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Toronto Travel Guide

Weekend Getaway

Nice and Edgy
Canada's Largest City Offers Style and Smiles
by Margaret Swaine

The city of Toronto truly comes to life at night
The Toronto skyline at night

Toronto is a city of many faces and styles. With five and a half million inhabitants from all over the globe, it's a world within a city made up of colorful pockets of ethnic groups. The fifth biggest metropolitan area on the continent, it's also a city of fashion and fancy. Several top-of-the-line hotels have recently opened and more are coming. The modern opera house, recently gussied-up museums and a multitude of theatres give lovers of the arts many places to go. Among the ever expanding sea of condominiums, vibrant, hip neighborhoods are springing up with cool eateries and galleries.

In the Entertainment District, edgy clubs and wild behavior are part of the fun, yet the streets are safe to walk all hours of the night. Parks are dotted about the city, while major ravines run through neighborhoods, acting as a green lung of fresh breezes and flowing waters. Bikers, walkers and joggers use the ravine paths, a hidden treasure of nature that many visitors miss. City streets feature more and more designated bike lanes and BIXI rental bikes available for all to use.

Yearly events like September's Toronto Film Festival, the largest public film festival in the world, draw discerning international audiences. The Distillery District, The Brickworks and other former industrial zones have become new cherished areas where locals and visitors can hang out, eat and enjoy various activities throughout the year. Noted architects have transformed and built cultural venues such as the Jack Diamond-designed Four Seasons Centre for Performing Arts, Daniel Liebeskind's Crystal addition to the Royal Ontario Museum, and Frank Gehry's graceful glass and Douglas fir remake of The Art Gallery of Ontario. Also adding to the notable vibrancy of the city are the completely new looks of The Gardiner Museum of Ceramic Art, the National Ballet School of Canada and the Royal Conservatory of Music.

By the end of 2011, Toronto's billion dollar decade-long construction boom added 53 new towers, four million square feet of office space and hundreds of glitzy hotel rooms. The Hazelton Hotel, an ultra-deluxe Yabu Pushelberg-designed property that includes the restaurant One by renowned local chef Mark McEwan, opened in 2008. The Ritz-Carlton opened in 2011, followed by the Trump International in 2012 and a new Four Seasons.

The Westin Harbour Castle on Lake Ontario
The Westin Harbour Castle

Toronto's 200 distinct ethnicities add their diverse publications, faith and cultures to the mosaic of the city. Over 130 languages and dialects are spoken. Neighborhoods such as Corso Italia, Greektown, Little Poland, Via Azores and Gerrard India Bazaar reflect the origin of the locals with their bilingual signs, ethnic restaurants and foods imported from the different home countries.

The city's standout landmark is still the 553.33-meter CN Tower, which held the title of the highest freestanding structure in the world until the recently completed Burj Dubai took that honor. Recognized as one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World by the American Society of Civil Engineers, it celebrated its 35th anniversary in 2011. Underneath the city, PATH is a 26-kilometer web of tunnels that connects hundreds of skyscrapers, hotels and restaurants via subterranean passageways. Filled with shops and eateries, it holds the Guinness Book of World Records title for the planet's largest underground shopping complex. Visa is accepted at many restaurants, stores and attractions; but if you need cash, you can use your Visa Debit Card and get Canadian dollars at ATMs all across the city.

Where you stay depends on your tastes and budgets. If you'd like to be in the heart of the action in a hip boutique hotel, Hotel Le Germain and the SoHo Metropolitan Hotel in the entertainment district offer stylish luxury at the throbbing center of club land. For sports and action lovers, Le Germain Maple Leaf Square is a sleek, urban hotel right at Maple Leaf Square overlooking the arena for NHL Hockey and NBA Basketball.

