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Keep Your Eyes Wide Open for Toronto's Top Sightseeing



Toronto is a thriving, modern city. Look around Toronto and you’d be forgiven for thinking that much of the city has only been built over the past 50 years. Glass skyscrapers and condo buildings have become an integral part of the city's zeitgeist, and even world-renowned architectural landmarks like the CN Tower and the Michael Lee-Chin Crystal at the Royal Ontario Museum are newer constructions (built in 1972 and 2007 respectively).

But while Toronto’s best historical sights don’t immediately show themselves to tourists who aren’t looking for them, the city is full of fascinating glimpses into its past. Visit the Cathedral Church of St. James, which stands out as the oldest congregation in the city and was one of the largest buildings back in 1850. With Toronto's preference for vertical construction, that sure has changed. St. James is now designated under the Ontario Heritage Act to preserve its historical beauty. Conveniently, it is located steps from the award winning Saint Lawrence Market. History sure can build up an appetite.

Or visit Guildwood Park, on the eastern reaches of Toronto, where relics from buildings that have disappeared from the city skyline are preserved in a sculpture garden.

The sights on our list are located all over the expansive city. Wherever you are, you can find a piece of Toronto’s history worth admiring.


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10
Downtown


The CN Tower is the ubiquitous symbol of Toronto. Yet it is much more than the world's tallest towering building. It provides a terrific perspective of the city, with a glass floor that can bring out acrophobia in anyone by being 1/3 of a kilometre above ground. The CN Tower's range of attractions and exhibits includes a digital animation program (Thrill Zone, which allows visitors a virtual bungee jump), a laser tag game, nightclub, 300-seat cafe, award-winning 360 restaurant (with the world's highest wine cellar!), shops, and a Simulator Theatre, which mimics air flight. Pay an extra $12 to go up in the Skypod, which will give you a more private experience of the incredible view.

Recommended for Sightseeing because: You just can't beat the view. Plus, this is probably the best known building in Toronto so you might as well cross it off your list.

Courtney's expert tip: The view is phenomenal from behind a window, but if you really want to be daring, try out the Edge Walk. Lean back from the rim of the building attached to a cord. We are getting sweaty just thinking about it.

Read more about CN Tower →




You don't have to be Anglican to appreciate this church. St. James Cathedral was originally erected in wood and was used during the War of 1812 as a hospital. It was rebuilt in stone in 1833 but burned down by 1839 and after being rebuilt again, burned again in 1849. Persistence paid off and an international architectural competition was held with the winner choosing a Gothic Revival design. In the later 1800s, details such as the pinnacles and finials were added. It took until 1980 before further renovations kept this structure standing. Inside everything is linked proportionally and rationally, like a math equation come to life. A carved organ with 5000 pipes sits underneath a royal coat of arms. Stepping inside feels like stepping inside a piece of history.

Recommended for Sightseeing because: Toronto's oldest church and oldest cemetery provide a glimpse into Toronto's early history.

Courtney's expert tip: Visitors can explore the cathedral during regular hours of operation. Group or individual tours can also be arranged to specifically focus on elements including the stained glass windows, the church's memorials or even an exploration of the bell tower. Contact St. James Cathedral for details.

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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 Sightseeing because: A world class art gallery that would be impossible to properly see in one day. See Michelangelo, Pollock and van gogh under one stunning roof.

Courtney's expert tip: The Art Gallery offers free admission to its galleries on Wednesdays from 6 to 8:30pm. If you are with the family, Family Sundays happen between 1-4pm.

Read more about Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) →


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7
Midtown


Toronto is not exactly the first place you go when you get the craving for a castle. However, in the middle of an upscale neighbourhood right near downtown Toronto, there is a majestic castle which was built in 1911 by a Canadian industrialist. It was meant to be a home for him and his wife. Unfortunately, by the time it was completed, Sir Henry Mill Pellatt's financial situation was not quite as favourable due to misguided investment decisions and the post-war recession. Enter Toronto city, who seized control of Casa Loma in 1933. In the years since, Casa Loma has been open to the public and offers tours of the castle's 98 rooms, 1,800-bottle wine cellar and 800-foot underground passage leading to the home's stables.

Recommended for Sightseeing because: Toronto has threatened to tear down this house on the hill multiple times. It still stands, one of the few relics of its time.

Courtney's expert tip: Special events throughout the month include brunches on special occasions, such as Valentine's Day or Father's Day. For not much more than the price of admission you can get live entertainment and great food. Check the Casa Loma events page for more details.

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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 Sightseeing because: From buff coloured brick to a crystalline entrance, the ROM from the outside is almost as good as the collection on the inside.

Courtney's expert tip: If you are in Toronto for the sightseeing, purchase the CityPASS which will allow you to see many of the main attractions for a reduced price.

