I’ve been to Canada three times before. When I was living and going to school on the west coast, my parents used to love taking road trips – on weekends, holidays and vacations – to see the close-by states, cities and countries. Canada has been always a country in my family that we wanted to visit at some point, mostly because our initial curiosity was about comparing it to the United States, to see how ‘new’ and/or ‘similar’ it might have been. One day we took this trip and drove up north through the states of Oregon and Washington, taking then the ferry – to Vancouver and British Columbia.
Personally, I found Canada very similar looking to the states – it looked and felt modern and the locals spoke English as well. However, there were a few qualities to the Canadian cities, like in any other city. that were different from America. They felt more ‘European’ than, say Seattle, Portland, Los Angeles, San Diego and San Francisco where I used to go to often and lived in some of them. Both Vancouver and British Columbia have a part in the city that has been defined as ‘little Europe’ – B.C. felt very “British”, and Vancouver – felt like a very modern American city. In a few years I happened to visit Montreal and Quebec, but never the central Canada, which I’ve heard quite a bit about, so when the opportunity presented itself, I finally visited Toronto.
I won’t describe what Toronto is like, I will only attempt to give you tips on how to make the most of it, or – in other words, how to make the most of two days in Toronto.
These are a few tips for you to make your weekend trip to Toronto fun and fashionable. Note: these are the places I’ve been to and really liked. They are an absolute must-haves and must-dos!
Places to eat:
- Cafe Diplomatica, http://cafediplomatico.ca/ – located in ‘Little Italy’ part of Toronto, it’s a very popular local spot for big groups and family outings. It looks nothing special on inside and outside, but the atmosphere and food is worth a visit.
- Cafe Nervosa, http://cafediplomatico.ca – this is a very small, but very European looking Italian-American cuisine cafe in the Yorkville district of Toronto. It has a nice terrace and a nice crowd, a mix of the locals and European-looking fashionable people.
- Cafe Cora’s, http://www.chezcora.com/home – this is, by far, a Toronto gem – a favorite of the locals place for breakfast. It’s close to the waterfront and on the way to the baseball stadium, making it a very hard spot to miss on weekends. Not only the place is very cozy and joyful – the decor and staff – but their breakfasts are very hearty and nutritious. All breakfasts come with fruit, the home potatoes are fried to perfection and the thickness and combination of the vegetable and cheese ingredients of the eggs make it a hard decision to choose a breakfast item. Try their crepes-omelets – European-style crepes stuffed with an omelet of your choice. Their 10-way omelet is to die for as well.
- The Boiler House, http://www.boilerhouse.ca/ – located in the Distillery District of Toronto, this huge, two-store restaurant with a double terrace, a space converted from a wine distillery – is as beautiful as it is delicious. Known for its very elaborate Saturday brunches, it’s a place to go! For $24.95 you get all you can eat, but it’s not the ‘all you can eat’ part of the brunch that attracts the locals, it’s the variety of the foods and the atmosphere that it offers: anything from smoked salmon to roasted beef and crème brûlée served.
- Pier 4, http://www.pier4.ca – it’s the only large restaurant on the waterfront that, actually, has a relatively big selection of the local seafood. However, I was very surprised to find very limited number of seafood places around the waterfront area of the city (Lake Toronto) and I was no less surprised to see that Pier 4 didn’t offer a great variety of the local fish, which, according to the city tour guides, there are a lot of. I didn’t have time to check out the Toronto seafood markets, but I thought you might, click here for the local seafood markets and stores.
Places to shop:
- Yorkville District – this is the “SoHo” of Toronto: small streets, lovely crowd, cute, cozy cafes and many small boutiques intermix with the large low-end and high-end designer’s stores. There are some interesting European boutiques that I’ve come about, some of them were very ‘Parisian’, as a matter of fact. You can also find all the major chains like Zara and H&M here.
- Distillery District – this is the ‘New York’s south east seaport’ of Toronto, only nicer. It is what the name stands for – it’s a space that once was a huge distillery district with the warehouse buildings forming a ‘fortress’ of the ‘distillery town’ that used to be home of the local wine makers and held breweries for beer and wines. Now, all these spaces have been converted to the shops, galleries, design studios and restaurants. It’s easily become one of my favorite areas in the city. The galleries are so unique and feature the works of the local and European designers – clothes, paintings, jewelry, furniture, etc. The galleries are mixed with very cute cafes, coffee shops and restaurants, and in many of the places you can try local and/or European wine and beers. If you are lazy enough to walk around the area, you can opt for a Segway tour, although, I’d suggest taking a bike around the city instead. For more dining options, click here.
- I also liked Cafe Furbo, http://www.caffefurbo.com – a little Italian cafe that offers delicious Italian coffees, beers, wines and sandwiches.
- Artemide shop, http://www.artemide.ca – was, by far, my favorite design shop to browse through, as I’m a big fan of the modern designs.
