Toronto: the big TO, home of the Blue Jays, the CN tower and ethnic diversity.
I had the immense pleasure of visiting Toronto for two weeks last September for a wedding. It was my third visit and by far the best and most awesome. I made it my mission this time to explore this grand city and neighboring Niagara on the Lake and I am not nearly done. Toronto, you were amazing and I cannot wait to walk your streets again soon.
Here is a list of must try activities while in Toronto and surrounding areas:
Number 10 – Wine Tasting in Niagara on the Lake
As a pre-wedding activity the bride and groom organized a wine tour on the South shore of lake Ontario at Konzelmann Estate Winery. Everyone who knows me knows that I am a wine junkie. A glass of wine a day is something I live by. So imagine my excitement when I heard that a wine tasting was part of the itinerary. My inner alcoholic jumped for joy.
Konzelmann is located in one of Canada’s premier wine regions and was started by a German couple sometime in the eighties if I remember correctly. It is known for its peach and ice wines, which were both too sweet for my taste but I fell in love with their Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, both excellent wines that I brought back with me to enjoy while watching the sun set. Who’s with me?
Number 9 – Arriba Hotel Bar
This bar was the reason we booked ourselves a couple of nights in the Renaissance Hotel and even though the hotel left much to be desired, the Arriba bar definitely made up for the disappointing stay. The hotel is adjacent to, if not part of the Rogers Centre, home of the Blue Jays. The Arriba bar is just an ordinary hotel bar and lounge but the view it offers is what makes it extraordinary. This bar offers a view….wait for it…….of the inside of the stadium. It’s one of the best seats in the house and is one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen and I’m not even a big fan of baseball. My husband is, though and it was amazing seeing this grown man smiling from ear to ear. He was as excited as a little kid in a Disney park for the first time.
Number 7 – The Yorkdale Shopping Center
If shopping is more your thing then grab a cab or check your Uber app and head down to Yorkdale Shopping Center. If you thought Eaton Center was amazing wait till you get a load of the Yorkdale Mall. The size alone is enough to make your head spin. I don’t particularly enjoy shopping in malls much anymore but this place is amaze-balls. I didn’t explore the whole mall but can tell you that quite some damage can be done to your bank account here. The food court was impressive but most of all I loved the cinema and it is where I spent most of my time while at the Mall.
TTIG’s insider’s tip: take the escalator down at the main entrance and head over to Moxie’s for an appetizer and cocktail.
Number 6 – The Distillery Historic District
What can I say about the Distillery District that hasn’t already been mentioned in countless tourism brochures? It’s a definite must see. It’s artsy, It’s fancy and some of it’s stores are ridiculously overpriced. Here you will find artisan shops, cafes, designer boutiques, great restaurants all in restored Victorian-era buildings that used to house a renowned whiskey distillery. You can feel the history of the place when exploring the streets and alleys of the Distillery District. It’s a see and be seen kinda place. I’m not always in the mood for these kinds of places but I heard great things about the restaurants there.
On recommendation from friends in Toronto we had lunch at El Catrin, an authentic and modern Mexican restaurant open for lunch and dinner. The decor and menu are fantastic. The tequila and cocktails menu even more so. There are more tequila choices on this menu than I knew existed. As it was still lunch time I opted for something more subtle and less strong, a cocktail called the Hibiscus Rose made with rosewater and citrus amongst other ingredients. The food was delicious and the ambience made me wonder how much this place must rock in the evenings. I give this restaurant two thumbs up. TTIG Approved.
Number 5 – The CN Tower
It is kind of hard to miss. It is that needle thing sticking out high in all photos of the Toronto skyline. It is one of the most visited landmarks in Canada and at 553.33 meters it is the world’s tallest free standing structure and a wonder of the modern wold. It is also the number one on every Toronto visitor’s list. So it is no wonder (see the pun there?) that I decided to pay it a visit and see what the hype is all about. We took the glass faced elevator up to the observation deck. I am not afraid of heights but even for me the ride up (and down) was a little scary. Enclosed in a glass box traveling at a very high speed to hundreds of meters above ground is enough to make anyone a little weak in the knees. That feeling quickly disappears once you reach the observation deck. Although the sky was a bit grey that day which impeded us seeing very far across the city, the view was still spectacular. I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves.
