48 Hours In: Toronto
Offering boardwalks and beaches, bookshops and bistros, bicycle rides and baseball, Canada's largest city is a delightful summer destination, says Susan Griffith
Saturday 18 July 2009
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WHY GO NOW?
Give Torontonians half a chance, and they will (mildly) complain about the two exceptionally hard winters in a row they have just endured. But with glorious summer weather now upon them, they are eager to party. Among a host of outdoor summer festivals, the most colourful is Caribana (caribana.com), which celebrates Caribbean culture à la London's Notting Hill over the last fortnight of July. It will culminate on 1 August with a dazzling parade along Lakeshore Boulevard that puts paid to the city's old reputation as a Methodist stronghold.
Air Canada (0871 220 1111; aircanada.ca) and British Airways (0844 493 0787; ba.com) compete from Heathrow for the mainstream scheduled market, but Canadian Affair (020-7616 9184; canadianaffair.com) has a much wider range of flights on its partner airline, Air Transat, and Thomas Cook Airlines. You can start from Gatwick, Heathrow, Exeter, Birmingham, Manchester, Newcastle, Glasgow or Edinburgh.
From Lester B Pearson Airport, you can reach the city centre quickly on the public transport network TTC (ttc.ca). Buy a ticket for C$2.75 (£1.50) from the driver of the Airport Rocket, a bus that departs every 12 minutes during the day. It will take you to Kipling station, where you transfer free to the subway to the city centre. The total journey time is less than an hour, which rivals the C$19.95 (£10.75) Airport Express bus (torontoairportexpress.com) at times of heavy traffic.
GET YOUR BEARINGS
Toronto maintains vibrant residential neighbourhoods in its centre alongside glitzy skyscrapers. The downtown is lively, safe and ideal for people with sensible shoes to enjoy and navigate on foot.
If you want to conserve your energy, the integrated TTC system features a subway which is centred on the main crossroads of Yonge and Bloor and offers free transfers to above-ground transport. Streetcars (trams) operate mainly east-west from stations on the Yonge Street subway line (College, Dundas, Queen and King Streets), while buses tend to run north-south along the main roads (Bay, Spadina and Bathurst). An unlimited day pass for an individual costs C$9 (£4.85) and, if you're there at a weekend or holiday, the same price covers a family. Otherwise, you can purchase five separate journeys for C$11.25 (£6).
Les Amis Bed and Breakfast (1) is a late-19th-century townhouse at 31 Granby Street (001 416 591 0635; bbtoronto.com) – an ideal inner-city location on a quiet street just a few minutes' walk from Yonge and College Streets. The vegetarian breakfasts prepared by the Parisian proprietor are exceptional. Summer prices for a double room with breakfast start at C$126 (£68). If Les Amis is full (or the patron is away on vacation), an alternative is The Mulberry Tree B&B (2) at 122 Isabella Street (001 416 960 5249), where a double room with breakfast is a dollar cheaper.
TAKE A VIEW
The Burj Dubai skyscraper in the UAE may have eclipsed Toronto's CN Tower (3) as the tallest building on the planet, but it can't compete with the view (001 416 868 6937; cntower.ca; open 9am-11pm daily in summer). The basic admission of C$24.85 (£13.50) takes you to the space-craft-shaped observation platform on the 114th of 181 storeys. You can also pay an extra C$9.50 (£5) for a ride in the lift that shoots up the outside to the Skypod, located on the 147th floor.
LUNCH ON THE RUN
A single block of vibrant Baldwin Street is a microcosm of multicultural, laid-back Toronto, offering dozens of hard-to-resist lunchtime options. The Yung Sing Pastry Shop (4) at number 22 always has a queue for its barbecue pork buns that cost next to nothing. If you have a little more time, grab a table at the long-established John's Italian Caffe across the road at number 27 and share a Classico pizza for C$25 (£13.50).
TAKE A HIKE
Explore Toronto's urban history by joining one of the free guided neighbourhood walks that take place at weekends (usually starting at 1.30pm) until the beginning of October (001 416 338 3886; heritagetoronto.org). To enjoy the city's Great Lake frontage, travel east about 7km on the Queen Street streetcar to the funky neighbourhood of The Beaches. Treat yourself to a retro soft ice cream from the Woodbine Beach Ice Cream Truck parked beside the boardwalk.
