Literary Toronto: Guide for Book Lovers

Find Hotels

Whether you’re an aspiring novelist or in town for one of the largest literary festivals in the world, here’s a list of spots to woo the lit-lovers among us.

Toronto is a literary landscape for word nerds. Beyond the local public library, there are themed bars, specialized libraries, parks, and one-of-a-kind cafes to read and write.

  1. Channel your inner Hemingway at Famous Last Words. There’s a lot to love about this book-ish bar in the Junction neighbourhood. Sip cocktails named after literary classics, mix and mingle with the bartender at the scrabble-tiled counter, or participate in their monthly book club. Silent Reading Parties enable you to read alone amongst other book lovers, literary libation in hand.
  2. Get lost in the stacks at the Toronto Reference Library. The Toronto Public Library (TPL) is the busiest urban public library system in the world and at its centre –figuratively and literally near the intersection of Yonge and Bloor–is the Toronto Reference Library. Built in 1977 and initially inspired by the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, this architectural marvel has been revitalized for the modern reading public and includes digital innovation hubs, learning centres, and a salon for author talks. Amongst your exploration, browse the Arthur Conan Doyle collection on the 5th floor. The room is a replica of Sherlock Holmes’s study at 221B Baker Street. In the library’s basement, try your hand at a microfiche and go back in time to look at archived newspapers from across Canada.
  3. Relax with a bestseller and a latte at Rooster Coffeehouse. This cafe’s cozy atmosphere is the perfect spot to tuck in with a book, popular with local writers and creatives. At its Broadview location, snag one of the four worn-in leather chairs or outside bench. Or, take your coffee across the street to Riverdale Park, complete with a skyline view and a perch for hours of reading. Rooster’s third location at Jarvis and Charles Streets even has a quaint little reading nook, the ideal spot for solitude.
  4. Find your next book from Flying Books. Discover your next book recommendation from a meticulously curated selection by book editor, Martha Sharpe. The rotation of discerning titles at shops and cafes ranging from fiction, non-fiction, poetry, and short stories–are accompanied by thoughtful handwritten notes of why you should read them. You can find Flying Books at one of four locations: The Weekend Variety (1080 Queen Street West), The Good Neighbour Espresso Bar (678 Bloor Street West), Northwood General Store (800 Bloor Street West), and The Gladstone Hotel (1214 Queen Street West).
  5. Work on your book challenge in the Lobby Lounge at the Shangri-La Hotel. Shangri-La’s lobby offers respite from the bustle of the intersection at University and Queen and it’s the perfect way to catch up on your latest read. Cozy up in front of one of the many toasty fireplaces and choose from their extensive tea library (there are 65 teas!). Or, dive into their encyclopedia of a drink menu, a five-volume tome of wines, cocktails, and spirits. The piano music in the background makes for an enjoyable accompaniment to reading.
  6. Bookstore hop across Toronto. Explore the city through its thriving independent bookstores that are as known for their spaces as they are for their good taste in books and gifts. Type Books, co-owned by a former literature professor, is best for general interest and gifts across from Trinity Bellwoods Park. Queen Books is the newest bookstore on the Leslieville block and has an excellent kids section in its back area. Ben McNally Books is a bibliophile’s oasis in the midst of the Financial District where the owner is regularly on site to assist you with customized recommendations. At Bloor and Lansdowne, quirky types will love Monkey’s Paw, which carries one of the most unusual selections of books in Toronto: drop a toonie into their Biblio-Mat book dispenser to receive a fun book-themed surprise.
  7. Peek into one of Toronto’s best hidden libraries at Osgoode Hall. The ornate Corinthian arches amongst the 120,000 legal volumes housed by the Law Society of Upper Canada at its Great Library is the ideal place to focus. It is cited as one of the most beautiful sanctuaries in Toronto and even locals may not know it’s open to the public (note: do check their rules, including no photos).
  8. Read in the Library Bar at Fairmont Royal York Hotel. One of Canada’s most iconic hotels, The Royal York, was recently shown in The Handmaid’s Tale T.V. series based on Margaret Atwood’s re-emerging dystopian bestseller. Tucked into the corner of the hotel on the main floor, the hotel’s library bar is a welcome alternative from your local library. Dim-lit and adorned with large chairs, host your book club meeting here or go solo and finish your page-turner at the bar with their bar mix (nuts, pretzels, wasabi peas) and a classic martini. Staying a while? There is a full dinner menu and afternoon tea program available here.
  9. Buy a used book along with your coffee at Circus Coffee House. Tucked away around the corner from Woodbine and Danforth, this lilliputian cafe is much more than a coffeehouse. In addition to its smoothies and rice bowls, there are a few shelves filled with used books from its sibling shop, Circus Books & Music. Look out for the great selection of cookbooks and many titles you won’t find at the bookstore.
  10. Look for the literary hotspots around the University of Toronto. UofT is the ideal collegiate setting for the wordsmith and alma mater to some of Canada’s most celebrated literary figures including Margaret Atwood, Rohinton Mistry, and Michael Ondaatje. Trinity College’s clandestine courtyard and the adjacent Philosopher’s Walk (behind the ROM) are idyllic settings to read in the summer or warmer fall months. Many of the colleges have book sales in September and October, featuring many hard-to-find and out of print titles. The university’s libraries are also open to the public with the exception of the Robarts Library stacks. Step back in time at the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library, cited as the largest repository of publicly accessible rare books and manuscripts in Canada.

About the Author

Natalie Taylor is a freelance writer based in Toronto who has contributed to publications such as National Geographic, CN Traveler and Travel + Leisure.