38+ Of The Best Things To Do In Toronto This Summer
By Ana Bilokin on July 23rd, 2018
In a big city like Toronto there are endless opportunities for fun and entertainment. No matter what your interests, we’re sure there’s something for you to discover. To really get to know the city, step off the beaten path and take a peek at these unique recommendations.
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Whether you’re a long-time local trying to break your routine, or new in town just making heads and tails of the place, one thing’s for sure: this bustling metropolis is jam packed with exciting programming, beautiful spaces and, of course, all the bars and restaurants your heart desires. Here are the top places to visit, festivities to join, and things to do in Toronto. You might not find these in the guidebooks so get out there and make sure the summer is one to remember!
Have dinner at an exciting new restaurant
Over the last decade, the dining scene in Toronto has exploded, making it a top foodie destination. Reinventing cuisine and experimenting with atmospheres, Toronto’s chefs are always cooking up something beautiful. It seems that every day a new dining experience awaits!
City Betty’s “7 season menu” marries California surf, New York class and local, seasonal Ontario produce making the menu distinctly local and exotic, all at once. While their food changes with the planet’s motion, the zodiac themed cocktail list aligns with the stars. The lush greenery adorning both the space and your plate, though, will bring you right back to earth. website
Chef Nuit Regular and husband Jeff have made a namefor themselves in the Toronto food scene. At their other restaurants you’ll find some of the best Northern Thai food in the city. With Kiin, they’re expanding the palate to include food from all around Thailand, focusing more on ingredients, and even featuring dishes influenced by the cuisine of royalty. This is Thai food like you’ve never seen it before. website
This restaurant has already been around the sun a couple times, but we’re still excited about the revolution in vegan dining. Planta brings sustainable, plant-based foods to the upscale culinary scene, polishing it off with touches of rose gold and lush foliage. Or, try their more casual location, Planta Burger, for a quick lunch! website
This Little Italy joint is truly a 21st century global experience. With a backdrop of pointedly minimalist and contemporary design, the chef uses French techniques in preparing traditionally Korean ingredients. The result? An exquisitely unique menu where every dish is sure to excite. Even the cocktails draw influence from Korea and beyond. website
A step in another direction, Tennesse Tavern is an eclectic space. It’s full of reclaimed wood, with vintage finds adorning the walls, a bird cage on the back patio and space for live music and DJ sets. Don’t be fooled by all this though – the food is in fact an exciting selection of Eastern European dishes including smoked fish, cured meats and everyone’s favourite, pierogies, accompanied by a great selection of drinks. website
Indulge at a unique local bar
With so many bars to choose from in the city, its hard to know where to go. Try bar hopping along College Street in Little Italy, or check out our selections below.
Civil Liberties skips the cocktail menu in exchange for something truly refreshing: the freedom to choose. Work with the expert bartenders to create a drink that perfectly fits your desires. The walls are lined with various liqueurs and jars filled with more obscure ingredients. However, if you don’t find that enchanting they also have a finite selection of beers as well as a snack menu. website
What appears to be an unassuming storefront, lit up with neon lights, is actually the front of a swanky hideaway full of delightful libations. You’ll feel like you’re unlocking a world of mystery as you step through the keyhole-shaped doorway into the real destination, a spacious yet intimate bar with decor inspired by the film “In the Mood For Love.” At Mahjong, however, it is cocktails that are of the essence. website
Across the city, in the East End, you’ll find all-American Poor Romeo at the heart of Leslieville. Although its a fairly new endeavour, the bar already has an air of worn-in comfort. Perhaps, the ease of the place is thanks to the owners’ expertise from running Pinkerton’s Snack Bar just across the street. With rock n’ roll influences and classic North American comfort food, it’ll be easy to feel at home right away. facebook
At first, the most striking thing about Bar Raval is the woodwork. It ebbs and flows around the room, framing the bar in a rich warmth while still keeping it breezy. Difficult to picture? Take a look for yourself, and while you’re there, make sure you try the delicious menu of Spanish tapas and exceptional drinks that make this a staple of Toronto’s bar scene. website
A cozy spot in the heart of Kensington Market, Handlebar knows how to deliver the good times with spectacular programming every night of the week. They offer $5 pints of Ontario craft beer on Mondays, Hot Breath Karaoke on Tuesdays, and some of the coolest DJs and live musical acts around serve exciting and exploratory sounds to your ears every other night. website
This little downtown neighbourhood is packed full of incredible things to do. Thanks to the area’s diversity, there is such a wide rangeof incredible foods to try. Check out specialty shops like Blackbird Baking Co or pick from a selection delicious restaurants. With spots like Pow Wow Cafe or Jamaican Italian fusion takeout place Rasta Pasta, there’s something for every background and price point. Kensington Market is best taken on by foot, and knows it. Every month in the summer the area hosts Pedestrian Sundays, closing the streets off to cars and opening them up to the public. It’s one of the best spots in Toronto to celebrate out-of-the-box self expression.
