How To See Toronto’s Top Attractions In 48 Hours
Toronto’s been my home base for the last four years. And while I may not have stepped foot in the city before moving there in September 2013, I have certainly taken my role as a full-time tourist pretty seriously in Canada’s entertainment capitol! Throughout my time in Toronto, I’ve discovered a few secret bars, found some amazing gluten-free & vegan eats, and learned the streets inside and out.
Over the past few weeks, I’ve put together a 48-hour itinerary for all of Toronto’s top attractions for first-timers. After showing around my city to a few out-of-town guests, I have my tour guide down pat and I thought I’d challenge myself to make this itinerary very efficient to maximize your time in Toronto!
I’ve also included some tips about Toronto transit passes, important courtesies and other general Toronto tips at the end of this post to make your trip a bit easier. And there are even some suggestions for some all-day activities in case you need to plan for a third day in the 6ix.
So without further adieu, here’s how you can see Toronto’s top attractions in 48 hours!
A 48-Hour Guide to Toronto’s Top Attractions
Address: 810 College Street
Hours: 9 am – 6 pm daily
Start your morning at one of Toronto’s brunch staples: Starving Artist. Known for its waffles, you can have a sweet or savoury breakfast to fill you up for your day ahead. My personal favourite is the Starving 4 Waffles topped with strawberries. The gluten-free and vegan waffles have a slight banana taste from the banana in the batter, so sweet toppings make the perfect pairing! It comes with fruit and your choice of salad or maple-baked beans.
There are also options like chicken and waffles, or eggs benedict waffles for your omnivorous friends!
Note: This is a cash-only establishment. $20 is more than enough to cover a single breakfast with a coffee. They also have an ATM on site, in case you’re like me and forget these things all the time.
To see the Starving Artist’s full menu, click here.
For other gluten-free & vegan breakfast options in Toronto, click here.
Directions: Starving Artist to Ossington Laneway
Walk time: About 15 minutes
After a filling breakfast, take a walk down one of Toronto’s most iconic streets- Ossington Avenue. Lined with beautiful storefronts, unique breweries and local coffee shops, the charm of this avenue will capture your heart!
Continue down Ossington until you’re almost at Queen Street. Turn right, and turn into the alleyway between Queen and Humbert Streets. This is one of Toronto’s graffiti gems. Instead of fighting tags with white paint, Toronto police worked with the city of Toronto to create beautiful street art along the Ossington Laneway! Since then, it’s become the best spot to see up-and-coming street artists in Toronto!
To see more popular Toronto graffiti spots, click here.
Queen Street West
After scoping out Ossington Laneway and snapping some photos, continue East along Queen Street West. With plenty of unique secondhand and record stores, delicious restaurants, the beautiful Trinity Bellwoods Park, and fun street art, it’s the best way to get in touch with the local Toronto scene. Some of my favourite shops are The Paper Place (directly across from Trinity Bellwoods park), Mama Loves Vintage, Black Market, and Anthropologie (not a Toronto company, but this particular location is stunning)!
Directions: Ossington Laneway to Graffiti Alley
Walk time: About 20 minutes
As you continue wandering down Queen Street West, take a slight detour at Portland Street (at the Loblaws) to Rush Lane, the alley way running adjacent to Queen Street. The entire alleyway is lined with some of the city’s best graffiti! And it’s so iconic to Toronto thanks to Canadian comedian Rick Mercer who would film his political rants in these alleyways.
For more information about Graffiti Alley and other popular Toronto graffiti spots, click here.
Khao San Road
Address: 11 Charlotte Street (directions from Graffiti Alley here)
Hours: Monday- Saturday 11:30-2:30 pm and 5-10 pm; Sunday 5-10 pm
Once you have your fill of Instagram-worthy photos from Graffiti Alley, make your way over to Khao San Road for some delicious gluten-free and vegan Thai food! Unlike most Thai restaurants, who have shrimp paste in most items, Khao San Road has dedicated gluten-free and vegan menus with plenty of options.
