Local Time: Toronto

When you’re traveling, time isn’t always a luxury you can afford. You can add more time onto a business trip or extend a layover—but inevitably, there will be occasions when you find yourself in a new city and you only have a limited window to take it all in. But two minutes might be all you need to take in that historic landmark. In 20 minutes, you can have lunch at that famous café. In 120 minutes, you can tour that iconic gallery. By shifting your sense of time, you can manage it, maximize it, and have a two-day journey that’s as full as it is fulfilling.

There’s no time to rest in Toronto. With a population of nearly three million, the city moves at a quick pace, which can be a little overwhelming for first-time visitors. But beyond the hustle-and-bustle—away from the skyscrapers and typical tourist attractions—are vibrant, creative neighborhoods just waiting to be explored.

Slow down and enjoy a coffee in Trinity-Bellwoods, revisit Old Toronto in the Distillery District, and feast in Little Italy. These diverse communities offer world-class dining, independent shops, local art, and more. Forty-eight hours isn’t nearly enough time to see it all, so we’ve broken it down for you. This minute-by-minute itinerary offers a taste of the best restaurants, bars, museums and boutiques—plus the best places to enjoy the city’s unique design culture. But most of all, they offer an experience that’s wholly and undoubtedly Toronto.

photo by Mwangi Gatheca

DAY 1

Design and Dine

9:00 AM Sip coffee in a thoughtfully designed café (45 minutes)

Sam James is Toronto’s coffee king—each of his five shops has been designed with their surroundings in mind. At the café across from Trinity Bellwoods Park, enjoy a Cut Coffee espresso in a natural setting; the stark-white room encourages you to look at the urban greenery beyond the large front window.

photo by Nathan Dumlao

photo by Mike Marquez

10:30 AM Wander the halls at the Art Gallery (120 minutes)

The Art Gallery of Ontario is home to more than 90,000 works of art, including its exterior designed by legendary architect Frank Gehry. Past exhibitions have included work by Inuit sculptor Manasie Akpaliapik, illustrator Walter Scott, and landscape photographer Edward Burtynsky. Be sure to climb the Douglas fir-clad spiral staircase that connects the gallery’s top floors for a view of downtown.

photo by AGO

"Beyond the hustle-and-bustle—away from the skyscrapers and typical tourist attractions—are vibrant, creative neighborhoods just waiting to be explored."
1:00 PM Pass the pasta at La Palma (60 minutes)

At La Palma, chef Craig Harding finds inspiration in Italian classics like ricotta gnocchi and a 100-layer lasagna. Sip on one of several refreshing cocktails (I recommend the Cardamom Spritz) and sit back to admire the pastel-painted abstract murals that cover the walls.

photo by Ali Kaufman

2:30 PM Collect unique items in Little Portugal (120 minutes)

Spend the afternoon wandering through the independent shops in Little Portugal. Start at Saudade, where you’ll find hand-painted ceramics, artisanal soaps, and textiles direct from Portugal. Nearby at Easy Tiger Goods, gifts, stationery, and accessories highlight local talents Cadette Jewelry and Akai Ceramics. At ALOJA, you can slip into modern, tailored womenswear by exclusively Indian designers.

photo by Jonathan Friedman

"It’s hard to decide what Bar Raval’s biggest draw is: the menu or the romantic interiors."
5:00 PM Happy hour at Bar Raval (75 minutes)

It’s hard to decide what Bar Raval’s biggest draw is: the menu or the romantic interiors designed by local firm Partisans. Gaudí-inspired woodwork gives the bar a cavernous feel, but on warm days, the crowd spills onto the patio. Stop by for a cocktail or glass of sherry, and if you’re hungry, try chef and owner Grant van Gameren’s modern tapas.

7:00 PM Wine and dine at Grey Gardens (120 minutes)

Jen Agg presides over some of the city's top restaurants, but the jewel in her crown is undoubtedly Grey Gardens. Request a seat at the chef’s bar for a view of all the action. The wine list features unusual, often biodynamic bottles from the glass-enclosed cellar downstairs.

photo by Jorge Vasconez

DAY 2

Shop and Savor

10:00 AM Go for green at Crown Flora (45 minutes)

Plants and juice coexist at Crown Flora Studio, where you’ll find a fridge stocked with Greenhouse’s cold-pressed juices, nut milks, and vegan bites. Fuel up for the day with a bottle of the citrusy Gold Rush, or try the ginger-infused Gatsby to quash a hangover.

"Eschew traditional souvenirs for Drake’s kitschy assortment of vintage iron-on patches and maple syrup pins."
11:00 AM Find your kitsch on West Queen West (90 minutes)

You’ll find a ton of boutique shops on the West Queen West strip. Don’t miss Cambie Design, an intimate shop that sells all sorts of Peruvian textiles, including alpaca wool blankets. Down the street is Drake General Store, the ever-growing mercantile of the Drake Hotel—eschew traditional souvenirs for Drake’s kitschy assortment of vintage iron-on patches and maple syrup pins.

photo by Cambie Design

1:00 PM Sample from the city’s top spots (90 minutes)

Satellite versions of the city’s best restaurants are gathered at Assembly Chef’s Hall. Sample fish tacos, barbecue, pizza, ramen, and even fresh lobster, and wash it all down with some local craft beer or Ontario wine for the ultimate win-win.

photo by Assembly Chef’s Hall

photo by Assembly Chef’s Hall

3:00 PM Shop, sightsee, and repeat in The Distillery District (180 minutes)

The Distillery District once produced whiskey, but now its 19th-century buildings are home to restaurants, boutiques, and an antique market. While shopping, walk the cobblestone streets to find public art, including two monster sculptures by Michael Christian that were originally created for Burning Man.

7:30 PM Ciao down at Giulietta (90 minutes)

Giulietta draws on chef Rob Rossi’s Italian roots with classic dishes like braised tripe, fried olives, and fennel salad. Heartier plates, including handmade pastas, woodfired pizza, and grilled meats, are ideal for sharing. The long and narrow dining room—and the exclusive chef’s bar—is the place to sip on cocktails and classic Italian liqueurs, or to enjoy a bottle from the well-rounded wine list.

photo by Zach Heiberg

"The restaurant’s green and pink hues are reminiscent of Wong Kar Wai films."
9:30 PM Nightcaps at the nightclub (120 minutes)

Cap off your night with Asian-inspired cocktails at the newly opened SoSo Food Club, a space that’s part-restaurant, bar, and dance club with local DJs spinning late into the night. The restaurant’s green and pink hues are reminiscent of Wong Kar Wai films; throughout the room, LED lights illuminate turquoise banquettes and Marcel Breuer-inspired cane chairs.

photo by Maarten van den Heuvel

Two days—48 hours—doesn’t seem like a lot. But what if you change your mindset: what if you think about it as 2,880 minutes? You can’t alter the passage of time, but you can change how you calculate it, perceive it, and use it. Make the most of every minute in Toronto with these local favorites, and check back for the next in our Local Time series: Portland.

Written by Michelle da Silva