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9 Things to Know BEFORE Visiting the Toronto Distillery District

9 Things to Know BEFORE Visiting the Toronto Distillery District

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Exploring the Distillery District is one of our favorite parts of sightseeing in Toronto. It used to be a huge distillery complex, and now it’s one of the city’s coolest areas, where you’ll find lots of independent businesses, unique bars, buskers, and special events. 

Another thing that we love about the Distillery District is that lots of its streets are pedestrian-only. This makes it perfect to wander around on a tour in Toronto or on your own to pop into the cafes, boutiques, and of course the bars! 

Checking out this awesome part of the city is high on our list of things to do in Toronto, so even if you only have a day or two in the city, make sure to put it on your itinerary! We’ve written this guide to help you plan your visit to the Distillery District and make sure that you don’t miss out on any of its highlights.

Don’t have time to read the full article? Wandering around the Distillery District is a must while you’re in Toronto! We recommend this small group walking tour so you can get a feel for the history and some of the places to visit with tips from a local guide. It’s only an hour long and $24 CAD, so it’s a great way to kick off exploring this historic area.

1. About the Toronto Distillery District

Rainbow love heart at the entrance to the Toronto Distillery District in Toronto Canada
People walk through the Toronto Distillery District with the CN Tower in the background in Toronto, Canada
I love that it’s walking only!

The story of the Toronto Distillery District goes back to 1832 when the Gooderham and Worts Distillery was founded. It started off fairly small, but in 1859 the company began building a large distillery complex on the Toronto waterfront, which consisted of 47 buildings in total. 

By the time the complex was finished in 1861, the Gooderham and Worts Distillery was able to ramp up production from around 80,000 gallons of spirits to 2 million gallons. 

As a result of the Distillery’s success, the entire area became an industrial powerhouse, and lots of industrial and commercial buildings were built. However, towards the end of the 20th century, businesses began to close down or leave the area, and the Distillery District became pretty derelict. A lot of the buildings were demolished and the distillery operations also began to wind down, leaving much of the district empty. 

In 1990, the distillery closed down for good, but since the Victorian complex was so well preserved, investors began to eye it up for redevelopment. 

Wide angle shot of the Toronto Distillery District
It’s such a historic area!

This process was delayed somewhat by the economic recession in the early 90s, so during this time lots of films and TV scenes were shot in the abandoned district. Since 1990, over 800 productions have been filmed here! 

Then finally, in 2001, the distillery complex was bought by a group of developers who transformed the area with a few key goals in mind. For one thing, they made the area very pedestrian-friendly and closed many of the roads to vehicles. They also decided not to lease any of the commercial spaces to chains or franchises so that independent businesses could flourish in the area. This also explains why lots of artists rent studios around here.

Nowadays, the Distillery District is an awesome part of Toronto to explore. Funnily enough, there’s only one actual distillery here now, but there are lots of bars, restaurants, boutiques, and galleries to check out, and the area is home to the largest collection of Victorian industrial architecture in North America! 

2. Where is the Toronto Distillery District?

Love sign made of padlocks inside the Toronto Distillery District
Love sign made of padlocks inside the Toronto Distillery District

The Distillery District is located on the Toronto waterfront, east of downtown. It’s easy to get to via public transport, and you’ve got several different options. 

You can head to Union Station and take the 20-minute walk along the Esplanade. Or from Union Station, walk north for two blocks along Bay Street until you reach King Street. There, you can board the 504 King East Street Car to Distillery Loop, which is a 5-minute walk from the Distillery District. 

Alternatively, you can take the Fort York-Esplanade 121 Bus from Union Station to either Mill Street or Cherry Street, both of which are just a short walk from the Distillery District. 

You can also drive to the Distillery District if you’ve rented a car and have your own wheels in the city. You can access an above-ground parking lot on Distillery Lane via Parliament Street, or an underground lot via Cherry Street. For both of these lots, you can use the Green P app to pay for your parking. 

And if that all sounds like too much hassle, you can get an Uber to drop you off at the Distillery District. A ride costs about $15 CAD from downtown, and then no one has to worry about being the designated driver when there are so many cool bars to explore!

3. When is the Toronto Distillery District open?

A colorful sculpture inside the Toronto Distillery District in Canada
A colorful sculpture inside the Toronto Distillery District!
People walk through the Toronto Distillery District on a summers day in Toronto, Canada
Ahh, I love summer in Toronto!

