I wasn’t sure what to expect from Toronto, other than very cold weather. Since visiting Vancouver a few years ago, I feel a fondness for the Canadian way of life… outdoorsy and healthy with cool, eclectic cities. Toronto is less of a ‘pretty’ city than I expected, with a sleek business district and a downtown hipster neighbourhood which reminded me of Brooklyn. The casual food scene is thriving, with every cuisine readily available and offered to a high standard. Creativity doesn’t stop at food as there are also plenty of local designers, artists and musicians to inspire you while you explore this city. Here’s my favourite things to do, see and eat from the four days I spent in Toronto.
Fairmont Royal York – For convenience and location you can’t beat this hotel. Dating back to 1929 with over 1000 bedrooms, this luxury hotel is a popular choice for business travellers, though it also satisfies those travelling for leisure with plentiful spa and dining options.
Buca – There are several branches of this upmarket Italian eatery, most say the Yorkville restaurant has the best food. The house-made salumi di mare is very popular, though I preferred the comforting homemade pastas and can particularly recommend the Bigoli duck egg pasta with duck offal ragu, venetian spices, mascarpone and basil.
Alo – For me Alo was without a doubt the most special eating experience in Toronto. Chef Patrick Kriss presents immaculate tasting menus of modern French food with a twist. The service is professional and friendly… and I loved the option of white or navy napkin at the start of the meal. If the full experience is too pricey, head to the bar for equally delicious, more casual dishes.
Oddseoul – Ossington Avenue has plenty of great casual eateries to choose from. We loved the flavoursome Korean small plates at Oddseoul. Highlights included the O.S wings and the moreish Squash Poutine.
Saving Grace – Expect to queue for this lovely neighbourhood brunch spot. We arrived early to secure a table at the tiny eatery that serves tasty sweet and savoury brunch dishes. Our most memorable dish was the tiramisu waffles.
The Drake Hotel – Ask anyone where the coolest place to stay is in Toronto and they will most likely say The Drake. This hipster hang out also boasts a brilliant restaurant which is particularly good for weekend brunch. We feasted on delightful dishes like Shakshuka, Eggplant sandwich, and the most addictive pecorino and truffle fries I’ve ever had.
Dandylion – If I lived in Toronto this is the restaurant I would want to return to time and time again with friends. The minimalist dining room is modern and stylish and the short menu offers simple but delicious recipes highlighting the best seasonal ingredients.
Chabrol – A quaint and cosy restaurant in the Yorkville district serving comforting French cuisine. Try the warming Ttoro fish stew and the irresistably good Apple tart with Calvados Sabayon.
Grand Electric – This shabby chic taco hang-out is always filled with hungry locals. The whole Mexican menu is delicious but I particularly loved the super cheesy Quesadillas.
Nugateau – Nugateau is Toronto’s first eclair shop, offering a range of beautiful pastries in an array of creative flavours. Located on Queen Street West, the patisserie is perfectly located for a mid-afternoon shopping break.
Rosen’s Cinnamon Buns – This bright bakery is on a mission to perfect the humble cinnamon bun. The cafe has no seating but drop in for a soft and delicious takeaway bun whilst in the neighbourhood, you won’t regret it.
Sam James – Without a doubt my favourite coffee in Toronto, the Sam James brand serves deliciously smooth and creamy coffee from their pared back and hip cafes.
Bar Ravel – This Gaudi inspired bar is worth visiting just to admire the amazing design and decor. The kitchen serves a short menu of delicious Spanish tapas whilst the experienced barmen can help you choose a refined cocktail to suit your palate. Sister establishment Bar Isabel should also be on your to do list.
Early Bird Espresso – The ideal Sunday brunch spot, Early Bird Espresso is found on Queen Street West and serves simple, classic breakfast dishes like avocado on toast, accompanied by their delicious strong coffee.
Sorry Coffee – This cute, marble clad coffee shop is found in the Kit & Ace store in Yorkville, and is a great place to stop for coffee and cake after shopping in the area.
Distillery Quarter – Located east of downtown Toronto, the Distillery Quarter contains numerous cafés, restaurants, and shops housed within heritage buildings of the former Gooderham and Worts Distillery. It is a lovely part of town to spend a morning wandering round.
Royal Ontario Museum – This striking museum has got something to entertain and interest everyone with a diverse art, world culture and natural history collection. Wildlife Photographer of the Year is currently on show at the museum.
Toronto Bicycle Tours – I usually shy away from active experiences when travelling, but discovering a new city by bike is a wonderful way of learning about your surroundings. Toronto Bicycle Tours is a dynamic company which offers brilliant tours of Toronto. We had a three hour ride in the downtown district, stopping off at notable buildings and parks, while company owner Terrence enlightened us with interesting facts and stories.
Art Gallery of Ontario – This art museum has an impressive collection including more than 80,000 works spanning the first century to the present day. I loved looking round the permanent collection, whilst also admiring the amazing architecture of the museum building… look out for the wooden spiral staircase.
Mjolk – It is worth venturing out to the Junction neighbourhood to visit this design haven. Mjolk was started in 2009 by husband-and-wife team John and Juli Baker as a lifestyle shop and gallery, representing work with an emphasis on functionality and craftsmanship. The shop stocks beautiful items for everyday life from Scandinavia and Japan. I left with serious pangs of home envy.
Drake General Store – Just across the road from the effortlessly cool Drake Hotel, this shop stocks great products from homeware to jewellery and foodie luxuries. Pick up a Toronto souvenir to take home.
Souvenir – I returned to this shop twice during my short time in Toronto. The beautiful boutique is home to design products from emerging artists, all hand-picked by owner Danielle Suppa. I loved the soy scented candles by Brennen Michael and unisex fragrances from Libertine.
Brandon Olsen Chocolates – This immaculate shop is more like a museum, displaying and selling the most beautiful chocolates. Owned and operated by chef and chocolatier Brandon Olsen and artist Sarah Keenlyside, this confectionery company is an expression of their shared love of food and art. The splattered chocolate designs reminded me of Jackson Pollock paintings and are available in intriguing but tasty flavours like orange blossom and honey, or cinnamon and brown butter.
Outclass – a stylish Toronto menswear company on College Street, dedicated to made in Canada products.
Niagara Parks – I had always heard fellow travellers comment that if you are going to see Niagara Falls it is more spectacular from the Canadian side. This great waterfall runs between America and Canada, with views from either country. Just a 90 minute drive from Toronto, this day trip is a must and a lovely escape from the city. At the parks there are plenty of activities to keep families or solo travellers entertained for the entire day: wander round the beautiful Butterfly Conservatory or take a tour of the historic McFarland House. The waterfall is best experienced with the ‘Journey Behind the Falls‘ which gives you a spectacular insight into this magical world wonder.
Many thanks to Tourism Toronto for assisting with this trip.