Canada’s largest city is also one of North America’s most vibrant communities. From bustling markets to some of the world’s outstanding art collections, Toronto has it all
Never been to Toronto? You might be more familiar with Canada’s largest city than you realise. Films such as My Big Fat Greek Wedding, X-Men and even Chicago, were all shot in what is one of North America’s liveliest cities. Visit to see some of the world’s most talked about new architecture, one of the world’s tallest buildings, buzzy designers and boutique shopping. Set on Lake Ontario, Toronto’s mix of skyscrapers and intimate neighbourhoods, excellent public transport and lively nightlife makes it perfect for a weekend break.
Start at the top. Zoom up the 1,815-ft CN Tower that dominates the skyline. The glass-walled, glass-floored lift just adds to the thrill. From the Sky Pod, look south across Lake Ontario to the USA and north to the green suburbs of North America’s fifth-largest city. Those with nerves of steel can look straight down through the Glass Floor: the ground and the Rogers sports stadium are a straight stomach-churning 1,122 ft below!
Toronto bristles with modern architecture. The latest addition is the ‘new’ AGO, the Art Gallery of Ontario. Here, Toronto-born architect Frank Gehry has transformed the museum inside and out, with a vast new space filled with art, sculpture and light. Must-sees include the Henry Moore Sculpture Centre and the Thomson Collection of Canadian Art.
Stop for coffee and a spectacular view in the Espresso bar, on Level 5 of the AGO’s South Tower.
Another world-class museum is the ROM, or Royal Ontario Museum, with its own extension, the Crystal Galleries. Designed by renowned architect Daniel Libeskind, the galleries provide a world tour of cultures and natural history, with art and artefacts from Africa, Asia-Pacific, Oceania and Central and South Americas. Children love ‘Gordo’, the Barosaurus skeleton that measures 90 feet long!
In the Crystal itself, choose from the casual Food Studio or the trendy c5 restaurant, which has views over the rooftops but is pricey.
Are white shoes for funerals or for weddings? Find out at the Bata Shoe Museum, one of the city’s small, quirky and delightful museums. The Bata is in Bloor-Yorkville, the posh shopping area of Toronto. From Chanel and Prada to the city’s own Roots (leisurewear and footwear), the choice is enormous. There are art galleries and boutiques, the Hazleton Lanes complex, plus department stores, such as the upmarket Holt Renfrew, The Bay, whose trading lineage dates back to 1670, and the Hudson’s Bay Company. For an indoor mall, hop on the subway line and head down to the Toronto Eaton Centre, with its 250 shops (Dundas or Queen Station).
Evening and dinner
Eat across the street from the Bata, at Bar Mercurio, a buzzy Italian restaurant serving wood-fired pizzas. Then stay in Bloor-Yorkville, at one of the stylish bars, or catch a musical in the Theatre District, a classical concert at the stylish new Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts, or a rock concert at the 19,000-seat Air Canada Centre.
Wear comfy shoes; Toronto is a walking city. It is also multi-national, as exemplified by Kensington Market. This area, west of Spadina Avenue, between Dundas and College Streets, is an eclectic collection of stalls, shops and cafés. A Scot and Bangladeshi run a chocolate shop; the Hungary-Thai is a restaurant serving dishes from both those countries.
Quick and easy: go for organic world dishes at Rice, or grab a sandwich at Wich? (both at 319 Augusta Avenue). Follow that with a cup of Fair Trade coffee at the ideal Coffee (84 Nassau Street).
Toronto is changing all the time and nowhere faster than Queen Street West, in particular the section from Bathurst Street westwards, dubbed ‘West Queen West’. In between architect and design studios, night clubs and grocery stores, buy sassy clothes at Ann Hung (at 829), gorgeous evening wear at Brian Bailey (878) or fabrics recycled into brand-new fashions at Preloved (881). Stop for a reviving juice at Fresh (894) or a drink at hotspot The Drake Hotel (1150).
Evening and dinner
Thanks to the subway and streetcars, Toronto is an easy place to get around. So getting from restaurant to nightspot is easy. My favourite neighbourhood restaurant is The Swan (892 Queen Street West). After that, check the listings in Metro or Where. Folk or rock? Jazz or blues? The city has a huge choice of live music gigs at venues such as The Reservoir Lounge (44 Wellington Street East), Alleycatz (2409 Yonge Street) and Rivoli (332 Queen Street West).
British Airways, Canadian Affair and Air Canada all fly to Toronto.
A TTC Day Pass includes unlimited one-day travel on the subways, buses and streetcars. Save money and jump the queues with the Toronto CityPass covering six attractions, including the ROM and CN Tower.
Where to stay
The Windsor Arms: a luxury hideaway for the rich and famous; 28 suites.
Soho Metropolitan: the ‘SoHo Met’ is a slick, modern downtown hotel with the popular Senses Restaurant & Bar.
The Drake: the eclectic room design and throbbing bar and music scene make this popular with the art, design, media and movie crowd.
The Gladstone: in an historic building, this is a funky hotel with an art gallery, restaurant and live bands.
The Fairmont Royal York: the city's grande dame has welcomed royalty and politicians, artists and rock stars for 80 years. Grandeur and comfort withtin walking distance of everything downtown.