48 Hours: Toronto

With an international film festival and all-night art event on the agenda, this alluring Canadian city has stellar appeal, says Cathy Winston

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Travel essentials

Why go now?

Toronto's International Film Festival (001 888 599 8433; tiff.net) takes place from 8-18 September – it is second only to Cannes in terms of big names and high-profile movies. Even when the stars aren't in town, the Canadian city's multicultural mix and stunning Lake Ontario setting mean there's plenty to entice, including the Nuit Blanche sunset-to-sunrise contemporary art festival (scotiabanknuitblanche.ca) on 1 October.

Touch down

Air Canada (0871 220 1111; aircanada.com) and BA (0844 493 0787; ba.com) compete non-stop from Heathrow. Canadian Affair (020-7616 9184; canadianaffair.com) has flights from Birmingham, Exeter, Gatwick, Glasgow, Heathrow, Newcastle and Manchester, while Sunwing (00800 7869 9464; flysunwing.co.uk) flies from Gatwick.

From Lester B Pearson airport, 22km north-west of the city centre, bus 192 – the "Airport Rocket" – (001 416 393 4636; ttc.ca) costs C$3 (£2) for the 20-minute trip to Kipling Station (1); the price includes a transfer onto the subway into central Toronto. The Airport Express bus (001 800 387 6787; torontoairportexpress.com) runs every 20-30 minutes, costing C$23.95 (£16) to major hotels.

A taxi costs around C$50 (£33).

Get your bearings

Toronto is roughly laid out on a grid, with Lake Ontario at the southern end and roads branching east and west from Yonge Street, which runs through Downtown and marks the city's centre. Just off Yonge is the Ontario Travel Information Centre (2) at 20 Dundas St West (001 416 314 5899; ontariotravel.net; 10am-6pm daily except Sundays, noon-5pm).

The central neighbourhoods, including the Entertainment District, Old Town, Yorkville, Queen West and the University, are all easy to explore on foot, while the TTC public transport system makes getting around very straightforward, with a mix of subway trains, buses and streetcars (trams). Single tickets for all cost C$3 (£2) or C$12.50 (£8.30) for a book of five; this also entitles you to transfer to a connecting route for free; pick up a transfer ticket from the automated subway machines or drivers on buses and streetcars.

A day pass costs C$10 (£6.60); at weekends, this is extended so it's valid for two adults or a family.

Check in

The sleek Thompson Hotel (3) at 550 Wellington Street West (001 416 640 7778; thompsonhotels.com) is a recent addition, with a Miami-style rooftop pool and bar restricted to guests and the occasional bunch of beautiful people who make it past the bouncers. Doubles from C$209 (£139), room only.

For a quirkier option, The Drake (4) at 1150 Queen Street West (001 416 531 5042; thedrakehotel.ca) has pieces by local artists and customised furniture in its 19 rooms; while the décor in the restaurant and roof terrace changes with the seasons. Doubles from C$189 (£126), room only.

Follow in Ernest Hemingway's footsteps by checking into the hotel where he stayed during his time as a foreign correspondent for the Toronto Star: the Clarion (5) at 592 Sherbourne Street, not far from upscale Yorkville (001 416 921 3142; clarionhotelselby.com). Doubles start at C$109 (£72) including breakfast. Ask for a redecorated room.

Day one

Take a view

The CN Tower (6) (001 416 868 6937; cntower.ca) may have lost its title of the world's tallest building to Dubai's Burj Khalifa, but at 553.33m high, it offers the best views of the city. Open 9am-11pm daily, from C$22.99 (£15). For a real adrenalin thrill, strap on a harness and step out onto the platform 356m up the tower, for one of the new EdgeWalks (001 416 601 3833; edgewalkcntower.ca; 10am-6pm Aug-Oct, weather permitting; C$175/£118).

Lunch on the run

St Lawrence Market (7) (001 416 392 7219; stlawrencemarket.com) is 200 years old, and a snacker's paradise. Head to Carousel Bakery (001 416 363 4247) for a peameal bacon sandwich with maple mustard (C$5.75/ £3.80). Or try street food, from empanadas to Asian and organic at Kensington Market (8) (kensington-market.ca).

Take a hike

Toronto's art isn't confined to museums. Start at the grandiose Old City Hall (9) on Bay Street and Queen Street West, where flamboyant architect Edward James Lennox caricatured 19th-century councillors in stone by the entrance. Across the road is the current City Hall (10): two curved concrete towers surrounding a "spaceship" on Nathan Phillips Square, home to regular outdoor art exhibitions.

