This Easter I decided to check out a destination that I had on my list for some time now – Canada! I’ve met my share of people from the North over the years, and always left with venerable impressions. My friend Joey was back in Toronto meaning some free board was available, so I made it my first new vacation country for the year. I’ve also thought it might be handy to start writing up a bit of a recap for my travels. For my own sake, and to share any tips or thoughts that could be helpful if you’re ever planning on heading that way too.
I had a week-long over the Easter break checking out the sights, smells and tastes of Toronto, as well as one day trip. It’s worth going for a chill scene, with friendly people, great neighbourhoods and of course, the wonders of nearby Niagara Falls. For me, spending some good time catching up with my buddy was easily the best part of the trip.
When and for how long
A period of a week seemed about right, to get the relaxed vibe that mirrors that of the city. I didn’t quite make it out to all the attractions on my list, that was partially due to some things being closed (over the Easter break) and laziness. You could squeeze things in a shorter timeframe, but it’s the kind of place where you can feel like a local very quickly. It’s also a city where you can afford to spend a bit more time (and money!) in. Weather was on my side, with only one day of rain and minimal overcast.
Public transport and getting around
At first glance the options might seem rudimentary and limited, but it was sufficient and rather efficient. The UP Airport train was worth the extra cost, for a very quick ride into Bloor (or Union Station). Toronto is a Citymapper town, and transport options include the subway, streetcar and buses. There are only two (main) subway lines and that’s the fastest way generally, with other options varying due to traffic. It’s a flat city but one that is very spread out, it would take me an hour from Roncesvalles Village to downtown via foot. Most spots within the city is very walkable. Public transport is quite regular and (most of it) very handily operates at all hours. There may have been some quirks with specific lines (and transfers) but I had Joey help me there. The Uber option was also fairly cheap and worth it for speed alone.
People and communities
People sure live up to the expectation and there’s always a friendly and polite face to smile back to. The locals seem ready to dish out Toronto advice as readily as they dish out a “sorry”. You’ll find that Canadians are a diverse mix, with half of the population born in a different country. This eclectic mix of cultures lends itself to a rich tapestry of neighbourhoods, shopping and eating options. I always felt safe in any part of the city over my stay.
I flew with Air Canada, who provided the cheapest option for direct flights from Heathrow, London (for the dates I was after). Other Airlines had stopovers making the flight time rather insurmountable. Air Canada was fine overall, but meals on both the flights were dreadful, and the entertainment options were just adequate, but not extensive.
What to pack and what to bring back?
Outside of all the usual things, I forgot to take my travel cash card, and ran out of old-fashioned money. Cash is handy for the markets, subway stations and the occasional store that exists without a electronic payment machine (Greg’s Ice-cream, I’m looking at you!). It was on the cold side weather-wise, so some clothing layers did help.
I found the food scene of Toronto super fantastic, with creative, inventive and old-fashioned good-cooking happening on every corner. Heck, I even rated Tim Horton’s, and the presence of chain eating is well under check. Things like Popeye and Taco Bell are novel to me at least. It’s always worth venturing out to find a good restaurant, or staying around places like Queen West, King West or the Annex. Here you can easily stumble upon some gem locations based on sight and smell alone.
Toronto was a reasonably priced city, though it took me some adjusting to the fact that tax and service charges were seperate. I’d always have to factor in an extra 13% on the listed price for shopping. Public transport was under check at $3 per ride, and much of the meals were also well priced. Sans accommodation, I would have spent about $100 p/day and that was from personal shopping, day tours, attractions and eating/ drinking.
Whatever tickles your fancy, you’ll find it here. All the familiar brands can be found at one of the various malls, with the central Eaton Centre occupying most of my retail time. That’s near Yonge-Dundas Square, the local mini-version of NYC’s Times Square. A lot of the city action (and protests) happens right here. The underground PATH Mall was exciting in description and handy for navigating against the rain, but I didn’t experience much as it was closed.
Dufferin Mall was great for ticking off Wal-mart, and Yorkdale was nice and fancy (a tad far). If you have some time to kill, you might find a right bargain on Orfus Road, though I was most content with my visits to Winners, Marshalls and Dollarama. Cheapskates unite, they’re heaven! Kensington Market (not an actual market) and St Lawrence Market (is an actual market) are there for your artisan/ deli/ craft/ local type things.
Joey and I purchased the Toronto CityPass. This gives admission to five Toronto attractions. I think I enjoyed the CN Tower experience the most, that’s a plain good view and a must (if any) way to experience the city. Casa Loma is a quaint and rare (in these parts) castle to explore, and Royal Ontario Museum has the usual type exhibits. I left Toronto Zoo for my last day and not sure it was fully worth it. The commute to get to was considerable, there wasn’t a lot of animals out and t’was was a hell of a lot of walking (n.b. the aquarium is also included in the pass, but I left that for another time). Also did the Bata Shoe Museum, sorry, was a bit too boring.
High Park was next door to where I was staying with a free and little zoo too. That was a lovely evening stroll as most Toronto walks are. As a board game enthusiast, I was in love with Snakes and Lattes, a board game cafe with the right balance of selection and hospitality to make it work. That was a good few hours for my last night in the city with a solid crew. The cultural hubs of Chinatown, Little Portugal, Little Italy and Greektown and the Gay Village all have their own local flavours which make it worthwhile for at least a walk through if not a stop and a bite.
Before arriving, I did some basic researching on other spots I could hit, and the one that obviously jumps out is Niagara Falls. It was a perfect way to use up a Good Friday too, with all the touristy things operating as normal. I booked one off a Google Search that included the Hornblower cruise and would recommend the same – that was the best part of the time there. The waterfalls are majestic and you need to be drenched to get the most out of it. The tour included a winery stop and some time at Niagara-on-the-lake. But that only left three hours at the falls themselves, which was not nearly enough time to soak up the glory of this majestic, natural wonder.
I had a perfect break over in Toronto and got to know the city in this very short space of time. I had no chance at hitting off my full list of dining restaurants from my kind friend Davina. With a bit more time, I would have loved to check out Distillery District or a show from Second City. Or even digging into a poutine, I missed that in all the rush. That’s for next time! I’m glad I spent some time strolling across the city and Lake Toronto, it was a nice way to feel even less like a tourist. I can’t think of any place I’ve ever been that’s felt so warm and welcoming. Despite the cold.