I’ve been a travel writer for over a decade and have worked with the BBC, Irish national broadcaster R.T.E. and a plethora of other publications, including The Irish Times, The Miami Herald, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and The Advocate. I have been published or broadcast on four continents, writing or presenting on subjects from mule racing to the hazards of bingo to partying with The Pixies. I am currently Editor of Private Islands Magazine, and a writer for AOL Travel, MSN Travel, Orbitz, ShermansTravel.com and GPS My City.
Originally from Glasgow, I’ve been happily ensconced in Toronto for the past three years, hunting for the city's top izakaya, ceviche den or barbecue joint. It’s the eighth city I’ve lived in, but the first to feel like home in a long time. I adore this city and relish its colourful ethnic neighbourhoods, its incredible restaurant, bar and coffeehouse scenes and its quirky stores. I spend mornings at the city’s 100+ farmers’ markets, lazy afternoons on lake and island beaches, evenings at gallery openings, late nights at hidden offbeat bars and in-the-know music venues.
Where I always grab a coffee: There are few places more passionate about coffee than Toronto. It seems that a new coffeehouse opens almost every week, staffed by some award-winning barista and boasting freshly roasted, fair trade beans. The best known of the city's slew of indie coffee mini-chains, Dark Horse, is my current favourite. Their best location is on Spadina just north of Queen — the renovated space still has its old wide-plank wooden floors and high ceilings, plus picture windows that open onto busy Spadina just where it begins to morph into Chinatown.
My favourite dining spot: The venerable Queen Mother on Queen just west of University is my favourite dining venue for all Toronto seasons, whether four-foot snowdrifts outside send me scurrying into a cosy booth at the back or a hot summer afternoon has me nipping through the basement passageway and out to the little known patio out back.
Best place for people watching: Regardless how many times I grab a coffee and sit on the wooden benches outside IDeal Coffee or tuck into tacos on the sidewalk outside El Trompo, the sights and sounds of Kensington Market never fail to keep me entertained. Originally the Jewish quarter, then home to various immigrant groups, today the incredibly colourful Market melds Latin American, Caribbean, New Age, hipster and hippy influences.
Where to be seen: While 'in' haunts pirouette onto Toronto's social horizon every month or so and fade from the news and the blogs after a season, the Drake Hotel keeps the celebrities and city scenesters coming back over and over. It's the winning combination of a cool cafe, super chic lounge, cutting edge underground music venue and 19 impeccably styled hotel rooms that keeps the attention of the frequently fickle TO crowd.
Most breathtaking view: I'm torn about this one - it's either the view from the tip of the East End's Leslie Spit, over the Lake to the city skyline or it's the view of the city from way out west at Humber Bay Park. For a straight-on, postcard view, though, the view from the Toronto Islands can't be beaten.
My favourite stroll: Strolling west along Queen West is one of my favourite weekend activities. The stretch from Bathurst to Dufferin is crammed with cafes, eclectic stores, galleries and bars. If it's sunny I'll stop and get a coffee from White Squirrel and a fresh marshmallow from Nadege and sit and watch the West End go by in Trinity Bellwoods Park.
The best spot for peace and quiet: Ward's Island, the most easterly of the tiny Toronto Islands, is the outright winner for peace and quiet in the city. It's a surprise on a first visit, especially after getting the Centre Island ferry to the cheerful mayhem and kid-friendly attractions that the islands are known for. Just a 15-minute amble east, there are a couple of coffee options and some gorgeous spots to picnic or to sit and contemplate.
Where I’d go on a date: I love the Boulevard Cafe, an intimate wee cafe of the corner of busy Harbord Street, just near the University of Toronto.It's Peruvian food with a French accent and amusingly erratic service.
Soundtrack for the city: Toronto is a city with serious music credentials. Stock up on local sounds from Arcade Fire, Broken Social Scene, Ohbijou, Peaches, Timber Timbre, Caribou, Crystal Castles, Gentleman Reg, Owen Pallett, Diamond Rings, Stars, Hidden Cameras and Katie Stelmanis.
Don’t leave without… Exploring the West End. On my first visit to Toronto, I stayed downtown and saw none of the character of the city's quirky neighbourhoods and ethnic eateries, just a few minutes' walk from the obvious attractions of Yonge Street.
My expert information
Toronto surprises people. Warm, welcoming, laid back and quirky, Canada’s largest city isn’t what most visitors expect. Sure, it has the big, brash iconic sights that you know about, such as the CN Tower, but it’s in Toronto’s patchwork of neighbourhoods that the soul of this incredible city lies. Two hundred ethnic communities and more than 130 languages and dialects give Toronto a character distinctly its own. Read more...