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7 Quintessentially Canadian Experiences in Toronto Perfect for FIT or Group Travel
As the second-largest country in the world, one trip isn’t enough to see and experience everything Canada has to offer. Luckily, Toronto has some of Canada’s once-in-a-lifetime, signature experiences for tourists to sample.
As the most multicultural city in the world, it’s also an opportunity to experience first-hand how immigration has enlivened Toronto’s history, cuisine, art, shopping, and neighbourhood. Whether you’re arranging individual or group tours to Toronto, consider adding these seven signature experiences in Canada to the itinerary.
History and Culture
From museums to heritage sites to art and architecture, get a peek into Canada’s rich and diverse histories and cultures at these attractions:
Located steps from the Eaton Centre and Yonge-Dundas Square, this heritage row house was the last home of William Lyon Mackenzie, Toronto’s controversial first mayor and leader of the 1837 Rebellion. The museum gives a glimpse into Victorian Toronto in the 1860s as well as Mackenzie’s life and impact on the city.
From dinosaur bones to the Egyptian mummies, Canada’s largest museum is home to more than 13 million objects featured in 40 gallery and exhibition spaces. The ROM is also filled with exhibits that illuminate Ontario’s past, present, and future identities, and for Indigenous art and culture, the museum is considered one of the most important cultural institutions in North America.
As the only museum dedicated to the Islamic arts in Canada and North America, the Aga Khan Museum has become a cultural landmark in Toronto.
The seven-hectare site highlights the cultural achievements and creativity of Muslims over 1,000 years and features gallery space, a gift shop, an auditorium, a restaurant, and a courtyard. Located just 15 minutes north of downtown Toronto, the museum is easily reached by driving along the Don Valley Parkway.
Located northwest of the downtown, this open-air museum village recreates country life in 1800s Ontario. With horse-drawn carriages, costumed characters, stables, and shops, get a glimpse into the life of early settlers to Canada, as well as appreciate how Indigenous peoples helped them learn the lay of the land.
Fort York National Historic Site: Relive a pivotal moment in Canada’s history at Fort York—the country’s largest collection of original War of 1812 buildings and the 1813 battle site. A registered archaeological site, this 43-acre national heritage site located in downtown Toronto is where British soldiers, First Nations warriors and Upper Canadian militiamen united against the American invasion in the bloody Battle of York.
This is the only public fine art gallery in Canada with a mandate to collect, preserve, and celebrate Canadian art exclusively, with the permanent collection featuring more than 6,500 works by historic and present-day Canadian artists, including Tom Thomson, the Group of Seven and their contemporaries, Indigenous artists and artists from the many diasporic communities. Located in the historic Village of Kleinburg, the McMichael is easily accessible from downtown Toronto by car.
On this 3-hour bus tour, learn how Indigenous communities have shaped Toronto’s past and present, as well as continue to shape the city’s future.
The tour departs from the Native Canadian Centre of Toronto near Bloor Street West and Spadina Avenue and can accommodate up to 40 people. Tours must be booked at least two weeks in advance. At a later time, visitors can appreciate Indigenous cuisine at the Pow Wow Café in Kensington Market or Tea N Bannock on Gerrard Street East at their leisure.
From Toronto's impressive skyline to Quebec's cobblestone streets and European influenced architecture, explore Little Canada—an interactive attraction showcasing Canada’s captivating vistas, landmarks, and cityscapes in miniature scale. Group discounts start at just 15 guests and offer a range of perks, such as complimentary chaperone tickets, meal packages, and more. Located steps from Yonge-Dundas Square and the Eaton Centre.
Old Town Toronto Walking Tour
Esteemed historian Bruce Bell leads guided walks along the original 10 blocks that started Toronto and brings 200 years of history to life through informative, obscure, and humorous stories. Stops can include the St. Lawrence Market, the King Edward Hotel, the Distillery District, and more. Private tours and school groups of up to 100 students can be arranged.
Flavours of Canada
From butter tarts to poutine to tourtière to donairs, Canada has some delicious dishes and unique food traditions that can only be experienced by mouth.