Even if you are not in the market for a C$5 gaucho hat, a trendy cookery book or the merchandise for sale at Roacharama (whose sign reads "serving potheads since... ah, I forget"), try to fit in a wander through Kensington Market (5) just west of downtown. Kensington Avenue is lined with thrift and vintage clothing shops and the whole area is full of quirky nooks and crannies.
One of Toronto's many fine indie bookshops, This Ain't the Rosedale Library (6) is at 86 Nassau Street. Other superb second-hand bookshops include Atticus Books (7) at 84 Harbord Street and Balfour Books (8) in Little Italy (601 College Street) open till 11pm nightly.
From the old-money bar at the Park Hyatt Hotel (9) try to snag one of the tables on the balcony so you can look out over the city skyline.
If you are gay, you certainly won't be the only one in the village on Church Street, one block east of the main Yonge Street. Byzantium (10) at number 499 specialises in martinis, by which they mean cocktails.
DINNER WITH THE LOCALS
Almost every neighbourhood boasts great restaurants, both no-nonsense and "upscale". A current favourite is 93 Harbord (11), whose name is its address (001 416 922 5914; 93harbord.com). A contemporary Middle Eastern menu pairs pomegranates, walnuts and figs with lamb, chicken and fish in interesting ways; starters cost C$7-$12 (£3.75-£6.50) and mains average C$19 (£10).
Although located on the edge of hip and leafy Cabbagetown, JAMcafé (12) at 195 Carlton Street features neither cabbage nor jam on its enticing bistro menu (001 416 921 1255; jamcafe.ca).
SUNDAY MORNING: GO TO CHURCH
Almost in the back yard of that glittering temple to consumerism, the Toronto Eaton Centre, stands the Church of the Holy Trinity (13). You should pause to look at the Toronto Homeless Memorial, which bears 550 names of people who have died on the city's streets since 1987.
OUT TO BRUNCH
Sunday morning is a good time to head west on College Street on foot or streetcar to Little Italy. Centred on the stretch between Grace and Clinton Streets, the area is full of relaxed coffee places.
The expansive sidewalk patio of the Café Diplomatico (14) at 594 College St (001 416 534 4637; diplomatico.ca) is the place to consume an unpretentious C$6 (£3.25) colazione or cooked breakfast. A few blocks west at number 712, treat yourself to a waffle or crêpe topped with gelato at the Sicilian Sidewalk Café.
A WALK IN THE PARK
Continuing west on the College streetcar brings you to High Park, Toronto's biggest and most elevated. In the 1830s, the first holder of the job of surveyor built himself a grand villa. Later he donated the vast grounds that formed his private shooting estate to the city, and locals and visitors stretch their legs along the shady paths.
The newly donated collections of Ken Thomson, scion of the Thomson media dynasty, fill room after room of the Art Gallery of Ontario (15). The AGO (001 416 979 6648; ago.net) opens 10am-5.30pm daily except Mondays (Wednesdays to 8.30pm); C$18 (£9.70), with free admission on Wednesdays after 6pm.
TAKE A RIDE
During the summer, ferries depart all day and evening from the bottom of Bay Street on Queen's Quay (16), carrying excited children and day-trippers to the car-free islands just offshore (001 416 392 8193). Here you can rent a bike, have a picnic or queue for the bumper boats. Ferries leave every half-hour for Centre Island (17), Hanlan's Point (18) and Ward's Island (19), which are interconnected. A return ferry ticket costs C$6.50 (£3.50).
ICING ON THE CAKE
The quintessentially Canadian atmosphere at ball games – good-humoured and laid back – is great fun to experience. Enquire about the schedules and tickets at the box office of the Rogers Centre (20) at 1 Blue Jays Way. Tickets for Toronto Blue Jays games (001 416 341 1234; bluejays.com) start at C$12 (bring binoculars); decent seats are available from C$42 (£22.50).
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