Canada’s largest city boasts art, culture and some of the loveliest locals to welcome you
Set on the shore of Lake Ontario, Toronto blends all the attractions of a big, cosmopolitan city with stunning natural scenery. An eight-hour flight from the UK, it’s doable in a long weekend – but there’s so much to see, we recommend staying longer.
Over half of Toronto’s population was born outside Canada – something locals celebrate. “It’s like a big picnic,” explains one. “Everyone’s invited and they all bring something to the table.” With over 200 languages spoken in the city, Toronto really is a melting pot of cultures.
To get a feel for the city’s evolving identity, head to Chinatown and Kensington Market. This area, by Spadina Avenue, was once a thriving Jewish garment district when Chinese settlers established businesses here, and the two groups lived and worked side by side. It’s a vibrant, buzzy neighbourhood with plenty of good Chinese restaurants to check out – we recommend King’s Noodle.
A couple of streets back lies Kensington Market – a maze of narrow streets and alleys, lined with colourful Victorian houses. With a hippie vibe, it’s home to some iconic vintage shops and is a great place to find affordable, second-hand clothes. Head to Bellevue Square Park, where the locals congregate at weekends, and enjoy a beer-and-seafood pit stop at Amadeu’s on the corner.
Get more with a tour
For an overview of the history and key attractions, try the CitySightseeing tour (Citysightseeingtoronto.com). Stopping at major points of interest and with an onboard commentary, this hop-on, hop-off tour is an easy way to navigate the city. It takes two-and-a-half hours, but tickets are valid for 48 hours and include a free harbour cruise, so pace yourself.
One of the stops on the bus tour is the historic Distillery District. With a fascinating and, at times, tragic past, this area has been sensitively regenerated and is widely regarded as Canada’s premier arts, culture and entertainment destination, full of unique shops, galleries, studios, restaurants, cafes and theatres. It has also been known as “the Hollywood of the North”, as many films were made here – including Three Men And A Baby, RoboCop and Chicago. A guided walk with Go Tours Canada can give you more insight into the area’s hidden gems.
Thrills and spills
For something completely different, try the Edgewalk at the CN Tower – one of the world’s tallest buildings (Edgewalkcntower.ca). Remove your jewellery, tighten your shoelaces, put on a not-very-attractive boilersuit and safety harness, and head outside Toronto’s iconic landmark – 116 storeys above street level. With ropes attaching you to guide rails, you can go hands-free and pose for souvenir photos. The views are incredible and it’s a real adrenaline rush. If the Edgewalk’s not for you, the views from inside the tower are pretty spectacular, too.
For more active relaxation, try the Escape The City Canoe Paddle & Dining Adventure. Departing from the Harbourfront Canoe & Kayak Centre, climb aboard a heritage voyageur canoe and enjoy a leisurely group paddle across Lake Ontario to the beautiful Toronto Islands. When you arrive, take some time to explore while your crew set up an al fresco dinner. Showcasing local produce and expertly prepared dishes, this is a charming way to sample local cuisine and island life before paddling back to the mainland and taking in the beauty of the city’s skyline at sunset.
Museums and more
Culture fans should head to the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO). This stunning building is home to temporary and permanent exhibitions – including the must-see Infinity Mirrors exhibit by Yayoi Kusama. Wander at your leisure and enjoy a break in the light and airy Galleria Italia.
For evening fun, we recommend taking in a show. Toronto is the world’s third-largest centre for English language theatre – behind London’s West End and New York’s Broadway. With plenty of theatres around the downtown Entertainment District, there’s plenty to choose from. Go to Mirvish.com for inspiration, with current and upcoming listings.
Eat and drink
Toronto has very distinct seasons – with very cold winters and hot summers. When the three-month-long summer finally arrives, the locals like to make the most of it and embrace the city’s patio culture. We recommend Baro’s rooftop patio (Barotoronto.com) for modern Latin cuisine and exquisite cocktails and the Gusto 101 upper patio for a sun-drenched brunch (Gusto101.com).
For award-winning Eastern Mediterranean food, head to Byblos (Byblosdowntown.com). With a cool industrial setting and a sophisticated ambience, this restaurant offers great sharing dishes, particularly the ora king salmon and creamed spinach pide. For a more casual vibe, check out the Portland Variety (Portlandvariety.com). This charming café is a popular brunch spot, but morphs into a diner and tapas bar as the day unfolds.
For a caffeine fix, look out for your nearest Jimmy’s Coffee shop (Jimmyscoffee.ca). Popular with locals, this independent chain has several locations on Toronto’s west side and their baristas know their stuff. Alternatively, if you’re in Yorkville, head to Goldstruck for a fantastic flat white and a delicious muffin (Goldstruck.ca).
For a sweet but strange treat, there’s the soft-serve ice cream at iHalo Krunch (ihalokrunch.com). This Instagram-friendly parlour serves up surprising flavours.
Need to know
· Canadian Affair offers return flights to Toronto from £329 per person (Canadianaffair.com).
· Stay at the The Gladstone Hotel, which is set in the Art & Design District on vibrant Queen Street West. Toronto’s oldest continually operating hotel, it has a charming hand-operated lift that dates back to 1904. Lovingly established as a boutique art hotel, each room has been designed by a different artist. There’s freshly brewed coffee to wake up to, lounge areas and entertainment at the bar downstairs. It also servesa great brunch to set you up for a day of exploring, too. Double rooms start from £152 per night (Gladstonehotel.com).
· A Toronto CityPass (Citypass.com/toronto) provides access to all the key attractions across the city, including the CN Tower, Casa Loma, Royal Ontario Museum, Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada, Toronto Zoo and Ontario Science Centre. The pass costs £52 for adults and £34 for children (plus taxes) and is valid for nine days. Getting around Toronto adds up to just £7 per day with a TTC (Toronto Transport Commission) day pass (Ttc.ca).
· For more info and ideas, visit Seetorontonow.com.