The Toronto Thompson Hotel, which is located in the art and design district of King West, is the prestigious chain's first foray outside of the U.S. It's ultra-chic with a private rooftop bar and pool with cabanas for guests. The Westin Harbour Castle on Lake Ontario is peacefully situated five minutes from the action on Toronto's waterfront. The Hilton Toronto has the advantage of being right across from the opera house and just steps from the financial and entertainment districts. The new tony Four Seasons Hotel Toronto, The Hazelton Hotel and the Park Hyatt are centered in fashionable Yorkville near the Mink Mile of shopping, while historic elegance and comfort can be found in the financial district's The Fairmont Royal York and The Omni King Edward Hotel. The Ritz-Carlton, Toronto brings glamour to the heart of the downtown core at the crossroads of the financial and performing arts districts.

Occupying the enviable corner of Bay and Adelaide streets is the 65-story Trump International Hotel and Tower, whose 261 rooms boast an elegant cosmopolitan style.

If you're part of the artsy crowd, you'll no doubt love the urbane Gladstone Hotel with its 37 unique, artist-designed rooms in the funky Queen West area, or the hip, nearby Drake Hotel — though be prepared for noise from trams, trains and neighborhood bars.


This cafe is part of the several dozen historic buildings in the Distillery Historic District in Toronto
Café in the Distillery Historic District
For lunch, head to the Distillery District. If modern design is your thing, you might want to walk the first stretch along King Street East from Jarvis to Parliament Street. Here, you'll find the city's best modern design showrooms and pass by innovative Canadian furniture and design shops such as Abitare, Ziggurat and Klaus (Nienkämper). A little further east and several blocks south is the Distillery Historic District at Parliament and Mill Streets. Sitting on thirteen acres, it's one of the largest and best-preserved collections of Victorian Industrial architecture in North America. About 50 historic buildings are linked by brick-paved streets running off a central courtyard. Over 800 films have been shot at this atmospheric 1832 locale. Have some oysters, Canadian salmon or rib steak at Pure Spirits Oyster House and Grill, sitting outside on their patio if weather permits. Then take an hour or more to visit the district's galleries, art studios, retail shops and microbrewery. Sip a sample flight at Canada's first sake producer, the Ontario Spring Water Sake Company. Re-energize with a freshly roasted coffee or an exotic chai tea at Balzac's Coffee House. Be sure to drop in at SOMA, where amazing chocolate is made on premises. The smell alone will get you salivating.

At cocktail hour, head back downtown to the 54th floor of the TD Bank Tower to Canoe Restaurant & Bar, where you can take in a bird's-eye view of the city with an excellent martini in hand. (It's also where you can mingle with the high-powered suits of Bay Street instead of tourists.) If it's a weekday, stay for dinner — the views are great and the menu emphasizes Canadian ingredients and preparations. You might also want to check out the scene at Ki, an Asian-style bar and restaurant, Reds or Earl's. They are all happening after work watering holes and dining favorites among the financial crowd.

360 The Restaurant at the CN Tower in Toronto offers breathtaking views of the city
360 The Restaurant at the CN Tower

No tourist should miss the CN Tower. Canada's National Tower, which celebrated its 35th anniversary in 2011, defines the Toronto skyline at 553.33 meters (1,815 feet, 5 inches). Views are literally breathtaking from three observation levels that include the Glass Floor Look Out and Sky Pod. Take the CN Tower's glass paneled lift, introduced in 2008 — the world's highest glass floor-paneled elevator. The latest extreme attraction is the EdgeWalk at the CN Tower. The first of its kind in North America, EdgeWalk is the world's highest full circle hands-free walk on a 5 ft (1.5 m) wide ledge encircling the top of the CN Tower's main pod, 356 m, (1168 ft, 116 stories) above the ground. This adrenaline-fueled experience allows thrill seekers to walk the edge of one of the world's greatest man-made wonders. If you dine at 360 The Restaurant at the CN Tower, you'll bypass the long lines via a separate elevator. You'll also enjoy wine selections from the world's highest wine cellar (according to Guinness World Records), plus tasty Canadian seafood platters.

Continue to Day 2


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The CN Tower

* Images courtesy of Toronto Convention & Visitors Association, Julian Opie, and The CN Tower

(Updated: 08/07/13 CT)

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