I highly recommend their gluten-free and vegan fresh rolls as a starter. They’re packed with carrot, lettuce, thai basil, mint, and fresh roasted peanuts wrapped in rice paper, and a chilli tamarind dipping sauce! They also have a wide array of curries, noodle and signature dishes for mains. I went with the vegan green curry (gaeng kaew wan) when I went and I was not disappointed.
If you’re weary of spice, don’t worry- you can choose anywhere between non-spice (0) and melt your face off (11).
TO SKIP CITY HALL, EATON CENTRE AND YONGE-DUNDAS SQUARE: Continue North on Spadina Avenue until St. Andrew Street to go to Kensington Market.
Directions: Khao San Road to City Hall
Walk time: Little under 20 minutes
After refuelling with some delicious Thai food, make your way back up to Queen Street West and continue walking east until you hit the row of food vendors lined up outside of Nathan Phillips Square, also known as the terrace outside of Toronto’s City Hall!
During the summer months, the building has a beautiful water feature in front of the iconic multicoloured Toronto sign. And once the city freezes over in winter months, you can rent skates for $10 just outside the rink! And in case you’re wondering what the beautiful building next door is, it’s Toronto’s old city hall!
Directions: City Hall to Eaton Centre
Walk time: 4 minutes
Located at the intersections of Queen Street West and the longest street in North America, Yonge Street, the Eaton Centre is Toronto’s only downtown mall. If you’re in Toronto during the ramp up to the holidays, it’s definitely worth popping in even just to see the shopping centre’s decorations!
Fun fact: The Eaton Centre was named after Eaton’s department store, which was once Canada’s largest department store. The department store and its catalogue played such an integral role in Canadian history, that it’s memory lives on in one of Canada’s most well known children’s stories: The Hockey Sweater by Roch Carrier.
Once you walk through the Eaton Centre, you can exit on the main level into Yonge-Dundas Square. Known as Toronto’s “Times Square,” the square holds many concerts, protests, buskers and– of course– billboards. While it may not be as large as Times Square, it’s definitely worth the stop off.
Directions: Yonge-Dundas Square to Kensington Market
Walk time: About 20 minutes
Continue West along Dundas Street until you hit Spadina Avenue and you’ll hit Kensington Market! Located in the heart of Chinatown, this hip neighbourhood is known for its fusion food, street art, buskers, cheap eats, secondhand clothing shops, and funky bars!
For a full gluten-free & vegan guide to Kensington Market, click here.
Kensington Market Pedestrian Sundays are held on the last Sunday of the month between May and October. Click here to see what to expect for KMPS.
Directions: Kensington Market to Grasshopper
Walk time: About 6 minutes
Located across the street from the Northern tip of Kensington Market, Grasshopper Restaurant is a gluten-free and vegan foodie’s dream! Start with a delicious serving of their sesame fries, which are deep fried in sesame oil. For a main, I highly recommend both the miso vegetable bowl and the mushroom ‘n rice bowl. They’re both incredible filling and so delicious that I can never choose between the two! (Thankfully, my boyfriend is willing to order both so we can go halfsies!) And if you’re still feeling peckish after dinner, I highly recommend their cashew cookie! It’s the perfect amount of sweet to finish off your meal!
To see Grasshopper Restaurant’s full menu, click here.
After a delicious dinner at Grasshopper, head back into Kensington Market to one of Toronto’s favourite secret bars! This place is definitely off the tourist radar, as most Torontonians don’t even know where it is! Head down the hallway to the right of Kensington Mall, until you reach the blinking red light. During the week there’s no line, so it looks a bit sketchy, but trust me it’s worth it! (I won’t spoil the surprise when you first walk inside, but it’ll be the strangest bar experience you’ll have in Toronto!)
For more cheap bars in Toronto, click here.