- You can also check out the EuroDesign, if you are into the minimalist, very European (I’d even say, very Nordic) style of the furniture: http://www.eurodesignkitchen.com. Distill was also one of my favorites: it offers the designs of the local artists, very creative and very expensive. For more stores, visit here.
Places to visit*:
(*Please note: these places have been carefully selected out of the many stores the city offers)
- Little Italy – I found the Little Italy of Toronto a bit more authentic and larger than the one we have in NYC, San Francisco, Chicago and Boston. It’s a long large street of shops, gelato and pastry shops and restaurants that are less ‘pretentious’ and touristy as the ones I’ve inquired in the USA.
- Distillery – for all the things I’ve mentioned above.
- Yorkville – see above: great for a walk around and shopping, as well as it is close to some of the cities’ major landmark sites, like Toronto University (St. George campus) and Royal Ontario Museum.
- Waterfront – despite the fact that the locals consider their waterfront underdeveloped and not as ‘worthy to see’, I found the waterfront very relaxing and nice on the eye because it offers very beautiful views of Lake Ontario, wood boardwalk to walk on around and a few boat stations to take a boat ride around the lake and to the islands (and that’s exactly what I did – took a sightseeing boat ride to the islands and around the Toronto main front shore). And even though there’s not much history to tell about, the boat tour guides make up for it with their humor. Check it out here.
- University of Toronto – the St. George campus of this large university reminded me a lot of Princeton university, perhaps, it’s the only place in the city that looks ‘old’ and historic. The campus buildings, lawns and sculptures of the famous academic people are worth to see.
- Kings & Queen streets of Toronto downtown – these two streets offer the most lasting night life: a late night district that offers lounges, bars and late night dining spots (and by late, I mean, you’d need to order your dinner by 11pm and your last drink – by midnight.)
- CN Tower – I was obsessing with the CN Tower all weekend. I think I took about 50 photos of the tower alone – in the morning, at night, in the day time, from down up, from the islands looking down onto the tower. I could now safely say I’m good to go with a collage of the CN Tower. With the little time that I had, I didn’t get a chance to get up the tower, which offers a 360-degree view of the city, but you should! There’s also a restaurant on the top of the Tower, but the gut feeling tells me the prices aren’t cheap there – you pay for the view, right?
Also, before I actually went to Toronto, I did some research and one of the sites that I really liked was See Toronto Now.
And here are a few more tips that I learned the (easy)hard way myself that would might help make your trip so much easier and more successful:
- If you are looking to dine late, you are out of luck. The latest dinner is served at 10:30-11pm and could be found only at a few restaurants in town, try Little Italy for the late dining. Most kitchens are closed by 11pm, if not earlier.
- If you are looking to buy alcohol, there are only a few liquor stores in the area and they close at 10pm, depending on a location they might even close earlier. “When in Rome, do as Romans do” – try the local wines. I’ve tried Merlot and Riesling from the Ontario wineries and they were very good. The Riesling was from 20 Bees winery.
- Toronto would feel a bit more chilly, if you are coming from NYC. It gets colder at night, so opt to have a light coat and/or sweater, even when you visit in the summer.
- Toronto is a pretty small city, you can walk everywhere, but be aware – you might be the only one walking, as, apparently, the locals do not walk much.
- Taxi are available, but not as often spotted as in New York City. Your best bet is to order a taxi by phone and/or go to a nearest hotel and ask the hotel clerk to order one and/or catch one for you.
- If you are thinking of taking a ferry/boat ride to the islands, the boat tours are only available until 6pm, the last boat leaves the islands at 6:30pm. These boat rides are worthy as you get to see the amazing views of the city from a far and to listen to the history of the city and the surrounding area. You can also get to and from the islands by a ferry.
- When it comes to the public transportation, it exists: there are even trolleys, like in Europe, which I miss a lot. If you buy a ride on a trolley, the same tickets work for the subway, no need to buy another ticket. The subway is very clean, but again – it’s not as large as the NYC subway, but works efficiently enough.
- Someone has mentioned to me that it is worth to get a Bixi: https://toronto.bixi.com/ride-with-bixi/functioning. At first I thought it’s like a pass for the transportation, but then I found out that it’s actually a pass to use the city bikes, which can be found all around the city. Toronto is a very bike-friendly city and it is worth to explore it by bike, I just didn’t have enough time to do so myself.
- Toronto is also known for its love for the hotdogs. Their hotdog stands are all over the city, just like the Halal guys in NYC and the locals seem to be liking it, so try their hotdogs and let me know how it is as I had no chance to try it myself.
- Toronto McDonald’s have a ‘local’ menu featuring a mushroom/chicken sandwich melt on a whole wheat bun – this does not exist in the American McDonald’s. I haven’t tried it, but it looked very good.