Pimp My Weekend: Toronto
All the food, views and amazing nightlife...
Toronto: the city that gave you Drake, that quasi-adopted Meghan Markle (she filmed Suits there, you know) and that has doubled for New York in movies and TV shows too numerous to mention. Turns out, though, that the city has way more to offer and even the briefest of visits will leave you craving a return trip.
Nestling on Lake Ontario just north of the American border and taking the same time to get to as New York (with a new route just having opened from Gatwick making life even easier), Toronto has much in common with the Big Apple. It’s also a city with heaps of its own identity, (officially the most multicultural city in the world) and a favourable exchange rate makes Canadian dollars go a lot further.
The brand new Hotel X Toronto on the shore of Lake Ontario provided some serious luxury during an all-to brief 72 hours in the city, with hotels and AirBnB options for every budget adding to the appeal of a city that makes you feel at home the minute you land.
Seeing The Sights
With each neighbourhood seemingly cooler than the last, Toronto blends upmarket and slightly shabby to brilliant effect, with everything from Sugar Beach on Lake Ontario to Trinity-Bellwoods Park on Queen Street and Nathan Phillips Square in the Financial District encouraging the locals out of doors once the snow has receded (an entire city chugs away quietly under the ground when Toronto’s hard winter has set in).
With a subway, excellent tram system and plentiful cabs, Toronto is easy to get around. The neighbourhoods reward on foot exploration, though, (the shopping on Queen Street West is especially good) and you could do far worse if you’re pushed for time than hooking up with The Tour Guys for an amiable overview. If your interests are more gastronomic than touristic, Tasty Tours give a different flavour to a city justifiably proud of its food.
The CN Tower tops the list of the obvious must-see attractions (just make sure it’s not a cloudy day) and Ripley's Aquarium directly underneath leaves the good old Sea Life Centre wanting thanks to a frankly enormous array of enormous fish. If you have limited time for highbrow, feed your mind at the spectacular Art Gallery of Toronto. Totally understandable if the Bata Shoe Museum Manolo Blahnik exhibition (running until Jan 2019) wins out, though.
The city has loads more to offer culture seekers and the City Pass is a good shout if your list is long, but you’re also missing a genuine bucket list opportunity if you don’t take a trip out to nearby Niagara to see the legendary falls. The Canadian side of the border hosts the most breathtaking views of a true natural wonder, with a host of options from boat trips, cable cars and walks behind the falls themselves available depending how drenched you want to get.
To truly ingrain the view in your memory, however, the only way to see the falls is, naturally, by helicopter.
All the NOM
You can eat in Toronto.
The upmarket Annex district offers smart eateries and Queen West mixes things up with more boho offerings as befits the neighbourhood. Kensington Market wears its multicultural heart on its sleeve and is a must-visit for fusion fans, to the point that if you’ve ever had a craving for Rasta Pasta (think jerk chicken paninis and pasta dishes), sushi burritos or Korea-Mex then this might just be your heaven. That said, The Hungary Thai definitely feels like a prime case of ‘name first, detail later’…
Frankly, a short walk in any of these neighbourhoods will bear fruit when it comes to well-priced and seriously impressive food but as a starter for 10; Kay Pacha in the Annex served the best ceviche we’ve ever tasted and did great job of redefining the Pisco sour, too; La Palma brings Italy by way of Ibiza with a painfully trendy crowd coming for the 100 layer lasagne and staying for the hot staff.
If you can’t get enough of Drake then you can even eat at his gaff if you make a visit to Pick 6ix in the financial district.
For lunch and/or hangover cures on the go a visit to St Lawrence Market is a must. There you will find one of Toronto’s best kept secrets in the form of the pea meal bacon sandwich. Cured, as the name suggests, using pea meal, these babies will make you look at the humble bacon sandwich in a different light, or at least understand why the locals are so keen for you to try them.
Café culture has also taken root in Toronto, at least when weather allows. As you’d expect for what definitely feels a bit like it could be Hackney on Ontario there’s a coffee shop, gelateria or street food co-operative on practically every corner and although we definitely erred on the side of fancy Toronto caters for every budget.
World class night life
Toronto operates a seemingly pretty strict policy of not serving booze after 2am. We weren’t there long enough to find out if there’s an underground scene in defiance of this but frankly, with so much to see and do, a natural end to your evening isn’t the end of the world.
What’s more, the locals certainly do more than enough to cater to every taste while the bars are still open. Drink Toronto offer the frankly ingenious service of a drinks tour, taking in curated local hotspots like Noce and Boehmer serving modern and classic cocktails with delicious morsels at every stop to keep the staggering at bay. There are pubs and microbreweries aplenty and a buzzy speakeasy scene if you can find it.
MTV Travelled With... Tourism Toronto, and flew via British Airways who fly three times per week from London Gatwick to Toronto with return World Traveller fares from £476 including taxes and charges. Prices for the newly opened Hotel X Toronto start from £162 per night based on two sharing with breakfast. A Toronto Citypass provides access to key attractions across the city including the CN Tower, Case Lomo, Royal Ontario Museum, Ripley's Aquarium of Canada and Toronto Zoo or Ontario Science Centre. The passes are £51 for adults and £34 for children (plus taxes). Getting around Toronto costs just £7 per day with a TTC day pass.
By Mike Hird