Destination Expert: Toronto
Thinking about visiting Toronto? You are in the right place. Red Hunt, a world traveler shares his insider knowledge about his hometown and first love, Toronto. Before you travel to diverse Toronto, read what Red has to say about restaurants, hotels, and the pedestrian-only area of Toronto that many tourists may not visit.
What makes you an expert on Toronto?
I’ve lived in the Toronto area my entire life (except while travelling of course!) Growing up in the suburbs, I used to appreciate Toronto for the big, popular things that attract tourists here, like the CN Tower. Now that I live downtown it is the small discoveries that I appreciate most. I’ll often walk around different parts of the city just to stumble upon a new place to grab a beer or bite to eat.
What makes Toronto unique?
There are a number of things that catch people’s attention when they visit. I’ve had friends say Toronto is similar to Melbourne, Australia – except cleaner. I’ve had friends from Sweden remark at how diverse the city is – when you stand at a street corner everyone looks different, but we’re all Canadian.
The city openly embraces the changing seasons we get in Canada. In spring, people flock to High Park to see the cherry blossom trees, while summertime is best for exploring the beaches and sipping drinks on a patio. You know autumn is approaching when the renowned Toronto International Film Festival and Canadian National Exhibition both arrive in town. In winter, going ice skating is always a must.
It means that if you’ve visited Toronto once, you can’t possibly experience everything it has to offer. There is no generic list of attractions, as festivals and experiences change with the seasons – meaning you’ll just have to visit more than once!
Where are the best places to eat? What should visitors order?
This is a loaded question, as you can find anything and everything here in Toronto. A safe starting point is to head to St. Lawrence Market, and grab either a BBQ chicken sandwich at Churrasco of St. Lawrence or either the veal and eggplant or chicken parmigiana sandwich from Mustachio’s.
Now poutine isn’t only a Quebec meal, there are plenty of poutine options in Toronto! You can’t go wrong with either the Bacon Poutine with Maple Syrup from Poutini’s House of Poutine or a Traditional Poutine (fries with gravy and cheese curds) from Smoke’s Poutinerie.
For street food, Toronto’s hot dog vendors have been recognized as being among the best in the world when it comes to variety of options and toppings, so why not check them out yourself?
From Greektown to Little Italy and Koreatown, there are areas to enjoy virtually any cuisine in Toronto. It’s impossible to highlight them all. For a nice treat, I suggest grabbing some Portuguese custard tarts from any Nova Era bakery in the city. If you want a nice meal, then my favourite spot is Beer Bistro downtown. As a beer lover I may be biased with this choice, but they offer a fantastic seasonal menu that is always in top form.
What are some must see/do activities in Toronto?
Yes, you should go up the CN Tower. Pay the extra amount to go up to the Skypod, which takes you even higher above the city, or if you’re brave enough - book tickets ahead of time and do the new EdgeWalk, on the outside of the tower!
Toronto Island is a perfect day trip. You can take a ferry from the waterfront, rent a bike and explore Toronto from a peaceful, different perspective. There are beaches there, even a nudist one, as well as a great Frisbee golf course.
Around downtown, if you want some culture, the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) is the place to go. They offer a discounted admission on Friday nights, making it an even better deal. The TIFF Bell Lightbox is a five-story complex of cinemas and galleries that always has an interesting array of exhibits on display.
Royal Ontario Museum
For shoppers, be sure to visit the pedestrian friendly Kensington Market, full of vintage and one-of-a-kind shops and quirky restaurants. It’s not far from Queen St. West either, which is perfect for window shopping and seeing some of the best local Toronto shops.
The best spot to grab a drink before sunset is at Panorama Lounge, a bar on the 51st floor of an office building in the Yorkville neighbourhood. It offers balcony views of the entire city and is a more impressive spot than the CN Tower in my opinion.
Canada’s only castle happens to be in Toronto as well. Casa Loma may not be of the same scale as those scattered across Europe, but it is definitely a unique attraction to North America. Finally, if you want a real dose of Canadiana, then a stop at the Hockey Hall of Fame has to be added to your activity list in Toronto.
Where are the best places for nightlife in Toronto?
Depending what you’re looking for there are a few popular pockets of the city to have fun. The aptly named Entertainment District is downtown with a concentration of clubs along or near Richmond Street.
Then there is the friendly battle between Queen and King Streets. On Queen West you get a mix of relaxed bohemia, neighbourhood bars and famous music joints like the Horseshoe Tavern. Over on King Street it’s more of a dining and clubbing mix, with people dressed to impress. Head down on a weekend and you just need to find the crowds. An alternative to downtown is to head to Yorkville, one of the more upscale neighbourhoods of the city. A few drinks at Hemmingway’s before a night of salsa dancing over at Babaluu is always a fun option.
Name three/five of your favorite places to stay: High end Hotels? Budget friendly places?
Where to stay in Toronto? On the budget side of things the place that has impressed me most is also one of the newest, Planet Traveler hostel near Kensington Market is bright, new and in a great, central part of town. The fact that it has a rooftop bar doesn’t hurt either.
When it comes to classic places to stay, the Fairmont Royal York on Front Street is hard to beat. Character and history is what makes this place great, although if you want a more modern and fresh atmosphere of pampering then the SoHo Metropolitan Hotel or the Le Germain boutique hotel are among the best in the city.
If budget and luxury are both too extreme for you, then the funky vibe of the Gladstone Hotel may be what you desire. It features unique, themed rooms, including a neat Tower Room that stands above the surrounding buildings.
What is Toronto’s best kept secret?
Not so much a secret, but a part of Toronto that is sometimes under-appreciated is the Distillery District. It’s a pedestrian only area that is home to a brewpub, restaurants, boutique coffee shops, galleries and unique art shops. A great place to stroll around and possibly pick up some local arts or crafts.
What souvenir should everyone leave with after visiting Toronto?
A photo of themselves with the CN Tower in the background! Aside from that, hopefully you leave with a sense that Toronto is full of fantastic food offerings and friendly people!
With a passion for good beer, nature and wildlife, Red Hunt provides writing, photography and marketing services to the tourism and travel industry. He ditched the corporate suit-wearing lifestyle in 2003 and has since travelled to more than 40 countries around the world. You can follow Red on Twitter @redhunttravel or online at redhunttravel.com