Toronto, Canada, is full of food, fun and adventure. Who knew?
I was bowled over by my recent visit to Toronto. I had visited Montreal with my family when I was a kid. It had that French vibe and it felt like you were in Europe. And my dad could have fun practicing his bad French.
But I always thought of Toronto as a modern city without much character. I knew you could go up the CN Tower and see the whole place. But what exactly was there to see?
Well, let me tell you. I only had a few days to explore but I wish I'd had weeks. Below is my short list of things to do and see when you travel to Toronto but it hardly begins to tell the story. For starters you can:
Hop on and off the 501 streetcar along Queen Street
The 501 streetcar route is one of the longest in North America. With a TTC (Toronto Transit Commission) day pass, you can hop on and off all day, visiting the many, many shops and restaurants all along most of the line. Bakeries. Clothing shops. Stores selling cool kitchen gadgets. Shoes, shoes and more shoes.
My first day, I went east from the center of town with a group of people from a travel bloggers conference I was attending. A freelancer for the Toronto Star who writes on urban life, guided us through back streets in Corktown, settled by the Irish in the 19th century. Corktown turned seemlessly into Leslieville. If we'd continued east, we would have hit the beach at the end. But we had to head back. It was only, as the Gilligan's Island people said, a three-hour tour.
Another day I walked...and walked...west to the Gladstone Hotel before turning back, catching a streetcar east and then another north to Chinatown.
You can see the CN Tower from nearly everywhere in the city but at every point, it looks different. And, like the Eiffel Tower in Paris or the Sears Tower in Chicago, many residents in Toronto set their compass by the CN Tower.
I debated going up to the top. It was so pretty and interesting to be on ground level. Why leave it behind for the ant-size view? Well, it would have been a big mistake to miss that trip. The views from on high are spectacular. Of Lake Ontario, of all the buildings from the top, of the Toronto Islands (Toronto has islands??), which I had visited by ferry two days earlier.In one spot, you can stand on a glass floor and look straight down 116 stories to the ground. Can you say "woozy?"
I ended up having a great adventure, walking outside on top of the revolving restaurant that looks like the donut around the spike. Outside. In the wind. No railings. Harnessed in. As the website says: "way up there, way out there."
It's called EdgeWalk. More on that in a post to come.
Gawk at the architecture
Turn down any street and you are likely to find an interesting building. The Royal Ontario Museum. The Ontario College of Art & Design (you really must click this link and see it to believe it). The collection of buildings around City Hall and the old and new Toronto City Halls themselves.
Toronto is incredibly eclectic, the old mixing with the new all over town. I repeat, walk up and down practically any block in the downtown near the convention center and CN Tower and you will see something intriguing. Levittown it's not.
Explore the ethnic neighborhoods
Toronto Canada is full of ethnic neighborhoods (or neighbourhoods, as they spell it). What I found so interesting is how different the mix is from Washington, D.C., where I live. Yes, this is true for urban areas all over. But this one surprised me.
In addition to five Chinatowns, the city has Little Portugal, Little Brazil, Little India, Little Italy, Greek Town, Little Poland. A large Jamaican community. And more.
You need weeks to get through them all. But you won't go hungry. I tried the poutine at Smoke's Poutinerie downtown (if you've never heard of poutine, let's just call it "ethnic Canadian") and buns at a Chinese bakery - one pineapple flavored filled with custard, the other filled with coconut. I call it the anti-Atkins day. Topped it off later with Lay's ketchup-flavored potato chips. I'm telling you, Canada's like a whole other country!
Partake in the street life
Early in the evening, I saw hosts standing in front of their establishments with menus in hand, ready to seat people outside. A few hours later, as the sun was going down and the lights in the windows were coming on, the buzz was incredible. Great energy.
Sadly, I had to go home with a to-do list that just kept expanding. On the bright side, Toronto, ON, is only a 1.5 hour plane ride away. I WILL be back.