This past fall, we spent 3 days in Toronto to:
- Explore the city for a travel post
- Enjoy some quality Chinese food (this would also be a food research trip!), and…
- Take somewhat of a breather right before the release of our cookbook on Nov 1st.
It was actually supposed to coincide with Kaitlin’s birthday, but in a rather unfortunate twist of fate, she got sick in the few days before we were supposed to leave.
We tried to cancel, but our Airbnb policy didn’t allow us to, so my mom, Justin, and I drove up to Canada while my sister moved into the guest cottage (i.e. the sick bay) and my dad stayed to take care of her.
For The Woks of Life contingent that did make it up to Toronto for 3 days, we enjoyed some fun sightseeing and meals over the weekend.
If you’re planning on spending a long weekend in Toronto, this post will guide you through some of the top things to do and see, as well as some insider tips on where to eat!
We also know that we have a ton of readers in the Toronto area, so if you have suggestions or tips for visiting your home city, let us know in the comments!
Prepping for a Trip To Toronto
If you’re traveling to Toronto from the U.S. by car, remember to bring your passport! We drove there from our house in NJ, and the wait at the border wasn’t bad at all.
There are no longer any strict border regulations involving quarantine, vaccination, etc. However, you do need your passport, and possibly additional documentation.
U.S. citizens entering via air, land, or sea just need a passport. If you’re from a visa-exempt country and you’re flying into Canada, you’ll need an Electronic Travel Authorization (eTA). You do not need one if entering on a cruise ship or by land (coming from the U.S. in a car or bus, for example).
Some travelers will need a visa to enter Canada in addition to their passport. Here are the full details on Canada’s entry requirements by country.
Goods to Declare?
Check the Canadian government’s website on what you can bring across the border, and which goods you may need to declare. This includes large amounts of cash, any goods bought at a duty-free shop, etc. Though honestly, the guidelines are pretty (perhaps purposefully) vague. According to the website, “If you aren’t sure if you should declare something, always declare it.”
When we drove up to the border, Justin was in the driver’s seat. The border patrol officer asked us, “are you bringing anything into Canada today?” Justin looked around the interior of the car, and, thinking of the half-eaten bag of semi-stale Tostito’s in the backseat, said… “Some chips?”
The border patrol officer let us in, and then we all proceeded to crack up laughing.
If you’re driving in from the U.S., depending where you are, it can be a bit of a long trek! It was about 7 hours for us, so we ended up making a stop on the way. About halfway through the drive, we stopped at Watkins Glen State Park in New York.
It was lovely to stop along the drive, stretch our legs, and walk the relatively short gorge trail, with all of its waterfalls.
Another stop you might consider is Niagara Falls, which is only about 90 minutes outside of Toronto!
Sights & Activities
The three of us would probably agree that Casa Loma was the coolest place we saw in Toronto. It was the former home of Canadian financier Sir Henry Pellatt, who spent $3.5 million building this castle from 1911-1914.
Sadly, he had to move out of the house in 1923, after auctioning off all of its contents, when he went bankrupt as a result of the government seizing and nationalizing the hydroelectric power and aviation companies he’d invested in. Tough break.
That said, he spared no expense on creating this castle, which is so cool and crazy to walk through! The audio tour was super interesting, and the “house” (castle) and grounds were really beautiful.
St. Lawrence Market
St. Lawrence Market is Toronto’s food hall and farmer’s market building. We found beautiful fresh produce here, meats, local specialties, and a wide variety of specialty groceries. Visit to enjoy a quick lunch and shop for items to take home as gifts, or if you’re staying in a location with a kitchen, get inspired with all the fresh ingredients on offer!
Street parking here can be tricky, so get there early for the best chance at a spot!
Toronto’s Chinatown was established in 1878, and it’s a great place to have lunch or dinner, and to walk around and explore.
We walked through restaurant supply stores, and stopped for bubble tea and soup dumplings for a quick afternoon pick-me-up!
