One week in Toronto
How to spend 7 days in this amazing city.
- Arrive in the evening and check into your accomodation! Pearson Airport is an easy 25 minute train journey from Union Station.
- Stroll along the 'Mink Mile' in Yorkville, the swanky part of town, and window shop all the luxury boutiques along Bloor Street West, Cumberland Street and Yorkville Avenue, like Hermes, Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Prada and Chanel. This feels like LA's Rodeo Drive but without the palm trees! Near the intersection of Bloor Street West and the University District of
Queens Park you will see the striking architecture of the Royal Ontario Museum - its 1914 yellow brick exterior, reminiscent of the Natural History Museum in London, is dramatically juxtaposed against the 2007 glass "crystal" addition which splits the building as if it has hit an iceberg.
-There are plenty of upscale restaurants and bars to choose from in Yorkville, but for a more budget friendly option, we loved the Fortunate Fox at 280 Bloor Street West. Friendly staff, comfy booths and a delicious gastropub menu.
- Book tickets for the CN Tower for this morning, and enjoy the panoramic views through wall to ceiling windows, 346m over Toronto and the bay. From up here you can really get a sense of the epic scale of Lake Ontario - It literally looks like the sea. You can watch the planes taking off and landing from Billy Bishop Airport on Toronto Island, and don't forget to test your bravery on the section of glass floor, a dizzying view straight down to the aquarium below.
When it opened in 1994, this was the first glass floor in the world! You can also go outside onto the outdoor Sky Terrace - the gusty wind definitely reinforces quite how high up you are! Whizz back down at 15mph in the high speed elevator, and head to St Lawrence Market for lunch.
-St Laurence Market was named the best food market in the world by National Geographic in 2012, and it certainly is a foodie's paradise. Inside, over 120 vendors sell everything you can imagine, from cheese, fruit and vegetables, fish, meat, bread, meze, even souvenirs. Do a circuit of the stalls and decide what you want for lunch - we'd recommend either a pulled brisket sandwich, packed with juicy tender beef, with bbq sauce and slaw, or the iconic peameal bacon sandwich: a speciality of the Carousel Bakery, who have been residents of the market for 30 years. Expect queues at weekends! NB a lot of these stalls are cash only.
- Walk to the Distillery District and stroll the cobblestone pedestrianised streets amongst historic Victorian buildings, that once made up the Gooderham and Worts Distillery, founded in 1832 and once one of the largest in the world. Explore the little boutiques and art galleries, and be sure to pop into SOMA to treat yourself to a fancy chocolate or two. If you're here in the Festive Season, this is where Toronto has its Christmas Market.
Finish your evening at Mill Street brew pub, and sample a flight of their craft creations.
- Spend a day at the Royal Ontario Museum: among the best natural history museums in the world. The ROM has a spectacular dinosaur exhibition, including many specimens found in Canada, and a very informative First Nations gallery, a beautiful collection of cultural heritage from the diverse Indigenous communities of North America, from magnificent totem poles and canoes to Sitting Bull's headdress and Inuit parkas from the north.
- Niagara Falls Day!
Hire a Zipcar and drive for about 1 hour 40 to this wonder of the natural world. Park up near the dinosaur golf where you can leave your car for $15 for the day.
- There are all sorts of attraction packages you can buy, we decided to get the Adventure Pass which includes your Hornblower boat trip (Maid of the Mist is the American company), Journey Behind the Falls, White Water Walk, Niagara's Fury and your bus pass for getting between attractions. Of course you can just walk from the car park and look at the Falls for free, but the boat trip and the other attractions are (mostly) worth the ticket price (more on that later).
- Nothing quite prepares you for being a the bottom of the Canadian Horseshoe Falls in your little boat, with the thundering wall of water on 3 sides of you, and gallons of mist being thrown in your face! You are given a red plastic poncho to keep you dry but we'd recommend wearing short sleeves and shorts, as your arms and legs will still get very wet!
- Journey Behind The Falls allows you to down 150ft in an elevator to stand on an observation deck at the bottom of the waterfall - you can really feel the power of the water this close! There is also a tunnel with a couple of viewing portals from behind the rushing water, but we found this a little underwhelming.
- White Water Walk is an interesting boardwalk along the Great Gorge and the Niagara River's fearsome Grade 6 rapids. The raw power of the raging white water is atonishing! NB this is a seasonal attraction and is closed over winter.
- Niagara's Fury is a 4D multisensory animation like something out of Universal Studios. You are splashed with water, the ground shakes and snow falls, as you accompany Chip the Beaver on a journey to learn how Niagara Falls was formed. The special effects are impressive, but this attraction felt very "kid-dy", and we wouldn't have bothered with it if it wasn't included in our pass. Children will enjoy it if you're there with family.
If it's your first visit to Niagara Falls then we would recommend getting the adventure pass, as the attractions really help to put the Falls in context, seeing it from every angle. However if you don't want to do all of them, or want a more budget friendly day, you could just buy a boat ticket to see the Falls from below, and walk to see the Falls from above.
