LGBTQ+ guide to Toronto

TORONTO has been a major draw for decades for tourists of all kinds. Gay travelers love the city, celebrating North America’s largest Pride festival on masse in the city every June. Toronto’s queer scene has branched out from Church Street village into new territory. LGBTQ+ visitors can be found all over the city, finding venues that are mixed and inclusive of all.

Arriving

If arriving by plane you will probably land at Toronto’s main airport, Pearson International. For $3.25 you can take the express bus and subway into the downtown in about 50 minutes. 

For $12 you can ride the UP Express train which comfortably rockets you to Union Station in 28 minutes. 

If touching down at Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport, you will already be downtown. A short and cheap cab ride should get you where you need to be in no time. 

Getting around

LGBTQ+ Toronto

Photo: Emile Séguin

If you plan on crossing the city frequently, consider purchasing one of the TTC passes. Day passes cost $12.50, and a weekly one costs $43.75. 

Alternatively, you can purchase a reloadable Presto Card for a fee of $6. That will provide a more flexible option if your stay is between 2 to 6 days. 

Where to stay

The Drake Hotel

A boutique hotel in the middle of Queen West, Toronto’s current hot spot. The ground floor and rooftop bars appear on international best-of lists and the basement event space has the best acoustics in town. (From $269 per night)

Gladstone Hotel

A quirky, art-focused hotel in which each room was designed by a different artist: check out “The Canadiana Room” and “Parlour of Twilight” for atmospheric, playful touches. Weekly music events downstairs are a favorite. (From $179 per night)

Hi Toronto Hostel

This cheap and cheerful hostel is conveniently located near the Church Street village and employs a knowledgeable, fun staff. A lively bar on the main floor hosts events ranging from open mic nights to trading zone swaps, where backpackers can exchange items and share a drink with new friends. (From $33.90 per night)

Pride events

Greenspace Festival

This multi-night string of parties are the most attended and anticipated events at Toronto Pride. Kicking off the long weekend is Starry Night, a dazzling garden shindig that annually features performances by RuPaul’s top queens. International DJ’s keep the crowd grinding all weekend long, climaxing on parade Sunday when the frenzy finally takes over an entire University quad. This hedonism isn’t for nothing since all proceeds go to the 519 Community Centre, which provides counselling and social services to the LGBTQ+ community. 

Buddies in Bad Times Theatre

North America’s longest running queer theatre company also happens to host year-round Saturday night dance parties that rival any club night in town. A bonus: All profits from the revelers go back into operating costs for this important institution. Programming for this year’s Pride includes a live drag version of Clueless, and the annual favorite Bitch Salad.

Pride Parade

LGBTQ+ Toronto

Photo: Pride Toronto

Drawing an estimated one million spectators annually, this is one of the largest pride parades in the world. Held on the final day of the festivities, it is both fun, and a sobering reminder of the sacrifices past generations have made.

Nuit Rose

This free, queer-focused art and performance festival coincides with Pride and spans two distinct neighborhoods. Head here for provocative work by local, as well as international artists.  

Year-round events

Business Woman’s Special

This monthly camp dance party has been going strong for seven years. Alternative drag moments and niche themes abound. 

Cherry Bomb

This predominately lesbian dance party takes place at The Round, on the third Saturday of every month. Dancehall, hip-hop and party anthems keep the girls and friends coming back. 

Big Primpin

This popular party takes place the first Friday of every month at the bar, Miss Things

Bars and clubs

LGBTQ+ Toronto

Photo: Fly 2.0

The Beaver

This tiny cafe turns into a good time with nightly dance parties. One of their most popular is FIT, an active wear enthusiasts’ dream. 

Wayla

This East End gay bar holds great parties. Daddy Next Door is their most popular, attracting handsome mature men and their admirers. 

Fly 2.0

If you want a large-scale club with a sound and light system as beefed up as the boys are, head here. 

Woody’s

This hangout hosts frequent drag shows; has four bars, pool tables; and is a great place to start or end the night. 

Glad Day Bookshop

The world’s oldest LGBTQ+ bookstore has moved to a new location that now hosts regular events, parties, and has a great bar. A welcomed and much-needed addition to Church St. 