Read more about Royal Ontario Museum →


University of Toronto


Founded in 1827, this public institution has consistently been viewed as one of Toronto's strongest Universities. In addition to the University of Toronto's place as a leader in post-secondary education, the sprawling downtown campus is a remarkable display of different architectural styles (contemporary, Gothic, Victorian), sculptures and green spaces. It looks well suited for ghost sightings, of which there are many, including a roaming 19th centure stonemason. Stroll through the campus along the Philosopher's Walk pathway, admire the stained glass windows in the Gothic Revival-style Soldiers' Tower or explore the bookshelves at Robarts Library, one of the leading examples of Brutalist architecture in North America. Be sure to pop into the Thomas Fisher Rare Book library, with 700,000 volumes of exciting original materials.

Recommended for Sightseeing because: U of T will look recognizable due to its many appearances in films. It is rich in historical significance and a lovely sight to behold.

Courtney's expert tip: Campus walking tours are offered daily all year long, with no reservation required. Each tour runs approximately 1.5 hours in length. Contact the Nona Macdonald Vistors Centre for details.

Read more about University of Toronto →


4
West Toronto
High Park


High Park is Toronto's version of Central Park in New York. Toronto's largest 400 acre public park has been the jewel in Toronto's park system with historical buildings, amazing hiking trails, a free zoo and playgrounds. A park highlight is Colborne Lodge, which is one of 10 historic sites operated by the city of Toronto. Colborne Lodge is a monument to John and Jemima Howard, the couple who founded High Park. This house, built in 1837 still has some original paintings of early Toronto. High Park is a walker's or runner's delight with pathways connecting the park's various natural habitats, picnic areas, ponds and landscaped gardens. From spring to fall, a "trackless train" (a tractor that pulls several wagons designed to resemble a train) takes visitors around the park, stopping at various points of interest.

Recommended for Sightseeing because: If you are itching for a little green space, High Park will give it to you with Toronto's dashing skyline in the background.

Courtney's expert tip: Walking tours are lead on weekends for free, with no registration required. Guides range from foresters to writers to give unique perspectives on one of Toronto's favourite parks.

Read more about High Park →




Toronto is home to the world's best food market, according to National Geographic (a pretty reputable source, if you ask us). Even if you don't subscribe, you will certainly rank The St. Lawrence Market highly due to the fantastic collection of vendors selling all manners of food in the southeast end of the downtown core. The indoor marketplace has been in operation since 1803 on what was then "Market Block." It was the first permanent farmer's market, with insightful tours to keep you abreast of this important part of Toronto history. In 1834 it even became a temporary office for the local civic government. It was rebuilt after the great Fire of Toronto but continues to be a hub of Toronto activity and history.

Recommended for Sightseeing because: Sightseeing doesn't normally come hand-in-hand with some of the best food in the city. Then again, Toronto is filled with surprises.

Courtney's expert tip: Visit the Market Gallery to see what remains of the City Hall that stood on the site of St. Lawrence Market from 1845-1899. It is absolutely free and will keep you distracted from the many food temptations.

Read more about St. Lawrence Market →


2
Scarborough


Guildwood Park's 90 acres of picturesque gardens and walking trails serves as a sort of graveyard for Toronto's historic buildings. The park features approximately 70 pieces of buildings that stood in the city's downtown core until being torn down in the post-World War II boom. The facades, archways and other pieces were transported here, and today form a sculpture garden popular with wedding photographers and history buffs. You can see everything from the remains of the Temple Building, Toronto's first skyscraper and once the tallest in the British Empire, to the fireplace mantle salvaged from the home of Sir Frederick Banting, co-discoverer of insulin.The grounds were once home to the Guild Inn, established as an artists' colony where more than 100 craftsmen and their families lived rent-free. Many of these artists were affiliated with the famous Group of Seven.

Recommended for Sightseeing because: This is a park with a rich and fascinating history. Fragments of demolished buildings are good reminders that Toronto was once more than condominiums.

Courtney's expert tip: Be sure to visit the Guild Inn, a former arts centre and hotel at the centre of the park. Closed in 2001 due to the threat of condominiums, there have been rumblings that the Inn may be revitalized.

Read more about Guildwood Park →




Toronto's Distillery Historic District began in 1859 as the site of the Gooderham and Worts whiskey distillery. 100 years later, the distillery was producing nearly half of the total volume of spirits in the province of Ontario, making it one of the country's most important manufacturing facilities (people like their spirits!). As war, prohibition and outsourcing changed the face of Toronto, it did its number on the distillery which closed in 1990. However, 13 years later this historic district got its second chance and became a charming pedestrian-only village. This area of Toronto today is like no other, with cobblestone pathways and Victorian-era buildings housing restaurants, boutiques and art galleries.

Recommended for Sightseeing because: Victorian era buildings make this part of Toronto feel a little slower than the rest. Take a deep breath and enjoy a one-of-a-kind experience.

Courtney's expert tip: The Distillery Historic District still maintains some of its alcohol-producing roots. Ontario Spring Water Sake Company opened eastern North America's first sake brewery onsite in 2011, featuring a tasting bar where you can sample the company's products. Also, Mill Street Brewery produces some great beers and operates a pub in the district.

Read more about Distillery Historic District →


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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

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