I am just back from Canada and here comes my ultimative Toronto travel guide for design lovers. Yes, I was in Toronto as a guest of the Tourism Board of Ontario and my mission was to discover cool design spots, green corners, and great places to enjoy food and coffee across the Canadian metropolis. That task was both easy and difficult. Easy because Toronto boosts with cool design spots. Difficult because of the same reason. Hence, there will be more posts coming up. But here is my first personal selection of cool spots across Toronto. I hope you’ll enjoy!
Where to stay?
Toronto has a huge array of great hotels to stay. However, I will suggest only three places here. First the Thompson Hotel where I was staying. If you like understated cosmopolitan design, urban vibes, and probably the most fabulous rooftop pool and bar – the Thompson Hotel is your choice! This luxurious hotel is located in downtown Toronto and is a real hotspot in the city. During my stay there were many glamorous parties, red carpet events, weddings. But my highlight remains the fantastic rooftop with a heated pool and an amazing view of Toronto’s iconic CN Tower. Extra tip: Order some breakfast in bed – you know, you gotta spoil yourself from time to time!
If you prefer a younger metropolitan vibe, I suggest the cool Drake Hotel in Toronto’s buzzing West Queen West district. The hotel resides in a building from 1890 and is one of the city’s finest boutique hotels. It exhibits art from young artist, features cool and compact rooms, a vibrant bar, basement club, and rooftop restaurant. Plus loads of cool design shops and restaurants down Queen Street West! Not bad, huh?
Two blocks further you’ll find the Gladstone Hotel, entitled Art Boutique Hotel. Their motto ‘Get in Bed with Art’ is not only an ad. You can take it literally! Every room is different and features art from various artists. It is like a big Kinder Surprise Egg for design lovers. The building itself has lots of history as it dates back to 1889. This hotel is also in close proximity to cool shops and bars.
Where to eat & drink?
In Toronto you can enjoy international cuisine, eat from budget friendly to expensive, drink excellent coffee, and indulge in yummy pastries. Obviously, you will not starve in Toronto! Impossible to mention everything, but here are some highlights.
Union: This restaurant is inspired by a Paris bistro and is on Ossington Avenue, just off Queen Street West. This area offers a bounty of shops, bars, restaurants. But I stopped at Union for lunch and loved it! The food was excellent, the atmosphere very relaxed with a delicate Parisian vibe. Good place for a lunch break after shopping in West Queen West area!
Bang Bang: Just opposite of Union you can go and indulge in a great dessert there. It is a crazy popular artisanal ice-cream parlor and bakery. They make some insanely yummy ice-cream sandwiches, cookies, and cinnamon buns. Watch out: on weekends there might a big queue!
Bellwoods Brewery: In the same neighborhood as the previous two, the Bellwoods Brewery is a fab place not only to enjoy their artisanal beer but also to have dinner. Probably one of Toronto’s best microbreweries offers very good beer (I tasted one with blackberries, yum!) and a great terrace for alfresco lunch or dinner. P.S. Their packaging design is ace, too!
Buna Coffee / Nunu Restaurant: On Queen Street West you can immerse yourself in a different kind of coffee culture. At Buna coffee you can experience an original Ethiopian coffee ceremony with exquisite beans from this east African country. Next doors is their Nunu restaurant with great Ethiopian cuisine.
Colette Grand Café: In downtown Toronto, just next doors to the Thompson Hotel, you can opt for great breakfast at the Colette Grand Café. It feels like Paris in there and the pastries are as French as the interior.
360 Restaurant: Impossible to leave it out – the 360 Restaurant on top of the iconic CN Tower is a fantastic option for great Canadian cuisine and a 360 degrees view of Toronto. The restaurant itself is on a turning platform and makes a full circle in 72 minutes. Reservations are a must!
Strange Love Coffee: Also downtown is the cool Strange Love Coffee. This small café features lovely plants and a good cup of coffee!
Portland Variety: Yet another great place for coffee and dinner, just at the corner of King Street West and Portland Street.
Quantum Coffee: More good coffee? Stop over at Quantum Coffee on King Street West.
Soma Chocolatemaker: For the sweet tooth among us, there is another must-stop. From what I have heard this is one of Toronto’s best chocolate makers in town and you will not only find yummy treats for yourself but great chocolate to bring home as a gift too. They have a shop on King Street West and another one in the Distillery District.
