Having visited Toronto a number of times on business I really wanted to explore it properly. This vibrant city lacks the smog and traffic of New York and its waterside location provides many exciting sights, all easily accessible by foot or public transport. It was the first leg of a great adventure with the family, also taking in Niagara and New York, inspired by my younger son’s obsession with skyscrapers!
Toronto Day 1
Our flight landed in the afternoon so we needed to stay up to try and beat the jetlag. After checking into the Chelsea Hotel we headed to the Financial District for dinner at Little Anthony’s and then we walked to Graffiti Alley via the cow sculptures and the amazing Brookfield building.
At Graffitti Alley artists can legally create stunning urban masterpieces. Nestled between Chinatown and the Fashion District on Spadina / Richmond West, an array of ever-changing artworks are a must-see destination.
Then we hot-footed it to Nathan Phillips Square to catch the Toronto sign as it lit up. It’s hard to get any shots which aren’t full of other tourists but it’s a lovely square with an expanse of water (which freezes in a hard winter) surrounded by historic buildings such as the Old City Hall.
There were also a number of brains, decorated by artists from all over North America, for the Telus Health Brain Project. They are on display in a number of locations to raise awareness of diseases such as Alzheimer’s and are then sold to raise money to support care, support and research into brain health.
As my body was still on UK time I woke early so used the time productively to go for a run back to Nathan Phillips Square. It was a lovely morning and great to take some photos without hundreds of pesky tourists in the way!
I then headed to the waterfront and passed the CN Tower which was lit beautifully in the early morning sun.
The waterfront was so peaceful and Lake Ontario was really still. I would have liked to have made the most of the lovely boardwalk but had to head back to the hotel for breakfast!
Once the rest of the family had woken up we visited Toronto’s most famous landmark, the CN Tower. I’ve been twice before and it can get extremely busy so I booked an early slot for us, again making the most of the jet lag. It was great as it was really quiet so we had unhindered views and could chill in the virtually empty cafe area watching planes landing and taking off from the seemingly tiny runway at Billy Bishop airport.
Something really fun to do is the Edge Walk which I did on a previous visit. It’s not for the faint hearted but is the most thrilling thing I’ve ever done in my life. You wear a jumpsuit which is clipped onto a metal track and you are guided around a walkway right at the top of the tower, outside, and it’s a unique experience not to be missed.
There’s a cool railway museum at the foot of the tower at Roundhouse Park. which is worth a quick visit to see the old locomotives. The roundhouse is home to the Toronto Railway Museum, which is open Wednesday to Sunday and has a $5 entry fee. When we visited it was closed but it was nice to just wander around the outside exhibits en route to lunch at St Lawrence Market.
St Lawrence Market is around 15 minutes from the CN Tower and has a vast array of fresh produce for sale. The lower floor has seating space amongst the many different cuisines on offer for lunch. We all visited different stalls for our feast and it was delicious!
Next we walked back downtown via interesting features including Toronto’s version of the Flatiron Building, a cute fountain with water supplied by various dog breeds and a huge mural designed to look like a window.
We caught the subway to the Royal Ontario Museum which includes a fascinating section of indigenous peoples and stories of early settlers.
In the evening we walked to the Distillery District, home to some interesting shops, bars and more quirky sculptures and art.
For our final day we started with a visit to the fantastic Ripley’s Aquarium which is a great option on a rainy day. The whole family loved it and an amazing feature is the stunning walkways where you travel amongst sharks, rays and other exotic sea life.
There are many interactive exhibits and spaces where children (and the young at heart) can get up close to the marine creatures.
We then had a chilled afternoon at the cinema at Dundas Square, which is Toronto’s version of Times Square.
Afterwards we a quick visit to the Eaton shopping mall for food and a few essentials – I do love a North American drugstore! I also adore Indigo, a cross between Waterstones and the John Lewis gift section, which has an amazing array of stationery on offer.
In the evening Sam and I caught a taxi to find the interesting fishing floats at Canoe Landing Park. Yet another brilliant photo opportunity and the light at sunset was beautiful.
We then walked to where Spadina Avenue crosses the railway lines to get a great view of the CN Tower at sunset. It was beautiful watching the lights coming on and the sun going down behind it.
We then walked back to the hotel via Nathan Phillips Square again and the Toronto sign looked so lovely all lit up!
And so it was time to leave and head for Niagara for the next leg of our North American tour. I was going to go for a quick jog around the block but the sunrise was beautiful, so my run turned into 7km round trip back to Spadina to catch the beautiful colours behind the iconic Toronto landmarks.
We caught a Mega Bus to Niagara (the Greyhound was full, so do book that early if you plan on doing the same journey) for more adventures. To read about the amazing time we had there check out my One Day In Niagara (Canadian side) and One Day On the US side of Niagara blogs. We then went on to New York, and I’ve written about their iconic Landmarks and some secret Hidden Gems here.
Places to eat
For great service and excellent food you can’t beat The Keg (see reviews here). My vegetarian husband loved their cauliflower ‘steak’ while the rest of us preferred their succulent chicken. Little Anthony’s is a lovely Italian with a great menu, friendly servers and is very child friendly (reviews here). The Elephant and Castle pub chain offers English classics which we really enjoyed and it’s another family friendly venue in a classic bar (reviews here).
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