Toronto travel guide: What to do and where to eat, spa and stay in the popular Canadian destination

·7 min read
New, red streetcar moves on the waterfront in downtown Toronto Canada. (benedek via Getty Images)

Consistently over the past few months, data from travel sites like Expedia and Kayak have indicated that Toronto continues to be a popular destination for Canadian travellers.

According to Kayak flight search data, interest in flights to Toronto, by Canadian travellers, for the week of Aug. 28 was up 38 per cent, compared to pre-pandemic 2019.

Data from Expedia found that for the summer travel season, specifically for travel between June 21 and Sept. 22, Toronto is the top domestic travel destination, based on flight searches.

While Toronto is the economic hub of Canada, there is still plenty to do for a leisure vacation. For a city so full of unique characteristics, we’ve put together a list of some of our favourite things to do, see, eat and experience in Toronto.

Casa Madera in Toronto
Casa Madera in Toronto

Where to eat in Toronto

There is certainly no shortage of dining options in Toronto. Essentially, whatever type of cuisine you like or you’re interested in trying, Toronto has it, but Mexican food, in particular, has seen a significant resurgence in the city.

Olivier Le Calvez has a reputation for bringing Toronto some of its best Mexican food and now that he is the executive chef at Casa Madera restaurant (conveniently centrally located in the city), it's a must-try for a unique, elevated Mexican cuisine experience.

“Mexican cuisine has evolved a lot in the city ever since I arrived, but there’s still a lot of opportunity for Mexican food in Toronto,” Le Calvez told Yahoo Canada. “It’s important for consumers to know that Mexican cuisine goes far beyond tacos (although I know we all love tacos!).”

“It all starts with four key factors - salt, fat, acid and, of course, heat... I hope to make consumers more aware of the other cuisines, like Spanish, French, and Middle Eastern that influence Mexican gastronomy. You’ll see these influences in our wide range of dishes on the Casa Madera menu.”

Chile Pulpo at Casa Madera restaurant in Toronto
Chile Pulpo at Casa Madera restaurant in Toronto

When you do go to Casa Madera, Le Calvez recommends ordering the Chile Pulpo and the A La Roca, which is wagyu beef served on a hot stone.

“There are so many amazing cocktails to choose from but my favourite is the Casa Madera Old Fashioned with tequila,” Le Calvez added.

For Casa Madera's executive chef, one of his go-to cuisines in Toronto is Lebanese food and one of his favourite restaurants to visit with his wife and kids is Tabulé on Queen Street. It was founded in 2012 and the restaurant is a staple for Middle Eastern cuisine for locals.

“I love that Toronto has such a range of cuisines available at your fingertips,” Le Calvez said. “I have a never ending list of new restaurants that I want to try!”

Some other great food options in Toronto are Tea-N-Bannock for First Nations cuisine, the always delicious Chubby's Jamaican Kitchen, the very popular Pai for Thai food, Oroshi Fish Co. for amazing sushi, Fresh for plant-based food, Casamiento for pupusas, Barberian's Steak House if you're looking for a classic Toronto steak dinner, and Futura Granita for the most authentic Italian-style ice cream and granita you'll have in the city.

Hammam Spa by Céla at Bayview Village
Hammam Spa by Céla at Bayview Village

Where to spa in Toronto

While a hotel spa is incredibly tempting during a vacation, if you really want to have a Toronto spa experience, Hammam Spa by Céla is the place to go, with two locations, one downtown on King Street and another at the Bayview Village Shopping Centre.

“We [offer] spaces and treatments that are less prevalent elsewhere in the city," Celine Tadrissi, founder of Céla skincare and Hammam Spa by Céla told Yahoo Canada. "Our wet rooms, Turkish baths, and Oxygeneo Facial are a few standout examples of this.”

“Notably, we provide wet treatments on traditional marble slabs – which offers an elevated and luxurious experience compared to more standard stone setups. Traditionally, spas in North America were viewed as a rare treat. When creating Hammam Spa, I wanted to develop a space that served as an oasis to encourage regular visits in celebration of the world’s best spa rituals – and I think we’ve achieved it!”

Hammam Spa by Céla at Bayview Village
Hammam Spa by Céla at Bayview Village

If you’re visiting the spa for the first time, Tadrissi stresses that you want to take “an immersive approach” to its offerings.

“Starting off with the steam ritual is the perfect way to kick off the relaxation process – the refreshing eucalyptus scent and beautifully tiled room will put you in a great mental and physical space for your treatment,” Tadrissi stated. “Each of our signature treatments and massages has its benefits, but the Hammam Turkish Bath is perfect for first-timers looking for a unique experience.”

“My favourite service at Hammam Spa is the Céla Seed to Skin ritual. It’s nourishing yet revitalizing, and I can feel my spirits lift every time I have this treatment.”

The Céla Seed to Skin ritual is particularly fantastic, a unique experience where your body is wrapped in a cloud of mandarin and jasmine bubbles, in addition to the a technician working with the pressure points on your head, neck, and shoulders.

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If you’re looking for a souvenir to take home, the Céla skincare products are a great choice to bring a little bit of Hammam spa home with you.

While the website has a tool that helps you determine your personalized "daily spa ritual," some popular products are the Seed to Skin Scrub with Abyssinian oil, shea butter and finely milled Amazonian cupuaçu seeds. There is also the Essential Balm that can be used to soothe everything from split ends to bug bites or sunburn, the deeply cleansing Glacier Clay Mask, and Crème Violette body butter with a lavender scent.

Toronto, Canada -June 16: Famous Landmark Fairmont Royal York Hotel in Toronto facing Ontario Lake harbor
Toronto, Canada -June 16: Famous Landmark Fairmont Royal York Hotel in Toronto facing Ontario Lake harbor

Where to stay in Toronto

Accommodations in Toronto range from historic or modern hotels, boutique properties and big hospitality brands, to unique vacation rental options.

If hotels are more your speed and you’re a bit of a history buff, the Fairmont Royal York is a great option. It first opened its doors in 1929 and has welcoming famous guests like Queen Elizabeth II (in the hotel’s royal suite), Tina Turner, Ella Fitzgerald, Leonardo DiCaprio, and more. It’s also the location of one of the city’s coolest lobby bars, Clockwork, and has rooftop bee hives.

If you’re looking for something with more of a boutique feel, The Drake hotel in the city’s Queen West neighbourhood, home to some of the city’s coolest stores, restaurants and bars, is a popular choice. The Annex Hotel is another great option in one of Toronto’s most iconic neighbourhoods and it's easy to take the subway around the city from its location, with a burger spot and wine bar just steps away at street level.

If you’re coming to Toronto and you’re hoping for a popular celebrity sighting, The Hazelton Hotel is where you want to be, but it does come with a high price tag.

Panoramic view of Toronto skyline and CN Tower and ferry at sunset, Ontario, Canada
Panoramic view of Toronto skyline and CN Tower and ferry at sunset, Ontario, Canada

What to see in Toronto

If you happen to travelling to Toronto soon, there is no bigger event in the city than the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) and with 2022 marking the return of a robust number of in-person screenings, red carpets and events, it’s our number one choice for prospective September travel to the city.

If you’re looking to see some of Toronto’s biggest sites, definitely look into the CityPass, which allows you to save 38 per cent on admission to five of Toronto’s most notable attractions: CN Tower, Ripley's Aquarium of Canada, Casa Loma, Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto Zoo or Ontario Science Centre.

Toronto is also a great place to experience a live theatre show, ranging from larger Mirvish productions like Singin' in the Rain, Mean Girls, or Hamilton in 2023, or smaller productions at the Tarragon Theatre or Factory Theatre.