The View From Up Top: Spending a Day in Toronto, Canada

This May, we’ll be heading over to the annual music festival and conference Canadian Music Week, held in the fine city of Toronto. Last week, we let you in on the best ways to get to Toronto from Australia, and now today we’re taking you through a day in the fine city. What to do, where to go and who to see! It’s all here…

So you’ve arrived in Toronto and are ready to seize the day. Well, the first piece of advice is this: Don’t bother renting a car, use TTC’s great public transport in the city (More information about the TTC: https://www.ttc.ca/). From the underground trains to the street cars and buses, there are abundant and regular choices to get you everywhere and anywhere you need to go. And being such an organised city, it’s pretty easy to do on foot or bike, too, weather permitting. Most of the services are so easy to use I feel they’ve endeavoured to make it “drunk proof”. Trains repeat names of the stations regularly and there are flashing lights on the maps of the newer trains to show you where you are. There are two main lines in the downtown area, and they seem to match up pretty well meaning little wait time for the traveller.

Trinity Bellwoods Park in the West End of Toronto.

However you get there, your day should start with a bite to eat and a walk through a park. Toronto has several to choose from, but my favourite is Trinity Bellwoods Park on the west end of town, which is best accessed from Queen Street. The park is home to some famous white squirrels, is dog friendly (no leashes required), eight tennis courts, three softball fields and even an ice rink. Borrowing a few secrets from the nearby French speaking province of Quebec, the bakeries here in Toronto are, by and large, pretty spectacular. So, if the weather is nice, start your day with a croissant from Nadège Patisserie on the South East corner of the park and enjoy the beautiful location.

A perfect croissant from Nadège Patisserie is a exceptional way to start to day.

From the park, head down Queen Street and enjoy a huge array of shopping. From op shops to record stores, bars, restaurants, clothing outlets and everything in between. Walk for about 3km and you’ll eventually hit the main commercial shopping district and the Eaton Centre, where there’s plenty for you to eat, see and buy. If you don’t want to walk, it’s easy to jump on the tram down Queen Street – they run regularly. We recommend buying a day pass to make the most of your travel in the city.

The interior of the Toronto Eaton Centre.

As you’re in the commercial part of town here, you’ll find a mix of cuisine, from upmarket bars and restaurants, to franchises that are otherwise only found in the USA. We couldn’t turn down a burger, float and fries from Johnny Rockets opposite the Eaton Centre – though it’s hardly the “quintessential” Canadian experience. Perhaps they would “poutine” your fries if you asked nicely, though.

mmmmm…. burger….

No matter where you’ve been so far on your journey around the city of Toronto, you’ve likely seen the iconic CN Tower from a distance – the building (and view) pictured at the top of this article.

It’s worth a journey to the top of this towering structure to get a unique glimpse of the city it sits in. Though the experience is not dissimilar from what you may see at Centrepoint Tower in Sydney or at the Space Needle in Seattle, there is one noticeable difference: it’s bigger. At 553.33 metres, the tower is the world’s tallest building and free standing structure. The elevator ride to the top rockets up 113 floors at 22 miles per hour, as a guide in the lift rattles off facts about the building, to get you to the observation deck, which is partially occupied by their Horizons restaurant. There’s an outdoor viewing platform, however, which isn’t something you’ll find in most observation towers, and lets you walk 360 degrees around the building as the wind flies over you. It’s an incredible (albeit windy) view, and a surreal experience. Back inside, a glass floor let’s to stand right on top of the world.

In addition to the standard access included in your entry ticket, there’s also outdoor adventures and the “skypod” available at extra cost – similar to the sorts of additions the Centrepoint has made in recent years. Guests also have access to a “Legends of Flight” 3D film, which is essentially an impressive advertisement for the new 787 aircraft preceded by a clip which showcases the new additions to the cities red rocket tram service. There’s also a motion theatre ride “Himalamazon”, which like most of the genre, isn’t really worth the wait. Give yourself more time in the Aquarium next door instead! More details on the tower is available at: http://www.cntower.ca/

The Ripley’s Aquarium is a new addition to the city, having only opened a year and a half ago and is open 9am to 9pm daily. Like many aquariums, there’s only one way to walk as you move through the stunning new building. You start off by exploring the Canadian waters, surrounded by tonnes of touch screens and interactive/educational activities. There’s slow moving walkway as sharks and stingrays swim overhead, and a pacific kelp pool supplies its inhabitants with “natural” currents, as the aquarium takes you from day to night, until eventually you can get hands on with the Horseshoe crabs. Fun fact: Females are the dominant sex of this species!