No visit to the CN tower is complete without a walk on the glass floor. This part of the attraction was built in 1994 and can hold the weight of 14 large hippos (or 35 moose if your want to keep it Canadian). Even though I consider myself a hippo sometimes (especially after a big bowl of ice cream) it was still somewhat unnerving when standing on this piece of glass with nothing else underneath you but the Toronto Aquarium at 342 meters down below. The fact that there were kids jumping up and down on this piece of glass while I was on it, was to say the least a bit unnerving. Damn kids.
Number 4 – The Whirlpool Jet Boat Tour
Splash mountain has long been one of my favorite Disney rides. So naturally when I was presented with the opportunity to be a part of something called Whirlpool Jet Boat as a pre wedding activity, I immediately signed up. And when the instructor told us that we WILL be getting soaked, I got even more excited. Little did I know he meant it in the most serious way. For my fellow adrenaline junkies this is a must do. Custom built vessels using triple turbo diesel jet water system take you to the Niagara rapids. Twirling you around like a lone panty in the washing machine. This was definitely no splash mountain.You will be given a poncho and life vest. The poncho is not meant to keep you dry but warm. Or so they say. I got soaked in parts I didn’t even think would be possible. But all I can say is: It was awesome.
TTIG insider’s tip: Bring a change of clothes, a towel and some hair gel. Avoid looking like this the rest of the day.
Number 3 – Queen Street West
This is a loooooong street, a very long street but it is one of my favorite parts of the city. Very ethnic, eclectic yet urban with a dash of boho, it is a fun street most of all with a lot of weird little stores where you can purchase the craziest knick knacks. Little holes in the wall type of places where artists roam in search of inspiration. I loved strolling along Queen Street West. The smells, the sight and the feel all come together and make it just an awesome place to be. It’s a street like no other. It reminds me of Amsterdam and certain areas in New York City but none of these places have the friendliness of the people Canadians are so well known for.
TTIG insider’s tip: Visit Nunu, Ethiopian Cuisine, located on Queen street West.
Number 2 – Graffiti Alley
Just off of Queen Street West and Spadina Avenue you will find Graffiti Alley. It can be a little hard to find but the Maps app is awesome at finding places. That’s how I was able to find it myself. It is not well known amongst the locals so asking for directions is not the best way to locate this place. I read about the Graffiti Alley also known as Rush Lane on someone’s blog and I was immediately enthralled. I had to see it for myself. I love street art. Always have, always will. Nothing prepared me for this, though. A kilometer of art, all legal street art. Some more beautiful than others and some a little more difficult to comprehend. The alley is taken over each summer by a group of urban artists called Style in Progress and they transform this street into an outdoor art exhibition for the world to see. It is so worth a visit. Take your time and study each mural. It’s amazing what these young artists communicate through a bunch of colors and shapes made with spray cans.
Number 1 – Kensington Market
I fell in love with Kensington Market. This multicultural district with its market feel and streets lined up with interesting shops and stores had me almost in tears. I fell at home here, like I belonged. It is urban and hip with little shops selling everything from produce to meats and fish and cute little stores offering Nepalese pashminas and BoHo chic fashion. Yes, I was in hippie heaven. Kensington feels like you took a train back to the seventies but still looks like the modern world. The restaurants here offer everything from vegetarian, vegan, Italian and even some soul food like the ever popular Dirty Bird Chicken and Waffles.
Kensington Market is located in downtown Toronto and was recently designated a national historic district. One trip down this neighborhood off of Dundas will confirm this. I visited this district twice during my stay in Toronto and I vowed not to stay away from my new home too long. I will see you again soon Kensington, my love.
TTIG insider’s tip: Try an authentic Naplitano pizza at Via Mercanti. It’s one of the best I’ve ever had. Ask them about their hot sauce too.
Fan Expo Canada
It’s similar to Comic-Con, a playground for the freaks, weirdos and nerds. It is the third largest pop culture and comics convention. When I heard that one of my favorite actors was going to make an appearance I immediately bought a ticket to see Norman Reedus from The Walking Dead. And see him I did. Fan Expo was an awesome experience.
The Union Station Outdoor Market
For the foodies this is a must do if you happen to visit in the summer months. I had some super delicious food here.
This trip would not have been this awesome if it wasn’t for a few people: My husband James, Emil and Joyce, Melony and Adri, the newlyweds Mitch and Jessie, Adrian and Eva, Kristen, Mac and Donna and my explorer buddy Sergio. Thank you all for your kindness and hospitality.
Stay beautiful Toronto. Until we meet again.