Local museums can be the best part of a trip abroad: an afternoon of culture you can’t find anywhere else. Fun, affordable, and frequently family-friendly, they’re a great way to find the more laid-back and local side of a city.
If you’re an art-lover, history buff, doing it for the ‘Gram, or just like getting a little culture while you get your steps in, here are some of Toronto’s best lesser-known museums.
It’s not everywhere that a city’s first mayor was also its most famous—and failed—revolutionary. Tucked between hospitals, hotels, and high-rises, Mackenzie House—William Lyon Mackenzie’s original 1858 townhouse—is a downtown shrine to Victorian Toronto.
Come for practical tips on daily 1800s life, stay for the political scandals and century-old spicy opinions. Features: a working 180-year-old printing press you can try yourself. 82 Bond Street.
Market Gallery at St. Lawrence Market
St. Lawrence Market is one of Toronto’s most famous foodie attractions. But it’s also home to a lesser-known local history museum and gallery on the second floor—a space that held Toronto’s first City Hall and was lost behind boarded-up doors until the 1970s. (Yes, you can lose an entire City Hall.)
The Market Gallery hosts rotating exhibits from the City’s fine art collection and notes on the historic architecture. Start with a little culture, end it with a sandwich. 2nd Floor, St. Lawrence Market, 95 Front Street East.
The Myseum of Toronto
One of the quirkiest museums Toronto’s got, Myseum is a year-round, city-wide project produced and hosted all around the city. The result? Something that’s part art collective, part distributed historical museum, made of crowdsourced collections and digital walking tours.
While most of their past exhibits are available online, new ones are mounted annually in locations around the city–usually starting in April.
The closest thing to Toronto’s version of Downton Abbey! Spadina House shows off early 1900s Toronto in a sprawling, elegant hilltop mansion—complete with servants’ quarters and evolving architectural décor.
The five-acre grounds, though, are a feature all by themselves, including gardens and a heritage apple orchard that hosts everything from events to autumn cider festivals. Features: Close enough to Casa Loma to make a day of it. 285 Spadina Road.
The Textile Museum of Canada
A favourite of costumers and fashionistas alike, The Textile Museum takes a subject that feels niche—the art and history of fabric—and makes it fascinating. Behind an anonymous side-street door lurks five floors of textile history, modern art, event space, and programs—complete with a gift shop.
With collections that start local and stretch to Peru, China, and Serbia, there’s something for everyone, even if they’re not an enthusiastic crafter. 55 Centre Avenue.
The Toronto Railway Museum
Model railroad fans unite! And—regular railroad fans too. The Toronto Railway Museum packs historical trains, a train-driving simulator, and lots of information into an indoor-outdoor exhibit space. There’s a steady collection of artifacts inside: maps, tools, dishes, and uniforms used by conductors past.
While small, it’s conveniently tucked away right beside the CN Tower, Rogers Centre, and Ripley’s Aquarium on the waterfront—so there are lots of options for a full day out. Features: A mini-train ride. Because nobody says no to tiny train rides. 255 Bremner Boulevard.
The Bata Shoe Museum
While this attraction has a little more profile than the rest, it’s not every day that a city devotes a whole museum to—shoes. Open since 1995, The Bata Shoe Museum grew from the private collection of shoe company executive Sonja Bata: a trove of rare and traditional footwear from around the world.
The result? A fascinating mix of modern couture, ancient Egyptian, Chinese, and Italian artifacts, history, and celebrity kicks. And a sometimes surprising social insight into how they’re all connected. Features: Enough glitter for your fashionista friends, and enough depth for an anthropologist. 327 Bloor Street West.
Sometimes you just need to have a cow. Or some goats, sheep, pigs, chickens, and horses.
Riverdale Farm is the destination for downtowners who really just need something fluffy to pet. Part working farm, part historic Victorian site for learning about rural life, the farm dates back to 1849. Features: tobogganing hills, hiking trails, a wading pool, picnic areas, and year-round crafts. And the best part for families: admission is always free. 201 Winchester Street.
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