Dineen Coffee Company: This is fab option if you find yourself in Toronto’s main thoroughfare Yonge Street. Great coffee and a great space as well as outside seating area.
Arvo Coffee: This is a fabulous coffee place at the Distillery District. Go there and enjoy a great cup of quality coffee made with passion and know-how. Their coffees are served in beautiful ceramic cups that can be purchased in their shop too.
Run & Gun Coffee: This is a rather recent coffee shop on Dundas Street West. Great atmosphere, lovely plants, good coffee and sandwiches. Also, many good vintage shops around the corner.
Planta: Further up north, in Yorkville, you can find Planta, a vegan restaurant for the herbivores among you. Plant-based food is served in a great space. Very popular and busy, you better make reservations.
Oretta: A beautiful Italian restaurant in downtown Toronto. Great interior design, great pizza and pasta!
Where to shop?
Yes, you can also shop till you drop in Toronto! If you want to avoid dropping though, here are a few suggestions for the design and vintage lovers. In general two great areas to shop for design and vintage items are the West Queen West area and the Distillery District.
Distill: This is a beautiful shop featuring finest Canadian design – from fashion to ceramics, art, accessories. It is located in the Distillery District and is a gem if you look for original Canadian design.
Blackbird Vintage Finds: Also in the Distillery District is this cute shop with a mix of new and vintage items. Walk around the Distillery District for more design and vintage shops!
Made Design: Just around the corner of the Distillery District is the shop of Made Design. Here you will find Canadian design by independent designers. Great to get a notion of Canadian design!
Drake General Store: They have various addresses across town, the biggest shop is close to the Drake Hotel on Queen Street West. Here again a great mix of Canadian design awaits the customer! My favorite: The soft Hudson’s Bay blanket! P.S. I regret not buying it!!!
Stylegarage: This store features great contemporary furniture design and home accessories made in Canada.
VdeV: A beautiful shop with home accessories and a distinct focus on a boho and eclectic style.
Cambie Design: A wonderful boutique by a Peruvian-Canadian lady featuring Peruvian textiles, Moroccan rugs, and accessories by Canadian designers.
Dynasty: Great plant shop in Toronto! For the plant lovers among us.
Crown Flora Studio: For flower and plant lovers alike. They have two shops on Queen Street West. Amazing flower arrangement and great scented candles!
The Wanderly: For the bohemian souls – a great mix of fashion, homeware, and jewelry.
Umbra: Modern home decor by Umbra and Umbra Shift is sold worldwide but this design company was founded in Toronto in 1979. Check out their flagship store in downtown Toronto!
Mjölk: This shop is for the puristic design aesthetes and is packed with refined design from Scandinavia, Japan, and Canada.
Stamen & Pistil Botanicals: More plant shopping for the Urban Jungle Bloggers among you! Great plant shop with quirky arrangements and plant pots. That’s where I got a fun head planter.
What to visit?
There is so much to see and visit in Toronto so I will only focus on four highlights in addition to the aforementioned plethora of places and addresses.
Art Gallery of Ontario: A great museum featuring Canadian art as well as international art. Currently there is a great exhibit about the work of American modernist painter Georgia O’Keeffe.
Cruise to Toronto Islands: A great way to enjoy Toronto and its skyline is a boat trip to the close Toronto Islands. Excursion boats are departing from Toronto’s harbor.
Allan Gardens Conservatory: If you are a plant person like moi, this is the place to go. In downtown Toronto, with beautiful greenhouses, and lush plants all around. One of my highlights! Look out for a more detailed tour on Urban Jungle Bloggers soon!
Distillery District: As mentioned above, this historic area is great to stroll around and shop, eat, and drink. It is a restored old distillery with many Victorian industrial buildings and part of Toronto’s history.
That’s more than enough for today. I hope this gives you a slight idea of how cool and vibrant Toronto is for design savvy travelers. It was my second time there and I would not mind going another time again. As mentioned above I will share more Canadian highlights over the course of the coming days and weeks. So stay tuned!
This blog post has been brought to you in collaboration with Ontario Travel. As always all opinions and photos are my own. Thank you for supporting the brands and regions who support this blog!
Photography by Igor Josifovic