporary styles of the 1860s to the 1930s. It is fascinating to see how the rich lived.

Courtney's expert tip: Check out what sort of events are going on at the time you are visiting. There may be a Downton Abbey inspired costume party, which will make a heck of an Instagram photo.

Read more about Spadina Museum: Historic House & Gardens →

Bata Shoe Museum
Photo courtesy of Bata Shoe Museum Facebook page

If you loved the story of the old woman who lived in her shoe, visiting the Bata Shoe Museum is a must. Housed in Richard Moriyama's award-winning, five-story building, this museum is North America's largest shoe museum. The collection boasts over 13,000 artifacts spanning 4,500 years. Items displayed include shoes from notables such as Elvis Presley, Marilyn Monroe, Elton John, Ginger Spice, Imelda Marcos, and an Egyptian smuggler who lived in 300 BC. If you think your shoes are uncomfortable, wait until you see the Chestnut Crushing Clogs from 17th century France. We know that clothing makes the man, but it may be the shoes that take the glory.

Recommended for Museums because: This place is the mecca for shoe lovers. You will be fascinated by how far shoes have come. Turns out boots are made for walking.

Courtney's expert tip: Every Thursday evening between 5 and 8 pm, admission is Pay-what-you-can, with a suggested donation of $5.

Read more about Bata Shoe Museum →


Visiting the Ontario Science Centre is a great way to connect with your inner Bill Nye, the Science Guy. Even kids who don't seem keen on science will be enthralled by over 800 interactive exhibits. This museum of science is designed to spark curiosity and even spark you with high-voltage electricity to make your hair stand on end. Visit a simulated rain forest, examine a real human brain and take a visit to the Moon and Mars. During the week, this can be busy with a lot of school trips, but it is definitely a great time for the kids, who are even taught to make their own short films by taking scenes of objects. Bring the kid who likes to ask the question "Why?" Even if that happens to be you, we won't tell.

Recommended for Museums because: The hands-on approach of the Ontario Science Centre will please kids of all ages, making science feel like an extension of playing.

Courtney's expert tip: The Science Centre is quite far from Toronto's city centre, so be sure to allocate a lot of time to make it worth your while. If you plan on going to an Imax film, make sure to get the admission + movie bundle, which can save you up to $7.

Read more about Ontario Science Centre →

Gardiner Museum of Ceramic Art
Photo courtesy of Gardiner Museum

Think about the last time you moved. Most likely, some of your pottery or ceramics made the trip with a new crack. Somehow, delicate art has been maintained through hundreds of years in the Gardiner Museum. Collected by George and Helen Gardiner throughout their travels, this museum is a unique collection that showcases ancient American artifacts, Asian and European pottery and porcelain. There are Mayan and pre-Columbian exhibits, items from the Renaissance, 17th century English pottery, 18th century Chinese and European porcelains. A two-year renovation that was completed in 2006 expanded the permanent collection and the Museum won architectural awards. Since 2006, it has also become an important centre for ceramics in North America.

Recommended for Museums because: A stupendous array of modern and ancient styles of ceramic art right in the centre of the city.

Courtney's expert tip: If an afternoon with dishes doesn't sound like the best time of your life, try your hand in the drop-in clay classes. Pretend like you are Demi Moore (or Patrick Swayze) in Ghost. With your clothes on, of course.

Read more about Gardiner Museum of Ceramic Art →


Admittedly, this museum is not directly in Toronto, but rather the village of Kleinburg. Here is what justifies the drive 40 minutes north of Toronto: it is situated in a beautiful woodland setting that will rival any outdoors oriented photo. It also is filled to the brim with a magnificent collection of Canadian and native art. Items of note include landscapes by the Group of Seven, who are famous landscape artists who used dramatic colours to record the Canadian wilderness in the 1920s. There are also fine collections of First Nations and Inuit art. If you don't have your own set of wheels, a bus service departs for the McMichael Gallery from many hotels in downtown Toronto.

Recommended for Museums because: Four floors of gallery space and 100 acres of beautiful conservation land. Explore the Canadian wilderness after you see it conveyed in oil paint.

