I visited Toronto briefly this summer and am itching to go back already. Besides the fact that I get to have another passport stamp without having to leave the continent, I love that the city of neighborhoods really has it all. From food and coffee to arts and architecture, you’ll be hard-pressed to find something that’s not enjoyable to visit, see, or do. Whether you have a week to visit like I did or only 24 hours to spare, here’s a design-enthusiast’s starter guide to making the most out of your trip to T-dot.
WHERE TO STAY
The Drake Hotel: Part hotel, part exhibition space, part cafe and restaurant, The Drake is the coolest hotel to stay at, in our opinion. Located on Queen Street West, it’s partly a hotel, but also features an art exhibition space, The Drake General Store (for designy tchotchkes and independent clothing labels), and several places to grab a bite and a drink. The rooms are funky and modern in decor and interior design, a plus if you like to stay away from uptight hotels like I do.
WHERE TO PLAY
The ROM: The Royal Ontario Museum of Toronto is definitely a place you won’t get lost finding – it’s the largest museum in Canada – but you might get lost wandering around inside. Its metal-clad, crystal-like volumes protruding from the ground make up the exteriors designed by Daniel Libeskind. Be sure to check the website for new exhibits.
The AGO: I made sure to stop by the Art Gallery of Ontario on my trip, knowing that Frank Gehry gave it his magical touch back in 2008 for the renovation. If not for the art alone, I could have stayed at the AGO all day to stare at Gehry’s awe-inspiring spiral staircase.
HSBC Gallery at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) Bell Lightbox: If you’re looking for more immersive, interactive exhibits, this gallery features different exhibits all year long.
Toronto Outdoor Art Exhibition: If you’re in Toronto next summer, check out the TOAT, the largest outdoor art exhibition in Canada showcasing hundreds of artists in one weekend.
Museum of Contemporary Art, Canada: Toting along a little one on your trip? MOCCA also offers a mini MOCCA for ages 4-12 to engage in workshops that explore exhibit-related arts and crafts.
Art galleries in Toronto are abundant, so if you’re looking for a specific exhibit or type of media, the Slate Art Guide can help you narrow down the search for your own art crawl.
While the CN Tower is a “touristy” checklist item, it’s still worth seeing Canada’s National Tower in person. You can check it out by taking a trip to the top or (for the more adventurous) an edgewalk, but I personally liked seeing it contrasted against Toronto’s nature scene in Bellwood Trinity Park.
If you’re visiting Toronto in January 2017, I’d definitely suggest making time to squeeze the Interior Design Show into your itinerary. This 3.5 days tradeshow is a platform to showcase designers from all over the world and bring their designs into the limelight.
While you’re there that weekend, you might as well head over to the Toronto Design Offsite (TO DO) Festival. This show focuses on taking design out of the studios and into the city with over 80+ events and exhibitions taking place. The 2016 festival had over 400+ designers and artists participate!
WHERE TO SHOP
Mjölk: Visiting Mjölk was the highlight of my trip (we’ve featured it on Design Milk before). In summary, it was great design + friendly Canadians in one beautiful boutique. I met Frank who’s the brother to the husband-and-wife store owners, John and Juli Baker, and he gave me a brief history of the store as well as narrated every item I was ogling at (which was pretty much everything in the store). This 7-year-old shop (whose name is Swedish for “milk” – ;) love it!) curates an impeccable collection of work by artists and designers from Scandinavia and Japan, as well as artisans in Toronto.
Advice From A Caterpillar: This design-focused children’s store has everything you’d want for your kid: clothes, modern furniture, toys, and more.
Archives: Jewelry designer and store owner Jaleh Farhadpour discovers and curates designs from rising jewelry designers as well as her own.
Neat: For modern objects and decor for your home, Neat has a great selection of fun but functional objects from brands like Kartell, fatboy, and Joseph Joseph.
Opticianado: If you’re looking for new frames, Opticianado specializes in vintage eyewear from contemporary designers like Savile Row and Persol. I still regret not buying those vintage Lindberg frames…
Old Faithful Shop: This is another beautiful boutique store that focuses on quality materials and simple designs for elevated, everyday living. One of everything, please!
If you have a week… you can hit up most, if not all, of these places. Toronto has a great transit system underground and above ground to get you where you want to go.
If you have 24 hours… I would spend a few hours at the AGO, stop by Mjölk and the Old Faithful Shop, and end the day with drinks and checking out whatever’s featuring at The Drake Hotel.
Final tips… If you’re a coffee aficionado, I discovered that Toronto has an incredible coffee scene (I stopped by Propeller, Rooster on Jarvis, Sorry, and Dineen and they did not disappoint). If you have a sweet tooth, I went to Bang Bang’s for ice cream twice for flavors like Avocado, Love Oolong Time, and Vegan Mojito.
Did we miss anything? Add your favorite stops in Toronto in the comments below!