Toronto is a dynamic world-class city, growing with a steady influx of new residents from around the world and an ever-increasing assortment of new buildings. It has been called the most diverse city in the world, and more than 140 languages are spoken here.
As Canada’s largest city, it is the cultural, entertainment, and financial capital of the country. Luckily for Western New Yorkers, it offers an easy getaway for the day, weekend, or longer. The exchange rate continues to favor the American dollar (one US dollar is worth 1.30 Canadian at press time).
Toronto is very much a city of neighborhoods with a dizzying array of attractions and experiences. Here are a handful of favorites in the downtown area:
St. Lawrence Market, a few blocks down Front Street from Union Square, has been welcoming visitors since 1803. National Geographic named it as the world’s top food market a few years ago. It is a great place to stop for an inexpensive breakfast or lunch, as well as the perfect place to shop for picnic supplies. A longtime market favorite is the Canadian bacon sandwich from Carousel Bakery that drew rave reviews from the late culinary celebrity Anthony Bourdain.
More than 200 vendors sell everything from local mustard, cheese, and wondrous baked goods to flowers, fresh produce, fish, and meats. Many shops offer samples. Musicians often serenade visitors.
From here, take a stroll to the Distillery Historic District, North America’s largest, best preserved collection of Victorian industrial architecture. The streets are cobblestone and the buildings are now filled with art galleries, boutiques, and restaurants.
If the weather gods cooperate, take the ten-minute ferry ride from the dock in front of the Westin Harbour Castle Hotel to the Toronto Islands. The ferries operate year-round, and terrific views of the skyline are everywhere.
The CN Tower has defined Toronto’s skyline since its completion in 1975. It is impossible to miss, and if the weather is reasonably clear, a trip to the top is a must-see adventure. While it is no longer the world’s highest structure at 1,815 feet, it remains the highest in North America.
Our dinner at the CNN Tower’s 360 Restaurant is one of my most memorable. It takes about an hour for the complete revolution, offering quite awesome views of the city and Lake Ontario beyond. The food and service matched the views and the timing for the sunset made for a perfect evening. Dinner reservations include admission to the tower viewing levels.
Next door to the Tower is Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada, the country’s largest indoor aquarium. It showcases more than 16,000 marine animals and features the largest shark collection in North America. Regular dive shows demonstrate rays being hand-fed by divers, with a ray touch pool on the surface level.
Train fans are drawn to the railroad cars on display across the street at the Toronto Railway Museum. Don’t miss the recently restored Toronto, Hamilton & Buffalo railway caboose No. 70.
A few blocks away are the Princess of Wales and the Royal Alexandria Theatres, two iconic Mirvish theaters. The very popular musical Come from Away, based on the true story of the small Newfoundland town that hosted thousands of of 9/11 passengers, is continuing through May 31 at the Royal Alex.
The Royal Ontario Museum, otherwise known as the ROM, is Canada’s largest museum of natural history and world cultures. Easy to reach by subway, it is the place to be for all dinosaur fans. Everyone seems to gravitate to the Galleries of the Age of Dinosaurs. The museum has one of the world’s most comprehensive collections of dinosaur skulls. Gordo, an eighty-eight-foot-long Barosaurus, is the centerpiece of the exhibit.
Toronto traffic is often heavy and unpredictable, and parking is expensive. While there are buses to the city, schedules are limited. However, there is another way. Drive on the QEW and exit at Burlington. Just a few blocks away is the free GO Train parking area. If there are no spaces in front of the station, drive around to a larger parking area in back.
The GO Train operates every thirty minutes for the hour-long trip to Union Station with a prime location on Front Street. Just across the street is the iconic Fairmont Royal York Hotel. In celebration of its ninetieth anniversary last year, the classic hotel’s 1,329 rooms have been modernized and new dining and drinking venues have opened.
Deborah Williams is author of The Erie Canal: Exploring New York's Great Canals; deborahwilliams.com