There are places for kids to crawl, there’s ray bay and a planet for the jellyfish. You even get to see all the pipes and filters that keep the aquarium in shape, while you touch white spotted bamboo sharks. Give yourself a good two and a half hours as a minimum to enjoy the aquarium – though you could do it in an hour if you rushed (but where’s the fun in that?). Be on the look out for dive shows every two hours in different spots throughout the building. A must experience, world-class aquarium.

After a couple of hours parading towers and aquariums, you’re likely going to have built up an appetite. For dinner, All-You-Can-Eat sushi may seem like a daring option, but in Toronto few food options seem more popular. Japanese really is world class in Toronto and it seems like there’s hardly a bad choice in the city. I was recommended the Don Don Izakaya(130 Dundas St W, http://www.dondonizakaya.com/), which though on the slightly more expensive side than some of its competition (and they don’t have an “all-you-can-eat” option), was absolutely stunning and among the best Japanese meals I’ve ever had.

After dinner, there are a mountain of amazing venues in Toronto to grab a beer, a late night snack and watch a band. Like the great cities of the world – London, New York and Tokyo – it seems like there’s a good concert on every night of the week, and there’s no better way to end your day in the city. From The Opera House (735 Queen St E, Capacity of 850 and built in 1909) and the Queen Elizabeth Theatre (190 Princes’ Blvd, Seating Capacity: 1,250) to the iconic Lee’s Palace (529 Bloor Street West, Capacity of 550) and the famous Horseshoe Tavern (in operation since 1947, 370 Queen St W, 350 person capacity) where the Aussie BBQ is held during Canadian Music Week and the likes of the Rolling Stones have played, there is a room for bands of every size and every vibe.

King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard play the Horseshoe Tavern in May 2014.

Like rock and roll? Look no further than the Cherry Cola’s Rock ‘n’ Rolla Cabaret & Lounge (200 Bathurst St, Capacity: 110), complete with red velvet walls and memorabilia from all your favourite groups – notably Foo Fighters, Queens of the Stone Age and their namesake, Eagles of Death Metal. It’s one of my favourite places to grab a drink and see a band in the world. But if a late night snack is important to you, don’t look past a heavy dose of poutine and some decent tex mex while watching bands at Sneaky Dee’s (431 College St) – another standout venue filled with charm and history. They also have a 4am last call policy! A great place to end up if you need your night to continue.

And if music isn’t your thing, there are more than enough bars to enjoy a sports match and a drink. Unsurprisingly, ice hockey is the sport of choice here – there’s even a popular museum you could easily squeeze into a day – but the city is also a huge fan of its baseball team, the Blue Jays. Its stadium (Rogers Centre) is located right by the CN Tower and is well worthy of a visit.

The stunning exterior of the Rogers Centre, used almost exclusively as a Baseball Stadium for the Blue Jays.

Accommodation options are vast in Toronto, from the glitz of the Ritz Carlton or the incredibly overpriced Trump Tower, to comfortable mid range options and affordable low cost alternatives, pretty much every major chain has their foot in the door here. With their fantastic public transport system, there are few spots on the entire city sprawl that don’t serve you well for easy access to any of the attractions mentioned in this artist.

If you manage a few days in the area, don’t turn down the opportunity to spend a day in Niagara Falls, which is less than a 90 minute drive from the city centre. You can see what I got up to in my day in the falls HERE. There are plenty of other day trips, too, that encourage visitors to escape the sprawl of the city and enter the beautiful nature of the province of Ontario. For more travel ideas, head to http://www.seetorontonow.com/ and http://www.ontariotravel.net/. And stay tuned to the AU for our live coverage from Canadian Music Week! Kicking off May 7th, Australian time. Though the event itself starts today and runs until May 10th.

Toronto Tourism kindly provided local transport assistance as well as access to the CN Tower and Ripley’s Aquarium – with thanks to both attractions on behalf of the writer.