Toronto, Canada’s biggest city, is an easy place to visit. This list only scratches the surface of the smorgasbord of things to do in this lively and multicultural place, home to a couple of million friendly people on the northern side of Lake Ontario. Although my visit was during summer, winter would be equally as fun and rewarding. The only dilemma is what to do first!
1. The Fairmont Royal York Hotel
A stay at this landmark hotel can be half the fun of a visit to Toronto. It’s located downtown (as the Canadians say), opposite Union Station and within walking distance of the business, theatre, shopping and dining districts. It’s a grand hotel, with an elegant, nostalgic interior and fantastic service. Take time out for afternoon tea, served on weekends in the Library Bar since 1929. Or tour the hotel roof and learn about the garden and the six-hive apiary that produces honey five months of the year. Chefs use produce from this garden, including lettuce and herbs, in the kitchens, and there is a mint bed just for mojitos. Not only is the tour interesting, it offers a wonderful view of the city and Lake Ontario. fairmont.com
Wacky Facts about The Fairmont Royal York Hotel
|•||It can accommodate 10,000 people at one sitting using all private and public dining rooms|
|•||Two famous ghost stories involve sightings of a past guest wandering the corridors in his red satin smoking jacket, and an old steward in uniform who appears from time to time in the silver room in the hotel basement|
|•||With 110 chefs, it boasts the largest hotel kitchen in Canada|
|•||It was the largest and tallest building in the British Empire when it opened in 1929|
|•||It has 72 kilometres of carpeting|
2. St Lawrence Market
If it’s spring or summer, don’t miss the raspberries, blueberries and strawberries at this 200-year-old food market, a Toronto institution. Come here to put together a picnic of wine, olives, bread, cheese and fresh fruit – you could even buy the basket (and some cool moose cookie-cutters too). Also stock up on souvenirs – maple syrup lollipops, beanies, tea towels and kitsch memorabilia (stlawrencemarket.com). For an interesting photo opportunity, stand in front of the market and look towards the skyscrapers. In the foreground you’ll see a triangular building; it’s the photogenic Gooderham Flatiron Building, which houses a pub.
3. Art Gallery of Ontario
Whether or not there’s a major exhibition in town, it’s worth seeing this collection of Canadian and European art and photography; plus there’s a great gift shop, café and restaurant. The blockbuster Pablo Picasso exhibition held last summer attracted over 300,000 visitors (ago.net).Worth a visit too is the Royal Ontario Museum’s history, art, archaeology and culture exhibits.
4. The Distillery District
The gorgeous Victorian-era industrial buildings of The Distillery District have been given a new lease of life after 153 years of continuous whisky production. Instead, they now house an eclectic mix of galleries, theatres, shops and restaurants. If it’s a chilly day, take a break in Soma Chocolate to savour a spicy Mayan hot chocolate, an intoxicating blend of Peruvian chocolate, chilli, ginger, orange peel and spice. It’s sure to warm you up (32 Tank House Lane, somachocolate.com). thedistillerydistrict.com
5. Sports Mad
The Blue Jays, Canada’s only major league baseball team, play regular games against American rivals at the massive Rogers Centre. Its claim to fame? It has the world’s first fully retractable roof, one that can be opened or closed in just 20 minutes. Ticket prices start from C$15 (bluejays.com). Or if basketball is your thing, cheer on the Toronto Raptors at the Air Canada Centre, where the NBA action is fast and furious. In winter it’s all about ice hockey, which runs from October to April. See the Toronto Maple Leafs in action, also at the Air Canada Centre. theaircanadacentre.com
6. CN Tower
Almost every major city has an iconically tall structure: think Paris’s Eiffel Tower and KL’s Petronas Towers. In Toronto it’s the CN Tower, with 360º views. Adrenalin junkies can take it further on the EdgeWalk – a hands-free walk around the perimeter of the main pod, 116 storey above the city (about 447 metres). If that thought makes you squeamish, how about peering down to the ground through the six-centimetre-thick glass floor, or feeling the breeze on the outdoor terrace instead? cntower.ca
7. Steam Whistle Brewery
Toronto has a growing number of pint-size microbreweries. Arguably the most well-located is the Steam Whistle, in a century-old roundhouse just a stone’s throw from the Canada Tower. Take a C$10 tour on platforms above the vats, then settle back for a beer-tasting session (steamwhistle.ca). Canada also has a thriving wine industry, with vineyards located in the Niagara district close to Toronto. The off-licences, LCBO, are government-owned; some sell only Canadian wine. It’s cheap enough to buy a couple of bottles to try. winecountryontario.ca
What’s a visit to a new country without a bit of shopping? After the souvenirs are sorted, there’s plenty of scope here for some treasure hunting. It can be high-end in the boutiques of Bloor Yorkville (bloor-yorkville.com), or head to the vintage shops, flea markets and even Goodwill charity shops. Find serious bargains on secondhand and sometimes new clothing for a couple of dollars apiece. goodwill.on.ca
During winter, this is the place to be. Escape the wind and chill metres below ground in heated walkways. In summer, come here to escape the heat (yes, temperatures can rise above 30 degrees Centigrade), and discover a handy way to get around the central district. PATH is the largest underground walkway in the world, with about 28 kilometres of paths linking shopping centres and 1,200 shops and services, hotels and office blocks. It’s well sign-posted too. toronto.ca/path
Toronto embraces its diverse and vibrant cultural landscape with festivals every month of the year. There really is something for everyone, from Canada Blooms – the Toronto flower and garden festival – and Canadian Music Week in March, the Toronto Comic Arts Festival in May, Pride Week in June and the Caribbean Carnival in July, to a parade of movie stars every September at the Toronto International Film Festival. Clustered around November and December are Christmas-related events, complete with the man in the red suit and lots of beautiful lights.
Canadian Music Week, canadianmusicfest.com
Toronto Comic Arts Festival, torontocomics.com
Toronto International Film Festival, tiff.net
Toronto Pride Week, pridetoronto.com
Caribbean Carnival, torontocaribbeancarnival.com
Make it happen
Toronto is a 24-hour flight from Singapore. You can either fly west via Europe or east via Japan or the US. There’s a mind-boggling choice of airlines.
An Airport Express Bus operates between the international airport and downtown hotels, including The Fairmont Royal York, and costs C$40 return. TorontoAirportExpress.com
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