Its the Fourth of July – and Toronto, Canada is firmly on the map. Toronto is one of the fastest growing cities in North America and the home to the Toronto Raptors – the 2019 NBA Champions. What better time to find out what the fuss is about than a visit during the Fourth of July long weekend.
Toronto has been home to me for the past 5 years and I have thoroughly enjoyed exploring places such as Little Italy, Kensington Market, and The Distillery district. There is so much to do here that I realize its quite a feat to capture the essence of the city in 4 – 5 days.
Here I will give you a recommended itinerary on places to go, things to do and events to attend during the Fourth of July long weekend trip. Enjoy Toronto #WETHENORTH.
4 Day Itinerary
If you are planning to visit a number of attractions save money by purchasing a Citypass.
Day 1 – The Great Attractions
The best way to start the day is with a visit to the Iconic CN Tower. This used to be the tallest free-standing structure in the world until 2007. That position is now held by the Burj Khalifa, but the CN tower is still very impressive. Take some time to visit Ripleys Aquarium at the foot of the CN tower. Also for the more daring take a ride to the top of the CN tower and try the edge walk which is described as the worlds highest hands-free external walk on a building.
Walk eastward along Bremner Boulevard to Jurassic Park. While not an actual place Jurassic Park is the stretch of road along Bremner Boulevard between York Street and the Scotiabank Arena at Maple Leafs Square where fans gather during a Raptors basketball home game.
Attend a Toronto Blue Jays baseball game at the Rogers Centre. This is next door to the CN Tower. The Blue Jays play Red Sox on the 4th of July.
Alternative events – If your not a fan of baseball check out the Fringe festival. This is described as a theater by the people for the people and runs from July 3rd 14th. It is run at various theatres across the city.
Where to Eat
360 The Restaurant at CN Tower ($$$)– Experience a 360 view of the City from the top of the CN Tower while eating dinner. Dinner here can be expensive but there is a fix price lunch/dinner menu from $60 (Canadian). The restaurant rotates around, so take your time eating here to catch the view of the whole city.
The Roundhouse@Steam Whistle Brewing ($$) – Walk across the road from the CN tower to enjoy a traditional pub atmosphere in a vibrant environment at the Roundhouse. While there take a tour of the brewhouse and the CN railway trains.
Where to eat on a budget – Walk about 5 minutes southbound along to Queens Quay West. There are lots of decent priced restaurants and bars by the harbourfront. My favorite place is called Alexandros take-out. It sells greek gyros and souvlakis right by the side of the Westin Harbour Castle Hotel.
Day 2 – Shopping Day
Right in the heart of Toronto Downtown is Eaton Centre. This is the largest mall in the downtown core and has all the major name brands such as Apple, Zara, H&M, and Uniqlo. Set aside a whole day for shopping here. If you have time stop by the Hudson Bay store on Queen Street.
There is lots more to do around here than just shop. Stop by Dundas Square. This is Toronto’s equivalent of NYC Times Square. It is used for events such as pride parade and Canadian Music Week.
How to get there: From Union Station take the Toronto Transit System (TTC) to Queen Street. For the more adventurous there is an underground walkway called the PATH that stretches from Union to Eaton Centre. This is the largest underground shopping complex in the world.
Alternative Shopping Locations – If you are looking for high-end fashion and luxury boutique shops take the TTC subway to Bloor station and walk along Bloor Street to the Yorkville area. This shopping area is full of all the high-end brand names such as Chanel, Prada and Tiffany’s. You might even come across one of the stars of The Real Housewives of Toronto.
Budget Shopping – Kensington Market is 15 minutes away from Eaton Centre on the Dundas Streetcar. Its well worth going for its vintage clothing stores. Chinatown is walking distance from Kensington Market if you are looking for something decently priced to eat.
Hipster Shopping – The Queen Street West area between Bathurst and Gladstone is known for its unique clothing boutiques and hip bars. Take the Queen street tram westbound from Eaton Centre to Bathurst and enjoy walking down this road. Watch out for the Kawhi Leonard wall mural above the store OD Toronto on Queen West.
Where to Eat
There are lots of places to eat in the Eaton Centre. The food court is located at the lower level of the Eaton Centre itself. If you are looking for something a bit fancier – Jack Astors Bar and Grill ($$) is across the road at the Yonge-Dundas Square with a very good birds-eye view of the square itself.
In the Yorkville area, there are a number of fine dining restaurants. Sassafraz ($$$) is a French restaurant with a really nice patio.
Chinatown – ON a budget? Try all day dim sums or Vietnamese soup (Pho) at any number of restaurants in Chinatown. Take the Dundas Street West streetcar from Eaton Centre and get off at Spadina Avenue.
Franco-Fete de Toronto festival is running at Yonge-Dundas Square from July 5th to 7th. This is a free outdoor family-friendly music festival.
Day 3 – Historic Places/Museums
Plan a visit to the Distillery district. This used to be the location of a 19th-century whiskey distillery. The buildings are still intact complete with cobblestone streets. It may also look vaguely familiar as it is the scene for various movies such as Chicago, Cinderella Man and the series Shadowhunters: The mortal instrument.
