We recently spent ten days traveling from Toronto to Quebec City. The sites, sounds, & snacks of the five Canadian cities we visited were just what we hoped they would be! Our first stop was Toronto.
Toronto is a large and busy city located along Lake Ontario in the province of Ontario Canada. Because of its urban size, there are many fun, interesting, and unique tourist attractions that would be perfect for your next adventure. We chose to spend our time in downtown Toronto.
We started our day in the Power Plant District. Parking was easy to secure and centrally located. We walked along the boardwalk, spontaneously took in a festival that was happening which included live music, and grabbed our first meal at one of the restaurants along the water. There are several restaurants located in this area many with outdoor dining and water views. We had lunch at The Goodman Pub & Kitchen. The food was great as was the service. We had no problem walking in and being seated right away. We tried our first tastes of traditional poutine and Canadian bacon. Later in the day we returned to this area for appetizers and craft beer flights at Amsterdam Brewhouse. Again we had no problem immediately being seated on the back deck overlooking the water. The food, service, and beer selection was great.
After lunch, we walked a short distance to the CN Tower and Ripley's Aquarium. This area in downtown is busy! In addition to the CN Tower and Ripley's Aquarium, there is the Toronto Railway Museum, the Rogers Centre (home of the Toronto Blue Jays baseball team), as well as a large number of restaurants, bars, and cafes.
While waiting for our aquarium timed admission, we visited the sites of Roundhouse Park. Located just across the street from the Aquarium/CN Tower, the park holds the John Street Roundhouse which is home to the Toronto Railway Museum, the Steam Whistle Brewing, and a restaurant and entertainment complex. The Toronto Railway Museum is free and located on the grounds surrounding the roundhouse. We enjoyed checking out the various train cars, buildings, and bridges in this area. We would have loved to sample the beers at the Steam Whistle Brewing but we had limited time. The restaurant was very busy and included both indoor and outdoor seating.
We had booked online our Ripley's Aquarium tickets. Thirty minutes prior to our timed entry, we joined the queue. We typically love a Ripley's Aquarium (having visited before in the Smoky Mountains), however our experience was not great this time around. We were admitted to the aquarium at our assigned entry time with what felt like hundreds of other people. As a result, we were in a very tightly packed group of people and really struggled to see any of the attractions for most of the visit. Sigh!
Ripley's Aquarium is open from 9am-9pm with extended hours during the summer months until 11pm. On the website, they do list "peak hours" as 11am-4pm and actually recommend booking time slots before or after these hours. Unfortunately we had booked our timed entry at 2pm. I highly recommend booking outside of the peak hours for a better experience! The aquarium includes different themed areas which include Canadian Waters, the Kelp Forest, Dangerous Lagoon, Shoreline Gallery, and the Discovery Centre (which includes plenty of play space for smaller children). We did enjoy the moving sidewalk through the immersive tunnel as well as seeing the various jelly fish tanks.
The CN Tower is literally right next to the aquarium. There is an option to purchase a combo Sea to Sky admission package for these attractions. Visitors at the CN Tower can travel to the top of the 1,815.5 feet tall tower for 360 degree views of Toronto. Guests can choose to visits the observation level, skypod, and even "walk" along the edge during a specially scheduled "Edgewalk" tour. At the base of the CN Tower, there are several Beavertail vendors, food trucks, and the perfect instagram spot! Be sure to check the website if you plan to visit as they are currently doing significant renovations to the tower. As a result of the rainy weather and closure of the observation deck, we did not travel to the top of the tower.
After snacking on a Beavertail (we think it is best described as a donut meets a funnel cake and then gets topped with chocolate, bananas, caramel, nutella, etc.), we checked into our hotel. After a quick refresh (nap), we headed to the Distillery District for the evening. The Distillery District houses restaurants, art galleries, boutiques, bars, and outdoor entertainers in a pedestrian-only area created in the 19th century buildings that once housed a large whiskey distillery. This area is very charming with cobblestone streets, bistro lighting throughout, and an abundance of outdoor art including the love "lock" art installation. We ate dinner at the Mills Street Brewery which offers both indoor and outdoor seating. We enjoyed one of the BEST appetizers we have every had at any restaurant. If you go, you MUST order the Duo of Dips - I won't give away their recipe but I will tell you that I have been trying to recreate this dish ever since I returned home. It was so good! The beers & cocktails as well as the rest of our meals were also great! There is a good variety of restaurants and ice cream shops in the Distillery District which include tapas, tastings, pizza, mexican food, and french cuisine. I imagine everyone can find something they like! But do be aware many of the restaurants were busy and required reservations.
Know Before You Go:
Dinner reservations during high tourist times are a must.
There are so many fun places to stop for live music, cocktails, & dessert downtown near the Aquarium/CN Tower as well as in the Distillery District.
Wear comfortable shoes! This city is walkable and it is much easier to park the car once and walk to the various tourist attractions.
If you are planning to visit the Ripley's Aquarium, consider purchasing your tickets for a slot before 11am or after 4pm.
Another attraction that would have been fun to visit is the Toronto Zoo.
Toronto is home to several professional and semi-professional sport teams. If you are visiting in the right season, consider attending one of these games.
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When to Go:
In our opinion, Toronto is a year round destination. Your adventure choices and the weather conditions will likely dictate when you visit Toronto. June - August are the warmest and also the busiest tourist months with temperatures in the mid-70s to 80's. From November to March, the temperatures drop with January being the coldest month. Despite the cold temps, outdoor activities are very popular. We visited in May and enjoyed temperatures in the mid 60's-70's. We definitely needed layers and a light jacket.
Is Toronto Safe?
Yes! Toronto is considered one of the safest North American cities for visitors. However, Toronto is a city, so we recommend taking the typical city precautions – don’t walk alone at night, park your vehicle in well-lit locations, ensure valuables are stored out of sight, be aware of your surroundings.
Our overnight accommodations were centrally located in the heart of downtown Toronto. We highly recommend the King Blue Hotel Toronto. Priced perfectly, in a great location, with friendly staff, and very nice rooms this hotel was exactly what we needed as our home base for our Toronto stay. While street parking was an option, we paid for the valet parking at the hotel which included in-out services for the duration of our stay. There were multiple restaurants and cafes within walking distance of our hotel as well.
For the greatest level of flexibility and site-seeing opportunities, we recommend using a rental car. Parking isn’t a problem if you know where to look. Several parking options (including pricing) can be found using this interactive map. We found both the Waze app and Google maps to be easy to use to navigate from one destination to another.
Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) provides both bus and subway services to downtown Toronto. This is the least expensive method of transportation for getting to and from downtown Toronto. At the airport, stations are located at Terminal 1, ground level, second curb, column Q2-Q4.
If you take a taxi, you should make sure to use a licensed Toronto taxi or limo. At the airport, pick up locations are located at terminal 1, arrival level and terminal 3, arrival level. Only authorized taxi companies are allowed to pick up passengers from the airport.
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