Over the last couple of weeks I’ve been reminiscing about our honeymoon across Canada. I told you about our amazing time on Vancouver Island and how the mountains stole my heart, but now it’s time for the cities.
Of the three cities we visited on our honeymoon (Toronto, Montreal and New York), I think Toronto might have been my favourite. It’s so chilled, so friendly and so wonderfully unpretentious. We were going out for dinner one evening and I was reading reviews of a particular restaurant to check out the vibe; one of the write-ups said “Wear whatever you like, this is Toronto, no one cares.” Right then, I knew this was the place for me.
Whenever I go to cities, I always search for blog posts on the best things to do/see/eat in the area. Sure, there are your standard commercial review sites like Trip Advisor, Time Out and City Pass but I much prefer hearing from real life bloggers – especially if they’re bloggers I already follow so know I can trust their taste.
Whilst we were travelling I became a pretty big fan of To Europe and Beyond, and I’ve always liked Nomadic Matt, but I also like checking out the bloggers I know well to see if they’ve been to any of the places I’m headed. So, on the off-chance you do the same, here’s my advice for an excellent 48 hours in Toronto.
We stayed in Little Portugal and I can’t recommend it enough. It’s a slightly hipster area but has managed to avoid total gentrification staying true to Portuguese culture. There are lots of cool cafes and bars, and has the vibe of a safe, friendly community.
We rented an AirBnb on the corner of Brock and Dundas West, a 40 minute walk in to downtown Toronto. We walked it on day one, stopping for breakfast en route and then stopping for coffee and Portuguese custard tarts. (Yes, at this point we were still eating excessive amounts of food.)
Things to do
Firstly, there’s some great street art all over Toronto so just keep your eyes open and enjoy the free gallery. The Lovebot, pictured above, is all over magnets, buildings, postcards and, according to Wikipedia,”was created by artist and designer Matthew Del Degan and is used as a symbol for the “Love Invasion,” a movement that aims to share love and kindness globally.” How cute is that? I took so many photos of street art across the city, and particularly enjoyed this train track and sunset which was at one end of a public playground. The other end had waterfalls and mountains – which, yes, I also posed by.
Kensington Market: After our walk in to town, we kicked off day one with a visit to Kensington Market. This is one of the most diverse neighbourhoods in Toronto. Its eclectic mix of vintage clothing stores, food shops and street art makes it a fascinating place to wander through and soak up the atmosphere. We got really excited by a bagel shop that was a bit disappointing, but don’t worry – there are many excellent food places which I’ve recommended at the end of this post.
AGO: The Art Gallery of Ontario is in central Toronto and it’s an excellent way to soak up some culture or, as we did, hide from the rain. We saw the Georgia O’Keefe exhibition and ate ice cream – both equally good experiences.
TIFF Bell Lightbox: I broke myself on day one. Apparently walking 40 minutes into town, then walking round Kensington Market and then walking around an art gallery is not ideal for a chronic pain patient. Who knew? So after some frustrated pain tears and yet more tea, we went to hide from the rain in the cinema. The TIFF cinema was showing an animated film called My Entire High School Sinking into the Sea so we had a cocktail in the art centre’s bar, then went in to the cinema where I fell asleep about twenty minutes in to the film. I might have missed the film, but it was an excellent place for a fibro hide-out and by the time we resurfaced the sun was shining and everything seemed a bit more manageable.
Toronto Island: On day two we started by taking the ferry to Toronto Island; it’s amazing and you absolutely have to do it. The island itself is kinda cute and has a lovely beach, but the journey and the view is incredible. I think I broke my record of ‘number of photos taken in one day’ on this boat trip.
We went to Toronto in April and the island was pretty quiet with most of the facilities closed for off-season. It meant that, unfortunately, we couldn’t row a boat around the lake but it meant the island beach was quiet and we had plenty of space to mooch about.
Go up the CN Tower: We are not really the people that pay a fortune and queue for hours to tick a generic tourist attraction of our list. Except, apparently, in Toronto we are. You can see the tower from basically everywhere in the city, which is not only great for photo ops but it’s also very helpful for navigation purposes. It’s oh so very tall, so we decided a trip up would be well worth the crazy tourist fees just to see the views of the city.
Distillery District: This is one of my favourite places in Toronto. The district is full of beautiful cafes and restaurants, all housed in heritage buildings – it’s the largest collection of Victorian-era industrial architecture in North America. This giant LOVE sign is full of padlocks, mimicking the bridge in Paris and encouraging people to “lock in their love”. (And also, please see my list of food places below – there are many excellent recommendations in the district.)
After a relaxing week in the mountains and three days on the train across Canada, I was feeling pretty relaxed. My body had rested and I felt rejuvenated, but being back in a city quickly reminded me what hard work they are. There’s so much to do and so much to see, and every moment not ‘doing’ something feels like you’re wasting time. It can be frustrating and difficult to manage and heartbreaking at times, but a quick nap in the cinema and a stern word with myself was just what I needed to sort yourself out. So go to Toronto, take it easy, and (slowly) work your way around all these places because they’re all kinds of excellent.
Places you should eat in Toronto:
- Jimmy’s Coffee is a great cafe in Kensington Market. It has a chilled out, creative vibe inside and a gorgeous outdoor patio if you’re lucky enough to have sunshine.
- Pizza Labretto is in Little Portugal and is very delicious. And, if I should be trusted on anything, it’s pizza.
- Midfield is a wine bar in Little Portugal. It’s dark, candle-lit, and does good food. I very much like the vibe, and they do a special on chicken wings and champagne.
- Queen Mother Cafe is on Queen Street West – the main shopping street in central Toronto – and this was the best meal of my trip. (Get the salmon, it’s excellent.)
- Bellwoods Brewery is in Little Portugal, it’s a small independent brewery and it’s delicious and all cool and trendy. I queued to get in and it was totally worth it.
- Soma is essential. It’s chocolate and ice cream heaven, a shop with cafe in the Distillery District and it is without a doubt the best ice cream I’ve ever had in my life.