More on where we ate in Chinatown in the food section of this post!
Not far from Chinatown, you’ll find Kensington Market, a quirky neighborhood filled with colorful houses, many of which play host to vintage shops and cafes. If you’re into thrifting, shopping consignment, or looking for vintage treasures, you could spend hours in this one neighborhood.
Toronto Botanical Garden
This was a quick stop for us, but Toronto Botanical Garden was a lovely green space in the middle of Toronto. You’ll find walking paths through 17 themed gardens, and a relatively quiet retreat from the city.
Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada
This was another one of the most cited places to see in Toronto, based on our research. This aquarium had an air of commercialism about it, as it was pretty pricey ($44 per adult; see other ticket prices here).
However, they did have some cool stuff, including an open exhibit on how the aquarium’s water is filtered and pumped to all of its huge tanks.
Kaitlin loves aquariums, so we did a “ride along” via FaceTime while she was back sniffling in the cottage at home!
Other Things to Do In Toronto:
Here are some other things that were on our list, but that we’ll have to do next time:
This is the largest museum in Canada, with a mix of natural history and art/cultural objects. Want to see fossils and archeological finds all in one place? This is your spot!
An eclectic mix of paintings, sculpture, and other art objects from around the world. If you want to get a dose of *culture* head here!
This is perhaps a bit niche, but if you’re the kind of person that geeks out over hand-woven rugs, embroidery, and clothes made from unlikely materials (a salmon skin suit from China, anyone?), this looks like a fun visit!
This is one of those “go to city, find tallest thing, and go to the top of said tallest thing” attractions. New York has the Empire State Building, Seattle has its Space Needle, and Chicago has Willis (Sears) Tower. Toronto’s equivalent is CN Tower, from which you can get a bird’s eye view of the city, if that’s your thing!
Another botanical garden for your consideration! Allan Gardens has several greenhouses that make up its large indoor conservatory. Admission is free!
Toronto’s Distillery District is a trendy pedestrian neighborhood dating back to the early 19th Century, with brick-lined streets, restaurants, galleries, and unique shops and boutiques. Window shoppers, here is your spot.
Made up of several small islands, Toronto Island Park is a short ferry ride from the city. Visit a lighthouse, go bird watching, or visit a beach in warmer weather.
This beautiful natural area is is about 45 minutes to 1 hour away from Downtown Toronto, but it’s worth a visit for its dramatic cliffs and views of Lake Ontario. If you want a beach day in summer, but would rather not take a boat to the islands, check out Bluffer’s Park Beach.
Food in Toronto
Here are some of the spots that we ate at in Toronto and the surrounding area!
We had a hankering for a lox and cream cheese bagel on our first morning, and the one at Schmaltz Appetizing was excellent. This is a counter serve place, so we took our bagels to go. We at them in the car in the Casa Loma parking lot!
We had a quick small lunch at this ramen place. I wouldn’t get the Ramen Combo with the salmon over rice again. The salmon was dry and a little tasteless. Stick with the ramen. My mom tried the kale noodles, which were interesting!
If you want to enjoy some dim sum or Cantonese classic dishes overlooking Toronto’s inner harbor (harbour?), this is the place for you! The standout for us at this place was the Steamed Bean Curd Rolls with Pork & Shrimp. (We owe ya’ll a recipe for this one, so rest assured, we dissected that bean curd roll thoroughly!) The dim sum here is ordered a la carte via a paper menu that you mark with a pencil.
We were able to be seated without a reservation, but definitely make a reservation if you want a larger table or a table with a harbor view.
We had dinner at this little restaurant in the heart of Toronto’s Chinatown, which has been in business for over 40 years. We especially enjoyed the Chiuchow classic, lo shui duck, which is duck braised in a “master sauce” and one of my mom’s favorite dishes.