This 200-year-old landmark is ground zero for uncovering food traditions in Canada, with the market featuring over 120 merchants and farmers. On a guided tour with Culinary Adventure Co., taste some uniquely Canadian flavours (maple, Montreal-style bagels, peameal bacon, local Ontario cheeses, butter tarts). There’s also a VIP early access tour if you want to avoid the Saturday crowds.
Kensington Market tours
Join a one-of-a-kind guided food tour of Toronto's unique neighbourhood near Spadina Avenue and Dundas Street West. Designated as a National Historical Site of Canada, Kensington Market is a multi-cultural mishmash of colourful Victorian houses and alleyways filled with quirky vintage shops and international restaurants and cafes. Tasty Tours has been hosting heritage food tours for over 10 years and got the 'insider edge' of the secret spots! Chopsticks+Forks accommodates tours that showcase Toronto's diversity through food with vegetarian and pescatarian options available.
Taste Canada’s culinary creations—maple, Ontario fruit, smoked fish, Montreal-style bagels, poutine—with this signature Made In Canada Food Tour led by the Culinary Adventure Co.
Canadian Wilderness in the City
Toronto has a big backyard that’s teeming with Canadian wildlife and opportunities for outdoor adventure.
Set in the scenic Rouge Valley, Canada’s largest zoo features some of the country’s most iconic creatures and critters (the American moose, grizzly bears, raccoons, wood bison, Northern bald eagle, and more). Walk the First Nations Knowledge Trail, and then get a glimpse of Arctic animals, like polar bears and Arctic wolves, on the Tundra Trek. Visitors can use a walking map to independently explore the pavilions on foot, or jump on Zoomobile to get around the park. The Toronto Zoo offers special pricing for group bookings.
Rouge National Urban Park
Steps from the Toronto Zoo, North America’s largest urban park is a one-stop-shop for getting a classic Canadian wilderness experience. With a human history dating back over 10,000 years, the park is home to amazing hiking trails, bird-watching opportunities, Toronto’s only campground, and some of Canada's oldest known Indigenous sites. Visitors can explore diverse Canadian ecosystems—wetlands, forests, meadows, rivers, beaches—as well as spot classic Canadian wildlife (look for the black squirrel!). It’s also an ideal spot for viewing autumn colours (and much closer than Algonquin Provincial Park). The park offers guided walks and group tours as well.
Cruise Toronto’s waterfront
See Toronto’s wild side on a scenic boat cruise of Harbourfront and Toronto Islands—a cluster of 15 small islands that are popular for outdoor activities and birdwatching. Toronto Harbour Tours offers a one-hour narrated sightseeing cruise, with an optional stop on the islands to enjoy the gardens, walking and cycling paths, beaches, amusement park, and more. City Cruises Toronto also offers sight-seeing cruises of Toronto’s waterfront, which include lunch, brunch, or dinner. For group tours and events, City Cruises Toronto can help customize a package to fit your needs.
Festivals and Events
Whatever the season, there’s always a celebration brewing in Toronto. Here are a few of the most quintessentially Canadian annual festivals in the city.
Canada’s biggest annual fair dating back almost 150 years known as “the Ex” attracts more than 1.4 million people annually.
Set at the expansive Exhibition Place, the main attractions are the delicious and outrageous carnival food and thrilling midway rides and games. Also check out cutting-edge technology, shop at markets, and catch exhibitions on arts and crafts, home and garden, and world cultures. Corporate and group sales can be arranged as well. (Timing: End of August/early September)
This one-of-a-kind live comedy event was born in Montreal, but you can LOL at the spin-off Just for Laughs Toronto festival every September. Past headliners have included Amy Schumer, Jim Gaffigan, John Mulaney, Trevor Noah, Iliza Shlesinge, and more. On top of the shows, there’s also a line-up of one-on-one conversations with comedy legends, TV cast panels, live podcasts, exclusive screenings, and opportunities to meet comedy stars. (Timing: September)
For ten days in September, Hollywood takes over Toronto with TIFF—one of the world’s largest and most influential cinematic events. Founded in 1976 and now considered the most important film festival after Cannes, it’s become a launching pad for Oscar hopefuls and up-and-coming actors and directors. (Timing: September)
Every spring, North America’s largest documentary festival presents over 200 cutting-edge documentary films from Canada and around the world.