Party it up during festival season
Whatever kind of party you’re looking for, Torontonians love to gather together, celebrate, and savour the summer weather. We’ll get you started with a small sample of the city’s diverse and exciting festival programming.
If you’re looking for that concentrated surge of musical energy, Toronto has got you covered. It’s home to several epic music festivals that will get you moving and grooving all day (and night) long. Get a ticket to Field Trip for more alternative sounds or, if electronic music that makes you want to dance is what you’re seeking, check out Dreams and Veld Music Festival, which will also entice you with a share of hip-hop headliners.
You might know about the Toronto International Film Festival, which takes over Toronto’s downtown in September, drawing starsfrom around the globe. But, there are also many smaller film festivals, organized by locals, aiming to spice up your Netflix and chill routine. Check out the Open Roof Festival for a night of outdoor cinema, music and beer, or the Christie Pits Film Festival for a free movie in the fresh air.
Get a workout and your fill of adrenaline
Put your body to the test with some more extreme activities. Check out Basecamp Climbing for a full body workout, a lot of fun, and the biggest sense of success when you reach the top of the rock wall. Or, compete with your friends more directly at Sgt Splatter’s Paintball as you go undercover in their epic 2 story facility, complete with abandoned cars and vehicles. If you’re itching to get on the water, why not try kiteboarding lessons with the Toronto Kite Club, which offers discounts if you go with a small group. For a more affordable urban adventure try cycling a cross the city on the Martin Goodman Waterfront Trail. You can rent bikes at Wheel Excitement Inc, if you need.
Have a brand new dining experience at a food hall
The latest in Toronto dining trends, food halls have started popping up around the city. Even more are set to open in the following year. They’re kind of like a food court, offering a wide selection of food in a single space, but with more refinement and taste, it adds up to a single spectacular culinary vision.
Bringing together 17 of the city’s top chefs, Assembly is unparalleled in selection and quality. In a gorgeous, art-filled and bustling space, each counter brings its own approach to good food prepared quickly. Try a unique selection of ramen bowls from Ramen Isshin, organic vegan dishes at Hibiscus or contemporary comforts from Resto Boemo that might even feature a dash of truffle. Come in the afternoon on weekdays to skip the lunchtime rush. website
Campo presents a fun twist on the food hall. Fusing Spain’s food and culture, it’s a one stop shop for a myriad of Spanish delights. Simultaneously, the space is a grab-and-go counter, specialty grocer, bakery, juice shop, retail store, full-service bar, and exquisite restaurant, Labora, where meals are carefully crafted with ingredients imported from Spain. website
Cozy up at a cool cafe
Toronto is absolutely full of beautiful cafes. Whether you want to curl up with a book, get some work done, hang out with friends or just grab a cup of joe to go. Dineen, Balzac’s and Jimmy’s Coffee are all staples of Toronto’s cafe culture while Boxcar Social and Odin will serve you more than just coffee. They have food and drinks, too. For a different coffee experience try OFFSITE, which doubles (or triples, rather) as a cafe, clothing store and gallery. Wherever you are in the city, though, there’s surely a cool spot just around the corner waiting to be discovered.
Get a taste of nature in the heart of the city
If you want to get outside, the city is full of spectacular urban parks some of which offer a real retreat from the city. You don’t need a car to get to these green oases – perfect for exploring on foot or on a bike.
