Image credits: Canadian Tourism Commission
Spend a couple of days in Canada’s biggest city, with guidance from Nikki Bayley
Take a ride in one of the curvaceous retro red and white streetcars to get a sense of the dizzying variety Toronto has to offer.
Count the different countries represented by restaurants as you zoom along: Mexican taco joints next to Trinidadian jerk chicken shacks, alongside southern Indian dosa restaurants and tiny hole-in-the-wall Korean bibimbap shops.
Toronto is a megacity – the world’s most ethnically diverse – with some 2.6 million people living in its 240 different neighbourhoods. Its proud claim is that it’s a ‘mosaic, not a melting pot’ meaning that yes, each group has kept its own culture and traditions and (thank goodness!) cuisine, but it blurs a little at the edges to create a whole that’s greater than its separate parts.
Arrive feeling hopefully less jet-lagged thanks to British Airways’ new Dreamliner fleet – lower cabin pressure and higher humidity on board is said to make you feel less tired – which began flying from London Heathrow to Toronto on September 1. Scots can pick up Air Canada Rouge’s Edinburgh-to-Toronto service and fly direct.
09.30: A day of culture and shopping begins at Royal Ontario Museum – aka Rom – Canada’s largest museum of world culture and natural history. There are plenty of fun hands-on exhibits including an eerily well-imagined representation of what it’s like to be in a Jamaican bat cave once the bats fly out – thanks to a sound system, gusts of air and strobing lights – and there is also a genuine dodo skeleton. For something more local, Canada’s aboriginal First Nations art and history are well represented here.
12.30: Grab lunch at MoRoCo Chocolat. It’s about five minutes’ walk from Rom and has delicious savoury crepes – and lots of tempting chocolatey treats too.
13.30: After lunch it’s time to discover why Canada’s fashion industry flocks to Toronto and explore the designer delights of the Bloor-Yorkville neighbourhood. With its international designers and home-grown Canadian retail icons Holt Renfrew and Harry Rosen, it’s pegged as Canada’s equivalent to Fifth Avenue or Rodeo Drive. But don’t shop till you drop – you’ve plenty more to explore!
15.30: If you’re looking for something a little more unique (and a little less pricey) Toronto can also claim to be one of North America’s best places for vintage fashion – it’s plentiful and reasonably priced. Take the 510 Spadina streetcar down to Kensington Market.
Don’t worry, if clothes aren’t your thing, you can spend time here happily browsing everything from comic books to vintage vinyl and other collectibles. Refuel with coffee at the quirky Casa Acoreana Cafe and grab a Nanaimo Bar from the Kensington Bakery; it’s Canada’s most delicious snack.
17.30: On the way back to your hotel take a stroll along Spadina and Dundas where you’ll find one of North America’s biggest Chinatowns.
You can pick up crazy-flavoured Japanese sweets, cute kimonos and endless Hello Kitty knick-knacks here. If you’re in the mood for Chinese food, the barbecue pork at King Noodle is probably the best you’ll ever taste.
19.30: Snap up tickets for hot straight-from-Broadway shows such as Les Miserables or Anything Goes in the glitzy downtown Entertainment District, or watch some of the city’s sports stars go through their paces. Try hockey with the Maple Leafs (it’s always just hockey not ice hockey in Canada) or baseball with the Blue Jays.
23.00: If you’re in the mood for a nightcap head to one of North America’s hottest bars to sample the molecular gastronomy-inspired cocktail creations of Frankie Solarik at BarChef.
His deconstructed drinks come in the shape of caviar-like pearls that pop pleasurably in your mouth, and foams or jellies, which melt on your tongue as you inhale a scented air or steam. They are pricey but absolutely worth it.
09.30: If you have a slightly fuzzy post-BarChef head, then there is no better place to clear it than 356 metres above the city on Toronto’s most adrenaline-packed attraction.
Situated on the roof of one of the world’s highest restaurants at the CN Tower is the Edge Walk. You’re safely tethered at all times, but this certainly gets the blood pumping. There are a few restrictions in place, so check before going.
If taking a stroll on the world’s fifth-tallest building doesn’t appeal there are plenty of other attractions in the tower, from the glass floor 1,122ft above the earth to 3D movies and eco-attractions and, of course, the view.
12.00: Undoubtedly you’ve got an appetite after your daredevil morning. Take the 504 King Street streetcar to the St Lawrence market and head straight for the Carousel Bakery to have one of their rightly-famous thick-cut peameal bacon rolls.
Appetite sated, you can now explore the market. Stock up on jars of all-Canadian Kozlik Amazing Maple mustard and other maple syrup treats. If you’re still peckish, head downstairs for cheap ethnic treats such as Thai banana pancakes or steaming bowls of fragrant Vietnamese pho.
13.30: Unashamedly touristy, the Distillery District makes for a fun few hours. Walk around 15 minutes east along Front Street then turn right on to Trinity Street.
Transformed around a decade ago from an unloved ex-industrial area to a pedestrian centre for arts, crafts, dining and shopping, you can soak up the history of this national monument site on a walking or Segway tour. Stop by at locally-made bean-to-bar chocolate producers Soma.
15.30: Enjoy a walk along Queens Quay to take the short ferry journey to explore the Toronto Islands, a pretty chain of islands in Lake Ontario.
If you’re feeling enthusiastic you can hire a bike as it’s a very easy cycle and you’ll certainly cover more ground, plus you can build up an appetite for dinner later. Watch out for the nudist beach at Hanlan’s Point.
20.00: Toronto has a dining scene to suit every taste and budget from global superstar chefs like David Chang at Momofuku Noodle Bar and Daniel Boulud at Cafe Boulud to more unusual offerings.
Try something unique at Keriwa Cafe, where you’ll find Blackfoot First Nations-inspired dishes that use traditional Ontario ingredients like sea buckthorn berries.
Eat like a local at Enoteca Sociale, a Dundas neighbourhood eatery with an extensive list of wines from the local Niagara Peninsula and some of the best rustic Italian cooking outside Italy.
If you’re in town over the weekend, then brunch at the Saint Tavern is a must; they do something spectacular with bacon, bourbon and maple syrup that you absolutely have to try.
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