3 Days* in TORONTO
If I were to throw a dinner party, Bangkok, Sydney and Cape Town would definitely make the cut. Toronto? Probably only after Reykjavik and a few others had cancelled. But in the end I would have been happy that Toronto came. It would arrive on time, bring a decent vanilla desert and help with the dishes, so let’s cut this Canadian some slack. Plus, the International Toronto Film Festival (TIFF) and has been nothing but good to me. Thanks for that, Canada.
Day 1* in Toronto
Toronto’s Harborfront, where glass and steal high-rises dot the shoreline is a little cold and impersonal for my liking so I suggest you start exploring the quirkier neighborhoods instead. West Queen West has undergone the transition from blue-collar industrial quarter to hipster enclave via the typical route of gentrification. Galleries, one of a kind shops and cafes have sprung up everywhere and as you venture east, you’ll notice the amount of thrift stores and tattoo parlors doubling.
For a quick amuse bouche, let Mean Bao’s pork belly bao raise your serotonin or more likely your cholesterol levels and will fuel your further explorations. Graffiti Alley on Rush Lane just a block south of Queen Street houses excellent (and some meh) street art and is worth a gander. Just avoid solo trips after sundown, it gets a little seedy.
At the end of the alley you will hit Spadina Ave. that separates the earthy granola Kensington Market from Toronto’s populated Chinatown.
A stop at Kensington’s Cocktail Emporium is an absolute must for booze lovers and their plentiful selection of bitters will make the cocktail enthusiast salivate all over their shiny floor. A few steps away, even fellow atheists will praise the Lord while chomping down into the Vatican Panini from Rasta Pasta.
Satiated and tired from walking, treat yourself to a foot massage in adjacent Chinatown. Advertised aggressively, the $30/30 min pampering is money well spent. To inject a little culture into your trip, visit the Art Gallery of Ontario with its new façade designed by Toronto-born Frank Gehry.
Day 2* in Toronto
Toronto’s proximity to the Niagara Falls begs for a drive out off the city, so get yourself some wheels for the day. While the Queen Elizabeth Way (QEW) is the fastest route, I say get off at Fifty Road and take Highway 81 through small local towns and past the regions best wineries, like Inniskillin.
Tours or tastings are available at the bigger vineyards and a perfect way to lube up with fermented grape juice before the Whirlpool Jet Boat Tour. This Niagara boat experience is wet and exhilarating so bring a towel, change of clothes and a beanie on colder days. The front row seats are for the adrenaline seekers, eager to flush out their sinuses while gaping at nature’s spectacular force. The more timid amongst you shall fare better on the Maid of the Mist Tour.
Back in Toronto, a seafood dinner seems like a logical choice. Oyster Boy serves fresh-as-hell half shells in a cozy setting with a clam chowder will leave you feeling warm and fuzzy. A drink in Little Portugal might be in order to reinstall (or probably not) your equilibrium, if you’re still trying to find it again after the boat ride.
The Lockhart is a cozy Harry Potter-themed joint that die-hard fans should not miss. Not being one of them I was highly discouraged by the 2.5 hrs. wait on a Saturday night and skipped along to Get Well for some arcade games, an eclectic beer selection and a grungy Portland vibe.
Day 3* in Toronto
If Toronto’s bar scene showed you a good time last night, a peameal bacon sandwich from Carousel Bakery at the St. Lawrence Market will infuse your aching body with the needed nutrients (sort of) and give you the stamina to explore the Distillery District.
This entertainment precinct houses galleries, shops, cafés and restaurants in handsome heritage buildings and is one of Toronto’s real treasures. Find distinctly Canadian design products, artesian chocolates and delicious local brews in this cobblestoned quarter that’s a refreshing contrast to the city’s modern architecture of nearby downtown.
If your heart is still beating for more Canadian retail therapy, try Saje’s natural remedies and all organic beauty products or Lavish and Squalor a few houses down on Queen St. W., a merchant’s general store full of trendy tchotchkes.
Ready to round out your trip with a dinner noir? Indulge in an uncommon dining experience in the dark at O.NOIR. Taking the visual out of the equation and heightening your gustatory and olfactory senses allows for a rather sensual exploit you aren’t likely to forget. And for once you can chew with your mouth open and nobody will know. See, Toronto isn’t that boring after all!
- Your driver’s license so you can rent a car
- An outfit for a night out in town
- Dr. Hauschka’s Foot Cream for tired fee