Like many major cities around the world, Toronto is home to numerous hidden gems and eccentric attractions. Exploring the city’s most popular hot spots is a must, of course, but while you’re there, try to get out of your comfort zone and see some lesser-known parts of the popular Canadian destination.
Here are nine of the best hidden gems this eclectic urban hub has to offer.
1. Bamboo Garden
There’s a secret bamboo garden situated within the University of Toronto’s Terrence Donnelly Centre for Cellular and Biomolecular Research, a beautiful zen space offering visitors peace and tranquility in the midst of the fast-paced city.
Modeled on the gardens of Japan, Toronto’s hidden bamboo garden is filled with condensed bamboo forests and tropical shrubs. The garden is sustained within a climate-controlled space surrounded by colorful and stunning glass curtain walls. Visitors can stroll through the bamboo garden or take a break on one of its many benches.
While this is one of Toronto’s best hidden gems, it’s no secret to the students of the University of Toronto. The university’s bamboo garden has become a popular study spot and is one of the few true green spaces on campus.
2. Tchotchke House
While the Tchotchke House is available for all to see, you probably won’t find it unless you seek it out.
Located at 37 Bertmount Avenue in Toronto’s quiet Leslieville neighborhood just east of Old Toronto, the Tchotchke House is one of the city’s most bizarre landmarks.
Instead of filling her garden with plants and flowers, owner Shirley Sumaiser decided to decorate with a collection of odd dolls, including superheroes, Hello Kitty dolls, trolls, mermaids, and much, much more.
A collection 20 years in the making, the array of toys is an unsettling and eerie sight that must be seen to be believed. Sumaiser’s collection is constantly growing and evolving, attracting gawkers from the area and beyond.
3. Glen Rouge Campground
If you’re looking for an outdoor adventure or are hoping to camp during your trip to Canada, you’ll be surprised to discover that Toronto — Canada’s leading concrete jungle — is home to a secret campground.
The Glen Rouge Campground is the only campground located within the city of Toronto, and it’s teeming with great locations for both RVs and tents. The campground features 125 sites in total, including 87 sites for RVs, 27 sites for tents, and five sites designed specifically for backpackers.
Located on the banks of the Rouge River, Toronto’s campground comes fully equipped with washrooms, showers, and firepits. You can purchase firewood and ice on-site. General admission to the Petticoat Creek Conservation Area is free, and those with a permit will receive a Petticoat Creek Pool discount. Leashed pets are permitted at the campsite.
Glen Rouge Campground is located off of Highway 2 just north of Highway 401. It is within walking distance of public transit and is close to popular attractions such as the Toronto Zoo and area beaches.
4. Gibraltar Point Lighthouse And Beach
A hidden gem with a spooky past, Gibraltar Point Lighthouse is one of Toronto’s ghostliest landmarks.
The lighthouse was constructed in 1808, and legend has it that the original keeper, John Paul Radelmuller, was murdered there in January 1815. Radelmuller was allegedly thrown from the top of the lighthouse by soldiers from Fort York. Many locals believe that his ghost still lingers in the area, searching for his body. In 1893, parts of a human skeleton were discovered near the site.
While you’re there, be sure to check out artist Michael Davey’s rotating Rogue Wave art installation, which features items that have washed up on the area’s shoreline.
Adjacent to Gibraltar Point Lighthouse is Gibraltar Point Beach, a clean, rock-free beach on Lake Ontario. Opened to the public in 2007, this newly established beach remains one of the city’s best hidden gems, not yet fully discovered by tourists.
5. The Cloak Bar
The Cloak Bar, a low-key speakeasy bar offering Prohibition-era ambiance, is hidden beneath another restaurant. It serves inventive cocktails and a full menu until 2 a.m.
The Cloak Bar’s famous cocktails include the Vielle Vache, Icelandic Tart, and I’m a Lady, all crafted by bartender Monique Godinho and made with Dewar’s 12-year-old Calvados apple brandy Benedictine cardamom tincture. Featured dishes include a lamb-fat brioche, Canadian oysters, and tandoori chicken Scotch egg.
Every Sunday, The Cloak Bar hosts a “Scotch About It Sunday” event, spilling some of its finest Scotch for only $10 per round.
The Cloak Bar can be reserved for a variety of private events, and regular reservations can be made online here.
6. Little Tokyo
An ideal place to eat and shop in Toronto, Little Tokyo is located at the intersection of Dundas Street West and Yonge Street, an area that used to be known as Old Chinatown. In Little Tokyo, you’ll find an abundance of Japanese and other Asian restaurants; the area is known for its sushi burritos and unique ice creams.
Japango is arguably Little Tokyo’s best sushi joint, while Don Don Izakaya serves a variety of popular Japanese small plates.
Fugo Desserts features handcrafted, photo-worthy sweet treats, including the Cookie Monster Cone and the Crispy Comb, a mouthwatering ice-cream dessert made with fresh honeycomb.
For traditional Japanese ramen, be sure to check out Sansotei Ramen, Kenzo Ramen, or Hokkaido Ramen Santouka.
If you really want to immerse yourself in Japanese culture, Kamiya Hairdressing will give you a fresh look, including the latest Japanese trends for your tresses.
For Japanese brand names, head to UNIQLO, a great place to snag some affordable, casual clothing, or MUJI, a store that sells bedding, cushions, kitchen appliances, apparel, and stationery.
7. Kensington Market
One of Toronto’s most vibrant and diverse neighborhoods, Kensington Market offers unique shops, delectable eateries, and plenty of people-watching opportunities.
The area is home to restaurants, cafés, bars, specialty shops, and vintage stores, and it is known for its abundance of vegan dishes.
Courage My Love and Sub Rosa Vintage are two popular vintage shops in Kensington Market, featuring vintage cowboy boots, formal wear, cashmere, DIY accessories, and a vast selection of denim.
Kensington is also home to two relaxing parks: Bellevue Square Park and Sonya’s Park. Let the kids play on the playground while you relax on the lawn, or check out the statue of Al Waxman, a Toronto-born actor best known for his role as Larry King in King of Kensington.
8. Pan Am Path
A 50-mile trail running from Brampton to the south portion of Rouge Park, Pan Am Path features art installations and murals representing the cultural diversity of Toronto.
The Friends of Pan Am Path, the group that maintains the trail, strives to “enhance and bring life to the Pan Am Path trail infrastructure through arts, culture, and recreation.”
Since 2015, the organization has hosted 60 recreational events, employed over 100 artists, and partnered with nearly 40 community organizations.
You can gaze upon the colorful murals and artwork for hours on end. A walk down this path is a unique experience that’s not to be missed.
9. Gates Gully Scarborough
Stretching from Kingston Road to Lake Ontario, Gates Gully Scarborough is yet another great outdoor spot in Toronto. This immense area is situated in the Scarborough Bluffs, an ideal destination for mountain biking and hiking.
Gates Gully is filled with parks, including Bluffers Park, the Rosetta McClain Gardens, and Port Union Waterfront Park. Visitors can cycle across Scarborough along the waterfront cycling trail or bare it all at the area’s unofficial nude beaches.