Things to do in Toronto

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.


To stay

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.


To eat

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.


To drink

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.


To do 

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.


To Shop

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.


To Escape

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.

Fairmont Royal York, Toronto

Every Fairmont hotel I have visited has had a different personality and feel. The Fairmont Royal York is perhaps the best known hotel in Toronto. Centrally located in the business downtown district and towering high, it is difficult to miss. It is nearby to many of the cities most popular attractions and connects underground to Union Station, which is just 20 minutes direct to the airport. So within an hour of stepping off our flight we were settling into our luxury bedroom.

Fairmont Royal York

The Royal York dates back to 1929 when it officially opened, boasting 28 floors and 1,048 rooms. Recently the hotel underwent a substantial renovation which took 5 years and cost millions of dollars. As well as the redesigned rooms, the update included renovations to the pool and spa and modernisation of the guest services.

When I visited just before Christmas, the hotel lobby was sparkling with Christmas decorations and lights. We were staying in a standard room on the fifth floor, small but well designed.

Fairmont Royal YorkFairmont Royal York

The lavish bed dominated our room, with a neatly arranged desk and armchair tucked into the remaining floor space. I was thankful for a large window overlooking the front of the hotel that provided some natural daylight, even though the weather was gloomy.

Fairmont Royal York

I was excited to find one of my favourite toiletry brands in the bathroom. Le Labo is a lovely French brand which I find does wonders for my hair and skin. I was impressed to see such a large hotel stocking it in all their rooms.

Fairmont Royal York

Breakfast can be enjoyed downstairs in the Epic Restaurant or ordered to the room. Choose from an array of cooked dishes, fresh fruit and baked treats. Guests who wish to dine in the hotel can sample a range of international cuisines, including Japanese delicacies at Benihana or informal Canadian food at Piper’s Pub.

There are also numerous facilities to satisfy the needs of business guests, and special rooms for weddings and celebratory occasions. For visitors in need of some rest and relaxation, a large spa is available for use complete with sauna, steam room, pool and gym.

For a quick stopover visit in Toronto, Fairmont Royal York was the perfect hotel… brilliant location, efficient service and comfortable bedrooms.

More information and book a room at Fairmont Royal York here.

Things to do in Vancouver

Vancouver skyline

It was exciting to arrive in Vancouver, the first stop on my five-month world trip. During my week in the city I sampled the finest food, explored the versatile local culture, enjoyed out-of-town expeditions and even made it along to an ice-hockey match! Here is a rather long list of my favourite discoveries…


To stay

Rosewood Hotel Georgia – this 12-storey historic hotel in downtown Vancouver opened in 2011 after a five year multi-million pound refurbishment. It is possibly the most sought after accommodation in the city, with lavish rooms, grand facilities and a destination restaurant where we enjoyed a memorable and delicious brunch. If you are feeling particularly flash, ask for a transfer in the resident Bentley or book yourself in for a treatment at the award-winning Sense spa.

The Burrard – this affordable hotel stands out with its retro theme and unique appeal. First opened in 1956, the venue has since updated the bedrooms but kept its cheeky charm. Make use of the Burrard bikes, perfect for exploring the city.

To eat

Pidgin – This modern and minimalist space lets your mind focus entirely on Makoto Ono’s Asian-French inventions. Dishes such as foie gras rice bowl with chestnuts, daikon and unagi glaze will challenge but excite any discerning foodie. We loved the shishito peppers with parmesan and pine nuts, and the addictive fried chicken wings, a perfect balance of texture and flavour.

Meat and Bread – I am still dreaming about the food from this tasty lunch spot. There are a few branches in Vancouver and we visited the Cambie Street restaurant, sharing one of their celebrated Porchetta sandwiches. It was a winning combination of tender flavoursome pork, crunchy crackling, vibrant herby salsa verde with a peppery kick from the creamy homemade mustard. It was perhaps the best sandwich I have ever eaten and for just $9 (£4.50)!

