Toronto Trip Planner: When and Where to Go

Aerial view of the city of Toronto, Ontario.
View of Toronto, Ontario, courtesy of the City of Toronto.

Toronto is a year-round destination. Summer is one of the most popular times to visit, particularly if you’re traveling with kids. Everything is open, and you’ll find plenty of festivals and special events. Just be prepared for hot, humid weather.

Torontonians are quick to point out that the “lake effect” that dumps piles of snow on their upstate New York State neighbors has a different result in their city. Toronto’s position on Lake Ontario’s northern shore moderates the winter weather, and the city averages 115 centimeters (45 inches) of snow per year—less than Buffalo can get on a single day. Sure, it’s cold and often snowy in the winter, but Toronto has great museums, the cultural season will be in full swing, and accommodations are often less expensive than at other times of the year.

The best seasons for a Toronto trip, though, are spring and fall. The weather should be temperate, especially in autumn, and the cultural calendar will be full. If you’ll be in town in September during the Toronto International Film Festival, a major event on the city’s culture agenda, you should book your accommodations well in advance.

How much time do you need to explore Toronto? You could visit for a weekend and catch the city’s highlights or stick around for weeks and still have plenty to do. Start with a visit to the CN Tower to get an overview of what’s where, and then catch the streetcar east to St. Lawrence Market and the Distillery District. Browse the shops, and after lunch, head back downtown for one (or more) of the museums: the Royal Ontario Museum if you’re into world cultures and natural history; the Art Gallery of Ontario for contemporary art (and a striking Frank Gehry–designed gallery building); or the Bata Shoe Museum for, well, shoes—but shoes as you’ve never seen before. Have dinner in the Entertainment District or in the West End, take in a concert or a film, or see what’s happening in the clubs.

The next day, visit the lavish Casa Loma (the city’s “castle on the hill”), have lunch in Chinatown, and then either poke around in the Kensington Market district or spend the afternoon browsing the galleries and shops along Queen Street West.

Alternatively, if the weather is fine, you could catch the ferry to the Toronto Islands, or just walk or cycle along the Harbourfront, stopping into the galleries at Harbourfront Centre. If you’re traveling with kids, you might want to add the Ontario Science Centre to your itinerary. Toronto is also close enough to Niagara Falls that you can take a day trip there and still be back in town for supper.

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