Canada’s multicultural melting pot
Canada’s largest city, the fourth largest in North America, is consistently ranked one of the best places to live in the world. Spending even a few days here makes it easy to see why. Cosmopolitan and cultured, fun and fun-loving, with an icing of unpredictability just to make things interesting, Toronto takes pride in being the dynamic, creative and safe sum of all its parts.
The city’s roots show in myriad ways, with more than 200 cultures represented on the streets. (The fact that there are three Chinatowns and two Little Italys speaks volumes.) This is one of the reasons why the culinary scene is such a big deal—there are more ingredients in the pantry to pull from. With four world-class sports teams, a spirited arts scene and a vibrant waterfront with its own airport, Toronto makes both a rewarding end destination and a great pitstop.
48 hours in . . . Toronto
Even if you’re not staying at the Delta Hotel Toronto, begin your day with a bold coffee and a breakfast sandwich at SOCO to Go (75 Lower Simcoe St; 00 1 416 637 5465), the hotel’s 24-hour grab-and-go counter and café in the southeast corner of the building.
Your second stop of the day is across the street: Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada (288 Bremner Blvd; 00 1 647 351 3474) opens at 9am, which is when the exhibits will be the least crowded. After checking out the jellyfish wall and watching stingrays soar over your head in the underwater gallery, work your way over to the Hockey Hall of Fame (30 Yonge St; 00 1 416 360 7765) to check out the interactive games and famous memorabilia.
There’s nothing more Canadian than a peameal bacon sandwich (a type of unsmoked back bacon). Find one for lunch at Carousel Bakery, right near the front door in the St. Lawrence Market (93 Front St. E.; 00 1 416 392 7219). If bacon is not your thing, head to the lower level to ponder more than a dozen hot-food stalls. The Market has been a culinary hub of the city since 1803, which in Canada-years is like two millennia.
Then, a 10-minute walk south to the water’s edge will land your toes in the sand at the man-made Sugar Beach (Lower Jarvis St. and Queen’s Quay E). Sit under the cotton-candy pink umbrellas and watch the tankers arrive in the harbour before carrying on to the historic Distillery District (55 Mill St.). Take a nice, slow poke about this pedestrian-only cultural enclave of boutiques, gift shops, clothing stores and galleries. SOMA is the best bean-to-bar chocolatier in town.
Pre-cocktails, take a little stroll through Yorkville District (Cumberland Ave. at Bellair St.), on the lookout for celebrities shopping or ordering lattes in their baseball caps and sunglasses. Duck into either The Oxley (121 Yorkville Ave.; 00 1 647 348 1300) for pints on the (much quieter) second floor or go for martinis at d|bar in the Four Seasons (60 Yorkville Ave.; 00 1 416 964 0411).
Dinner reservations tonight are at Constantine (15 Charles. St. E.; 00 1 647 475 4436), a little slice of Italian-Mediterranean heaven in the back of Anndore House. Just move up front to the cocktail bar for a nightcap or walk a short block east to the Gay Village for a drag show at Woody’s (467 Church St.; 00 1 416 972 0887).
The best time to get your picture taken in the “O” of the Toronto sign at City Hall (100 Queen St. W. at Bay St.) is in the morning before anyone else is around. Pick up a quick chai latte first at Bannock (401 Bay St.; 00 1 416 861 6996).
Post photoshoot, it’s a 15-minute walk to a healthy breakfast at Karine’s (109 McCaul St.; 00 1 416 591 0863), a little food court serving breakfast staples with a side of Middle Eastern, as well as vegan and gluten-free, treats. Satisfied, you can then do a deep-dive into the permanent collection (or touring exhibitions) around the corner at the venerable Art Gallery of Ontario (317 Dundas St. W.; 00 1 416 979 6648).
On through Chinatown now to the bohemian neighbourhood of Kensington Market (Kensington Ave. and Dundas. St. W.) to check out its indie culture, vintage clothing stores and art spaces. While you’re there, tuck into a piled-high burger at Ozzy’s Burgers (66½ Nassau St.; 00 1 416 862 7983) – have the Mustang Sally.
Walk it off by heading back down to Queen St. W. and shopping your way westward—both sides of the street, mind you—all the way to Trinity Bellwoods Park (790 Queen St. W. at Strachan Ave.). Must-stops along the way should include: Frank and Oak for men’s and women’s clothing and maybe a quick haircut (735 Queen St. W.; 00 1 647 930 8711), Zane for the designer jewellery and coveted handbags (753 Queen St. W.; 00 1 647 352 9263) and the shoe heaven that is Heel Boy (773 Queen St. W.; 00 1 416 362 4335).
Dinner is also westward tonight, but first, take your pick of fresh margaritas or tequila shots at Reposado (136 Ossington St.; 00 1 416 532 6474) or a couple of Rust and Bone cocktails at The Drake Hotel (1150 Queen St. W.; 00 1 416 531 5042), whose bartenders practically invented the craft cocktail scene in Toronto.