Salt Tasting Room – This hip, industrial space is a brilliant place to catch up with friends and is popular for dates. Each wine flight trio is the equivalent of 1.5 glasses of wine, which you try with accompanying meat, cheese and condiments. It is a simple and brilliant concept, encouraging wine education and allowing visitors to sample a wide range of delicacies without spending a fortune.

Maenam – Known for serving the best Thai food in Vancouver, Maenam was a must try on my list. The small venue in the heart of Kitsilano has a cosy and friendly neighbourhood feel inside. The restaurant prides itself on offering authentic Thai cuisine with a modern twist. Don’t miss the 3 flavour paradise farm pork ribs (moo samrot) – they are spicy, sweet and utterly indulgent.

Bao Bei Chinese Brasserie – Bao Bei means precious in Chinese, and this unique little eatery in Chinatown certainly feels special, a modern gem in a historic area of Vancouver. Inside, the venue is design conscious but authentic feeling and the menu offers a delectable range of Chinese and Taiwanese delicacies. I loved the marinated eggplant with soy, garlic and ginger and the fragrant Shao Bing (sesame flatbread with cumin lamb sirloin, pickled red onion, green pepper, cilantro and salted chillis). With your meal, order a light and refreshing Taiwanese can of beer, the perfect accompaniment, and at the end of the meal ask your waiter if there are any caramel doughnuts left (every day the kitchen make just 15 for diners in the know!).

Tacofino – Another great lunch stop. Owners Jason Sussman and Kaeli Robinsong noticed that everyone loved tacos and started up Tacofino food truck in Tofino. A few years on and there are now several brick and mortar restaurants offering the famous tacos and burritos for eat in or take away. The fish taco is the favourite but we enjoyed the Crispy Chicken Burrito which includes rice, chilli mayo, sriracha, cabbage, cilantro, guacamole and the most addictive crispy chicken.

Wildebeest – This restaurant is a meat eater’s dream. The open kitchen concentrates on nose to tail cooking, serving up plates of unusual cuts with quirky ingredient combinations. The crispy chicken terrine with chilli & chive aioli and pickled shallots were seriously tasty little mouthfuls and I loved the handmade pappardelle with braised quail ragu, a buttery and comforting rustic dish. If you are a cocktail fan don’t miss the expert drinks from bartender Thor.

Café Medina – If you want to try the Café Medina brunch delights you will have to arrive early, as a queue develops before 8am on Sunday mornings. This stylish restaurant has become known for its fine Mediterranean-inspired cuisine, great coffee and the best Belgian waffles in the city. The plates of food are beautiful, even my modest avocado and bacon on toast looked too good to eat, and it tasted even better.

Beaucoup Bakery –Jackie Kai Ellis’ bakery creates French-inspired pastries and childhood favourites. After a day of sightseeing, Beaucoup was a lovely place to settle for a cup of ‘49th Parallel’ coffee and a peanut butter sandwich cookie. The bakery is also known for its unbeatable breakfast pastries.

L’Abattoir – Arguably the best brunch spot in town, L’Abattoir succeeds in the style and food departments. The select menu offers hearty savoury dishes including poached eggs with burrata cheese, tomato fondue and grilled bread, or if you fancy something sweet go for the house baked scones with cream and raspberry jam.

Earnest Ice Cream – This is THE place to stop for fine artisan ice-cream. A couple sold their products from a bicycle but soon moved into a permanent location to meet the growing demand. The smooth, creamy goodness is made with the best local seasonal ingredients; try the ‘London Fog’ earl grey, a deliciously subtle floral flavour.

To drink

Keefer Bar – Everyone I spoke to in Vancouver recommended Keefer bar for the best cocktails in town. Found on the outskirts of Chinatown, in a historically significant but previously rundown building, Keefer are now leading the cocktail culture revolution in Vancouver. We sat at the bar, to enjoy the drama of the mixology, and tried a variety of delicious drinks. Many of the quirkier cocktails cleverly use unusual Chinese ingredients, readily available from this district of town. I loved the Bold Fashioned, a strong drink with Wild Turkey Bourbon, Coconut Gomme and House Bitters, similar to the familiar Old Fashioned but with an hint of exoticism.