What to see and do

LGBTQ+ Toronto

Photo: Gem Webb

Queen West

This ultra-hip area was recently named the second coolest neighborhood in the world by Vogue magazine. While any such list is arbitrary, most Torontonians can agree that Queen West has the highest concentration of independently-owned eateries, shops, and nightlife. In addition to all this coolness, the fact that it is seen unofficially as the city’s second LGBTQ+ village is icing on the cake. 

Distillery District

This beautiful complex of forty-seven former Victorian distillery buildings now houses elegant shops, restaurants, cafes, live theatre and galleries. Toronto’s outdoor glittering Christmas market is held here every December. 

Hanlan’s Point

Toronto’s only clothing optional beach has a strong gay following and is the perfect local escape. Take the ferry to the island, or call a tiki taxi boat ($10 per person). 

Kensington Market

A colorful mix of cultures, cheap eats, lively bars and vintage clothing. The market is an ideal place for finding odd items and great for people-watching. Sundays are pedestrian only. 

High Park

This Park is Toronto’s largest and loveliest. Attractions and activities include the almost-too-popular cherry blossom trees (avoid weekends during blooming season if possible), and the annual outdoor Shakespeare in High Park productions which operate on a pay-what-you-can admission system. 

Where to eat

LGBTQ+ Toronto

Photo: SMITH

Smith

The best eatery in the village. Elegant, modern design with high-quality dishes. Try to grab a table on the back-alley patio if visiting in summer. Solid wine list and well-crafted cocktails. Reservations recommended. 

Kanpai Snack Bar

This popular Taiwanese hipster joint modelled its menu after the street market foods of East and South-East Asia. There is an impressive selection of local and microbrewery beer on tap. 

Golden Turtle

Bare bones but exceptional Vietnamese pho house to check out when you need refueling from shopping up and down ultra hip Ossington Avenue. 

Alo

A relatively new fixture on the Toronto foodie map, Alo offers a high-end, multi-course tasting menu with a focus on modern interpretations of French recipes. Reservations required, the bar is walk-in friendly. 

Buca

A high-end Italian with ingredients of the utmost quality, as are the cocktails. Also, the all-too-rare-in-Toronto aperitivo happens here daily. 

Torteria San Cosme

If you want mouth-watering Mexican tortas, head to this casual eatery in the market. Only nine varieties of griddled sandwiches are on offer here, which explains the high level of quality. End your melted Oaxacan cheese and chorizo feast with a sugary Churro.  

Best parks in Toronto

Photo: brenkee

Toronoto has many pretty green spots within the city. Here are our picks for parks and outdoor spaces that capture the beauty of Southern Ontario right in the backyard of its biggest city.

Editor’s note: These spots are all taken directly from travelstoke®, a new app from Matador that connects you with fellow travelers and locals, and helps you build trip itineraries with spots that integrate seamlessly into Google Maps and Uber. Download the app to add any of the spots below directly to your future trips.

E.T. Seton Park

 E.T. Seton ParkToronto, Canada3 parks in 1! E. T. Seton Park and Wilket Creek Park link Edwards Gardens with Taylor Creek (described elsewhere in this list). You can combine both trails together for a total of 10 kms. In spring and summer, Edwards Gardens are landscaped with floral displays. Wilket Creek and E. T. Seton Park have paved paths, lawns, and lots of trees featuring abundant bird life. #walking #cycling #garden #birds #flowers #fallcolours

Village of Yorkville Park

 Village of Yorkville ParkToronto, CanadaConsisting of a large rock, a boardwalk that meanders through tall grasses, and a curtain-like fountain, this quirky urban garden in Yorkville was designed by architect David Oleson. “The Rock”, which is approximately one billion years old, was removed in pieces from the Canadian glacial shield before being re-assembled here in 1994. Amazing! #garden #park #rock #fountain #publicart

Trinity Bellwoods Park

 Trinity Bellwoods ParkToronto, CanadaLocated along trendy West Queen West, this large park is really popular with young locals on any warm sunny day. People sit alone or in groups on the grass, reading, chatting, or playing with their dogs. Grab a coffee from across the street, find a bench if you prefer, and crack open that novel. #park #relaxing #reading

Toronto Dominion Centre Park

 Toronto Dominion Centre ParkToronto, CanadaThe financial district is home to these seven bronze cows relaxing on the lawn between the towers of the Toronto-Dominion Centre. It’s a favourite lunch spot for office workers, and a photo op for visitors the rest of the time. Each cow in Joe Fafard’s sculpture “The Pasture” weighs 544 kg. #statue #sculpture #financialdistrict