Address: 238 Augusta Avenue
Hours: Tuesday-Friday 11:30-6 pm; Weekend 11:30-9 pm; Closed Mondays
Day 2 starts off again in Kensington Market at one of my favourite gluten-free and vegetarian brunch places in the city! With plenty of vegan options, Hibiscus is a great place to get a filling breakfast. I highly recommend getting one of their iced matchas to go alongside their vegan mozzarella, tomato, basil, spinach and mushroom buckwheat crepe that comes topped with zucchini and avocado. It’s almost hard to believe that these massive crepes are vegan and gluten-free! And if you’re not in the mood for crepes, their quinoa salad and daily soup are always a hit!
To see Hibiscus’ full menu, click here.
Directions: Hibiscus to CN Tower
Hours: 9 am – 10:30 pm
Admission: $36 per adult
After a filling breakfast, make your way over to one of Toronto’s most iconic landmarks– the CN Tower. Built in 1973, the CN Tower held the title of the tallest freestanding structure in the world for 31 years. Standing at 553 metres tall (1,812 feet or 147 storeys), you can see the entire Greater Toronto Area and have an excellent view of the Billy Bishop Airport out on Toronto Island. If you’re lucky, you can see part of a Blue Jay’s game over at the Rogers Centre! At the lower observation deck, you can walk around the CN Tower and snap selfies on the glass floor. (If you’re courageous, do a little jump on the glass floor!) There’s also the option to go to their higher observation deck or, for daredevils, you can walk along the edge of the tower for an additional cost.
For more information about the CN Tower, click here.
Directions: CN Tower to Union Station via PATH
Walk time: 5 minutes
Once you’ve had your fill of Toronto up in the sky, come back to street level and head over to one of Toronto’s oldest buildings, Union Station. The station connects all major trains in downtown Toronto including TTC (downtown Toronto transit), the GO Train (connecting the GTA to Toronto) and VIA Rail (Canada’s national rail service). The building is currently undergoing interior renovations, but will soon include a shopping centre inside. However, the beaux-arts architecture of the station is definitely an incredible look into Canada’s history!
Directions: Union Station to Gooderham Building
Walk time: About 10 minutes
From Union station, continue walking east along Front Street past the Hockey Hall of Fame (in case you doubted how much Canadians love hockey) toward its intersection with Wellington Street. There you’ll find another New York City look-alike! The Gooderham Building is Toronto’s Flat Iron Building doppelgänger! It’s a cross between Romanesque Revival and French Gothic architecture and by far one of my most favourite buildings in the city!
Directions: Gooderham Building to Planta Burger
Walk time: About 10 minutes
After checking out some of Toronto’s most iconic buildings, grab a quick lunch break at one of the city’s up and coming plant-based restaurant chains! Planta Burger popped up this summer after the massive success of its original Planta restaurant in Yorkville. The burger patties are nut-free and gluten-free, and there is the gluten-free option of a collard green wrap. Try The California bunless burger option, and for the full burger joint effect, add on some fries and a strawberry mylkshake!
To see Planta Burger’s full menu, click here.
For a full review of Planta, check out Toronto blogger Gluten Freedom’s write-up here.
St. James Park
Directions: Planta Burger to St. James Park
Walk time: About 8 minutes
After lunch, take a relaxing walk over to St. James Park. Located next to one of Toronto’s oldest congregation, the park offers incredibly manicured gardens and a stunning gazebo. Enjoy the flowers and locals grabbing lunch before rushing back to the office. St. James Park is truly one of the most beautiful parks in the city!
St. Lawrence Market
Directions: St. James Park to St. Lawrence Market
Walk time: 2 minutes
Hours: Tuesday-Thursday 8 am – 6 pm; Friday 8 am – 7 pm; Saturday 5 am – 5 pm; Closed Sunday & Monday
Just south of St. James Park is one of Toronto’s most iconic markets, the St. Lawrence Market! The domed building was first built in the city since 1803, with a second building houses what once was Toronto City Hall erected in 1845. It was named the world’s best food market by National Geographic in 2012 for its wide variety of meats, cheeses, produce and plenty of local vendors selling classic Canadian souvenirs. Unfortunately, there aren’t many gluten-free or vegan options, but it’s definitely worth exploring!
