In Toronto you can’t help but orientate yourself in relation to the CN Tower. Its spire acts like a compass needle – wherever you are in the city, if you can find it, you can find yourself.
So start there. Though it’s more impressive from the outside, it’s worth getting there early to beat the queues and heading up to the top to be battered by the winds, see the views out over Lake Ontario, and tick it off your bucket list. Unless you want to don a jumpsuit and tether yourself to the outside for the tower’s EdgeWalk, head straight back down to seek out breakfast at Le Gourmand on Spadina and Richmond Street, where the pastries are made in-house fresh daily.
The cafe is a regular stop on Steven Hellmann’s excellent street food tours, Foodies on Foot, mostly for the quality of their chocolate chip cookies. Skip lunch and join him on the 501 Queen Streetcar, the longest surface route in North America, to eat at five stops across the 15.4 mile journey east to west. Or, if you want to get under the skin of the city Drake calls The 6ix, join the Street Art and Street Food tour that takes in Graffiti Alley, an ever-changing side street showcasing the work of the city’s best street artists – Uber5000, Poser, Elicser and Skam.
The Art Gallery of Ontario lit-up at night
Breakfast at Le Gourmand
A second look at the frontage of the Art Gallery of Ontario
Signage at the Mill Street brewery
The bar in Steam Whistle Brewery
Toronto's famed Grafitti Alley
Twilight at Lake Ontario
Cocktails at BarChef
For something more genteel, venture into the Frank Gehry-designed Art Gallery of Ontario. The building itself is worth the visit with a sweeping spiral staircase in the central atrium and the beautiful light-filled Galleria Italia that runs the length of Dundas Street. The gallery’s collection of Canadian art including the Group of Seven and many First Nations artists gives a sense of what it is to be Canadian – rooted in the landscape and working together with nature. The soon to reopen Museum of Contemporary Art should continue this narrative in the Auto Building in Junction Triangle.
But if the sun is shining, go all out and take a return helicopter ride to see Niagara Falls. It only takes 45 minutes to fly there (compared with a couple of hours in a car), and the view from above is definitely better than from the mizzle on the ground.
Once you’re back in the city, reward yourself with cocktails at BarChef on Queen Street, one of the most innovative bars on the global drinks scene, where gastronomy and mixology meet in a low-lit apothecary style drinking space. Or take in the breweries of the Distillery District – Steam Whistle Brewery for pilsner, IPA at Mill Street Brewery, and even sake from the Ontario Spring Water Sake Company. Then head on for dinner. BarChef’s Frankie Solarnik is just one of the chefs who collaborated with the team at Bosk to create an ongoing season of one-off menus – Taste of the Six, and Jed Smith from Momofuku joins that line up in October. The restaurants are next door to one another if you can’t decide. But if you’re really ravenous after all that walking, satiate yourself on steak and seafood at STK, before hitting the hay at the perfectly placed Shangri-La Hotel, with a nod to the CN Tower before you sleep.