High Park

 High ParkToronto, CanadaThis is Toronto’s largest public park. You can spend most of a day wandering around. For about a week in late April or early May, cherry blossoms blanket High Park. Keep an eye on their website to know the exact time. Most of the cherry trees (sakura) are near Hillside Gardens, between the restaurant and the pond. Bring a picnic. Or come early to avoid the crowds. Fall is also beautiful with the trees changing colours. A true photographer’s delight. #park #sakura #cherryblossom #fallcolours #walking #photoop #photography

Saint James Park

 Saint James ParkToronto, CanadaThe largest green area in Old Town, St James Park (adjoining its namesake church) has one of the prettiest English gardens in Toronto. A cast-iron fountain and benches provide a nice rest stop among the flowers. Plenty of trees offer shade and the wide lawns are perfect for spreading a blanket. The tulip displays in May are especially stunning. #park #garden #fountain #flowers #relax

Ireland Park

 Ireland ParkToronto, CanadaThe Irish Memorial Garden commemorates the large influx of Irish immigrants who arrived on Toronto’s shores in 1847, fleeing persecution and starvation at home. Granite slabs forming the outline of a ship list the names of those who died on the journey (or shortly after). Emaciated statues stand bleakly where the immigration wharf used to be, south of Queen’s Quay and east of Bathurst Street. #statue #irish #history

Sugar Beach Park

 Sugar Beach ParkToronto, CanadaThe pink umbrellas create a cheery contrast to the blue lake and sky on a sunny day. Turn around and photograph downtown’s towers with the beach in the foreground. Or you may catch a huge ship unloading its cargo of sugar at The Redpath Sugar Refinery that gave this artificial beach its name. #urban #beach #photoop #photography

Taylor Creek Park

 Taylor Creek ParkToronto, CanadaAround mid to late October, Taylor Creek Park offers one of the best displays of fall colours in the city. Known almost exclusively to locals, a 5-kilometre paved path starts near Victoria Park subway station, then follows a creek through forested parkland. You’ll share the space with bicycles and people pushing strollers. Bring water. Washrooms are often locked. #walking #cycling #park #fallcolours

Toronto Island Park

 Toronto Island ParkToronto, CanadaThis postcard view of Toronto’s skyline fronting the lake is taken from the Toronto Islands. You can stand in several spots to get a similar photo, including the Centre Island ferry boarding area (as shown here), Hanlan’s Point ferry area, Ward’s Island ferry area, and Ward’s village. If you want trees along the edges of your picture, look for a spot with a bench about halfway between Ward and Centre Island. #skyline #photoop #photography

Scarborough Bluffs Park

 Scarborough Bluffs ParkToronto, CanadaCliffs in the city? This escarpment rises to 90 metres at its highest point and is about 15 kms long. A park with flower beds and views over Lake Ontario welcomes you at the top. A nice walking trail below the bluffs leads through more parkland and then follows the lakeside. #park #garden #flowers #cliffs #lake #walking

Guild Park and Gardens

 Guild Park and GardensToronto, CanadaThis unusual park on the edge of the city acts as an outdoor museum for 70-odd columns, sculptures, and building facades rescued from the demolition of historical buildings during the post-WWll building boom in Toronto. Some pieces measure 20 feet in height or weight several tons. #park #sculpture #architecture #history

Evergreen Brick Works

 Evergreen Brick WorksToronto, CanadaThis is a former brick quarry and industrial site located in the Don River Valley. The site has been converted into a city park featuring several naturalized ponds, while the buildings have been restored as a community and cultural centre focusing on the environment. There is a cafe on site, and some really amazing foliage colours in the fall. #park #ponds #oldbuildings #fallcolours #walking #cafe

A stroll on top of the CN Tower restaurant in Toronto. What a high.

Here’s one Guinness World Record you can match without having to lift a table with your teeth or live with scorpions for more than a month: Walk outside on top of the CN Tower restaurant, 116 stories high, to match the record for “highest external walk on a building” set in 2011. Here’s my Washington Post story about doing the Edgewalk during a June visit to Toronto. Photo credit: CNTower