The Diverse Towering Metropolitan City
Toronto Canada is an amazing place to visit, with its great neighborhoods and diverse population from around the world. Besides that, there is a great food scene as we discussed in our other article on Kensington Market. This is Canada’s largest city with Kensington Market’s “Bohemian” styled neighborhood as well as its diverse people. Many visitors come to experience the diverse restaurants as well as the city’s cultural experiences, sports activities, museums, and art scenes. Below you will see some of the experiences we had while visiting the area for a week.
How to get around Toronto?
Transportation is really good in Toronto with the buses (GO Transit), Uber/Lyft, rent a car, or walk. Some of the areas are very easy to get around. For the first few days we stayed in one neighborhood (Kensington Market) to see that neighborhood and neighboring China Town and later we moved to the Hilton Toronto Downtown that was closer to the other experiences we had planned.
Our earlier Kensington Market travel guide talks about our days in Kensington Market and Chopsticks + Forks (@chopsticksandforks). Their Kensington Market International Food Tour is awesome and combines food samples from various restaurants and shops while giving you a good overview of the history of the neighborhood.great food tour we took (see the article on TravelsofSarahFay.com blog).
CityPASS and Other Activities
The first few days of our trip we stayed in Kensington Market then later moved Downtown to the Hilton Toronto. This location gave us access to so many of the other cultural activities and sports complexes and had great views of the skyline, etc.
- CityPASS @citypass) We were able to see so much of Toronto since we got the CityPASS (www.citypass.com). By using this pass you get a significant discount to see many of the “must see” attractions. The CityPASS got us in the CN Tower, Royal Ontario Museum (ROM), Casa Loma, and Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada. Although we didn’t get to visit, you also have the option to go to a 5th experience, namely the Toronto Zoo or Ontario Science Centre. There is just so much to see and do at a great discount (35%) versus if you had bought the tickets separately. You can visit their website for current adult and kid prices for eTickets or you can buy the pass at each location.
- Pass Validity Period/Transferability/Reservations – The pass is valid for 9 days and starts and includes the first day you visit the attraction. Notably, each pass is non-transferable. Each attraction has their own times and reservation systems so please be sure to check the website for the latest requirements. We actually didn’t mind this since it did help even out the visitors.
- CN Tower – (www.cntower.ca) CN Tower is the towering icon of Toronto’s skyline. Built in 1976, this concrete observation and communication tower is 1,816.3ft tall and it was once the tallest structure in the world. CN Tower still remains the highest structure on land in the Western Hemisphere. Just so you know, CN stands for Canadian National, the rail company that built the tower and originally owned it.
Exploring the CN Tower
CN Tower is now an icon and you can take an elevator ride to the observation deck that has floor to ceiling windows to see 360 views of the city. On this level you can also have snacks and drinks. In addition there is an upper pod that is substantially higher to see a higher view, but even the main observation level is awesome.
- Edge Walk at CN Tower – (#edge walk, see CN Tower website above) Another special experience at CN Tower is the Edge Walk, where you can walk on an outside platform and it is considered the highest outdoor walk. This is a separate entrance fee and you must go to the first floor main level to get this package. See the website for details. This was a mesmerizing experience and so unique TravelsofSarahFay.com just had to do this. While it is scary, it is also awesome. See the TravelsofSarahFay YouTube video where you can see my exciting walk on “the edge”.
- 360 The Restaurant at the CN Tower (Instagram @tourcntower360) – Another awesome experience at CN Tower is the 360 Restaurant that rotates 360 degrees every 72 minutes as you eat an amazing meal. This is a great experience especially if you are having a birthday or milestone to celebrate since the price is at a premium level. We had a Prefix 3 course meal including our desert. It was awesome! We had the Elk with root vegetables for the first time and it was delicious. The restaurant also has an a la carte menu as well, either way you can’t go wrong. The restaurant has equal offerings of steak and fish that highlight Canadian specialties.
The restaurant was beautiful with awesome views.. We ate after the Edge Walk and were able to watch the sunset from high above the city of Toronto; breathtaking. This was the pinnacle of our trip. Notably the restaurant has the highest wine cellar in the world according to the Guinness Book of Records.
Best Museums in Toronto
- Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) – (www.rom.on.ca) The ROM is the largest museum in Canada and one of the largest in all North America. In one word, it was “stunning” and provided such an amazing view of art. Culture and nature. A great slogan on the website is “We live on in what we leave behind.” The ROM is home to exhibits and galleries with over 13 million pieces of artwork, cultural objects and specimens of natural history. There are pieces from so many periods in history, including dinosaurs, Asia, Egypt, etc.