Courtney's expert tip: Visit the outdoor sculptures, which are cast in bronze by artist Ivan Eyre. They sit beside towering trees, as if they belonged there all along.

Read more about McMichael Canadian Art Collection →

The Design Exchange
Photo courtesy of Design Exchange Facebook page

If you find a trip to a furniture store exciting (and we're not talking about Ikea), you absolutely must visit the Design Exchange. However, it is not only furniture that lies inside the walls of this charitable institution that commits itself to sharing design stories. There is also an appreciation for architecture, fashion and graphic design. The contemporary feel of this museum is almost contrasted by its location in the historic Stock Exchange Building in downtown Toronto. Their theory is that design is everywhere and it is what makes the world beautiful. After exiting the Design Exchange, you will look at the city with fresh eyes.

Recommended for Museums because: From shoe exhibitions to chairs that are works of art, The Design Exchange will make you see the potential for everyday art.

Courtney's expert tip: If you love what you see, consider investing in a membership. For $90 a year you get a host of benefits, from reduced admission to free lectures.

Read more about The Design Exchange →

A hall of fame as much as a museum, The Hockey Hall of Fame is a must for any lover of hockey (or lover of Canada, for that matter). There is nothing quite as cool for a player as being "hall called" and the 400 inducted members are a thrill to see. Visiting this museum will help to clarify the die-hard passion of Torontonians over their beloved (but often poorly performing) Maple Leafs. Like a sports magazine come to life, there are exhibits about players, statistics and some NHL trophies, including the Stanley Cup (with a replica Stanley cup available for a photo opportunity). There is also a replica of the Montreal Canadiens' locker room and a space to practice your slapshot. Enjoy taking lots of pictures: it is encouraged!

Recommended for Museums because: There are many exhibits to help to stoke your hockey addiction. Plus, it's very Canadian, eh?

Courtney's expert tip: If you are visiting the Hockey Hall of Fame, take the TTC and get off at Union station. The area is usually under a great deal of construction and finding parking will be close to impossible.

Read more about Hockey Hall of Fame →

The Art Gallery of Ontario, with its high ceilings, light spaces and spiral staircases would be enough art even without the paintings on the walls. However, the art is indeed amazing, from the exhibitions to the galleries. The Group of Seven are a must see. The gallery also impresses with its wide range of programming, from free tango lessons to weekly art classes of all styles. If you are a Toronto resident, pick up the Sun Life Museum + Arts pass using your library card at your local library. Check the library website for availability, but scoring one could let 2 adults and 5 children in for free.

Recommended for Museums because: This world-class art gallery has beautiful architecture on the outside and beautiful art on the inside. Be prepared to be dazzled.

Courtney's expert tip: There are free-with-admission tours that are worth building your visit around. 60-minute tours explore the art and architecture of the new AGO and run at 11am, 12pm, 1pm, 3pm and Wednesday evenings at 7pm.

Read more about Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) →

You may be thinking: once you have seen one dinosaur, you have seen them all. Think again: The Royal Ontario Museum is not to be missed. You also literally cannot miss it. The main entrance reopened in 2007; a stunning piece of architecture resembling a crystal by David Libeskind. Inside, the spacious grounds include featured exhibitions of world-renowned art, dinosaur bones that will dwarf your tallest friend and even a Ming tomb. In fact, there are over six million Canadian and international artifacts. The ROM's massive quarters are divided into three gallery spaces: World Culture, Natural History and Hands-on. The ROM has world culture, natural history and hands-on galleries from the prehistoric to the present.

Recommended for Museums because: From free lectures to art classes, expansive galleries and original Friday nights, the ROM is a must-see attraction in Toronto.

Courtney's expert tip: ROM's Friday Night Live is perhaps the trendiest way to get your museum culture fix. Friday nights in May and June from 7-11pm go to try some inventive food, dance to top DJs and, oh right, explore the museum.

Read more about Royal Ontario Museum →


Meet Courtney Sunday

Courtney Sunday has lived in England, Switzerland, Canada and the US, finding her way into the professions of freelance writing and yoga teaching in between travel opportunities. She learned...  More About Courtney