After hearing we were going to Toronto, several extended family members said that we HAD to go to Fishman Lobster Clubhouse in Scarborough, ON. It was about 30 minutes away, but what awaited us was massive lobsters and king crab legs cooked to your chosen style—Hong-Kong-Style, Steamed with Garlic, Ginger Scallion, Salt & Pepper, etc.
We suggest coming here with at least 4-5 people. It was a struggle for our party of 3 to get through all the food! The minimum size lobster they sell is about 4 pounds.
We got the #1 set menu for 2-3 people. It included a soup, 4 lb lobster, sweet and sour pork or beef tenderloin with crispy garlic (we went for the beef), Cantonese Steamed Bass, Poached Snow Pea Tips with Goji Berries, and a dessert, all for $168 CAD or $128 USD. No wonder this place was packed on a Tuesday night.
The final verdict? While we think that lobsters that are around 1 1/2 pounds in size are the best for eating, it was an impressive MOUNTAIN of lobster that came out to our table. The Hong-Kong-Style lobster was fried, with a little bit of a sweet/spicy sauce, french fries, and crispy garlic. Most people ordered it this way. I we went back, we’d probably choose to have it steamed with garlic and mung bean noodles, or with the ginger scallion.
We LOVED the soup, which was a rich broth made with black silkie chicken and pork ribs. My mom also complimented the steamed bass, which she said was “exceptional.” The beef dish was tender and tasty, and the pea tips rounded out the meal nicely.
Dessert was this lychee jelly thing which honestly we barely had room for at the end! Come here with a big group if you can.
Congee Queen is a chain of restaurants in Toronto and the surrounding area. We enjoyed our lunch here on our last day. We especially liked the Fried Rice with Olive Vegetable and Green Bean and the Stir-fried Rice Noodle Rolls with Beef. There was also a robot waiter shuttling tea pots!
Other tables seemed to be enjoying their fish noodle soup. The menu is huge and varied, so we suggest a process of elimination approach.
Ok, so you’ve probably noticed that we mostly ate at Chinese restaurants. This was a research/recipe inspo trip, after all.
But don’t worry! We also have additional recommendations from Genevieve Yam of Serious Eats, who generously listed out her favorite spots from when she lived in Toronto. The text below is extracted from an enthusiastic insider email Genevieve sent me just hours after I emailed her asking for recs!
- SoMA Chocolate: you’ll find chocolate bars, beautiful truffles, cookies, hot chocolate (including mixes to take home), and gelato in the summertime! They have two locations: one in the Distillery District and another on King Street.
- Kitten and the Bear: for very, very good scones + jam. Find them freshly baked, or frozen ones to bake at home, as well as mixes, jams, and clotted cream. Genevieve: “The scones are so tender and flaky—I still think of them all the time!”
- Lady Marmalade: for brunch. It’s right by Rooster Coffee House, which has great coffee and overlooks Riverdale Park East and has a nice view of the Toronto skyline.
- Mildred’s Temple Kitchen: Another brunch spot. Hard to get a table but the blueberry pancake stack is worth the hype!
- Maha’s: for Egyptian brunch. “I once trekked here on the coldest day of the year (-30 Celsius!!!) for a meal, and I don’t regret it.”
- Buk Chang Dong Soon Tofu: “On cold winter nights, this is where my sister and I go for steaming hot bowls of tofu stew!”
- Hodo Kwaja: “Just down the street from tofu spot. This place does these cute little walnut-shaped cakes filled with red bean paste. Best when warm!”
- Asian Legend: “A chain, but a really good one. Though I haven’t been in years, so I can’t speak to whether it’s still good!”
- Fat Pasha: “My favorite spot to have dinner with a group of friends. The mezze and the whole roasted cauliflower (they were doing it before it was hip!) are just delicious.”
- PAI Northern Thai Kitchen: “Everything here is delicious, but I love the khao soi and the green coconut curry that’s served in a young coconut.”
Do you have other spots or sights in Toronto to recommend? Let us know in the comments!