The day we went, we had time to take a free guided tour, and that alone is impressive. We spent about 2 hours at the museum and there is still so much more to see, I hope I get to return one day for more.
- Casa Loma – (www.casaloma.ca) Casa Loma is an amazing mansion designed like a castle in midtown Toronto that looks over the downtown skyline. This Gothic-Revival castle style mansion and garden was built in 1911-1914 and is the former home of financier Sir Henry Pellait. Casa is now a museum and landmark of the city. Parts are quite exquisite with over 98 rooms and the “castle” and gardens are located on 5 acres. There is also an interesting underground tunnel to get to the stables (“coach house”). The entire estate is well preserved, and I love the indoor patio garden.
The building was designed by E J. Lennox designed many of the City’s landmarks, including Old City Hall. Notably, you can climb to the top of the 7 story rooftop to get great views of the city. You may also recognize the building from movies such as X-Men.
Casa Loma is only 2.5 miles from downtown, but that day it was overcast so we took an Uber. There is reportedly a bus with a direct route from downtown, but in the interest of time, we took the cab. If you walk, just know that Casa Loma is Spanish for House on a Hill, thus you may end up walking uphill.
- Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada – (www.ripleyaquariums.com) The aquarium was so much fun, first it was located Downtown next to CN Tower and it was great to see such a great aquarium with over 20,000 aquatic animals. This is a great family attraction with over 1.5 million gallons of water in both marine and freshwater habitats throughout the aquarium.There are so many galleries, virtual experiences, programs and educational programs to enjoy for both adults and kids alike. I did love standing on the moving walkway that went through the large tank of fish, sharks, etc.
As noted above the aquarium is located downtown next to CN Tower, thus it is easy to get there and is located near Union Station (public transportation).
While we didn’t get to explore them, you can also choose options like the Toronto Zoo or the Ontario Science Centre. But some highlights include
- Toronto Zoo – (www.torontozoo.com) The Toronto Zoo is home to over 5,000 animals and 460 species, and you can observe them during scheduled feeding times. The zoo also has discovery areas and special exhibits at times. This is also the largest zoo in Canada with over 710 acres. The zoo is about 20 miles away from downtown (1 hour with traffic) and it is accessible by car or public transportation (you can take a taxi/Uber, but it likely would be expensive)..
- Ontario Science Centre – (www.ontariosciencecentre.ca) The Science Centre was opened in 1969 and is located about 7 miles from Downtown Toronto. Besides the various interactive scientific exhibits and live demonstrations, the museum has a rainforest, a planetarium, and Ontario’s only IMAX cinema (separate admission ticket).
Check out the many Sports Teams in the City
Sports – Toronto Blue Jays, Raptors, Maple Leafs, etc., what can I say, there are so many professional teams playing in Toronto. The week we were there you had many Blue Jay fans out in full force and Raptors were actually walking down the street (LOL, fans dressed in Raptor costumes). It made a trilling walk downtown
- Rogers Centre and Toronto Blue Jays – (www.bluejays.com) While I was in town, the Toronto Blue Jays (MLB) had a game and we got to see them play in this great 53k+ seat retractable roof stadium. Given the weather they had it closed, thus it was quite enjoyable. This venue is also used for concerts as well, so there are many options to do things in Toronto.
- Scotiabank Arena – (www.scotiabankarena.com) The day we were downtown, the NBA Raptors basketball team were playing at the arena. But if you go to town, depending on the season, it is also the home to the NFL’s Maple Leafs hockey team and the NLL Toronto Rock, the professional box lacrosse team. Besides sports, this is also a concert arena, so it gives you many entertainment options.
Graffiti Alley – If you love art and vibrant colors, you will love strolling along Graffiti Alley. It is located in the Fashion District and runs for about 3 blocks of Rush Lane, behind the more trendy Queen Street West. A walk down the alley gives you a great way to get some unique perspective of Toronto and its diverse artists.
Toronto Sign for Pictures
Don’t forget to visit the colorful TORONTO sign Downtown for that Instagram pic! It is located across for the City Hall
Where To Eat In Toronto, Canada?
Besides some restaurants mentioned in our Kensington Market article and Food Tour, and the 360 Restaurant above,, we also ate meals at some other great restaurants. A few are noted below.
- Trinity Common (@trinitycommon) Trinity was awesome and opened until 2 am every night. Trinity offers both beer, food, and music, i.e. the trinity. This craft beer hall has various food options and drinks. It offers both indoor and outdoor eating areas, depending on your dining style or the weather. It has a more trendy vibe and is a fairly popular place for dinner, etc.