The Brick Works is a sustainable community hub home to a garden centre, Café Belong (a delightful cafe and upscale restaurant serving sustainable, local fare), the biggest farmers’ market in the city, Bike Works cycling hub, a striking park with a lookout point, and countless other initiatives. It’s also the perfect access point to Toronto’s ravine system, full of paths perfect for biking or hiking under the lush, green canopy of an urban forest. website
The paradox of this park’s creation is that it lies on man made land. Originally created for “port related activities,” it ultimately fell to disuse. Instead, the land was reclaimed by nature and is now an important habitat preservation zone full of wildlife such as birds and insects. For you this means you now have access to a beautiful green landscape minutes from downtown that’s perfect for cycling, hiking, bird watching, fishing, and getting in touch with nature. website
The view provided by these east end cliffs looks like the backdrop of an idyllic tropical getaway. But, you can get to this series of parks without the airfare. Hike to the top, or simply drive, and get a good lookout at the expanse of Lake Ontario, stretching as far as the horizon. You can also have a picnic right by the water in the green parkland of Bluffer’s Park or even relax on a sandy beach! website
Head over to a museum to see the latest exhibition
The exhibits featured at these museums are unbeatable for any lover of culture who finds themselves looking for things to do in Toronto.
This majestic gallery space can keep you wandering around in awe for hours. Be struck by local and international talent featured on its walls, and sometimes coming off them. Or, come to the gallery for First Thursdays every month and join the city’s largest art party. Currently on display (until October 21, 2018) is Rebecca Belmore: Facing the Monumental, featuring works by a prominent contemporary voice responding to issues facing the indigenous community. website
A visit to the ROM is a trip around the globe and all the way back to the age of the dinosaurs. Encapsulating life on this planet, it covers both natural history and human culture, throughout time. You’ll find diverse exhibitions such as Spiders: Fear & Fascination (open until January 6, 2019) as well as Iris van Herpen: Transforming Fashion (until October 8, 2018), and check out Friday Night Live for a night out. website
Taste the flavours of Toronto at a brewery
Brewpubs have been taking over the city as more and more people are keen to try new and exciting brews. Nothing screams ‘local’ like beer brewed right where you’re drinking it. Plus, you can be sure Toronto’s brewers love to experiment!
This brewery is a sort of ode to the market. Its delicious beers are inspired by the sights, smells and flavours of the area’s bustling streets. Stop by the Bottle Shop and pick up some brews to enjoy later, or take it slow at the bar. You can even bring in your own food and play some board games! They’ve always got their signatures such as the Market Pils and Fisheye IPA, but come back often to see what else they’re cooking up. website
Truly unique in a city where there’s always something brewing; Godspeed makes beers with a Japanese flair. Recently opened by brewmaster Luc “Bim” Lafontaine of Montreal’s Dieu du Ciel! we know Godspeed is in good hands. Not only are the creative beers sure to excite your tastebuds on their own, they also pair perfectly with the brewery’s incredible Japanese izakaya-style dishes. website
Another popular gem paying tribute to its neighbourhood, but Bellwoods’ influence stretches far beyond. In fact, their original Ossington Ave. location was so busy that they had to expand and now run out of two storefronts where they sell bottles, pour glasses and innovate new flavours. Light fresh and hoppy, dark and rich, barrel aged or perhaps you’re looking for something more on the wild side? They’ve got it all when the season is right. website
Hang out in Trinity Bellwoods park
And then, go explore the surrounding area too! Pick up a couple beers at Bellwoods Brewery, pack a picnic, and sit in the park’s lush grass. It’s sure to be a nice, relaxing summer afternoon. The Trinity Bellwoods area is full of some of the coolest, most creative people in the city. This makes the park a great spot for people watching, or even dog watching at the Dog Bowl! Once you’ve had your fill of the sun, head over to Ossington Ave. It’s packed with incredible restaurants such as Boralia, which pays homage to Canada’s roots, Pho Tien Thanh, a modest place serving some of the best pho in the city, and so much more. This strip is a top destination for dining in Toronto. There’s a good share of bars too, the fun doesn’t have to end after dinner!
Get enlightened by the arts and culture scene
There’s always some kind of cultural programming, dozens of events and so many things to do in Toronto. You just have to know where to look!
Like film screenings, artisan fairs and performances of all kinds? Toronto’s cultural hub on the water always has something in store for you. Hear exciting music (for free!) from both local and international performers, some sharp-witted comedy or the sound of waves hitting the hull of your rental boat. Make sure you don’t miss stopping by The Power Plant Contemporary Art Gallery, too. website
We’ve covered music, food and film, but Toronto is ripe with arts festivals, too. The biggest is Luminato, running for a couple weeks in June every year. Experience dance, music, theatre, film, ideas and more from around the world. Then, see visionary photography in exhibitions around the city with the Scotiabank CONTACT Photography Festival. And don’t miss Nuit Blanche, the all night public art extravaganza that takes over for one night in the fall.
