Last week, I returned from a week in Toronto, Canada, where I was visiting an old school friend – who moved to Canada six years ago – and taking a proper holiday. It was my first time in Canada, and a pleasant one at that. I relaxed most of the time, but also ensured I did at least a handful of the main tourist activities. I was very lucky with the weather while I was there, as the sun was shining more than half of the time – which is very rare for November – and the temperature stayed around 10 degrees (but continuously fluctuated).
Once again, this trip was on a budget, but less so than my European adventures. My return flight was around £360 from London Gatwick (booked through Skyscanner), which is surprisingly good in comparison to summer flight prices. I flew with Air Transat (which is similar to Ryanair and often gets complained about). I found the flight completely comfortable and the service fantastic. Aside from a little turbulence, it was a smooth ride. For accommodation, I looked to my favourite source – Airbnb – and rented a fantastic room on the fifth floor of an apartment building near The Distillery District (around a 20-minute walk from the city centre and Union Station). For seven nights, I paid £266 (£38 per night, including all fees) and my view was absolutely superb. In addition, my host was incredibly friendly and helpful – but then I expect nothing less of Airbnb, as I always have a brilliant experience.
I left London at 7:45pm and landed in Toronto around 4pm (there’s a five-hour time difference). After collecting my suitcase and getting the Union Pearson Express to Union Station (it takes around 25 minutes and costs $27.50 one-way for an adult, or $53 return), I made it to my apartment by 6pm. I then met my friend for coffee and we had a brief catch-up at Balzac’s coffee shop in The Distillery District. It’s a rustic, charming little setting for coffee. If you’re in the area, I’d definitely recommend it. Shortly after, I went back to the apartment and turned in, as jet lag was getting the better of me.
Day two (my first full day) welcomed average weather and a fairly early start. After coffee, I visited the CN Tower ($35 per adult), which I found somewhat overrated. The view is nice, however there’s mesh around the outside and (mostly) smudged glass on the inside, so getting a nice photograph is near impossible. The glass floor was underwhelming – it’s very small and doesn’t overlook anything too exciting. It’s one of those attractions you’re somewhat obliged to visit while in Toronto, however try not to get carried away with your expectations – you will, most likely, be disappointed. With that, it should be noted that I didn’t visit the SkyPod, which is 100m taller than the section I visited, so that may have offered a slightly better experience. It costs an extra $12 for all ages.
After the CN Tower, I got some lunch at a pub-style restaurant and then headed to the Art Gallery of Ontario. There was a J. M. W. Turner exhibition on, so I was more than happy – I’ve always wanted to see his artwork in person. The gallery, as a whole, is fantastic and has a range of very good exhibitions and artworks. I’d highly recommend it. The only downside is the $25 admission (this is slightly higher than the normal admission, as I visited the J. M. W. Turner exhibition), however that’s just because I’m used to London galleries having free entry.
In the evening, I went to Fran’s (a diner-style chain restaurant) on Yonge Street – near to Yonge-Dundas Square – with my friend. It wasn’t anything to write home about, however the food is inexpensive and very filling, and the atmosphere somewhat quirky (if you like that American/Canadian diner vibe).
Day three (Friday) was, without doubt, my favourite day during my trip. I went on a Niagara Falls day tour, which was operated by King Tours and booked through NiagaraTours.ca. The tour was very inexpensive (just under $90) and included pick-up and drop-off to/from my apartment, a brief wine tasting at Pillitteri Estates Winery, a 30-minute stop-off/visit to the small town of Niagara-on-the-Lake and, finally, a visit to Niagara Falls, where we stayed for two hours. Unless you decide to participate in the boat ride, this time is entirely free time for you to do whatever you want. The Falls was spectacular and I got plenty of memorable photos. While there, I grabbed lunch at Wendy’s (basically McDonald’s, but much better). I was really surprised to see that Niagara Falls itself is similar to the UK’s Blackpool or Great Yarmouth, with plenty of arcades and attractions. It’s sad that such a picturesque destination has been ruined by tourism, however I think that happens with most desirable tourist destinations. But it didn’t ruin my Niagara Falls experience at all. Niagara Falls (the waterfall itself) was spectacular. My coach driver and tour guide was very friendly and made the trip interesting and enjoyable. If you’re planning to visit Niagara Falls, I would highly recommend King Tours.