Founded in 1993, “Hot Docs” brings in more than 200,000 viewers to the conference sessions, screenings, and creative workshops, which can include rubbing elbows with emerging artists and film legends like Bill Murray. The auditorium has designated wheelchair locations and select screenings offer closed captions, open captions, and described sound. Receivers with headphones transmitting the film’s audio content are available for every film. (Timing: Late April/early May)
Launched in 2000, this international festival was created to showcase diverse contemporary works of Indigenous directors, producers, and screenwriters working in film, video, audio, and digital media. Today, it’s the world’s largest presenter of Indigenous screen content. (Timing: Late October)
Located in North York and on the TTC Yonge-University subway line, the mall is home to 270 stores and services, including international luxury brands, like Gucci and Balenciaga, and one-of-a-kind Canadian brands: The Hudson’s Bay Company, Holt Renfrew, Roots, Chapters Indigo, Aritzia (a Meghan Markle favourite), and more. There are also over 50 restaurants and eateries for dining out, a few of which can accommodate larger groups. Yorkdale offers a group tour program, where you can receive group tour benefits, such as access to Tourist Privileges, Meet & Greet and Tour Operator incentives that can be arranged in advance.
Canuck Sports Appreciation
It’s no secret that Canadians love sports, but did you know that basketball and ice hockey have deep roots in Canada?
While hitting something with a stick is a universal game, some experts say that the Mi’kmaq in Nova Scotia played a hand in shaping modern-day ice hockey. When the first indoor National Hockey League (NHL) game was played in Montreal in 1917, it reportedly shared similarities with the Mi’kmaq game, such as the number of players on the ice and the rules.
Modern-day basketball was invented by Canadian James Naismith in 1891, while he was teaching at the YMCA in Springfield, Massachusetts. Many students were Canadian (Lyman Archibald, J. Howard Crocker, William H. Ball) and helped popularize the game across the country. There’s even a Heritage Minute to celebrate the Canadian origins of basketball.
Here are a few ways to appreciate Canada’s sports legacy in Toronto.
Hockey Hall of Fame
Located at Front Street and Yonge Street, the Hockey Hall of Fame is home to the Stanley Cup and the finest collection of hockey artifacts in the world. Dedicated to the history of ice hockey in Canada, the museum holds regular exhibits of famous players and teams and displays permanent galleries of National Hockey League (NHL) records, trophies, and miscellaneous memorabilia. Special offers for tour operators and educational programs for school groups can be arranged.
Toronto Maple Leafs’ game
Watching “the Leafs” shoot and score on the ice is a not-to-be-missed, thrilling Canadian experience. The Toronto Maple Leafs are one of the oldest ice hockey teams, with a history dating back to 1917. “The Leafs” are recognized as one of Canada’s most important hockey teams and were one of the NHL’s six founding teams.
If scoring tickets to the Leafs isn’t viable, a different option to consider is watching the Toronto Marlies —a Canadian professional ice hockey team playing in the American Hockey League. Playing out of the Coca-Cola Coliseum near Exhibition Place, the big thrill is watching minors hockey players on the ice—many of whom will "graduate" to play for the NHL.
Toronto Raptors game
Music superstar and Torontonian Drake helped elevate the city’s excitement for the Toronto Raptors after becoming the team’s Global Ambassador in 2013. But when the team took home their first NBA championship trophy in 2019, the Raptors became Canadian legends.
The Bottom Line
With a wealth of Canadian signature experiences to soak up in Toronto, you can “choose your own adventure” and plan an itinerary that will suit the interests and abilities of all visitors. The city is a one-stop shop for getting a taste of Canada from coast to coast without making the long journey. Contact Destination Toronto for itinerary development assistance and register for our Travel Trade newsletter to stay up to date about what’s new and happening in the city.