There are so many music venues in the city, we could hardly tell you about them all. Beyond the concert halls that welcome internationally known headliners, there are some smaller venues such as Burdock (which is also a brewery for added benefit), Horseshoe Tavern (a legendary classic) and Rivoli (which serves food in the front) where you can catch local and visiting talent almost any night of the week.
Explore the new public spaces on King Street
As the city of Toronto moves to improve transportation through its downtown core, pedestrians are also getting some attention. Thanks to the King Street Transit Pilot, new public spaces have popped up along the avenue. They’ve been designed intentionally to create interaction with other people and engagement with the environment. With new seating areas, sidewalk murals and more, King Street is ready to become a pedestrian haven. Grab some loaded ice cream at Sweet Jesus and sit on the bright yellow milk crates installed by David Pecaut Square. This summer, you can even catch a free live performance there every Thursday at 12:30 pm. Or, walk down King between Bathurst and Jarvis and see what else you can discover!
Check out Toronto’s iconic attractions
While you’re downtown, its worth taking a peek at the destinations that Toronto’s known for. Try the iconic peameal bacon sandwich from Carousel Bakery as you shop around for local meat an cheese in the St. Lawrence Market. Just nearby is the Distillery District. Head over to discover a pedestrian village full of art, culture and history – you can read our guide here. Or, dive into the Ripley’s Aquarium and walk through the Dangerous Lagoon where sharks and rays swim over your head. You might even want to… visit the CN Tower! Test your fear factor on its newest adventure: the EdgeWalk. Here’s our complete list of the best attractions, they’re not just for tourists, we promise!
Sample refined indulgence at a wine bar
Now, these are spots where you’ll really prefect your palate and even getting drunk can be a stylish endeavour, one of our favourite things to do in Toronto.
The oldest restaurant in the city has come out with a whole new space. Senator Winebar is located right above the classic joint, serving hearty comfort food in a venue reminiscent of a Parisian bistro. It’s also the city’s newest music venue, offering a taste of old fashioned live entertainment, from blues piano on Fridays, to a more diverse arrangement of sounds on Saturday. Senator Winebar will take you back to simpler times. website
A new venture that’s pretty pure – Chez Nous serves only Ontario wine and not much else. They want you to feel at home as you appreciate the flavours of this beautiful province. The attentive wait staff will help you select the perfect glass, bottle or half bottle to match your preferences, or even to pair with the outside food you can kindly bring in. website
Accompanied by a selection of refined seafood and vegetables dishes, wine is still the star at Grey Gardens. With a menu organized by flavour profiles (Delicate, lifted, ethereal; herbal, spicy, complex; rich creamy, round – and more) you’ll be sure to find something that suits your tastes. Located in Kensington Market, it manages to be both a classy restaurant for special occasions and hangout spot for more casual meetings. website
Engage with Toronto’s performing arts scene
For full listings including broadway performances check out the guide from Toronto Theatre, or be more adventurous with one of these unique theatrical experiences.
Expect Theatre brings Canadian theatre straight to your earbuds. The PlayME podcast features the best plays and short stories from around the country, acted out in a series of contemporary radio plays. No tickets, no fees, no schedules – simply stream the show and let the stories and creativity flow through you. theatre company / podcast
Toronto’s biggest theatre company, Soulpepper, puts on performances year round at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts in the Distillery District. Get ready to be inspired, laugh, cry, and be transported to another world for a couple hours. Plus, you can stop by the delightful Cluny Bistro for dinner before the show! website
For over 30 years, Canadian Stage has performed Shakespeare each summer in the glorious fresh air of High Park. This season they’re presenting two of the Bard’s most iconic plays – “Romeo and Juliet” and “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” Follow up a day of strolling around and taking in the scenery with a stunning theatrical production, which really is the dream way to spend a night in the middle of summer. website
It’s a mixture of underground art and a city wide takeover. Toronto’s Fringe Festival highlights some of the best up-and-coming artists in the theatre scene. Engage with acts of self expression, discover stories, and support independent artists. With 40 venues showing 150+ plays that total to 1000+ performances over 12 days, that’s pretty spectacular. website
Nestled in between the hip Trinity Bellwoods and cozy Palmerston, Little Italy Toronto is a pocket of culture in the heart of the city. It's great for walking around on bustling sidewalks and sipping espresso on a patio in the summer.