Then for a little taste of Argentina at Tanto (74 Ossington Ave.; 00 1 416 546 3022). Fill up on the inventive little plates – such as the spicy beef empanada with paprika aioli or grilled squid topped with pancetta and burnt almond salsa – then just share one main.
Where to stay . . .
Guests at the Shangri-La Toronto are an eclectic blend of people from the worlds of fashion, arts and culture, business and finance. High style reigns supreme. The 202 rooms spread over 17 floors are dripping with Sapele veneer, geometric patterns and muted earth tones. The look is conservative, but glamorised with refined touches, from the patterned glassware to the soft nightlights under the bedside tables.
Doubles from £365. 188 University Avenue; 00 1 647 788 8888
Formerly the home of Jilly’s Strip Club, this Romanesque Revival-style building constructed in 1891 as the social and retail hub of Toronto’s east end is now the dazzling 58-room Broadview Hotel. The history of the building is cleverly incorporated into the design and construction, with the décor a mix of time periods. Each space has a different feel – modern but reflective of the 125-year story.
Doubles from £180. 106 Broadview Avenue; 00 1 416 362 8439
With Toronto’s two main sports venues, the CN Tower and Ripley’s Aquarium at its doorstep, the Delta Toronto sees its fair share of sports fans, concert-goers, families and tourists, all drawn to the hotel’s “bare maximum” motto, which focuses on the essentials with very little fluff. A clean and modern look and feel runs throughout, with bold murals punctuating white oak and copper finishes.
Doubles from £105. 75 Lower Simcoe Street; 00 1 416 849 1200
What to bring home . . .
Established in 1948, the multi-sensory experience that is Kozlick’s Mustard is still made in small batches by hand by the same family using the original recipe. The 36 different varieties are all-natural, non-GMO and gluten-free. Try the Horseradish, Green Peppercorn or Clobbered Cranberry. You can get it at the St. Lawrence Market (CAD$6/£3.40).
When temperatures dip, be prepared for the great outdoors with a City of Neighbourhoods Tuque. These knitted caps with colourful pom-poms sport the names of Toronto’s different ’hoods. Conceived in ‘the 6ix’ the tuques have since branched out to other Canadian and U.S. cities to much acclaim. Get one for CAD$38 (£21.50) at the Spacing Store or Tuck Shop Trading Co.
When to go . . .
May to October is the best time to visit Toronto, while the sun is out, the restaurant patios are hopping, and everyone is on the street after a long winter cooped up inside. June, July and August are normally hot and humid, 30 degrees feels like 40 degrees. On summer weekends, residents head out of town to their cottages, leaving the city streets (and restaurant chairs) to you. Summer is also when most of the city’s festivals are slated, focusing on food and beverage, arts and theatre, multiculturalism, music and film. The good weather just doesn’t just turn itself off come August 31, either: In September, children go back to school, adults get back to business and you have the sidewalks, shops and attractions to yourself.
Know before you go . . .
Tourist board information: 00 1 416 203 2500; seetorontonow.com
Emergency fire and ambulance: 911
Emergency police: 911
British Embassy: 777 Bay St., Suite 2800; 00 1 416 593 1290
Flight time: Fly from London to Toronto in 7 hours
Currency: Canadian dollar
International dialling code: +1
Local laws and etiquette
• Canadians are notoriously polite, conscientious and unstuffy, generally expecting the same of others.
• Like elsewhere in North America, it is customary to tip 15-20 per cent for service in restaurants and bars. Ditto the cab driver, massage therapist, tour guide and hairstylist. For hotel housekeeping staff, budget CAD$3-$5 (£1.80-£3) per day.
• The Toronto Transit System of trains, streetcars and buses—while flawed—is safe and easy. The subway trains stop at 1:30am. Some streetcar and buses run overnight. Visit ttc.ca.
• Taxis are plentiful and you can flag them down on the street or call one of the dozen companies. Fares are roughly CAD$4 (£2) per mile. Uber and Lyft drivers, while even more plentiful and also cheaper, are usually less familiar with the downtown streets, so cross your fingers.
• If you’re driving yourself, know that you can make a right turn on a red light and you can make a U-turn in the middle of the street, unless there are signs stating otherwise.
• Toronto is a two-kiss kind of place, but that is reserved for people you know. A firm handshake is fine for new acquaintances.
• You can buy marijuana legally. You have to smoke or vape it outside or in someone’s private home. Visit ontario.ca/cannabis for more details.
Doug Wallace sleeps around Toronto on a regular basis reviewing hotels for Telegraph Travel. You can find him beside buffet tables, on massage tables and table-hopping all over town, spending quality time combing cocktail menus, wearing stretchy trousers and racking up a taxi bill.
Experience Toronto with The Telegraph
Telegraph Travel’s best hotels, tours, cruises and holidays in Toronto, tried, tested and recommended by our Toronto experts.