Toronto, Canada’s largest city, is perfect for a city break over a long weekend, whether you’re a couple seeking a romantic getaway or a family wanting a nice balance between nature activities for the kids on the Toronto Islands and great culture and food options. Here are my tips for a first visit to Toronto:
1. Take a walking tour with LiveToronto
Even if you just have 1 hour, make it count with a walking tour with LiveToronto. Owner and professional photographer Dustin Fuhs will give you a fun and engaging private walking tour of Toronto based on your interests, and take photos of you along the way. If you’ve ever wished that you had better photos of your visit, and not just selfies, this tour is your answer. We enjoyed seeing iconic landmarks such as the CN Tower, City Hall, and Canada Life Building, but also were intrigued by the Canadian stars memorialized in Canada’s Walk of Fame, and also learned about Toronto’s lucrative film industry–Toronto has stood in for NYC in a number of films and TV shows and even keeps a fleet of NYC taxis and other props on hand for these shoots.
2. Be pampered at Four Seasons Toronto
Four Seasons Hotels & Resorts were born in Toronto, so it’s no wonder that the new Four Seasons Toronto, opened in 2012 in Toronto’s lively Yorkville district, gets the details right. Enter into a soaring lobby, with stunning flowers that will remind you of the beautiful floral displays at Four SeasonsáParis, designed byámaster floral designer and artistic director Jeff Leatham.
Even prior to your stay, you’ll be asked about your requirements, allergies and sleep and dining preferences. My son and I were welcomed with a delicious cheese plate and accompanying white wine for me, and a fruit plate and cuddly plush reindeer stuffed animal for him.
We enjoyed a refreshing swim in the relaxation pool on the 9th floor, followed by a soothing soak in the adjacent whirlpool jacuzzi. And I slept better on the plush Four Seasons bed than at any of the other three Toronto luxury hotels we stayed in. Don’t miss dinner at Cafe Boulud, with Daniel Boulud’s twists on the French classics of his native Lyon, in a cozy space that is just as popular with locals as with hotel guests.
3. Savor brunch at Beast Restaurant
Wherever you’re staying in Toronto, it’s worth venturing out to Beast Restaurant, at 96 Tecumseth Street, for weekend brunch. While we caught the tail end of brunch, I highly recommend getting there early so as not to miss out on Rachelle’s doughnuts of the day, or the perennial favorite, maple-bacon doughnuts.
Be sure to come hungry to be able to do justice to the hearty “beastwich”, a buttermilk biscuit with fried chicken thigh, pimento cheese, pork sausage gravy and a fried egg, with a side of house potatoes or mixed greens. I also loved the eclectic crispy pork hocks, tossed in Indonesian kecap manis (thick sweet soy sauce) and served with bracingly spicy house kimchi, plus two eggs, toast, and house potatoes or mixed greens.
4. Immerse yourself in Pompeii at the Royal Ontario Museum
The Royal Ontario Museum is a convenient 10 minute walk from Four Seasons Toronto, and has permanent galleries featuring everything from dinosaurs and Egyptian mummies to Greek and Roman artifacts, Chinese architecture, and even a bat cave.
Special exhibitions rotate, but currently of note is the “Pompeii: In the Shadow of the Volcano” exhibit, until January 3, 2016. Having been to Pompeii and gotten a sense of the size and scale of the city, from walking along its ancient roads and visiting its amphitheater and Forum, this exhibit helped further bring it to life with details of everyday life, from mosaic and ceiling decorations to figures of the gods the people worshipped, how they dressed, and even fossilized bread and the condiments they used with their food. Sign up for one of the guided tours, it’s well worth the extra $5 per person.
5. Visit the waterfront and Toronto Islands
Toronto’s waterfront affords great views, and is also the departure point for ferries to the Toronto Islands. These are best visited in the summer, for a welcome escape to nature trails and beaches, and there’s also Centreville Amusement Park, Franklin Children’s Garden and the Far Enough Farm with petting farm for families with kids.
That said, if you’re of the mindset that there’s no such thing as bad weather, it’s also possible to visit in winter for ice skating and cross country skiing, in a beautiful and mostly deserted winter wonderland.
What are your favorite Toronto experiences?
Hilary Stockton is the CEO atáTravelSort.