The Toronto Distillery District is open 364 days a year – every day except for Christmas Day!

It’s from 10 am until 6 pm from Monday to Thursday, and then 10 am until 7 pm on Friday and Saturday. On Sunday, it’s open from 11 am until 6 pm, and on public holidays it only opens from 12-5 pm. 

4. When is the best time to visit the Toronto Distillery District?

Front of the Spirit of York Distillery in Toronto Distillery District
Spirit of York Distillery in Toronto Distillery District

We loved visiting the Toronto Distillery District during summertime in Toronto because there was such a cool buzz about the place. It’s also nice to be able to sit and enjoy a drink outside while you admire the Victorian architecture.

To be honest, though, you could have a great time here even during the winter or on a rainy day in Toronto. It doesn’t matter what the weather is like because you can spend time inside all of the different shops, bars, and restaurants. 

In terms of the time of day, you could go in the morning if you’re most interested in admiring the architecture and learning about the area’s history while there are fewer people around. However, if you just want to enjoy the atmosphere and check out lots of unique local businesses, then you could go at lunchtime or later in the afternoon when there are more people around. 

The Distillery District also hosts lots of special events, from performances by local musicians to markets and whisky festivals, so it’s worth checking out their calendar to see what’s on. 

And if you’re in Toronto in late November or December, you’ll find the area transformed into The Distillery Winter Village – previously known as the Toronto Christmas Market. We challenge you not to get into the Christmas spirit while you wander around beautiful Victorian buildings that are lit up with twinkling lights while buskers perform Christmas songs. There’s even a towering Christmas tree in Trinity Square that reminded me a bit of the famous one at Rockefeller Center in New York City!

Related Read: It’s famous in movies for a reason and visiting New York City during the Christmas season is a must for any winter trip!

5. What are the best tours that visit the Toronto Distillery District?

Sign and entrance to one side fo the Toronto Distillery District in Toronto, Canada
Welcome to the Toronto Distillery District!

Toronto Distillery District Walking Tour

We think that this small group walking tour of the Distillery District is a fantastic way to discover more about its history and identify the top spots to visit. There are so many great places to eat, drink, and shop here that it’s hard to know where to start, so it’s definitely worth going with a local guide who can share some insider tips. 

The tour lasts for an hour so it’s not too long, but you get plenty of time to learn all about the history of this area and how it has transformed over the past 160 years. 

You’ll also get to hear some scandalous secrets about the Gooderham and Worts Distillery company – like their role in Prohibition smuggling and how they got a huge tax fine! 

The tour costs $24 CAD per person when you book online in advance and we think it’s a fantastic way to get to know Toronto’s coolest district. You can choose to go at either 11:30 am or 3:30 pm, so it’s easy to fit into a day of sightseeing, and then you can always hang out in the area and check out some of your guide’s recommendations afterward. 

30-Minute Distillery District Segway Tour

If you’re short on time or just want a unique way to see the Distillery District, then this segway tour is an absolute blast! 

You’ll zoom around the streets, and since most of them are pedestrian-only, you don’t need to worry about cars and vehicles. With a segway, you’ll be able to see the entire district in just half an hour, and your guide will clue you in on lots of information about the area. 

This is such a fun way to sightsee, as riding a segway is a pretty memorable experience in itself. This tour is perfect for groups of friends and we also think that this would be such a great way to explore the Distillery District if you’re traveling with teenagers, too. 

It costs $56 CAD per person and you’ll get a safety briefing and a quick lesson on how to use your segway before you set off, so no worries if you haven’t ridden one before. This tour is popular and tends to sell out on weekends or summer days, so book your spot in advance here!

Peace sign sculpture inside the Toronto Distillery District
Daniel poses for a photo in the Toronto Distillery District, Canada
Exploring the area!

Spirits of the Distillery District Ghost Tour

Ghost tours can be so much fun, and this nighttime walking tour is an excellent way to discover the spooky side of the Distillery District. 

You’ll set off in the evening and take a tour of the area’s historic landmarks, and learn about the grizzliest and gruesome events that have taken place around here. Your guide will be in costume and share lots of entertaining ghost stories, with the perfect balance of humor and suspense. 