Directions: St. Lawrence Market to Ethiopiques
Walk time: About 15 minutes
Once you’re done exploring the St. Lawrence Market area and are ready for dinner, head over to one of Toronto’s best Ethiopian-owned restaurants, Ethiopiques! As Toronto is the most multicultural city in the world with more than half its inhabitants born outside of Canada, I would highly recommend trying cuisines from different cultures while you’re visiting! Ethiopiques offers gluten-free injera and a large vegetarian platter, which offers sample sizes of its many vegan dishes. A single person platter could easily feed two people if you were still a bit full from lunch.
To see Ethiopiques full menu, click here.
Directions: Ethiopiques to Distillery District
Hours: Monday-Wednesday 10 am – 7 pm; Thursday- Saturday 10 am – 8 pm; Sunday 11 am – 6 pm
Admission: FREE (Check Christmas Market for admission from mid-November through December)
A great way to end the night is in the romantic Distillery District. Formerly known as Gooderham & Worts Distillery– who began their lucrative windmill business to turn grain into flour– the Distillery District is known for its unusually high-quality Victorian industrial buildings. It has since become home to a number of local restaurants and stores, including Toronto-made clothing, jewellery, knick knacks and antiques!
Around the holidays, the Distillery District Christmas Market pops up and Torontonians flood to the merry historic grounds! With mulled wine under large space heaters, an array of handmade wooden ornaments and carollers, it’s the perfect way to start the holiday festivities in Toronto!
For more information about the Distillery District Christmas Market, click here.
Other Tips To See Toronto’s Top Attractions
Toronto City Tips
- Who needs a North Star when Toronto’s got a South Pole? The CN Tower is visible from almost every corner of the 6ix, and unless you’ve traveled south of Front Street, it’s the south tip of the city. I used it almost like a compass throughout my time in the city.
- Follow road rules when walking or on the escalator. I cannot stress this point enough. Torontonians are busy people and will probably either call out “Excuse me” in an annoyed voice or will huff as they walk around you on a busy sidewalk. If you’re not in a rush, stick to the right side of the escalator or sidewalk to appease the locals.
Toronto is definitely a walking city. During my four years there, it was my main mode of transport. Please bring comfortable walking shoes for your trip.
Public transit is $3.25 per adult. Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) accepts coins, Presto cards and tokens (to be phased out soon) on all streetcars, buses and subway stops. New TTC streetcars and all subway stops accept credit cards.
On weekends, a single day pass ($11) covers two adults and up to four children under the age of 19. During the week, adults must pay individually for the single day pass or for a single-use pass. This is available for purchase only at subway stations.
FOR THIS ITINERARY: I would NOT recommend buying a day pass for Day 1, as all destinations are within a 20 minute walk of one another at the most. Day 2 would be an optional day pass, as there are three ‘trips’ that are 30 minutes or more apart by public transit (totalling to $9.75 per adult). If you feel you would take public transit a fourth time that day, you’re better off with a day pass as opposed to paying the $3.25 single-use pass.
More of Toronto’s Top Attractions (Day 3 possibilities)
- Where are Toronto’s most Instagrammable graffiti spots?
- Toronto too hot to handle? Cool off at these three Toronto beaches!
- What’s Toronto’s favourite way to escape the city during summer? Check out Toronto Island here!
- Gluten-free & vegan in Toronto? NO PROBLEM. (Like literally. At all.) Here are my 7 favourite brunch spots to start your day off right!
- Take advantage of the warm temperatures and marvel at the Greater Toronto Area’s beauty at the Scarborough Bluffs!
- Who knew Toronto had a castle?! Venture a bit north in the city for a stunning adventure through time at Casa Loma!
- Looking to knock back some local brewskies on the cheap? Check out some of Toronto’s best dive bars!
- Head out to Niagara Falls for the day! With 7 different ways to see one of Canada’s greatest wonders, it’s impossible to leave disappointed! Optional: Stop off at one of Niagara’s many wineries, including an ice winery- a Canadian specialty.
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