A Guide to Visiting Toronto as a Family

Toronto is a great long-weekend getaway destination for families. The flight from La Guardia to Pearson International Airport is only one hour and once you land, there are plenty of things to keep you busy. Factor in the beautiful lakefront (the city sits on the shores of Lake Ontario) and the warm Canadian hospitality, and you have a great international vacation with few of the hassles of traveling abroad. 

Here, how to plan the perfect itinerary in Canada’s most populous city.

Where to stay 

Hotel X Toronto

Located on the outskirts of the metropolis, this hotel is a little respite from the bustling city (and yet it’s a quick cab ride to Toronto’s downtown). I loved it for its scenic views from the bedroom and living area and my son loved it for the amazing pool on the 28th floor. The hotel is new and it’s a part of the Library Hotel Collection, which has properties in New York City, Budapest, and Prague. Located right on the waterfront with amazing skyline views, the property has lots of perks and amenities. We loved the free continental breakfast served daily (from 6:30 to 10:30am) on the third floor in the Library Club Lounge. From fresh fruit, muffins and oatmeal to quiche, frittata, and a variety of sweets, it’s not your standard continental fare. If you’re looking for even more hot-food options—waffles, pancakes, and omelets—then Maxx’s kitchen, a full-service restaurant on the second floor, is the way to go. The hotel also has complimentary wine and cheese daily from 4:30 to 7:30pm; my son loved the sweets and munchies available at the afternoon happy hour, while I loved the salad and healthy options.  

The property has a large fitness center (for people like me who always want to work out even when traveling) as well as tennis courts, a golf area, on-site movie theaters (they play family-friendly movies through the year), and plenty more. This hotel makes for a luxurious stay—even for families—and it’s located right on Lake Ontario with amazing skyline views.

Where to eat


This upscale family-friendly restaurant is not only a great spot for a special occasion or nice night out with the kids, but it’s especially popular for Sunday brunch. The all-you-can-eat jazz brunch has a great selection of chef-manned food stations including artisanal breads, salads, seafood, pastries, pasta, meat, crepes, eggs, and plenty more. The best part is that while the parents are listening to the music and having adult conversation, the kids enjoy a dedicated Kids Play Zone, a fully supervised area with trains, dollhouses, play kitchen, cars, coloring books, and more.

Il Fornello

Located in the theater district, this spot is great for dinner before seeing a show. It's known for its wood-fired pizzas and other made-from-scratch Italian favorites. The plates are a healthy portion size—my son’s spaghetti and meatballs could feed him for days. My salmon was also a good size, but it was so good, I managed to finish it. The hospitality and service are spot on.

360 Restaurant CN Tower

The views alone are worth a meal at this rotating restaurant. It takes 78 minutes to go fully around and that’s the perfect amount of time to enjoy a meal. Adult options include cod, salmon, and Cornish hen, while kid options include prime rib and pasta. Wine drinkers will enjoy the “cellar in the sky” with its vast selections of both Canadian and international varieties.  After lunch, it’s time to explore the EdgeWalk—the world’s highest “hands-free” walk (116 stories) above the ground.

Sweet Jesus Ice Cream

If your child loves ice cream, and really, who doesn’t, then Sweet Jesus is definitely worth a visit. It’s a local fan favorite. Using high-quality ingredients and products, it’s not surprising that there’s often a line out the door. Our favorite menu item was the Cookies, Cookies, Cookies and Cream, which consisted of vanilla ice cream, Oreo cookies, chocolate chip cookies, fudge cookies, and cookie dough chunks. What’s not to love?

Union Chicken

Chicken is a food everyone in the family enjoys—it’s even better when a restaurant serves high quality poultry free from antibiotics and raised without the use of steroids and hormones. Jack had his chicken wings (which he loved), while I had a salad with pulled chicken (super tasty and fresh). The relaxed vibe and open-concept kitchen make this more than just a chicken joint.

Culinary Adventure Co. Food Tours

I’m always trying to get my kids to try new foods and so I was excited to try the Chinatown + Kensington Market food tour. Toronto’s Chinatown is one of the largest in North America and Kensington market, located a short walk away, has a diverse array of restaurants and food shops. We ate at several restaurants in each area—little bites at each place so we didn’t fill up too much—and my son was excited to try what the other kids were trying. The owner, Kevin, took us around and really shared his city with us. His daughter was also part of the tour and encouraged my son to try a bit of everything—something he’s willing to do if someone other than his mom is asking.

What to do

Come from Away at Royal Alexandra Theatre

I had heard so much about this play, that I was excited to finally see it first-hand. This uplifting story about family, friendship, and generosity towards strangers left me feeling grateful and inspired. While some of it went over my son’s head, he enjoyed the music, dancing, and colorful characters.   

Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada

I’m a big aquarium fan, so I was excited to see one of only three Ripley’s Aquariums—and the only one in Canada. Home to more than 16,000 marine animals, there’s plenty to see including the new “Curious Creatures” exhibit. We enjoyed the touch-and-feel hands-on exhibits as well as the dive shows. This is a popular spot for families—even during the week—so get there early before the crowds.

Cupcake Making at Le Dolci

One of the things I love doing with Jack when I travel is taking part in a cooking or baking class. AT Le Dolci, a bake shop specializing in custom cakes, macarons, and cupcakes, we took a private baking class to learn how to make unicorn cakes. There were five adults and five kids and each one made their own creation. It was fun learning how to ice the cake in buttercream, paint an edible gold horn, and create a colorful piping mane. It was one of my favorite memories of the trip.

Mysterious Minds Escape Room

My son has always wanted to try an escape room and with the help of five other kids, he did just that. The theme was “The Hidden Treasure of the Grand Carnival” and it was held at Downtown Toronto’s only kid-friendly escape room. The kids had to work together to figure out the clues and advance to the next step. The cooperation among the kids was great to see, plus they all had a blast.

Royal Ontario Museum

The newest exhibit here is “Spiders: Fear & Fascination” and both the kids and adults around us really enjoyed learning about these interesting creatures. Real specimens—including 18 different types of live spiders and their relatives—plus interactive virtual elements let visitors get closer than ever to some of the over 48,000 known spider species, from the top ten local spiders to the world’s most venomous, like the Black Widow and Brown Recluse.

ROMWalks: Waterfront Walking Tour

This free walking tour was another highlight of the trip. We walked along the lake front with a very knowledgeable guide as she explained Toronto’s changing landscape over the years. During this two-hour walk we learned how the Queen's Quay area evolved from its industrial and commercial origins. It was a great way to really get to know Toronto.

Photo caption: Judy Koutsky and her son with their unicorn cakes at Le Dolci