One of Canada’s biggest cities, Toronto is known for its creative community, entrepreneurial environment and natural beauty. Head off the tourist trail and explore the Toronto that the locals know and love with our guide to the best hidden gems in Toronto.
1. The Vog Vault
Hidden at the back of the Fluevog shoe store on Queen Street W, you’ll find one of the coolest Instagram spots in the city. A small room that was a TD bank vault in a previous life, has been re-imagined and decorated like a vintage reading room, complete with bookshelves and a plush Victorian sofa. The whole room has been twisted 90 degrees, though. The sofa and carpet are on the wall so visitors can explore their creativity and take some awesome ‘anti-gravity’ snaps.
2. Scarborough Bluffs Beach
AKA ‘The Bluffs’, this stretch of golden sand on the shores of Lake Ontario is one of the prettiest, and lesser-known beaches in the area. Measuring around eight kilometers, you’re sure to find a private patch to lay down your towels and enjoy a day at the lake. And the best part? This natural gem is only 20-30 minutes from central Toronto.
3. Kensington Market
Far from a collection of stalls and pop-ups, Kensington Market actually spans a whole bohemian neighborhood of shops, restaurants and cafes. This super cool part of central Toronto is open pretty much every day, year-round. Visitors can pick up vintage clothing, retro home wares, pieces of art, unique jewelry, sustainable cosmetics and fresh flowers, before stopping to watch the market bustle over a coffee or a bite to eat.
4. Monkey’s Paw
Filled with one-of-a-kind 20th-century reads and specializing in old, uncommon and unusual books, Monkey’s Paw is a book store like no other in Toronto. This fascinating little nook is home to the Biblio-Mat, a bespoke vending machine that, for $3, gives you a randomly-selected surprise vintage book.
5. Balzac’s Coffee
Head to Balzac’s in Liberty Village or Distillery District for some of the prettiest places in Toronto to enjoy a café au lait, s’il vous plait! With several cafés now across the city, each Balzac’s coffee spot is designed individually to celebrate the local history and culture of its location, and the whole chain pays homage to traditional French design and elegance. They are also big on sustainability, with eco-friendly smart roasters used on their Fairtrade coffee beans.
This is arguably one of Toronto’s coolest places to eat out. Whether you’re ordering fancy French toast, a plate of street tacos or diving face-first into one of their noodle salads, every item on the menu costs just $5.95 – student-budget heaven! Super cool inside and out, strings of light bulbs hang between trees and cover the ceiling beams, and long wooden tables make this a great place to head with a group.
7. Redway Road Staircase
Tucked away off a busy road in Leaside, a set of wooden stairs once an escape route for the sewage treatment plant at the bottom of the valley, are now one of Toronto’s most intriguing urban hidden gems. The entrance is pretty much hidden from the road, concealed by trees, and this strange secret staircase descends through a pretty forest for over 200 steps. Once painted blue and now faded and worn, exploring this vintage stairway feels like stepping out of the city and into a bygone era.
8. Arthur Conan Doyle Room
Put your detective skills to the test and see if you can find the shrine to Sherlock Holmes in the Toronto Reference Library. The Arthur Conan Doyle Room is hidden on the top floor of and, with classic English reading-room décor (think: floor-to-ceiling bookcases filled with rare Doyle volumes, wooden floors and antique furnishings), is designed to look like the famous detective character’s apartment at 221B Baker Street, in London.
For some of Toronto’s most beautiful, decorative and historic – and in some cases unusual! – architecture, take a stroll through the area of Weston. Head down boulevards lined with old trees to find parts of the neighborhood where grand old churches rub shoulders with old brick buildings. Weston even has a great Saturday Farmers’ market during the summer: great for tucking into fresh peaches and cream or trying roasted corn on the cob!
10. Chester Hill Lookout
A spot mostly kept secret by the Toronto locals, the semi-circular Chester Hill Lookout, boasts a beautiful sweeping view across the city and Don Valley. Find it at the end of Chester Hill Road, near Broadview and Danforth; when you spot the large astrology wheel painted on the ground, you know you’ve found the right place. It’s a great place to visit at night when the city lights are bright – oh, and it’s totally free, of course.