Top 8 Concert Venues in Toronto

Photo: Smart Canucks

Roy Thomson Hall – 60 Simcoe Street

Photo: Luminato Festival


Roy Thomson Hall is the only option on this list known predominantly for classical music, but how can you not include the most aesthetically pleasing concert venue in the city? The hall is home to the Toronto Symphony Orchestra and Toronto Mendelssohn Choir, and is also used as for other special events, including TIFF gala presentations.

Past performers: Leonard Bernstein and the Vienna Philharmonic, Isaac Stern, Yo-Yo Ma, the Oscar Peterson Quartet, Sir Paul McCartney

The Horseshoe Tavern – 370 Queen Street West

Photo: Alexandre Lung

As the Canadian music scene evolves, the Horseshoe remains a constant. After being opened as a strictly country and rockabilly concert venue in the 1940s, the cramped vintage tavern has helped foster the emergence of folk, punk, ska, new wave, and indie rock in both the city and continent. The venue continues to stage both emerging and established bands, usually either for free or a minimal entry fee.

Past performers: Willie Nelson, The Rolling Stones, the Police, The Band, Stompin’ Tom Connors, the Talking Heads, The Strokes, The Shins, Arcade Fire, The Constantines, Death Cab for Cutie, The National

Lee’s Palace – 529 Bloor Street West

Photo: Thrillist

The infamous Lee’s Palace has the most recognizable facade on Bloor Street, and predominantly hosts alternative rock acts. It might be the grungiest venue of its size in the city (it fits about 600 people), and that’s how the regulars like it. Things get pretty messy in the Dance Cave, the venue’s upper-level dance party, where a crowd composed mainly of drunk college kids dances to 90s rock, Britpop, and indie music. It isn’t always a raucous party, though, as the cramped stage has seen plenty of folk, bluegrass, and acoustic acts.

Past performers: Nirvana, the Verve, Oasis, Red Hot Chili Peppers, the Smashing Pumpkins, Blur, Our Lady Peace, Mumford & Sons

Massey Hall – 178 Victoria Street

Photo: Wikimedia

Like the Horseshoe, Massey Hall is a staple of Canadian music history, but its atmosphere is much different. The 2,700-seat neoclassical building, opened in 1984, is a musical oasis in the downtown core. Massey’s renowned acoustics are best experienced from the seats in the middle of the first balcony, but pretty much every seat in the house offers good sound and a good view (with the exception of the handful of seats obstructed by massive supporting columns). A few notable artists have recorded live albums at the venue, including Neil Young, Rush, and Matthew Good. Another famous recording was that of jazz legends Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Bud Powell, Charles Mingus, and Max Roach, who played together for the first time at Massey in 1953.

Past performers: Bob Dylan, Gordon Lightfoot, The Band, Luciano Pavarotti, Morrissey, George Gershwin, Sufjan Stevens, the National, the Kinks, Bon Iver, Feist, Sting

The Great Hall – 1087 Queen Street West

Photo: Lost Toronto

The Great Hall’s music cred is dwarfed by the other venues on this list, but what it lacks in history it makes up for in experimentation. The concert hall and event space is a West Queen West hub for Toronto music, art, and culture, and features both mainstream and under-the-radar artists. Black Box Theatre, the Great Hall’s basement venue, has quickly become known as a hotspot for contemporary electronic music.

Past performers: Sonic Youth, Metric, Henry Rollins, Grimes, Best Coast, PS I Love You, Fucked Up, Sloan, Saul Williams, Austra, Aesop Rock, Jamie XX, London Grammar

Bovine Sex Club – 542 Queen Street West

Photo: Wikimedia

Most longtime Toronto residents know not to look for a sign. The front of Bovine Sex Club is adorned with rusty bikes and machinery parts that hang off the building, with no pattern or intention of making sense. The long and narrow inside is equally eclectic, with Christmas lights and other garage sale miscellanea hanging off the ceiling and stuck to the walls. But despite the eye-catching decor, the Bovine is unmistakably about the music. The venue has shows almost every night, and past audience members include the Guns n’ Roses, Metallica, Rage Against the Machine, the Foo Fighters, U2, and The strokes.

Past performers: Anti-Flag

The Rex Hotel Jazz & Blues Bar – 194 Queen Street West

Photo: Doug Burrell

The Rex is the undisputed top recommendation for jazz and blues music in Toronto. For just a few bucks (typically), patrons can see hours of local and international acts play from evening until night, and the intimate, casual atmosphere makes it easy to settle in with some food and a drink. The venue has been a Jazz and blues staple in Toronto since eighties, and features a small hotel in the upper levels where a lot of the out-of-town artists stay.

Past performers: Kurt Elling, Randy Brecker, Wynton Marsalis and the Lincoln Center Orchestra, Chris Potter, Roy Hargrove’s RH Factor, Joshua Redman, Russel Malone, Harry Connick Jr., George Garzone, Frank Tiberi, Maceo Parker, Tim LeFebvre

The Dakota Tavern – 249 Ossington Avenue

Photo: Arts Mania


The Dakota Tavern is an intimate, subterranean saloon that remains a favourite for indie rock, country, and bluegrass fans. The decor and wall ornaments (guns, mounted horns) are straight out of an old western movie, and the music they tend to feature blends in with that ambience (lots of denim, cowboy boots and big belt buckles). It’s the perfect place to drink a glass of whiskey and let the music transport you.

Past performers: Elliott Brood, Jason Collett, The Shovels, Kathleen Edwards, Broken Social Scene, Blue Rodeo , Lady Antebellum, Deric Ruttan, the Cowboy Junkies, Luke Doucet, Shuyler Jansen, The Sadies