- Rainbow Bridge: Niagara Falls lies on the US/Canadian border, andif you have your passport with you, you can walk over the Rainbow Bridge in to the USA and back again. Be prepared for waiting if it's busy, as you will need to pass through customs and immigration both sides.
- Spend the exploring vibrant Kensington Market, and the densely packed shops, restaurants and grocery stores of Chinatown, one of the largest in North America. Kensington Market is a diverse mix of coffee shops and cafes, art, jewellery and vintage clothes shops, and beautiful street art.
If you're there from June - November, don't miss the Garden Car, Toronto's smallest park, planted within a derelict car, and walk over to Graffiti Alley, 3 blocks of magnificent murals. Photography heaven! Some of these works of art are literally the size of the building they;re painted onto, and the creativity is astonishing.
- In the evening, head to BATL axe throwing! Feel like a real Canadian lumberjack as you hurl axes at targets - walk ins are Friday 7pm – 9pm (Also Saturday 12pm – 2pm and Sunday 2pm – 4pm). It costs around $22 for an hour and includes an onsite instructor to help you get the most out of your visit. We got an Uber from downtown Toronto to get here
as it's slightly out of the way.
- From here it's a short walk back to the distillery district if you want to finish your night with a craft beer or two.
- Take an Uber to Toronto Zoo. Head there in the morning as the zoo gets much busier after lunch. With 10km of paths and over 450 species, you'll easily spend the whole day here. The zoo is arranged into seven geographical regions, including African Savannah (every African animal you can think of, apart from elephants! The gorillas are a highlight), Indo Malaya (Orangutans, Tigers and Greater One Horned Rhinos), a Canadian domain and a Kangaroo walkthrough. Our favourites were the polar bears, who have an underwater viewing window to watch them swim.
- Make sure you also visit the Wildlife Health Centre, a behind the scenes view of Toronto Zoo's state of the art animal hospital, complete with laboratories, x-ray, treatment rooms and surgery.
- Start your day at Fort York, a National Historic Site of Canada and the largest collection of 1812 buildings in the country.
Famous for being the site of the battle of York, between the US and the English, when fleeing English troops blew up their powder magazine, killing and injuring hundreds of American soldiers. You can see officers' quarters, soldiers' barracks, the officers' mess and kitchens, furnished and reconstructed to help you feel what life would have been like in the 19th century fort. The fort was originally the first line of defence at the harbour entrance, but now sits 500m back from the water after land reclamation.
-Head down to the waterfront, and opposite the Billy Bishop airport you will find Ireland Park, a beautiful, poignant memorial to the 38,000 Irish citizens who fled famine to live in Toronto in 1847. At this time, the existing population of Toronto was only 20,000!
Rowan Gillespie's five bronze statues of emaciated, exhausted men, women and children are very moving, particularly the 'Jubilant Man', with his arms raised in relief to the CN Tower across the water. A limestone wall (made from stone imported from Kilkenny) is carved with the names of 1000 immigrants who died in a typhus epidemic in 1847.
- Keep following the harbour, with the water on your right, and views of the CN Tower on your left, to reach the Toronto Music Garden. Created by landscape designer Julie Moir Messervy, in collaboration with cellist Yo Yo Ma, the gardens are inspired by the first of Bach's cello suites. Each section is named after, and based on, a different movement in the suite ( Prelude, Allemand, Courante, Sarabande, Menuett and Gigue), and this is a really lovely place to sit and contemplate. It's worth downloading the music onto your phone before you travel, so that you can listen to, and make sense of, the inspiration behind each section of garden.
- Continue on to the Harbourfront Centre and stop at Beavertails, serving tasty treats since 1978. You have to try a Beavertail!
It's a sweet flat pasty in the shape of beavertail, kind of like a fried donut base, topped with your choice of ice cream, chocolate spread, banana, Reece's pieces, apple pie... it's as glorious as it sounds and it's a Canadian must!
- At the Ferry Building (next to a giant picnic table), catch the 15 minute ferry to Centre Island. Stand at the back of the boat and enjoy sweeping views of the Toronto skyline.
- Once you're on the islands, you can spend a leisurely afternoon strolling amongst the parks and fountains, hike a bike or quadricycle, walk down the pier to look out over Lake Ontario, or walk to the Gibraltar Lighthouse, dating back to 1808, the oldest on the Great Lakes. There are also sandy beaches to relax on (Hanlan's Point is clothing optional), and a seasonal amusement park.
- Once back on the mainland, we would recommend having dinner at the Amsterdam Brewhouse , a lively brew pub on the waterfront with a tasty menu and huge range of beers.
NB This trip is planned based on arriving on a Monday - if you land on a different day you will need to shuffle the order to make sure that axe throwing day is still a Friday. We'd also recommend keeping the zoo on a weekend, for the longer opening hours.