Want a break from the Big Apple? Try Toronto. Canada’s largest and most cosmopolitan city packs quite the punch owing to its beautiful waterfront and mix of cultures, concert halls, and clubs. Kaye Holland shows you the way to go
Whether you’re a fashionista or a foodie, Toronto is sure to have something to tempt you. Spend even the smallest amount of time in Toronto and you’ll quickly discover the delights of this tolerant town – a city worth stopping in, rather than just rushing through.
Must see and do
Toronto has a deep bag of attractions to entice tourists but ascending the 553m CN Tower, while expensive (expect to pay around $23 for an adult ticket), is the one thing you just have to do while in town. On a clear day, you’re guaranteed astounding views from the Observatory Deck of the city. Cashed up? Splurge on lunch or dinner in the award-winning revolving restaurant, 360.
The Royal Ontario Museum also comes highly recommended. ROM’s collections take in natural science, art exhibits, and ancient civilization. Volunteers from the Royal Ontario Museum offer one to two hour historical and architectural walking tours on Wednesday and Sunday evenings between May and September.
However Toronto’s true charms, those that get under your skin – its tolerance and the characters you meet daily – are subtler and best experienced in its street life.
Eating out in Toronto is a delight. Every year, 55,000 people leave their native lands to make Toronto home and that steady stream of fresh, new faces means you can chow down on everything from Thai to Chinese, Korean and good old Canadian comfort food: think pancakes swimming in maple syrup. Half the fun is taking a chance on any place you like the look of but I love St Lawrence Market. You don’t have to spend a lot to eat well here: there are more than 50 specialty food stalls selling Montreal style burgers and peameal bacon sandwiches for a snip.
Chances are your food orgy will be tempered by another vice: shopping at Kensington Market, aka Toronto at its most multicultural. Shopping here is a blast thanks to the area’s kitsch boutiques, staffed by uber cool young bohemians. For music and vintage shops, seek out Queen West and West Queen West and to see how the other half shop, check out chichi Bloor-Yorkville. For big-name chains (Gap, Guess and the like), make for the modern shopping mall that is the Eaton Centre.
See the 13 time Stanley Cup winning Toronto Maple Leafs play over at the Air Canada Centre in the National Hockey League. Fans of the super fast sport can enjoy more hockey nostalgia at the Hockey Hall of Fame.
However Torontonians are sport obsessed so, if hockey isn’t your thing, try for tickets to watch the Toronto Blue Jays play baseball or the Toronto Argonauts in the Canadian Football League – both at the Rogers Centre.
Best kept secret
Toronto’s jewel-like islands – nearly two dozen islands covering 240 hectares – is where locals head for some ‘P and Q’ in summer. The islands are only a short 15-minute ferry ride away from downtown Toronto, but gorgeous islands like Algonquin Island and Ward’s Island feel like another world and are the perfect place for those who want to hike, cycle or simply enjoy the quiet of elevated territory.
Elsewhere Lake Ontario often gets overlooked by Torontonians which is a shame, because the lake is surprisingly beautiful – its name deriving from Skanadario, an Iroquois word meaning ‘sparkling water.’ If you’re a fan of stats, you might like to know that Lake Ontario is the 14th largest lake in the world.
If you choose just one adventure, make it Niagara Falls – you really can’t venture to Ontario without admiring the power and grace of the mighty Falls. True there are tonnes of taller waterfalls in the world (Niagara ranks pretty far down the list at 50th) but nonetheless, the volume of the Falls never fails to awe first time and veteran visitors alike. Don’t be surprised if you hear Niagara Falls referred to as Viagra Falls: love it or loathe it, the Falls has developed into a honeymoon destination so expect motels, sex shops, fast food joints, and casinos aplenty. Several companies run tours from Toronto to Niagara Falls – most include a Maid of the Mist boat ride and a stop at Niagara on the Lake for around $50-$60.
Toronto has a handful of historic hotels such as the Fairmont Royal York, which has hosted the likes of Tina Turner and Henry Kissinger, and boutique bolt-holes but they can be pricey. If you don’t want to spend big, try the award-winning Hostelling International Toronto which offers affordable private accommodation, character, and charm rather than inflated prices.
If you’re there in summer or winter, keep cool/warm respectively by ducking into Toronto’s underground PATH system – 28km of subterranean corridors connecting downtown sights, skyscrapers, subway stations, and shops. It is however confusing to navigate, so don’t skimp on time.