A Taste of Toronto
Yes, Ottawa is pretty and definitely worth a visit with all the summer festivals, the parliament buildings and mixture of city and nature. But sometimes one might long for something bigger, more exciting and vibrant. Having the fourth-largest city in North America and the largest city in Canada just around the corner, one doesn’t have to take a plane to go to places far away.
The big city vibe you’re craving for starts kicking in as soon as the skyscrapers of Toronto’s skyline show up.
Toronto has a lot to brag about: it’s voted the 4th most livable city in the world, has the largest gay community in Canada and is the most global city, with 50 per cent of the population born outside of Canada.
On my trip to Toronto I checked in at the Chelsea Hotel downtown, the largest hotel in Canada, right in Toronto’s vibrant heart. Getting a comforting, clean and light-flooded room all the way up in the hotel towers, I got to enjoy a perfect view of the city’s skyline and the CN Tower of course. Apart from the great and friendly service, guests get to enjoy a sundeck, pools and an indoor gym, get to grab free popcorn and lemonade in the lobby or go for a fun ride in Toronto’s one and only indoor waterslide. Since the hotel is family orientated there is a check-in for kids only and a big family fun zone on the 2nd floor. Both the breakfast buffet on the patio of the market garden café and the breakfast a la carte in the cozy T-Bar have been delicious.
Our host Tourism Toronto followed the maxim “best things first”. We went to have dinner on Toronto’s best known (and tallest) attraction: the CN Tower. With the observation deck at 447 metres, a breathtaking view over the city and Lake Ontario is certain. Adrenaline junkies can go for an EdgeWalk and face the height from outside the building. We preferred getting seated in the 360 Restaurant and enjoy the 360° view while tasting delicious dishes and some local wines.
Hockey remains a game totally associated with Canada and the next morning we went to absorb its history and touch the actual Stanly Cup at the world’s one and only Hockey Hall of Fame. Being the perfect place for Hockey fans, the interactive games in the games area let you be a player or sports reporter for a change.
Having lunch at the Canoe Restaurant we got to overlook Toronto once again. Fresh ingredients, mouthwatering dishes and amazing service topped the visit off. No one was able to resist taking pictures- of the skyline- and the picture-perfect food. Tip: the milk chocolate and kernel peanut dessert is to die for!
Of course you don’t want to miss any of the main attractions! Joining a guided tour is the best way to avoid getting lost wandering around in a huge city. Our tour guide Bruce Bell was both informing and entertaining and took us to all the neighborhoods, including the eclectic and bohemian Kensington Market, Red Canoe Park, the totem in little Norway Park, Cabbagetown and Canada’s Walk of Fame, something many Canadians don’t know about.
Toronto might just be the city for huge sports fans. It has the Toronto Blue Jays, Maple Leafs, Raptors, Argonauts and the Toronto FC playing for the city so you’ll definitely find a team to cheer for. We went to see a baseball match between the Blue Jays and Los Angeles Angels at the Rogers Centre and enjoyed the classic sports food of hot dogs and beer. It might not have been as classy and haute-cuisine as the meals we got to enjoy earlier but definitely helped us soak up the atmosphere in the packed stadium. Having guests from all over the world in our group, we kept the baseball rules simple: cheer, when everyone else is cheering! Since it was the first time most of us ever watched a baseball match, we had lots and lots of fun discussing the rules just to figure out we’d been getting them wrong again and again.
First item on our agenda for the next day was the St. Lawrence Market. Rated as the best food market in the world by National Geographic in 2012, it’s the perfect spot to shop for seasonal goods and some of the finest cheese, meat, seafood, fruit, antiques and artisanal crafts. Being more than 200 years old, there is also rich history to learn about the market. Must tries are the peameal bacon sandwich with honey mustard and the famous Toronto butter tarts. They’re delicious, addictive, and locally produced.
Even though it was a bit early for a whisky tasting, the Old Town Toronto History of Everything Tour took us to the Distillery Historic District. The industrial, red brick building complex was once the largest whisky producer in the world. Carefully refurbished, it is now home to a charming combination of art galleries, shops, restaurants and performance venues. Determining that it definitely is early enough for a beer tasting though, we enjoyed some delicious beer at the Mill Street Brew Pub located in the heart of the district.
In case you want to escape the hustle and bustle of the city already, take the ferry to Centre Island to explore it and the other surrounding islands. The small residential community of Wards Island is the largest urban car-free community in North America. Visiting the island in the summer and seeing all these pretty little houses, you might wish to move there immediately. Residents of the community instead warned everyone who was getting too excited with talking about the long waiting list, the cold winters and the chance of being cut off from the mainland not to mention grocery shops, doctors and work.
Getting to see everything on the island walking-wise can take a lot of time you sure don’t want to waste on a short visit to Toronto. We went around the islands with the Island Tram Tour which doesn’t only allow you to see everything but also teaches you interesting facts about the island’s history.
Even though there aren’t any grocery shops on the island, you can refill your energy at several restaurants and cafés all in a beautiful setting and surrounded by nature. We went to Rectory Café and can highly recommend the peanut butter chocolate cake (and a workout afterwards)!
Perfect for relaxing after a long day and to make you forget you’re close to the city: Take a walk along the beaches of Centre Island and dip your feet into the refreshing water of Lake Ontario. For those who love their freedom and dislike tan lines there is one clothing optional beach on the island as well.
We had dinner at the Antler Kitchen Bar – a dream come true for all meat lovers. Nominated for “Canada’s best new restaurants”, Antler’s aim is to define Canadian cuisine, highlighting local seasonal and wild foods. The meat was delicate—the dish I enjoyed most was vegetarian though. The Wild Mushroom Tarte Tatin was d-e-l-i-c-i-o-u-s!
Since Toronto is the biggest shopping metropolis in the country, you can shop ‘til you drop at the Eaton Centre, and many other places for well-known designer clothes and brands. Or you can try something different and go on a shopping tour with Made in Canada Shopping Tours. No matter if you are looking for clothes, accessories or home furnishing, whether you’re coming with a big or small budget, the tour team knows Toronto and will take you to all the hidden spots. It is Toronto’s first shopping tour for locally made and designed goodness. You’ll even get to visit the “second Coolest Neighbourhood in the World”named by Vogue.
My favorite discovery on the shopping trip: shoes with replaceable heels in all heights and colors. I mean, how cool is that?
Shopping Tours tend to make one hungry, so we went for lunch at Bannock, a restaurant that focuses on Canadian comfort food delivered in an innovative and playful way. We tried one of their most famous dishes: the roast duck poutine pizza. Yes, it is just as good as you imagine.
If not for the paintings, the Art Gallery of Ontario is already worth a visit for its architecture design.
The design by Frank Gehry includes a billowing façade of glass and wood, as well as a dramatic sculptural staircase and the 40-foot glass ceilings of historic Walker Court.
For our last dinner we went to Hopgood’s Foodliner, a maritime inspired restaurant. Again, we didn’t get disappointed by Toronto’s cuisine and with a lot to try from our sharing platters, we surprised our taste buds with exciting, new and delicious tastes.
The best way to end your stay in Toronto? Go for drinks at Yonge-Dundas Square where the billboards and neon lights surround the swarms of people in Toronto’s most famous intersection. The square is always busy and you will have a guaranteed fun night.
There is a lot more to do, see and eat in Toronto, way more than one can manage to see in a few days. You’d better start exploring it soon!