Crossing University Avenue, head north up McCaul Street to the white-and-black spotted box balanced on brightly coloured stilts: OCAD University (11). Cut through Grange Park to Spadina Avenue in Chinatown before turning south again to Queen Street West which gives one of the city's most creative quarters, Queen West, its name. Keep an eye out for street artists at work and the guitars suspended outside Capsule Music (12), opposite Trinity Bellwoods park, as you head west along the street.

Art galleries dot the road and local artworks are on display in cafés and boutiques, or discover emerging artists at the Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art (13) at number 952 (001 416 395 0067; mocca.ca).

Continue west until you finish at the Gladstone Hotel (14) at 1214 Queen Street West (001 416 531 4635; gladstonehotel.com), which also holds regular art exhibitions.

Window shopping

The days of the 1950s when city department stores drew curtains on Sundays to discourage sinful window shopping are a distant memory. Queen Street West is perfect for vintage fans. A theme develops with the retro bargains at House of Vintage (15) at number 1239 (001 416 535 2142), 69 Vintage (16) at 1100 (001 416 516 0669; 69vintage.com); and I Miss You Vintage (17), 63 Ossington Ave (001 416 916 7021).

Alternatively, take a cab north to Yorkville where the designer artery Bloor Street has given the stretch between Avenue Road and Yonge the nickname "mink mile".

An aperitif

The drinkable antifreeze of the Prohibition is long gone from the Distillery District (18) (001 416 364 1177; thedistillerydistrict.com), a quarter of restored Victorian-era industrial buildings. Opt for the local beers brewed for the Mill St Brew Pub (001 416 681 0338; millstreetbrewpub.ca) inside one of these red brick buildings. Beers cost from C$7 (£4.75).

Dining with the locals

Chef Claudio Aprile mixes molecular gastronomy and local ingredients at Colborne Lane (19), 45 Colborne Street (001 416 368 9009; colbornelane.com). Mains such as Thai-style scallops or a Mexican spiced lamb loin cost C$20-C$40 (£13-£26).

Or indulge in the generous portions at the new Torito Tapas Bar (20), 276 Augusta Avenue (001 416 961 7373; toritorestaurant. com). Dishes cost around C$8 (£5.50).

Day two

Sunday morning:go to church

The Gothic revival St James' Cathedral (21) (001 416 364 7865; stjamescathedral.on.ca) is on the site of the city's original wooden Anglican church. Sung eucharist is at 9am.

Out to brunch

Toronto loves to brunch. Brassaii (22) at 461 King Street West (001 416 598 4730; brassaii.com) goes for the city's penchant for exposed brick walls and tempts with lobster club sandwiches for C$19 (£13) and brunch cocktails such as a marmalade martini (C$5/£3.30).

A walk in the park

The Toronto Music Garden (23) at 475 Queens Quay West (harbourfrontcentre. com) was designed by the cellist, Yo Yo Ma. It is a tranquil, landscape version of Bach's Suite No 1 in G Major. Each section of the garden represents a different dance movement – a formal flower garden for the stately Minuet, a spiralling path through wildflowers for the Courante.

Take a ride

Further east along the Harbourfront (24), hop on one of the Toronto Island Ferry services (001 416 392 8193; 8am-11.45pm at weekends; C$6.50/£4.30 return) to one of Lake Ontario's peaceful islands.

On Ward's Island, hire a bike for C$7 (£4.50) an hour and cycle east along the boardwalk to the clapboard houses of the island's small community or west to the beaches at Hanlan's Point.

Cultural afternoon

The Frank Gehry-designed Art Gallery of Ontario (25) (001 416 979 6648; ago.net) is home to a collection of contemporary Inuit art, and the world's largest collection of Henry Moore sculpture. Open 10am-5.30pm daily except Monday, C$19.50 (£13).

Alternatively, pick from the trio of museums around the northern edge of the University of Toronto. The Bata Shoe Museum (26) (001 416 979 7799; batashoemuseum.ca) is unexpectedly absorbing. Open 10am-5pm daily (from noon on Sunday) C$14 (£9.50).

At the Royal Ontario Museum (27) (001 416 586 8000; rom.on.ca), the Daniel Libeskind glass addition to the natural history museum's original building still divides residents. Open 10am-5.30pm daily, to 8.30pm Friday, C$24 (£16). Opposite is the Gardiner Museum of Ceramic Art (28) (001 416 586 8080; gardinermuseum.on.ca) open 10am-5pm at weekends; 10am-6pm from Monday to Thursday; 10am-9pm Fri; C$12 (£8).

The icing on the cake

Jump on a streetcar for a spot of sunbathing by Lake Ontario. Around 30 minutes from Downtown on the 501 line, the 3km boardwalk runs from Balmy Beach to the busier Kew and Woodbine beaches.

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