Why I went here? It was a suitable getaway for a long weekend. I have also never been and I wanted to see Niagara Falls.
Best time to visit? The best time is from May to September. The city begins to liven, opening up themed parks, farmers markets, and the Casa Loma.
Best way to get there? Take a direct flight from DFW to Pearson International Airport (YYZ). The best way to get to Toronto is to take the Pacific Western Airport Express. It is a bus service that stops in several centralized points within the city. It’s comfortable, reliable and it has wifi inside. The cost is $40 round trip and for $6 more, you can upgrade to the “connect” and be dropped off and picked up from your hotel doorstep (that is if it’s not one of the normal stop).
What to see/do? Where to begin in Toronto? Just wandering its streets is fascinating enough, but there are a handful of places you ought to make time for and visit. First is the CN Tower. This towering structure is one marvelous piece of engineering. It is the tallest tower in the world at 1,815 feet* and it also has some of the best views of the city. When I went, I just bought the Observation pass which includes access to the look out and the glass floor, but there are also packages including a 3D film and motion theatre ride. For a more grounded view of Toronto, ride a ferry towards Centre Island. Centre Island is part of the group of islands collectively known as Toronto Islands and serves primarily as a recreational area for most of the city’s residents. There are several parks and beaches within and surrounding the islands. There are also small pockets of residential areas as well as a science high school. Toronto has two superb museums. The Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) is one of the largest art museums in North America and has seen several expansions throughout the years. Its collection amounts to over 80,000 works of art. For another one of the city’s celebrated museums, head north to the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM). This natural history museum contains six million artifacts from all over the world. The building itself is a piece of art to view, and in my opinion, symbolizes Toronto more than any other building in town. Finally, get to know the town by walking around its neighborhoods. One of the most interesting ones I’ve encountered was Downtown Yonge. This area is divided by its namesake, Yonge Street, which is the longest street in the world. It starts north of the Financial District, from Richmond Street until Grosvenor/Alexander streets. In here you will find Dundas Square (Toronto’s Times Square) and the massive shopping mall called Toronto Eaton Centre, but the smaller shops and eateries that lined up Yonge is what makes this area all the more captivating. The diversity is beyond comprehension. I remember walking one day, and noticed that within a block, there was an adult novelty store across from a marijuana accessory shop that’s only several buildings apart from a McDonalds, and yet, it was just business as usual.
Food and drinks: What and where to eat in Toronto depends on your mood at that particular time. One of mine was pub grub so I tried an Irish pub called Pogue Mahone. The Guinness Steak and Mushroom pie I ordered was quite delicious. It’s a good place for comfort food. If searching for mainstream or unique cuisines, venture into College St, west of Yonge, all the way to Spadina, and Yonge St from Bloor to Queen St. Both areas were recommended by locals and contain a variety of good quality and affordable eateries. If eating on the go, Toronto has excellent street food. I had a beef frankfurter that was tasty and can almost rival the famed New York City hotdog. It was also cheap and you have a plethora of condiments to choose from.
Where to sleep? During my stay in Toronto, I booked at the Courtyard by Marriott Downtown. Its biggest draw was its location. It’s right in the middle of Downtown Yonge and was only a block away from one of the main subway lines. The rooms are decent in size, relatively quiet, and have free wifi. Rates start at $99 CAD.
Daytrips: When in Toronto, take a day or two and head south to the Niagara area: Niagara Falls and Niagara on the Lake. The former’s major attraction is the falls itself. It is divided into three parts: the American, the Bridal Veil, and the Horseshoe. The water that makes up the falls comes from Lake Eerie, and as it drops into the Niagara River, it empties towards Lake Ontario. There are water related attractions (most notably riding the Maid of the Mist) as well as carnivals and casinos for kids and adults alike. The Canadian city of Niagara Falls offers more options for accommodations and activities. When looking for a cozy escape from the growing crowds, head over to the adjacent city of Niagara on the Lake. This small and historic town only has less than 20,000 residents. Its main draws are the historic locations associated with the Battle of 1812. Among them are Fort George, Navy Hall, and Butler’s Barracks. The area surrounding the falls and the lake is also one of Canada’s burgeoning wine regions. Small vineyards offer wine tasting from March until the fall harvest.
Why I would go back? The ROM and the AGO are two museums definitely worth spending some time in and a return trip to explore the Toronto Islands in warmer weather is certainly a must, but what will make me come back repeatedly is its culture. I spent my first day getting to know the city and from the moment I stepped out of the airport bus to walk towards my hotel, it struck me how much I already love it. Yonge Street is lined up with stores and restaurants of every conceivable item and cuisine. The mile-long stretch felt like The United Nations. It made me wonder how it works; this much diversity and yet, so little discord. But in Toronto, it just does.
*Tower is defined as a structure wherein over 50% is non-usable floor space (Guinness Book of World Records)