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Toronto, the capital of the province of Ontario, is a dynamic city on the shores of Lake Ontario, with a thriving food and drink scene and numerous world-class attractions and quirky neighbourhoods that we thoroughly enjoyed exploring. Here are our highlights from our recent visit in April, although the weather, we were told, was more typical of January.
Where to stay in Toronto
We stayed at Ramada Plaza Toronto Downtown in the Garden District, a great location just a short walk to many of Toronto’s great restaurants, bars, shops and visitor attractions. It’s a comfortable 3-star hotel that was perfect for our needs with one of our favourite bars, Duke’s Refresher, just around the corner.
For a wider choice of hotels in Toronto, visit Expedia.ca.
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Top 5 things to do in Toronto
1. CN Tower
Dominating the Toronto skyline, the 553.3 metre-high CN Tower rises high above the city skyscrapers and up into the clouds. When it was built in the 70s as a communications and observation tower in downtown Toronto, it was then the tallest building in the world.
The highest viewing point is the SkyPod at 447 metres (1,465 feet), the Glass Floor and Sky Terrace are 342 metres (1,122 feet) high, while the LookOut Level is 346 metres (1,136 feet) above the city streets.
A must-visit attraction for food lovers is St. Lawrence Market, which dates back to 1803. Named by National Geographic as one of the top food markets in the world, today it is housed in three buildings, The South Market, The North Market (where a farmers’ market is held every Saturday) and St. Lawrence Hall.
Not a market as such, but the most colourful of Toronto’s neighbourhoods, and one of our favourites. Kensington Market has a fabulous bohemian vibe with a great mix of vintage shops, colourful cafes, bookshops, record stores and street art.
The pedestrianised Distillery District was once home to the largest whiskey distillery in the world. Now, its cobbled streets and 19th-century red brick buildings are home to some of the best pubs, restaurants, independent quirky shops and galleries. It’s also home to a wonderful Christmas market each December.
While we didn’t make it to Ripley’s for this visit we will make sure we do when we return, but I thought it was too much of a key attraction to leave off this list.
It’s a well-thought-out aquarium featuring thousands of species of flora and fauna and, being entirely indoors, it’s a great choice for a rainy or chilly day. The underwater tunnel through Dangerous Lagoon is one of the most popular attractions as sharks, turtles and other sea creatures swim above and beside you. The Discovery Centre’s touch pools, where you can get hands-on with stingrays, horseshoe crabs and bamboo sharks, are also not to be missed.
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Top 5 things to eat in Toronto
6. Smoke House Burger at Amsterdam BrewHouse, Queens Quay
Amsterdam BrewHouse is a fabulous lakeside brewery and restaurant pairing craft beer with local foods. I opted for a Smoke House Burger, with smoked cheese, bacon and it was one of the best burgers I have had in a long while. The menu suggested any one of their crisp and refreshing light-bodied beers to pair it with.
7. Oysters at Rodney’s Oyster House, King St West
I had heard the oysters at Rodney’s were good and although I’ve never liked oysters I decided I’d give them one last try. And I’m so pleased I did. With a choice of oysters from several different regions, our helpful waitress guided us through the options and suggested which we might prefer, and she was spot-on. I particularly loved the mild, slightly sweet oysters from Village Bay, New Brunswick. This was followed by an excellent main course of scallops with couscous salad. Rodney’s Oyster House isn’t cheap but if you love seafood it’s a must.
8. Steak at The Pickle Barrel, 312, Yonge Street
With one of those tempting menus that immediately has you thinking of a return visit, I was disappointed that we only had the chance to dine at the Pickle Barrel the once. I had an excellent chargrilled steak, but I’d love to know what some of their other dishes are like. If you know, do leave a comment.
The Pickle Barrel has 11 branches throughout Ontario, 2 of which are in Toronto.
9. French Toast at Fran’s
75 years ago, Francis ‘Fran’ Deck from Buffalo, New York moved to Toronto with a vision to open a restaurant serving good food at reasonable prices. His first restaurant opened in 1940, a small 10-seater diner serving burgers and steaks. There are now four branches of Fran’s award-winning restaurants in Toronto (with the one open 24 hours, seven days a week). It was recommended to us as an inexpensive breakfast spot and it didn’t disappoint. I had an overly generous and utterly delicious plate of French toast with maple bacon on the side. I’m now addicted to Canadian French toast with lashings of maple syrup.
10. Peameal Bacon on a Bun at St. Lawrence Market
At St. Lawrence Market don’t miss this world-renowned Toronto sandwich from the Carousel Bakery, made with peameal bacon supplied by a secret source. The family-run bakery has been a fixture of the market for over 30 years.
If you’re not familiar with peameal bacon, it’s back bacon from pork loin, trimmed of all fat, wet cured and rolled in cornmeal. It originated in Toronto and is both leaner and juicier than regular bacon. Order peameal bacon on a bun with honey mustard sauce for a taste of bacon-buttie heaven.
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Top 5 things to drink in Toronto
11. Stout at Amsterdam BrewHouse, Queens Quay
This award-winning craft brewery is based in three locations in Toronto and we visited the lakeside restaurant on Queens Quay.
Sean, our server at Amsterdam BrewHouse, was clearly very passionate about the food and beers on offer. When I mentioned I loved stouts and porters, he immediately recommended I try one of their small batch beers, a seriously good stout with notes of chocolate and coffee, and a vanilla finish. If you visit, I’d recommend you let your server guide you to the right beer or beer flight for you. They’ve got a great range to choose from and it wasn’t just the food and beer that I loved, I also enjoyed the friendly, lively atmosphere.
12. Unfiltered Pilsner at Steam Whistle Brewery, Downtown
In contrast, the nearby Steam Whistle Brewery makes just one beer, a premium pilsner lager. I’m not a great lager fan but, having joined a guided tour I was very impressed with their ethos, ethics and commitment to producing a consistently first-rate product. Their lager was good but trying it unfiltered was a real eye-opener. With more body and a great taste, I loved it, but it is only available at the brewery itself.
13. Ontario wine at Archive, Downtown
A cosy, down-to-earth bar that won’t break the bank, Archive have a great range of international wines but their focus is on local offerings, and Ontario produces some great wines. While not a restaurant, they do offer some very tasty nibbles to keep hunger at bay.
14.Vanilla Porter, Mill Street Brewery, Distillery District
Mill Street is another great brew pub to visit, with excellent beer and food in the quirky Distillery District. We were both in raptures over their Vanilla Porter, one of their seasonal brews. It’s a smooth and creamy dark beer that’s not too heavy or too sweet.
15. Hot chocolate at SOMA Chocolatemaker, Distillery District
Another great find in the Distillery District, we had a superb hot chocolate at this artisan chocolate factory. You can also find them on King Street West.
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