Toronto is the hub of the east coast of Canada and it can be used as a base to explore the rest of Ontario. It is multicultural, lively, interesting and, most importantly, easy to travel around
I spent the summer teaching kayaking in Algonquin Provincial Park so I spent quite a long time in Canada's largest, most cosmopolitan city. Upon my arrival I stayed at the Global Village Backpackers on the corner of Spadina Road and King Street West. This proved a fantastic start - a party with free drinks and plenty of 20 something travellers - although this wasn’t the best medicine for my jet lag as it continued until the early hours and my room was directly above. This central hostel has a great bar, wi-fi access, cramped kitchen facilities and a pool table. The food was cheap, tasty and available every night. Every morning, I was greeted with free pancakes by the friendly staff. The hostel is just a short walk from local theatres, the financial district, shopping centres and College Street covered in bars. This is the more touristy part of town and the prices certainly match.
I recommend another newer hostel/hotel further out on Sherbourne Street if you are looking for a longer, cheaper and more restful stay. The All Days Guest House, newly renovated, has a TV in each room along with an en suite. The well-stocked and spotless communal kitchens would make Gordon Ramsey salivate. All these facilities are available at hostel prices, and they have four different hostel sites. Be sure to check out St Clair West Street with its own little community, filled with trendy bars, cafés, and cute little clothes boutiques making you question why everyone in Toronto looks like a self styled American rap star when there are good clothes shops around.
Free and not so free fun and games
Toronto is always busy with things to do like sampling free food and visiting a creative art festivals, usually at the Harbourfront Centre based next to Lake Ontario. The main art gallery is also worth investigating with regularly changing exhibitions. Right in front of the Harbourfront Centre, there is a shallow water stage with regular free performances by local art groups. You can also walk through a free pottery and arts workshop on your way to the pet’s museum on the other side of the Harbourfront Centre.
My first meal in Canada was at a Tim Hortons, a large chain across Canada. They have great cheap coffee; their food on the other hand is overpriced, packaged and plastic. Kensington Market offers the multicultural, cosmopolitan feel of Camden Market with great tasty treats such as a burrito restaurant where each portion could feed you for days. This sits on the edge of China Town on Spadina Road with a multitude of cost effective Asian restaurants from cheap to mid range. If you get chance try a Jack fruit shake in a Vietnamese restaurant or the dumplings in any of the Chinese restaurants.
Right bang in the middle of the Kensington Market is the Hot Box Café (191 Baldwin Street) with a beautiful garden. All the food and drinks follow the hot box theme right down to the ‘stonerwiches’ and ‘munchies.’ The food and fruit shakes are superb, and it is a good experience watching the old Canadian hippies debate politics.
Ride the rocket
It is worth making the trip on the cheap, ultra efficient transport network, 'riding the rocket' down through to the beautiful beaches on Lake Ontario with an amusement park on Ontario place. The Mountain Equipment co-op regularly hosts different events, where you can grab watersports tuition, sometimes free. Next to the beaches there are gorgeous lakes and thick woodland in white middle class suburbia making the busy multicultural city something of a distant memory. Make a trip down to the Rogers Centre with its unique retractable roof to see a game of baseball on Blue Jays way. The Blue Jays play in the same league as the Yankees and the 49ers. The prices once inside the stadium are high so you are advised to have a few merry drinks before the game if you want to keep to your budget.
Shopping.........27 km more of underground Canadian fun
The Eaton Centre is just another shopping mall - one that has something for all members of the family though. The Yonge Street and Dundas Street Square hosts regular diverse gigs during the nights and markets during the day. Another unique character of Toronto is the 27km of walkways hidden away with the world's largest underground shopping complex with over 1,200 shops. This provides a more efficient way to walk across the city. This tunnel complex first started back in 1900 and now has a comprehensive signage system.
Completely out of character I decided to splash out on the Grand Hotel and Suites Toronto upon my girlfriend’s arrival. The foyer itself was a blackbird’s dream with more bright and sparkly things meaning the shades could stay on! We had two televisions and enough supplementary electronics to cater for Inspector Gadget. The main selling point for this little bit of luxury was the dual spa baths on top of the hotel providing amazing views of the city. The badly sound synched projector of television channels spoilt this romantic setting. Oh joy another television, only this time it seems to have experienced hormone growth, now twice the size of my entire room overpowering the gorgeous views. The room was relaxing with lovely firm beds, breakfast: tasty and plentiful, served in a beautiful restaurant with a little garden section.
Day trips out of town
Toronto is perfectly positioned to take a day trip to Niagara Falls. Most hostels offer day trips out to the falls for less than $50. Do not attempt to make an overnight trip out of it as the hotels are overpriced and entertainment starts and ends with the falls. Any other entertainment revolves around gambling or the cinema. The falls however are breathtaking and worth the extra effort to visit. Countless stories of successful and unsuccessful voyages down the falls can only be put in context while standing next to the awesome power of the falls.
Another great reason to visit Toronto is as a launching pad for a traditional canoe trip through Algonquin Provincial Park - less than two hours away. This park filled with unparalleled beauty and numerous wild animals. Canoe trips with wilderness camping provide the best out of the office experience Canada can offer. Algonquin Outfitters based on the edge of the park and in Huntsville can provide all the rental gear and tour guides necessary.
If you want a perfect place to spend a week and to access the rest of Ontario’s natural beauty then Toronto IS in the right place!