Canada's largest city becomes a non-stop festival zone in summer. The fairground rides and food sample-packed Canadian National Exhibition (theex.com; 15 August-1 September) acts as an hors d'ouevre for the Toronto International Film Festival (tiff.net). Screening more than 300 movies between 4-14 September, it's the world's largest public cinema showcase. Think Cannes, but open to all.
Get your bearings
Toronto sprawls northwards from the shore of Lake Ontario on a largely featureless plain. Downtown has the key entertainment venues, financial district and main rail hub Union Station, plus the main Tourist Information Centre at 20 Dundas Street West (see- torontonow.com).
Uptown is immediately to the north, hosting the University of Toronto and key cultural attractions. But the most appealing neighbourhoods are to the east and west, along the Front, King, Queen, Dundas and College Street thoroughfares.
Take a hike
The bulging stonework of the Old City Hall at 60 Queen Street West is worth inspection — close up, the archways are covered in a blizzard of engravings. Compare and contrast to the concrete modernist Nathan Phillips Square opposite – it may be an acquired taste visually, but there's usually some sort of event going on there.
Keep going along Queen Street, then turn right on McCaul Street where the spider-like legs supporting the Sharp Centre for Design elicit a double take. To the west is Grange Park, where the Grange – one of Toronto's oldest buildings – sits in the shadow of the Frank Gehry-designed Art Gallery of Ontario at 317 Dundas Street West (ago.ne; 10.30am-5pm Tuesday to Sunday, to 8.30pm on Wednesdays when it's also free from 6pm; admission C$19.50/£11 at other times).
Keep going north, but turn west along Baldwin Street, which has some of the most gorgeous Victorian homes in the city. It'll bring you to Kensington Market, the best snapshot of Toronto's character-defining diversity.
Lunch on the run
The cafés and restaurants of Kensington Market cover most cuisines, but the Italian-Jamaican combo from Rasta Pasta at 61 Kensington Avenue (open 11am-7pm) is most fun. Try jerk panino, with the chicken cooked in barbecue barrels outside, for C$7 (£4).
Kensington Avenue's brightly painted houses have been taken over by shops with Tibetan/Nepalese hippy jumble leanings. Serious shoppers, however, can stroll along Queen Street West from Bathurst to Dufferin Streets. Variety is the strength: art galleries rub shoulders with indie fashion outlets and specialist stores. Floorplay at 762 (floorplaysocks.com) is crammed with thousands of novelty socks. Meanwhile, Fashion Crimes at 706 (fashioncrimes.ca) sells bold, look-at-me dresses among tongue-in-cheek window displays of mannequins playing perfect, Stepford-esque housewives.
Dining with the locals
If making a night of it in the area, Porzia at 1314 Queen Street West (porzia.ca; closed Tuesday nights) is a neighbourhood joint offering flavoursome twists on Italian classics. The $16 (£9) spaghetti with duck ragu is particularly memorable. Many of Toronto's restaurants have an Iberian influence. The bodega vibe of Bar Isabel on 797 College Street (barisabel.com) is backed by Spanish-style dishes, such as whole sea bream ceviche for $26 (£15).
Go to church
The St James Anglican Cathedral Church at 65 Church Street (stjamescathedral.on.ca; 7.30am-5pm daily, except Saturday 9am-5pm; Sunday services at 8am, 9am and 11am) offers handsome Neo-Gothic stonework outside and stained-glass windows within.
Out to brunch
Le Papillon at 69 Front Street East (papillononfront) specialises in crêpes. The $15 (£8) St Laurent comes with meat, apples and cheddar.
Take a ride
Union Station is a 10-minute walk away. From here, take the subway four stations north to Queen's Park Station. Single fares cost C$3 (£1.70), but remember to get a free printed transfer pass for journeys of more than one leg. Day passes for the transport network cost C$11 (£6).
A walk in the park
Queen's Park is hardly an oasis of calm but there's plenty to look at, including some handsome University of Toronto buildings and the Orlando Legislative Assembly.
North of the park is Yorkville and its designer stores on Bloor Street West alongside the Royal Ontario Museum (rom.on.ca; 10am-5.30pm daily, Fridays until 6.30pm). Make a beeline for the gallery focusing on Canada's indigenous people on Level 1. Entry costs C$16 (£9), or C$10 (£6) on Friday after 4.30pm.
Icing on the cake
The CN Tower at 301 Front Street (cntower.ca; 9am-10.30pm) was surpassed as the world's tallest building by Dubai's Burj Khalifa. Entry, including a visit to the 447m-high Skypod, costs C$47 (£27) if booked online in advance. For an A-grade thrill, harness up for a walk on top of the restaurant roof. The Edgewalk (edgewalkcntower.ca; 8am-sunset daily) costs C$198 (£112). Advance booking is essential.