This tour is interactive and such an engaging way to learn about the history of the Distillery District, which goes way beyond just making whisky. Plus, it’s pretty cool to see the area by lantern light – it’s very atmospheric.

This is a small group tour (max 10 people) that lasts for an hour and 15 minutes, and it’s great for families, solo travelers, or groups of friends. Plus, it only costs $29 CAD per person. It’s the perfect way to kick off a fun evening in Toronto, so book this tour here if you want to explore this area after dark!

Guided Bicycle Tour including Distillery District

This bicycle tour is a fantastic way to explore the Distillery District along with midtown Toronto and Evergreen Brick Works, another former industrial site transformed into a park and sustainability hub. 

Your guide will lead you around some of the city’s best cycling routes and share lots of stories and insights. We’ve taken a few bike tours in Toronto on our visits and really enjoyed the feel of this one. You’ll cycle around Queen’s Park and visit the Don Valley to explore Evergreen Brick Works and Riverdale Farm. There are also stops to see street art, natural beauty spots, and other points of interest. 

The tour lasts for 3 hours and you’ll cover a lot of ground in that time, so it’s a great way to see the city and check out the Distillery District if you don’t have very long in Toronto. Your guide will also give you plenty of pointers for exploring the city further after the tour ends. 

This tour is only offered on Sundays and lasts for 3 hours, so you’ll finish up in the Distillery District to grab a drink and a bite to eat. It costs $105 CAD per person, and it’s a private tour so you can adjust the itinerary to your liking and get plenty of one-on-one time with your guide. 

6. Where are the best places to eat in the Toronto Distillery District?

Bailey with her ramen at BOKU Japanese Eats + Drinks in the Toronto Distillery District, Canada
Yum!
Cocktail from BOKU Japanese Eats + Drinks in Toronto
Japanese Old Fashioned!

BOKU Japanese Eats + Drinks 

We absolutely loved the ramen at BOKU and I had a Tokia Old Fashioned cocktail, which came served in a teapot and was so good! They also serve chicken wings, poke bowls, amazing ramen, and katsu curry. It’s open from 12-9 pm daily and until 10 pm on Friday/Saturday. We highly recommend a visit! 

Cluny Bistro & Boulangerie 

The modern and unpretentious Cluny Bistro & Boulangerie is a French bistro that’s been named by multiple news outlets as one of the best French restaurants in Toronto, so it’s definitely worth a visit. The menu is very well thought out, and there’s also a raw seafood bar if you fancy oysters or the like. The desserts look incredible, too! 

Madrina Bar y Tapas

If you want a taste of Spain right here in Toronto, head to Madrina for authentic Catalan tapas and a carefully curated selection of over 70 gins! This place is the brainchild of chef Ramon Simarro who worked at numerous Michelin-star restaurants before opening this gem in the Distillery District. We also love the fact that they serve sweet tapas for dessert!

Grab a drink at the Mill Street Brewpub

Of course, no visit to the Distillery District would be complete without a pint of craft beer. Daniel loved the Mill Street Brewpub, which makes amazing organic lager and serves good old-fashioned pub grub. The portions are huge, so arrive hungry! 

Related Read: For more amazing eats, check out our favorite food tours in Toronto!

7. What are the best things to do in the Toronto Distillery District?

Bailey enjoys a cocktail at Spirit of York Distillery in Toronto
I tasted all the cocktails!
A still inside the Spirit of York Distillery in Toronto Distillery District
A still inside the Spirit of York Distillery in the Toronto Distillery District

Do a tasting at the Spirit of York Distillery 

Nowadays, there’s only one distillery operating in the Distillery District: the Spirit of York Distillery. They make gin and vodka in lots of different fruity flavors, and we love the classy, modern decor of this place. It’s perfect for Instagram! 

You can go on a self-guided tour of the distillery or a guided tour on Saturdays for $15 CAD, which also allows you to enjoy a tasting flight in their luxurious tasting room. It’s best to book this in advance because it’s a very popular thing to do, and if you like spirits then it’s well worth it.

Check out the local art galleries 

If you’re into art, then you’ll love the art galleries in the Distillery District. From contemporary exhibits at the Arta Gallery to abstract pieces and vintage photography at the Corkin Gallery, there’s plenty of art to appreciate here. The Thompson Landry Gallery is also worth visiting, as it’s currently the only art gallery in Toronto that focuses exclusively on Quebec artwork. 

