Having spent some time in Toronto this past October, I got to experience a lot more than I had initially thought. Besides being a cultural mosaic, Toronto is also Canada’s largest city (the 4th largest in North America) and has been consistently named one of the world’s ‘most livable cities‘. Apart from exploring the world’s #1 Food Market – St. Lawrence – and re-discovering my love for Thai food at local favourite PAI, I did manage to soak in as much of Toronto’s attractions as I could, thanks to my friends.
There is so much to do, see and eat in Toronto, that it can be overwhelming. I spent a month here and still couldn’t do and see everything the city has to offer, which just gives me an excuse to go back for more! Before I talk about the highlights of my trip – here are a few things I should mention:
- I stayed with close friends, who were locals.
- We stayed in Downtown Toronto, where the Fashion District, Entertainment District, Chinatown etc. are and it just made going out a whole lot easier.
- Walking is the best and most economical way to get around.
- Always carry photo-ID which proves your age – either a smartcard or your passport (and be careful not to lose it)!
- Check all the official websites for special events, timings and/or deals on tickets before you make plans. I have mentioned the timings below, but you should always double-check.
- Google Maps is your new best friend. I have also mentioned the walking distance between each pair of places only as a reference – walk at your own pace and plan your outings accordingly!
1. Kensington Market & Mother’s Dumplings
Walking distance between the two: 5 – 7 minutes, approx.
Kensington Market (open all day, every day) is one of Toronto’s oldest and most multicultural neighbourhoods, as well as a National Historic Site of Canada. As colourful in real life as its history, Kensington Market is filled with quirky little shops and eateries. Everything from thrift shops to kitchen specialty shops, independent coffee shops to a pie specialty bakery. My favourite stores here were Roach Rama and Good Egg. Keep in mind that stuff here can be expensive, so budget wisely! There’s so much to explore here, spend a day pottering about before heading across the street to Mother’s Dumplings in Chinatown.
Mother’s Dumplings (open 11:30 am – 10:30 pm, daily) has some of the best Chinese comfort food I’ve ever tried. It’s just what you’ll need after a day traipsing around Kensington Market. It’s so popular that you’ll most definitely have a 10-15 minute wait, but it is SO worth it. Kick back and enjoy some beef & green onion pancakes, lamb shuimai and pork & bokchoi dumplings – also, mix up their chili oil with their table sauces! Best enjoyed with a nice cold beer (or their house-made green tea if you’re feeling picky). It’s also easier on the wallet and real value for money.
2. Hot Dog at Front Street West & Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada
Walking distance between the two: 8 minutes, approx.
Just next to the Metro Toronto Convention Centre on Front St West, near the big signage for the CN Tower and Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada, are a couple of Hot Dog carts. Grab a bite here before heading off to explore the Aquarium – try the Italian Sausage on a toasted bun, it’s next-level.
I wouldn’t normally suggest visiting an Aquarium (open 9:00 am – 11:00 pm, daily), but on a really gloomy, rainy day it can be quite a bit of fun! I visited it on my own and spent an afternoon wandering through the different galleries and learning (yes, learning) about aquatic life. Bonus – they have a couple of ‘touch exhibits’ where you can pet sharks, stingrays and horseshoe crabs while interacting with a member of staff – it’s not scary and a really good way to overcome your fishy phobias, if you have any. They also boast North America’s longest underwater viewing tunnel, which is pretty cool. Remember to double-check timings and ticket prices online before you go!
3. Fusaros & The Second City
Walking distance between the two: 8 – 10 minutes, approx.
Grab an early dinner at Fusaro’s (open 9:30 am – 9:30 pm, closed on Sundays), your quintessential Italian eatery, complete with an open kitchen that’ll make you feel like home. I love Italian food and this is one of the better places for it in Toronto. My bestie always orders her pasta off the menu – she’s a regular here so the waitress knows her usual order – and I highly recommend the Pasta a L’Italiana which is a dish of linguine with mussels, scallops, and tiger shrimp in a light garlic tomato wine sauce. Delizioso!
Walk over to The Second City (check their operational hours online) – a Chicago-born Comedy Club that has spawned the likes of Alan Arkin, Gilda Radner, John Belushi, Mike Meyers, Tina Fey, Bill Murray and many more. If you love Saturday Night Live or sketch and improv comedy, then you’ll really love the shows at The Second City. We went for Rebel without a Cosmos which was hysterical, but check their calendar for special one-off shows and performances. Note: Book online and in advance for The Second City – it can be difficult to get last-minute tickets.
4. WVRST Sausage Hall – Cameron House
Walking distance between the two: 10 minutes, approx.
For a more chilled out night on the town, pre-game at WVRST Sausage Hall (open 11:00 am – 11:30 pm and later on weekends) with some super hot dogs and craft beer. WVRST has the widest range of sausages I’ve ever seen. Build your own hot dog – take your pick from Chorizo, Venison, Wild Boar, Bison, Rabbit, Turkey sausage and so much more. They’re also famous for their duck-fat fries, so devour them and eat extra for me! If you’re crazy about beer then you’ll love their selection of craft beers too.
Take a short walk across to Cameron House (open 4pm onwards, daily), a small bar with kitschy decor which won me over INSTANTLY. It reminded me of my local watering hole – The High Spirits Cafe in Pune. There’s a sign on the wall behind the bar which says ‘this is paradise‘ and there were cowboy boots suspended from the ceiling. We listened to couple of bands playing over drinks before heading back to a friend’s place. It was wonderful. Note: Cameron House takes cash only, so hit the ATM beforehand.
Happy Eating (and Exploring)!