August 12, 2016 – St. Lawrence Market
My first trip to Canada was to celebrate the wedding of our dear friends, Zrria and Jon. Although the actual wedding was in Kitchener, we extended our trip to explore Toronto, a city very similar in size and makeup as Chicago.
After landing at Toronto Pearson International Airport, we took the Union Pearson Express train [$12 CAD/person] into the heart of Toronto which departs every 15 minutes and arrives downtown at Union Station 25 minutes later. While waiting on another friend to arrive, we stopped in for a delicious lunch at Pizzeria Libretto who does a great prix fixe lunch special Monday – Friday that includes salad, pizza and dessert for only $16 CAD.
After lunch, we met up with friends at the St. Lawrence Market, an amazing food market with over 120 retailers. If lunch hadn’t been so good, I would have regretted not waiting to eat here where there are food vendors of all kinds from vegetable stands to creperies. For those looking to sample the locale fare, try a Peameal Bacon Sandwich from Carousel Bakery. [Note: the St. Lawrence Market is closed Sunday and Monday so plan accordingly.]
Before getting in the car to head to Kitchener, we made a quick pit stop at Sugar Beach, Toronto’s urban beach. Previously a parking lot, this small sandy beach is a nice oasis for children or city dwellers looking for an easy city ‘getaway’ but personally not a place I would recommend.
After that, we were off to an incredibly fun wedding weekend! If you ever find yourself in Kitchener, be sure to check out Gilt Restaurant for amazing food in a hip, social atmosphere.
August 14, 2016 – Niagara Falls
The one thing I knew for certain I had to see in Toronto was Niagara Falls. I had never been – in the US or Canada – and wanted nothing more than to wear that plastic poncho, ride a boat through the mist and capture beautiful, candid pictures of the entire experience… Well, easier said than done, they give you those ponchos for a reason, but where there’s a will, there’s a way!
We went through Hornblower Niagara Cruises [Canada’s version of the Maid of the Mist] which was a 20 minute boat ride around the falls for $19.95 CAD/person. We didn’t purchase our tickets ahead of time and spent a good amount of time standing in various lines – to buy tickets, to get on the boat, etc. [Note: to skip the long ticket lines, purchase your tickets online here using your phone as you wait to take the elevator down to the river.]
And in case you’re considering spending more time in the town of Niagara Falls, make sure you know what you’re in for because it is not at all what I initially envisioned. Candidly, I would describe it as a cross between Las Vegas, Nashville and the state fair – your typical chain restaurants, carnival food, games and rides, lots of neon signs and tourists. Not necessarily my scene but could be fun for families with small children.
[The other half of our group had already been to Niagara Falls and instead opted to go tubing in the Elora Gorge. From what I understand, the rafting is mild and views are beautiful. Another fun, outdoorsy option if you’re out that way!]
Back in Toronto, we reunited with the tubers for dinner at Pai, an eclectic spot serving delicious northern Thai food. Since it was such a nice night, after dinner we walked around Toronto and visited the colorful ‘TORONTO’ sign in Nathan Phillips Square and Yonge-Dundas Square which is said to be the ‘Times Square of Toronto.’ Lots of great shopping, people watching and signs to see – even at night!
August 15, 2016 – Toronto Island
After a quick stop in Tim Hortons for the quintessential Canadian breakfast, we walked down to the Harbour Front and caught a water taxi to Hanlan’s Point on the western most side of Toronto Island for$10 CAD/person. [Note: you can also take a ferry to the islands for $7.50 CAD/person from the ferry port located on Queens Quay between Bay and Yonge Street.]
[One person in our group went up the CN Tower before we all met to go to Toronto Island. If you want to go, she recommends going early to avoid long lines.]
Once on the island, we strolled along the walking path, past the Gibraltar Point Lighthouse and many cute, quiet and charming beaches. Eventually we stopped at the Pier to relax and enjoy a cold Canadian brew. We had lunch at the Toronto Island BBQ & Beer Co. before renting a quadricycle from Toronto Island Bicycle Renal which we then used to explore the eastern side of the island [$30 CAD for the first hour]. However, we mostly stuck to the main roads since they don’t allow multi-person bikes across most bridges and wooden walkways.
Back on the mainland and in desperate need of a pick-me-up after all of our walking and biking, we bee lined it to Sweet Jesus for the most amazing soft serve I’ve ever tasted. It is so worth the wait, even if the line is intimidatingly long! Re-energized, our next stop was Graffiti Alley to see some really cool street art literally in an alleyway behind Richmond or Queen Streets between Spadina and Augusta Aves.
For dinner it was recommended that we try Bar Isabel so we made a last minute reservation. After all the wonderful things we’d heard and reviews we’d read, I’m a bit embarrassed to say we didn’t actually eat there so I can’t personally comment on the food but the ambiance was perfect – dark and cozy with a vintage feel. We ended with a nightcap from Bar Raval, a cute tapas restaurant with a unique beer and cocktail menu.
August 16, 2016 – Kensington Market & Distillery District
We began our final day in Toronto eating our way through Kensington Market. Starting with “breakfast” at NU Bugel and coffee at FIKA Cafe, before unlimited samples at the Toronto Popcorn Company, Jumbo Empanadas (literally) and even Thai rolled ice cream. And there was still more that we wanted to try but couldn’t possibly fit! The market was probably my favorite spot in Toronto – a wide array of local restaurants and shops with a low key, hipster vibe.
Next stop was the more refined Distillery District with quaint cobblestone walkways, adorable restaurants and boutique shopping. I fell in love with the most adorable resale shop, Blackbird Vintage Finds, that made me wish I had brought a larger suitcase [and that it was easier to ship internationally]. We also had heard great things about El Catrin, the Mexican restaurant, but honestly the entire district was so charming, you can’t go wrong with any of the restaurants there.
With just a little bit of time to kill before heading to the airport, we decided to check out Amsterdam Brewery. The rain had cleared and the sun was out so we sat on their back patio overlooking Lake Ontario and enjoyed some beer flights and shared appetizers. It was the perfect ending to a great trip!!
Accommodations & Country Specific Details
Stay: Hyatt Regency Toronto
We really enjoyed our experience at the Hyatt in Toronto. The experience was smooth and enjoyable from start to end and the rooms and facilities were clean, spacious and modern. The hotel is centrally located in the Entertainment District which allowed us to walk almost everywhere.
To Toronto: By air through United.
Note: Certain US cities offer cheap (typically), direct airfare through Porter Airlines into Billy Bishop Airport located on Toronto Island. I flew into the main international airport but I have friends who had both positive and very negative experiences with this travel itinerary. Just be warned that due to the limited number of fights offered each day and air restrictions around Toronto [i.e. flying times], any flight issues tend to snowball.
Around Toronto: We did rent a car since the wedding we attended was outside of Toronto but aside from Niagara Falls, we did not use the car for anything else. The city is extremely walkable, and if it rains like it did when we were there, there’s always Uber.
Currency: Canadian Dollar (CAD)
Outlet Adapter: The standard voltage is 120 V. The standard frequency is 60 Hz. The power sockets that are used are of type B. They are same as in the United States.
Passport/Visa Requirements: U.S. Passport valid at time of entry. No visa for visits under 180 days required.
Weather: We visited in August, Toronto’s summer. The temperature was warm but not hot. We had both complete sunshine and rainy days during the length of our stay. I definitely recommend packing layers to add or shed throughout the day/night.