In the evening, after getting back from the Niagara Falls tour, I visited The Distillery District again to hunt out a nice spot for dinner. I ended up in Cluny – a relatively new, French restaurant – and it was fantastic. The staff were very friendly and authentic, and the interior was beautiful – decorated with cabinets filled with antiques and traditional art. I ate an 8oz medium rare steak (which was cooked perfectly and presented beautifully) with skinny fries, and I had a small glass of Chablis white wine with my meal, and coffee after. Complimentary bread and water was included, and all-in-all I paid around $50 (including tax and my tip), which was very reasonable considering the delicious food and fantastic service. If in Toronto, I’d highly recommend a visit to Cluny!
The second half of my trip was very relaxed as I was quite lazy. Day four welcomed fantastic weather and a lie-in, and then a little work until late morning. I had coffee at Tandem Coffee – a little coffee shop where Trinity Street meets King Street, with a slightly hipster vibe similar to that of Shoreditch. It’s relatively quiet, so perfect if you just want to sit for an hour, but it doesn’t have Wi-Fi (as far as I know). I walked a little after, but then went back to the apartment to relax. The next day, I tried Marché for dinner for the first time. It’s a large, market-style chain restaurant set-up, where you can walk around to different vendors, choose what you want, and they swipe a card you receive at the entrance and then you pay at the end. I had a savoury crepe, which was $12 and very tasty. Initially, I was unsure about the concept, however, on reflection, I think it’s quite a good idea – you just need to watch what you’re spending, as it could get out of hand quite quickly.
On day six, I visited a somewhat unauthentic Italian restaurant called Archeo, which is located in The Distillery District. The food and price was very average, however the food seemed like a very lazy take on Italian cuisine. The base of my pizza felt and tasted as if it was out of a packet. To be a little harsh and very blunt: I’ve had frozen pizzas that have tasted better. If you’re looking for somewhere to grab lunch in The Distillery District, I’d probably avoid Archeo.
On my last full day, I aimed to walk the city again, but the weather was horribly cold and wet. Instead of walking, I went back to Tandem Coffee. Afterwards, I visited The Distillery District again to grab some lunch. This time, I went to Pure Spirits Oyster House & Grill, which was highly recommended by anyone I spoke to. However, when I arrived, I was very disappointed. The service was very awkward and rigid (I had around four waitresses dotting between my table, and they seemed to lack communication as I was constantly being asked the same questions, over and over again). The food put me in a better mood, as I had a very tasty portion of fish and chips. However, it was presented a little awkwardly in a deep fry basket (presumably in an attempt to be “cool”) and I was underwhelmed when I noticed that the little dishes with my sauces in were dumped on top of my coleslaw. If this place had better staff and used real plates, I think it could be really good. I paid around $40 for my fish and chips (two pieces), a small glass of Chablis white wine, and an after-meal coffee.
On my last day, I slept in and went for lunch at Cluny (and had another fantastic meal with great service). Shortly after lunch, I headed to the airport. I got a taxi this time, which cost $48 (booked with Aeroport Taxi & Limousine Service). They were on time and the cost was a little cheaper than competitors, so I’d definitely recommend it. The wait at the airport was a little tedious, but getting checked-in and through security was a piece of cake. There was horrible turbulence on my flight again, however the service was still fantastic. I really can’t fault Air Transat!
If you love rustic charm, go to where the city meets nature. Visit Toronto!
Toronto Travel Tips
- Book your Niagara Falls tour when you arrive, or just before, based on when the weather is best. It was raining at the start of my tour, which wasn’t ideal. However, it did brighten up fairly quickly.
- In Canada, remember that tax is not included (around 13% will be added to most bills).
- Autumn (usually October) is a great time to visit as it’s really picturesque – as is June (summer, but not the height of summer, meaning there’s still reasonable flight prices).