“Bonjour! Hello!” We crossed the Canadian border! As most of my maternal-side of the family is from Canada, it has always been somewhere I wanted to go. When two of our friends told us they were getting married an hour outside Toronto- we were super excited (for the wedding of course)! We flew into Buffalo, New York, rented a car, and drove to Niagara Falls (40 minute drive from the Buffalo Airport) and Toronto (1.5 hours from Niagara Falls along Lake Ontario). We spent one night right next to the Falls, three nights in Toronto, and ended the trip with a couple nights in Buffalo (a separate post to come). Toronto is such a bustly and diverse city. It reminds me of a Canadian New York City. Downtown, at the intersection of Dundas and Yonge you will find Yonge-Dundas Square that often hosts concerts and various events, and always has street performers. Think a cleaner and friendlier NYC Times Square. There are so many things to see and do in Niagara and Toronto, from the nightlife in downtown, Casa Loma, museums, and the harborfront, you will not be bored or disappointed!
Things to See and Do:
The first thing that you must do is see Niagara Falls. The Falls are unbelievable- you see pictures, but nothing compares to seeing the vastness and the amount of water that falls in person! The hotel we stayed in was right across from the falls on the Canadian side, and we stayed in a room with a view (note: there are no hotels on the American side with views of the falls). This made it convenient since we like to walk everywhere when in a new city. Depending on your interests, you can simply walk along the boardwalk within the state park to visit, see the magnificent falls, and read about the history. Even from this vantage point you can feel the chill and mist from the falls- which was surprising to me! Around here you will also find shops and restaurants to keep you busy. If you have your passport you can easily cross the Rainbow Bridge to reach the American side. Both views are amazing and worth the short trek (about ¼ mile walk) across the bridge. If you want to get a bit closer to the water, and a little wet, I highly recommend you take a journey into the falls on the Maid of the Mist, which is absolutely worth the price of admission ($20CAD for adults). On the boat you are given fashionable bright blue ponchos to wear while near the bottom of the falls. Getting up close and personal with the falls is such a unique experience and one you will not forget.
Two of my favorite things to do in every place I visit it to go to one of the highest points and do a boat cruise: this tradition began in Toronto. I love being able to experience the city from multiple viewpoints. The CN Tower is currently the 9th tallest free-standing structure in the world, it had previously been the tallest building in the world for over 30 years! We decided to not pay for the entrance into the tower, however a few months prior I made dinner reservations at the 360* Restaurant. With a purchase of the prix fixe dinner at the restaurant, you have the opportunity to visit the observation deck and glass floor level after your meal. The restaurant is near the top of the CN tower and has rotating views of the city 1000 feet below. Each rotation takes a little over an hour which allows you to get a full view of the city during your meal.
Near the CN Tower is the Steam Whistle Brewery which is a nice place to stop after your visit to the CN tower, and on your way to the harborfront. This brewery provides tours of their site, serves “Canada’s Premium Pilsner” which is available for tastings and purchase, and offers a nice place to snack while resting your feet before you to head to check out the harborfront. While walking the waterfront you can sit and people watch, eat ice cream, stop in shops and restaurants, and fight off seagulls who are trying to eat your hotdog and BeaverTail (more on this below). This is also the location where we boarded a small vessel with the Toronto Harbor Tour company: my other favorite vacation pastime. These tours are offered throughout the day and provide great views of the Toronto Skyline and waterways. We were able to sit back and relax, while learning about the city from the tour guide.
If you enjoy museums, the Royal Ontario Museum is a mammoth (and has one too)! The general admission for the museum is $23CAD. I have been to the ROM twice and each time have spent several hours. The first time we were there for about 5 hours! If the ROM seems like too big of a commitment, or you only have a little bit of time and want a smaller museum to tackle, the Bata Shoe Museum is a fun alternative. I call it the “Shoeseum” and swear this is the name of the museum every time I talk about it, but it is in fact Bata Shoe Museum- I think “Shoeseum” would be more clever. The general admission for the museum is $14CAD however, we went on a Thursday evening from 5-8pm when they have a “PayWhatYouCan” entrance with a suggested donation of $5. Totally worth it! They have shoes from all over the world, and footwear through the ages, they even have a pair of Elton John’s boots, Michael Jordan’s sneakers, and a boot Neil Armstrong’s wore on the Moon (my favorite one)!
Right in downtown near Yonge-Dundas Square there is Eaton Centre, Toronto’s shopping center, with all the typical stores and restaurants. If you want to get out of the heat or cold, it is worth a stop, otherwise, it is just a mall and I would recommend to take a trip to my favorite place in Toronto: the Distillery District. Every time I visit Toronto, a stop at the Distillery District is on the list. Once home to a large whisky distillery, this pedestrian traffic only district is full of bakeries, ice cream shops, restaurants, sculptures, art boutiques, and quaint stores that line the cobblestone streets. Seriously, the cutest place in Toronto. Another neighborhood that is too fun to miss is Kensington Market, nestled right next to Chinatown, there are shops and restaurants that line the street-art-strewn buildings with views of the CN tower in the background. We found a quaint coffee shop, Moonbeam Coffee Company, that has an adorable homey vibe with a great back patio: a perfect place to grab a cup of tea and work up some energy to continue your adventure through the market and Chinatown.
Stuff to Eat…
What are some Canadian things to eat while you are visiting Toronto? Well, being that Toronto is extremely diverse, there are restaurants from all around the world, so that makes this city promising for anyone who visits. The first time I went to Canada I had not heard of the BeaverTail Pastry, I later visited with a Canadian (the one whose wedding was outside Toronto a few years earlier) she said we had to get one. Having never had one, and knowing that it was a pastry- I was on board! These snacks are fried dough (similar to a doughnut or funnel cake) in the shape of, you guessed it, a beaver tail. You can top it with cinnamon sugar, cookies, pretzels, nutella, and more. I got the classic (cinnamon sugar) and it did not disappoint!
Another Canadian staple you may have heard of is Tim Hortons, there are locations in the northern part of the US, which is a fast-food restaurant that serves breakfast and lunch. Every Canadian friend of mine worked there as a teenager. The doughnuts and breakfast sandwiches are amazing (I only ever get breakfast when I go since they serve it all day!), and they have a “honey-dip” doughnut and apple fritters which are delish.
The last suggestion of a very Canadian dish is poutine, which originated in Quebec. If you are Canadian, or have been to Canada you have seen this on the menu- even McDonald’s serves it! This is a french fry based dish that is topped with brown gravy and cheese curds. You can get this as a side dish, appetizer, or your main course. Every restaurant puts their own spin on it, and each one is so different, so it is worth trying it at several places.
All of these activities can easily be done in a long weekend visit to Toronto, however if you have a bit longer, here are some other suggestions that are on my to-do list for my next visit to Toronto that I have not yet done. If you have visited any of these places, I would love to hear your thoughts!
- Casa Loma– I have seen it from the outside, but have never made it inside.
- Scarborough Bluffs– hiking and walking trails.
- Fort York– national historic site.
- Black Creek Pioneer Village– a historical village where you can experience what life was like in 1847 (40 minutes from downtown Toronto).
- Aga Khan Museum– a museum of Islamic arts and culture.
I think that about does it for the places I would suggest you visit on your next trip to Toronto. Have you been to Toronto, what is your favorite thing to do, see, or eat?