Oh Canada! Kaila Imada visits Toronto and discovers a historic metropolis undergoing a swathe of change
Toronto has everything you want in a big town. Rousing live entertainment. Three separate NHL, NBA and MLB teams. Top-notch food comes in the shape of world famous markets and celebrity chef restaurants, while cool cultural highlights range from the Frank Gehry-designed Art Gallery of Ontario to the city’s centuries-old neighbourhoods. Whether you’re looking to wine and dine or get properly cultured, Canada’s largest city is a first rate destination and a place you can easily get used to.
Museums and attractions The historic and rapidly gentrifying Distillery District (thedistillerydistrict.com) is an up-and-coming part of town, once home to the largest distillery in the world – Gooderham and Worts, founded back in 1832. Over the past decade the area has been transformed into a busy neighbourhood filled with restaurants, boutiques and coffee shops. Architecturally charming, it’s a popular location for many Hollywood productions and has been a movie set for the likes of Cinderella Man and X-Men. If you’re short of time, book a Segway tour for a quick and easy way to sightsee the best of the area.
Just west of the Distillery District sits the St Lawrence Market (92-95 Front St E; stlawrencemarket.com). Home to traders for more than 200 years, the space was Toronto’s first significant public market. In keeping with the rich heritage that surrounds it, the iconic space is currently home to a select 120 vendors selling some of the tastiest and most unique food in the city. While there, don’t forget to grab a signature peameal bacon sandwich made from Canadian-style back bacon. Made from boneless pork loin rolled in yellow cornmeal, it’s a scrumptious local delicacy.
Set aside some time to visit the stunning new Aga Khan Museum (77 Wynford Dr, +1 416 646 4677; agakhanmuseum.org), which hosts an inspiring collection of Muslim art and relics from different civilizations across the centuries. Hosting a permanent collection of works, and an active performing arts scene in the museum’s auditorium, this modern space is a vibrant spot which has a purpose to foster a greater understanding of Islamic societies.
The world’s tallest free-standing structure for more than 30 years, the CN Tower remains a must-see when visiting. Boasting 360-degree views of Toronto, a vertigo-inducing glass lookout floor and a rotating restaurant, it’s both a perfect date spot or a great outing for the family, depending on your needs.
Where to eat Anyone looking for a good bite to eat won’t be disappointed. Toronto’s dining scene has expanded exponentially with the addition of trendy eateries, regional farm-to-table fare and just about every cuisine you can imagine – a result of Canada’s increasingly multicultural and diverse population.
For a unique twist on Asian gastronomy straight outta New York City, visit one of David Chang’s famous Momofuku restaurants (momofuku.com) or their sister bakery, the Milk Bar (2/F, 190 University Ave, +1 647 253 8000; milkbarstore.com). Munch on offerings ranging from ramen and pork buns to cereal milk soft serve and crack pie.
Canada’s coolest metropolis is also home to celebrity chef Susur Lee, who has various restaurants dotted around the city. His most recent is Fring’s (455 King St W, +1 416 979 9696; fringsrestaurant.com), a headline grabbing venture with Canadian hip-hop artist Drake, which serves up a range of globally inspired dishes and fun cocktails. Or, if you’re seeking food closer to home, head on over to one of Lee’s most well-known eateries, Luckee (328 Wellington St W, +1 416 935 0400; luckeerestaurant.com), for upscale Chinese cuisine that never disappoints.
Shopping From quintessential Canadian shops to a flock of big-name American department stores moving into Canada – including the much-anticipated Saks Fifth Avenue (slated to open next month) – Toronto is a true shopping heaven. Make a pit stop at iconic department store Hudson’s Bay (176 Yonge St, +1 416 861 9111; thebay.com) for signature striped wool blankets, toques (the Canadian beanie) and everything in-between.
If vintage is more your thing, head over to Kensington Market (kensington-market.ca) – admittedly more a series of streets than a market – and you can find numerous vintage and second hand shops. Ideal for those who love a little bit of thrifting.
Alternatively, stroll along Queen’s Street West for a more boutique shopping experience, where you can browse through stores or take a coffee break at one of the many cafés in the area.
Weekend getaway A two-hour drive from Toronto, along the border between Ontario and upstate New York, sits Niagara Falls. Not only a world-famous tourist attraction, the Niagara region is also known for its vineyards and lush agriculture, which turn out some of Canada’s finest produce once the snow clears. Visit Stratus Vineyards (2059 Niagara Stone Rd, +1 905 468 1806; stratuswines.com) for the full wine experience and to learn about the grape-to-wine process and ice wine – a Canadian specialty made from grapes that have been frozen at a particular temperature. The picturesque town of Niagara-on-the-Lake is a worthwhile base of operations, boasting cute shops and sprawling acreages attached to vineyards.
Where to stay Renowned for being the largest hotel in Canada, with over 1,500 guest rooms, the Chelsea Hotel is conveniently situated in the heart of downtown Toronto between shopping spot Bloor Street and Toronto’s central business district. An easy walk from many of the hottest shopping areas and restaurants in the city, the Chelsea Hotel is a great spot to suit all your travel needs, especially those with families.Rooms from $1,330 (inc tax) per night. 33 Gerard St W, +1 416 595 1975; chelseatoronto.com.
How to get there Take flight with Air Canada (aircanada.com), who offer a daily direct flight from Hong Kong International to Toronto Pearson International Airport with flights starting from $10,500 (inc tax) return. If you’d prefer, you can make a quick layover in Vancouver and clear customs there, allowing you to step right out into Toronto when you get off your connecting flight.