Sample sake at Izumi 

Izumi – aka the Ontario Spring Water Sake Company – is the first sake brewery in eastern North America. Here, they use fresh Ontario spring water to brew sake using traditional Japanese methods, so you can enjoy sake that’s both authentic and locally brewed! In fact, the company is actually a member of the Brewing Society of Japan, so you know it’s the real deal. 

You can head to Izumi to sample their different fruit-flavored sakes in the tasting bar, and there’s also a store on site where you can buy bottles or even pick up some sake soap!

A boutique shop inside the Toronto Distillery District, Canada
A boutique shop inside the Toronto Distillery District, Canada

Go shopping 

One thing we love about the Distillery District is that there are no chain stores here, so there are lots of unique shops to explore. From the chic and sustainable Hoi Bo boutique to the quirky Bergo Designs home goods store, you can get your hands on some real gems that you wouldn’t be able to find anywhere else. There are also some fantastic vintage shops and antique stores, too, which are definitely worth a browse even if you don’t buy anything.

Catch a live performance 

There are often talented buskers singing and dancing around the Distillery District, and the area also has a thriving performing arts scene.

You can head to the Young Centre for Performing Arts to catch a performance by Soulpepper, Toronto’s celebrated not-for-profit theater company. I suggest checking out the calendar of performances to see what’s happening while you’re here or just pop into the Stage Door Cafe for a coffee.

8. How long do you need to visit the Toronto Distillery District?

Wide angle shot inside the Toronto Distillery District, Canada
You’ll want to plan a few hours to explore the Toronto Distillery District!

We think that 2-3 hours is a good amount of time to explore the Distillery District. It’s enough time to enjoy a tour, check out the shops and galleries, and grab a drink or bite to eat. Having said that, there’s plenty to do here so you could easily spend longer if you want to hit as many of the area’s hotspots as possible. 

9. Is visiting the Toronto Distillery District worth it?

Old building in the Toronto Distillery District
Yes!

Yes! It’s one of our favorite things to do in Toronto, as it’s such a cool area of the city. Its history is fascinating and it’s so cool to check out the beautiful Victorian buildings and all of the independent cafes, bars, boutiques, and galleries that they now house.

Visiting the Toronto Distillery District is an absolute must while you’re in the city! 

Related Read: Another historic place worth a look is the castle in Toronto … yes, that’s right Casa Loma Toronto is a real-life Canadian castle!

Other Things to do While You’re in Toronto

Views from the Canadian side of Niagara Falls looking down at the cruise below Niagara Falls
Niagara Falls is close enough for a day trip from Toronto!
Daniel poses for a photo with the current Stanley Cup at the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto, Canada
The current Stanley Cup!

Toronto is a city filled with tons of things to do and see. So before (or after!) your visit to the Distillery District, take some time to explore some of the other top attractions and activities:

  • Check out the view from the CN Tower – The tallest building in the city and all of Canada, heading up the CN Tower is a must! The main observation deck is on the 33rd floor and if you’re feeling brave, there’s a glass floor or the Edgewalk that takes you outside to walk high above Toronto! General admission is $43 CAD.
  • Eat great food! – With so many different cultures and restaurants, Toronto is a foodie heaven! Miku Toronto is considered the best sushi restaurant in the city with a big outdoor patio. Food tours in Toronto are also top-notch and we enjoyed this walking food tour to help us try a variety of tasty dishes from butter tarts to pierogies to maple syrup and the chance to explore the iconic St. Lawrence Market.
  • Go sailing – For a unique cruise, climb aboard a 1930s schooner with this Toronto tall ship cruise. You’ll help the crew raise the sails for the journey from Toronto Harbor to Lake Ontario. There are panoramic views to take in and kids love it when the crew fires the ship’s canyon! Tickets are available online for only $43 CAD and cheaper for kids.
  • Watch a hockey game – Hockey is HUGE all over Canada, so taking in an NHL game while you’re here is sure to be a fun night. While I’m a diehard Oilers fan, the Toronto Maple Leafs are the home team here and the atmosphere is a lot of fun. Tickets range from $150 – $350 CAD and you can buy tickets on Viator. If it isn’t hockey season, pop into the Hockey Hall of Fame instead to see the famous Stanley Cup!