Matchstick Coffee Roasters – This cool, contemporary cafe is serious about good coffee, hoping to elevate your morning mug to a something a little bit more special. The team roast their own beans, brew each cup individually and serve with a smile. I loved the calm open space, fruity smooth coffee and flaky buttery croissants.

Revolver Coffee – Coffee enthusiasts are likely to know about Revolver Coffee before even arriving in the city. This popular Gastown café serves top coffee from their favourite North American roasters. For diehard caffeine fans opt for a ‘brew flight’ featuring either a single coffee prepared in three different brew methods or three different coffees prepared in the same brew method.

To do

Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden – After a day in the chaotic city this serene and calming garden is the perfect “refreshment for the heart”. It is the first Chinese garden built outside of China using all materials from China and constructed with ancient methods (no glue or nails). Take a guided tour and learn about its history or just admire the jade green pond, koi fish and 150-year old miniature trees.

Canucks NHL match – Canadians take ice hockey very seriously so it’s worth going to see what all the fuss is about when in Vancouver. Tickets range in price, and if you’re lucky you can get a seat for as little as £15-20. We went along to the Rogers Arena to see the local team, the Canucks, against their rivals, the Calgary Flames.

Vancouver Lookout – Offering a 360’ view, this is a great way to see the city and all its landmarks in the day or at night.

Stanley Park – Hire bikes from Spokes Bicycle Rentals and venture into nearby Stanley Park. Cycle all the way around the scenic seawall and take in the views, you may even spot a seal in the sea.

Museum of Anthropology – It is worth venturing outside of the town centre to see this spectacular building and all the interesting artefacts it houses. Founded in 1949, and recently upgraded after a multi-million dollar renewal project, the museum is best known for its collections from the North-West Coast of British Columbia.

Grouse Mountain – You can take the skyride cable cart to go up and down Grouse Mountain or challenge yourself and do the infamous ‘Grouse Grind’ (a steep 2900 metre trek that ascends 853 metres). I was told my 72 minutes wasn’t bad, but later found out that the unofficial course record is 23 minutes and 48 seconds! At the top there are various activities to get involved in, I loved seeing the grizzly bears in the wildlife refuge.

Capilano Suspension Bridge – A free shuttle runs every 10 minutes from various locations in downtown to this Vancouver attraction. Built in 1889 the 460-foot long bridge magnificently hangs above the Capilano River and leads tourists into the forest where an array of treetop adventures awaits.

To shop

Secret Location – A highly exclusive concept store selling couture items from international designers. Wander around in awe, but don’t touch anything you can’t afford… the staff have white gloves for any handling of the accessories. There is an adjoining restaurant for creative foodie experiences.

Old Faithful Shop – I could have bought everything in this modern day general store. For a souvenir, buy one of the lovely bottles of Noble hand-crafted bourbon maple syrup, or a brightly coloured Short Stack Edition cookbook – each specific to one inspiring ingredient.

Neighbour – This style savvy shop offers fashionable garments and objects, showcasing interesting and creative brands from all over the world. The success of the men’s shop led to the recent opening of a female store.

Kit and Ace – A clean and tidy shop selling the softest cashmere garments. Treat yourself to a fine 100% cashmere scarf or choose a more practical ‘technical cashmere’ tee designed for a luxurious but active lifestyle.

Nouvelle Nouvelle – The flagship Gastown store offers a stylish selection of designer clothes, accessories and other desirable objects. The shelves offer true staples and up-and-coming brands.

To escape

Vancouver Island – Take a speedy 35 minute Helijet flight over to Victoria, Vancouver Island for a day or two. Here you must indulge in afternoon tea at The Empress and explore the independent shops on Johnson Street.

Many thanks to Tourism Vancouver for their help with this trip.