I could spend a whole day here, browsing the shops, dining and visiting the various galleries spotted in the area. Take your camera along, this area is very popular for wedding, couple, and family portraits.
How to get there: Distillery district is a 25-minute walk from Union Station eastbound along Front Street to Trinity Street. Alternatively, take the King Streetcar to Distillery.
Where to eat: There are lots of restaurants in the Distillery District. If you are on a budget walk 15 minutes west along Front Street to the famous St Lawrence Market (Open Sat 5am – 3pm). This is a real farmers market in the heart of the City. Try some hot food from the farmer’s kitchen.
Royal Ontario Museum (ROM – Open daily 10am – 5:30pm) – Toronto’s own equivalent of the British Museum. Daily tours are free with the admission price. Also if you are in town a week earlier stop by for art, live music, and entertainment at ROM Friday Night Live. Directions to the ROM from Union Station – take the TTC to Museum station.
Next door to the ROM is the Bata Shoe Museum (Open daily 10am – 5pm, free Thursdays 5pm – 8pm). Learn all about shoes over the ages.
Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO – Open daily 10:30 am – 5pm, Closed Mondays, late days open to 9pm Wed and Friday, free Wed 6pm to 9pm). Art museum. Directions to AGO from Union Station – take the TTC to St Patrick Station. For lunch AGO is walking distance to both Chinatown and Kensington Market.
Distillery district – Music City Summer Series: (Sat – Sun July 6th/7th, free) Relax with a beer while listening to some of Canadians best musicians perform.
TD Salsa on St Clair Festival (Sat-Sun July 6th/7th. free): Take part in non-stop dancing on the streets at Canada’s largest Latin dancing festival. Directions from Union Station – take the TTC to St Clair West and then changeover to the streetcar towards Winona Drive.
Summerliciouis – Toronto’s own summer foodie event. Purchase tickets for a three-course fix price lunch and dinner menus at over 200 restaurants across the city. Ticket prices range from 23/28/33 (CAD$ – lunch) to 33/43/53 (CAD$ – dinner).
Day 4 – Beach Day
Spend the day at Woodbine Beach. Enjoy some ice-cream or a picnic in the park close by. Try swimming in Lake Ontario although it doesn’t really warm up till late July.
Alternatively, try a bike ride along the Lakeshore towards Toronto Harbourfront. Start at Exhibition place and cycle down to Ontario Place. There is a beautiful trail there with an awesome view of Lake Ontario. Cycle eastward towards harbourfront and stop by for lunch or to enjoy one of the multiple events there. If you have the energy Sugar Beach Park is another 5 mins ride along Lakeshore. This is an urban beach park with deck chairs and parasols good as a nice relaxing stop.
Tip: Bike Share is available along the Toronto lakeshore area. Purchase a day pass for $7. Note that this valid for the first 30 mins of each ride, so make sure to return the bike within 30 minutes and take another one without incurring extra costs.
There is also a 13-minute ferry ride from Harbourfront to Toronto Island. There is an amusement park – Centreville on the Island which is open despite recent flooding on the Island.
Beaches Jazz Festival at Jimmie Simpson Park (Fri/Sat/Sun July 5/6/7 between 6pm – 10pm, free) Listen to the best of Canadian Jazz music. Jimmie Simpson Park is a 15 minute walk to Woodbine Beach.
Afrofest 2019 at Woodbine Park by the beach (Sat/Sun July 6/7 12 noon – 11pm/8pm Sunday, free). Largest free African music festival in North America.
Harbourfront Centre – Summer Music in the Garden (Sunday, July 7, 4pm to 5pm, free). Toronto Music Garden Queens Quay West.
How to get around Toronto
From the Airport: Downtown Toronto is easy to get to from Pearson International Airport. The UP express train runs regularly and takes 12 minutes to get from the airport to Union Station. Adult one-way tickets are 12.35 CAD$ and family tickets (2 adults + 2 kids) is 38.05 CAD$
Downtown Toronto: All the locations on this itinerary (except Toronto Island) are within a 20-minute walk of Union Station. Buses, trams, and the TTC run often if you are not in a mood to walk. A single ride costs 3.25 CAD$. Union Station is a good reference to start from as its the central station where all the trains stop.
UBER/Lyft is available throughout the City and prices are reasonable.
Walking tours: A fun way to discover Toronto is to join the various walking tours. Groupon has a lot of deals on paid walking tours. Toronto free walking tours offer tours of Old Toronto and the City for free. Bookings can be made on their website https://www.torontofreewalkingtours.com/.
Where to Eat
There are lots of places to eat in Toronto. It’s a very multi-cultural city with restaurants ranging from Jamaican to Peruvian. Try belly dancing at the Sultans Tent on Front Street – walking distance from Union Station. Purchase a summerlicious ticket and explore over 200 restaurants in the city.
Personally, I love to go to Liberty Village next to the Exhibition place and explore the vibrant pub life there. There are over 5 pubs and bars in this area. There is usually a tailgate party there during a sports event in the city. Directions to Liberty Village – Take the King Street Car and stop at Strachan.
If you have a free day rent a car and head out to Niagara Falls. Its one of the wonders of the world and is only an hour and a half drive from Toronto.