A year ago today, I was in Toronto Canada for the very first time. I was there to attend my very first travel blogging conference, TBEX, which stands for Travel Blog Exchange. Although I celebrated my first “blogiversary” in November of 2013, I didn’t start to take blogging very seriously until I was forced in to a victorian castle with a room full of bloggers for BlogHouse.
Then, jumping head-first in to the largest travel blogging conference in the world, I attended sessions about the business of blogging and had a few “speed dates” with different DMOs and travel brands. So it was one year ago when I put my big girl pants on, in terms of this website and making it more professional. It’s so strange that it’s been a year. Sometimes it feels like it’s been five years. A lot has happened since then. But that’s not why you clicked on this post, is it? You want to read about Toronto and why it’s one of the coolest cities in North America, if not the world!
There are so many great things about Toronto. It’s pretty, for one. I guess I should say it’s aesthetically pleasing. It’s clean. The architecture reminds me a lot of Chicago’s modern, sleek skyline. The food scene is bustling. Neighborhood enclaves throw in various cultural medleys to the mix.
Writing about Canada’s financial and cultural capital is somewhat akin to writing about New York City. There’s just so much to say…. too much. What I can offer are the highlights from my week there; what I would recommend doing based on what I did and loved.
First, some basics.
After staying in De La Salle Castle for Bloghouse, I moved to Canadiana Backpackers Inn. Quite a different experience to go from this:
But the staff were friendly and the price was right. I bunked in a shared room one night and had my own room for the rest. It was important for me to have privacy for work and sleep. In retrospect, it might have been nice to rent an apartment in Toronto.
The CN Tower Tour (Tallest Building in the West)
One of the most popular tourist activities in Toronto is a visit to the top of the CN Tower, standing at 1815 feet. It is open 364 days a year (closed on Christmas), from 9 AM to 10:30 PM.
The tower, which was completed in 1976, held the world record for the world’s tallest tower and the world’s tallest free standing structure for 34 years until the Burj Khalifa was completed in 2010. It remains the tallest free standing structure in the Western Hemisphere.
The “CN” in CN Tower refers to Canadian National, the railway company that built the tower.
Originally built as a large TV and radio communications platform, it later became a main source of tourism for the city.
The American Society of Civil Engineers declared the CN Tower one of the Seven Modern Wonders of the World in 1995.
The Tower Experience, which includes general admission and access to the SkyPod, is $40.80. Regular admission (no SkyPod) is $28.80. You might as well fork over the extra $12 to go all the way to the top and have the 360° views. I mean, you’re already there!
Purchase tickets online or at the Tower. Some people opt for the CityPass, which includes five attractions for $60 (worth it if you have the time in Toronto… I didn’t).
Oh, and if you’re a total daredevil, you can do the “edgewalk” (hang over the edge of the SkyPod via harness). I’m a daredevil… I was just too cheap to pay $175 for this fascinating experience. (I mean, c’mon… Skydiving in Namibia was cheaper!)
Kensington Market (One of North America’s Best Street Markets)
This place is cool. Kensington Market is one of those infamous neighborhoods that many cities have. It’s the cultural, eclectic, funky area that locals love and in-the-know tourists flock to.
Folks come here for artisanal cheese, vintage clothing, vinyl records, exotic produce, and fresh seafood. European, Latin American, Middle Eastern, and Caribbean shops and restaurants share space in a labyrinth peppered with cafes, street musicians, fishmongers, boutiques, coffee shops, art galleries and vintage stores.
Kensington Market is a place where thoughtful, artistic expression thrives. Indie, hipster, local, tourist, gay, straight, young, old, singles, families, nationality x- all are welcome.
St. Lawrence Market (The World’s Best Food Market)
Toronto’s other market, St. Lawrence, was named the world’s best food market by National Geographic in 2012.
FO-TO candy! St. Lawrence Market is a photographer’s dream, with all the colorful produce and meats displayed with artistic perfection. It’s also a food-lover’s dream.
There are two levels in this amazing food temple. Of course I scoped out the macaroons at Lemon Tree Patisserie and Eve’s Temptations (offering Toronto’s best desserts) on the lower level.
The peameal bacon sandwich at Carousel Bakery, likely the most popular and infamous grab in the market, claims celebrities Catherine Zeta-Jones, Emeril Lagasse, and rapper Drake as fans.
Distillery Historic District (1837 Whiskey Distillery-Turned-Pedestrian District)
The historic Distillery District offers visitors award-winning restaurants, artisan shops, designer boutiques, art galleries and performance venues.
Once Gooderham & Worts whiskey distillery, the restored Victorian-era red brick buildings are now home to more than 70 retail and cultural establishments.
The 13 acre district of more than 40 heritage buildings is a destination in and of itself. Spend the day here or stop by on your tour of Toronto after visiting St. Lawrence Market (use the 72 A,B bus).
Harbor Square Park (The Ultimate Urban Beach)
Toronto’s water front on Lake Ontario offers residents a beach escape in an urban environment. It’s a funky juxtaposition, to see half naked urbanites lying in the sand, surrounded by high-rises.
Self-guided Architecture Photo Tour
I’m just throwing this in here. I loved Toronto’s architecture. The only other North American city that I’ve architecturally enjoyed this much was Chicago. If you like photography, it’s a really fun experience to wander the streets of downtown Toronto, playing with your camera settings and urban landscape compositions.
The Obligatory Day Trip to Niagara Falls
You can’t travel to Toronto without taking a trip to Niagara. I booked my trip with Moose Travel Network, and the all-day tour included the trip to and from the falls (driver and bus), a wine tasting at a local vineyard, and a short visit to Niagara on the Lake village for $75.
Once at the falls, you’ll want to do one of the boat rides. I took The Maiden of the Mist tour ($17), which is the most popular. I also opted for the helicopter tour over the falls ($135), worth the cost if you’re already there. Niagara Falls are doubly impressive from above.
I’ve always heard great things about Toronto…
I had heard that it was a cool city and that there was so much to do there. I have to say that I was even more impressed than my already high expectations had prepared me to be. Toronto is definitely a city that I want to return to and explore further.