Where to Stay in Toronto

One King West Hotel & Residence
Photo credit: One King West Hotel & Residence

Let’s face it, Toronto is a huge city with practically endless options when it comes to hotels. But, not all hotels are created equal – you want to ensure you book a place with an amazing location and even better amenities, which narrows down your choices.

I’ve handpicked some of the best places to stay in the city – the below hotels all have an ideal central location as well as everything you need to have a comfortable stay!

If you’re looking for more info about where to stay in Toronto, be sure to read our blog. It includes detailed info on the best area to stay, how to get from the airport to your hotel, and the top hotels!

Fairmont Royal York Hotel (Luxury Stay – $$$)

The Fairmont Royal York Hotel is one of the most luxurious hotels in Toronto. With its historic ballroom, beautiful rooms, and a gorgeous skylit indoor pool, you’ll have to force yourself to leave and explore the city! But once you do, you’re steps from Union Station, so getting around via public transport is really easy. It also means that you can take the train from the airport directly to the hotel! 

The Hockey Hall of Fame is two blocks away, and you’re also about a 20-minute walk from both the waterfront and the Distillery District. Rooms usually start from around $500-$600 CAD per night and you can check availability and book the Fairmont Royal York online here!

The SoHo Hotel (Moderately-priced Boutique Hotel – $$)

The SoHo Hotel is an excellent choice for anybody looking for a centrally located hotel that is just stunning. This hotel is located only a short walk from attractions like the CN Tower, and it also has plenty of nice facilities including a lap pool and fitness center. Oh, and did I mention the rooms have heated bathroom floors?!

Room rates typically range from $300 CAD and up. The SoHo is one of the highest-rated hotels in Toronto, so be sure to book online here well in advance to secure your room.

One King West Hotel and Residences (Moderately-priced Full Apartments – $$)

If you’re looking for a home away from home, then One King West Hotel and Residences might be the best choice for you. Although a hotel, this property features fully self-contained apartments complete with a kitchen. This is perfect if you like to cook some of your own meals. On top of that, the location is ideal and you’ll also find a fitness center and onsite bar and restaurant.

For an entire apartment in Toronto, prices start at about $330 CAD. You can check availability and book online here.

Town Inn Suites Hotel (Budget Hotel – $)

You don’t have to spend a small fortune to stay in Toronto. If you’re on a tighter budget, Town Inn Suites Hotel is the best choice for you. Starting from only $170 CAD per night (in the low season), this centrally located hotel is tastefully decorated and features plenty of amenities. Rooms also feature a kitchenette, which comes in very handy. You can check prices and secure your room online here.

Samesun Toronto (Budget Hostel – $)

The Samesun Toronto is the perfect choice for backpackers or solo travelers wanting to meet others. The hostel has a great location as well as communal spaces (including a huge kitchen) where you can relax. They offer both dorm beds as well as budget private rooms, but bathrooms are all shared.

You can grab a dorm bed for less than $100 CAD per night during peak season. You can book the Samesun Toronto online on either Booking.com or Hostelworld.

One of the best ways to experience Canada is by hitting the road. Some of the best things to do and attractions are located in remote areas between destinations. For that reason, we highly recommend getting your own wheels!

  • Rent a car – To simply rent a vehicle, search on Discover Cars where they compare tons of different rental companies near you. This way you can easily compare prices, features, policies, and more!
  • Rent a campervan or motorhome Motorhome Republic is great for finding a motorhome or campervan to rent in Canada. With your own home on wheels, you can camp in beautiful places and save money on accommodation!

Thanks for reading!

Daniel and Bailey take a selfie at a winery in Toronto Canada
Thanks for reading!

For us, no trip to Toronto is complete without a visit to the Distillery District! It’s an area that’s full of history – not to mention great restaurants, bars, shopping, and more. It’s a fun place to explore in all seasons whether you’re visiting during a chilly Canadian winter or enjoying the summer sunshine. Let us know your favorite part of the Distillery District after your visit!

While you’re trip planning, have a look at our other blogs about Canada and the USA. We’ve traveled to a lot of different destinations and love sharing our travel tips so you can find the best tours, restaurants, and hidden gems in each city.

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