- Film Cafe (@filmcafe.kensington) This restaurant is open from 8sm to 1sm daily (2 am on weekends) and offers a great mix of food, including breakfast all day. It has great decor and ambiance and makes you feel welcome. The weekend we went had a live singer to entertain. While it says the food is Japanese style, there are many options on the menu.
- Tundra restaurant at the Hilton Toronto (Instagram @tundra.to) Tundra serves locally sourced vegetables and proteins, including sustainable seafood and the dishes are also Canadian inspired to make you feel right at home. The restaurant has tables, as well as a bar, and is a relaxing atmosphere after a long day of sightseeing. It is located near the lobby of the hotel, so it was a great place to eat. If you need a larger meal, the hotel also has a Ruth Chris Steakhouse.
Other Tea and Coffee Options
- Cafe Pamenar (@pamenar_km) This modern cafe, coffee shop/bar offers trendy coffee drinks, and small snack plates, in a musical atmosphere. There is room to sit outside in front/back, as well as indoors. It appears to change to a bar later in the day and closes at midnight. We enjoyed stopping in here for a chat and a coffee.
- Kung Fu Tea For those of you who love bubble tea, you may want to try them at Kung Fu Tea. While they have several locations, this Taiwan/Chinese type tea is very popular in the area (with 6 stores in the Toronto area).
Getting to Toronto
The nice thing about Toronto is that it is the largest city in Canada, thus there are various modes of transportation to it, including flights. We flew from the USA from Florida and flew Swoop Airline to Toronto.
- Swoop Airlines (flyswoop.com) Swoop Airlines flies in the USA, Canada, Caribbean and Mexico. This is an ultra low cost airline. Our flight left from the Orlando Sanford International Airport (SFB) located in Sanford. SFB reportedly stands for “simple, faster, better”. It turned out to be a great small airport that hardly had waits, so it made it an enjoyable option.
Notably, besides flying to Toronto, Swoop also flies to nearby Hamilton, Canada, that is located between Toronto and Niagara Falls, so it’s another smaller airport that gives you an opportunity to see both or all 3 locations. More will be written about that in another article, but I just wanted to point out that option since Hamlton is also a smaller airport and Hamilton is a cute area to visit.
Places to Stay in Toronto
Since this is the biggest city in the country, there are so many places you can stay in Toronto. This city also has good transportation and Uber to easily get around too. We stayed a few days in each hotel below, as well as Hamilton for day trips. This gives you an idea that there are all price ranges in this diverse city.
- Hilton Toronto (Instagram @hiltontoronto) 145 Richmond Street West
The Hilton Toronto is centrally located and it is close to many central attractions, but only a short ride to Kensington Market. This upscale hotel is 32 floors with both rooms and suites, with an Executive Lounge high up for great views, an indoor/outdoor heated pool with views of the CN Tower (awesome at night), a gym facility, and an on-site restaurant. We also loved riding up on the glass elevator for more awesome views.
Don’t forget if you stay at Hiltons to sign up for Hilton Honor reward program (www.hiltonhhonors.com) so you can get points for future stays.
- Samesun Toronto – 280 Augusta Avenue (Instagram @samesunhostels)
Samesun Toronto hostel is a great place to experience and explore the Kensington Market and Chinatown neighborhoods, especially if you are on a budget. This newly renovated hostel has both private and dorm-style rooms, a shared kitchen, and a living area. Wifi is available and the hostel is air-conditioned. We had a private room with a balcony. The shared restroom was down the hall.
The rooms are very good, Samesun recently purchased/renovated the building so it is very clean, bright, and welcoming with artwork on some walls and throughout the staircases. It was a great way to experience the area and a close walk to Chinatown, etc.
Toronto Wrap Up:
To wrap this up, Toronto Canada and the Heart of Ontario are such great areas to explore. Toronto is not only the largest city in Canada, but it is also one of the most diverse. Learn more cultures and their food options by touring this immense city. From the eclectic Kensington Market and Chinatown, to Downtown Sports and museums one can’t go wrong. One also has the cities like Hamilton and Burlington and the natural beauty of the gardens, waterfalls, that give you a unique glimpse into the people of the heart of Ontario and its great cities.
Fun Fact:There are so many great things about Toronto as noted above, but for you baseball fans, did you know that Babe Ruth, one of the greatest American sports heroes of all times, hit his first professional home run at Hanlan’s Point Stadium in Centre Island.
Awesome guide Sarah