After Montréal, our next stop (following a six hour ride on the Megabus) was Toronto, Canada’s most populous city. After the je ne sais quoi somewhat European feeling of Montréal’s outer neighbourhoods and Québec City itself, Toronto was the stereotypical North American city.
We stayed at the University of Toronto New College Residences, which is a good accommodation option for those travelling in the summer months who want somewhere secure to stay that is relatively central. Toronto’s metro system is basic; we didn’t use it that much, preferring to walk so as not to miss anything! Here’s my verdict on what to see, do and (most importantly!) eat when in the city . . .
Aunties and Uncles (74 Lippincott Street)
Put simply, this is heaven for pancake lovers. Forget IHOP, go to Aunties and Uncles. The banana oatmeal pancakes, accompanied with fresh fruit and a generous smothering of maple syrup, are incredible. It’s a little out of the centre, on the edge of Little Italy, but it is 110% worth the trip. It’s worth noting that plastic won’t get you anywhere here; it’s cash only.
St. Lawrence Market
As a visitor, it’s worth bearing in mind that this market errs more on the buy food to cook at home side; that said, there’s plenty to sample on the spot. St. Lawrence Market is home to countless stalls selling meat, fresh fruit and vegetables, cakes, pâtisserie and maple syrup any which way you fancy, amongst other things. One particular item which is mentioned in every guidebook and countless articles is the peameal bacon sandwich; we tried one from Carousel Bakery. Lovely as it was, to me – and, I suspect, many other British people – it was just a bacon sandwich. I presume the excitement for Canadians and Americans alike comes from the fact it is not streaky bacon: it is back bacon, which is what we’re used to on our side of the pond.
The Distillery District
The Distillery Historic District has a certain olde worlde charm, with its faded red brick buildings, boutique shops and artisan cafés. For the romantics, there’s a love lock installation; bring a padlock, or buy one from a local shop and add it to the display. Chocoholics should head to SOMA: this is pure chocolate magic. Only small batches of each flavour are made (perfect for gifts!) and there’s a café too, so you can sample their own hot chocolate.
Wvrst (609 King Street West)
Always dreamed of going to Munich to celebrate Oktoberfest and never quite made it? Fear not: help is at hand. Wvrst specialises in sausages (or, more precisely, bratwursts) and fries. There’s something for everyone, with gluten-free, vegetarian and vegan options available. From experience, the bison blueberry/maple was the tastiest and don’t miss the chance to sample their duck fat fries! It fills up fast, so if you’re planning on heading down on a weekend, be prepared to wait for a table.
Whilst admittedly not as good as some zoos which I have visited (e.g. Madrid), for wildlife enthusiasts who lack the time to go on a Canadian safari, it’s the next best thing. Bear in mind that it’s 28 kilometres or so outside of the city centre, accessible by the metro system and bus: find directions here. The giant pandas are arguably the main attraction though there are countless other photo opportunities to be found.
Who doesn’t love an aerial view? The CN Tower is, without a doubt, one of Toronto’s biggest attractions: towering above the countless skyscrapers it resembles a giant surgical needle piercing the Toronto skyline. It doesn’t come cheap, but if you’re planning on visiting other attractions in the area you could consider purchasing the Toronto CityPASS, which makes entry prices much more reasonable. For the best experience, choose a clear day and head up at sunset.
Cloud Gardens Conservatory (14 Temperance Street)
In the heart of Toronto’s financial district is a small urban oasis; a welcome break from the hectic pace of downtown dwelling. The conservatory features vertical wall gardens, beautiful plants and an authentic misting system to recreate the atmosphere of the cloud forest. Entry is free and it’s open from 10am until 2.30pm, Monday to Friday (excluding holidays).
A short ferry ride away from Toronto’s bustling harbourside lies an area of peace and tranquillity, otherwise known as the Toronto Islands. From where the boat docks upon arrival, you can get a fantastic view of the Toronto skyline. The islands are connected by footbridges, making it easy to get around and explore the whole area; if you don’t fancy walking, you can hire bikes. On the far side, there are sandy beaches, two of which are Blue Flag designated beaches.
Unfortunately, the name of this dessert doesn’t – in my opinion – do it justice. Whilst it sounds like a stodgy, fatty pudding, it is in fact a delicate pastry concoction with a colour and texture which could almost be likened to a treacle tart in the UK. We sampled the butter tart at Dineen, which was absolutely delicious.
In the GTA (Greater Toronto Area), GO Transit provides easy access to nearby towns and places of interest. If you take the Lakeshore East GO train from Union Station and alight at Rouge Hill GO, you’ll be minutes away from discovering the coastline of Lake Ontario. There’s a sandy beach, seasonal swimming, fishing and a wealth of wildlife to be discovered in the marshes. For more information, including accessibility information, visit their website.