One day in… Toronto. Discovering Downtown on foot
To be perfectly honest, despite my long-standing love affair with Canada, Toronto has never been one of my favourite cities to visit. This isn’t necessarily due to any fault of the city itself, but probably more to do with when I usually visit. The first time was on my year abroad when I’d finished living in Montreal and was just about to come home in January. Let’s face it, does any city in the Northern Hemisphere make its best impression when the trees are all bare and it’s freezing cold? My other visits to the city since then have all been for work and Toronto has tended to be my final stop before coming home. By the time I get to that point on a work trip I just can’t wait for it to be over so I don’t think I’ve ever made much of an effort to get to know the city properly.
This time was slightly different – my trip had been a little shorter than usual at around 12 days rather than over two weeks. I also had some time available before my flight to London in the evening and the weather in Toronto was glorious. I’m also about to change jobs so I don’t know exactly when I’ll next be in Canada – sad times. In any case, I was determined to see some of the city properly.
Toronto – Canada’s biggest city
When I’ve described Toronto to people who’ve never visited in the past, I tend to equate it to a big, American city. Which I now realise is quite unfair (sorry Toronto!). As Canada’s biggest city, it can undoubtedly be quite overwhelming for country bumpkins like myself from the UK. But once I made the effort to get out and about, I had a great time.
I started (as always) with some online research to identify key spots I could target that were within walking distance of my hotel. Although Toronto is full of some really great tourist spots that charge entry, such as the CN Tower and Casa Loma, travelling so regularly for work means I just can’t afford (or am not prepared) to spend money on tourist attractions every time I go anywhere. So I got creative, and decided to start with my own tour of historic Toronto.
Head to the farmers’ market in the heart of the city
I was staying on Richmond Street near Yonge Street (one of the main streets in the Downtown area), so it was the perfect base for walking around the city. I started by heading a couple of blocks south towards the St. Lawrence Market. This is pretty famous in Toronto, but I’d never had chance to visit before. It’s an indoor market on two levels and has all sorts of stalls, from butchers and fishmongers through to crafts, cookery and even a tourist shop. On the way down to the market, I’d also identified some key historical points of interest; the Old Post Office and the Gooderham Building, which is Toronto’s very own flat-iron building. It was amazing to see the incredible contrast of 19th Century buildings set against a backdrop of glass skyscrapers.
Spot the historical buildings
I then continued my tour by walking along The Esplanade up to Yonge Street. Doing this gave me an incredible view of the CN Tower, which was a very pleasant surprise! Once I reached Yonge, it was back to the bustling main part of Toronto, which meant trying to not get in the way of commuters whilst I tried to take a photo of another historical building. This was the Birkbeck Building, located just off Yonge on Adelaide Street, which is a four-storey Edwardian Baroque-style building from 1908 flanked by more modern structures.
At this point, I realised I’d committed to running an errand for my boyfriend and had to head to the University of Toronto bookstore as I’d promised to pick up a hoodie for him (I’m not sure how many university hoodies one really needs – this isn’t the first from my travels). So I headed across one block and up Bay Street. Even if you’re not planning on trekking all the way to the UofT, this is still a walk worth doing. It took me straight past the Hudson’s Bay Company (great for shopping) up to Old City Hall, which is a stunning building. It has a majestic clock tower that chimes every hour and holds its own amongst the skyscrapers, even though it was completed way back in 1899.
Enjoy some more modern sights
I’d walked around this part of the city before, so I knew that the next key photo stop was just to the left of Old City Hall – the Toronto Sign. This modern landmark is located in Nathan Phillips Square and is 3D and illuminated. It looks amazing at night but this time I also got chance to see it in the day. They were already putting up the Christmas decorations so I bet this will look incredible when Toronto has its Christmas lights switch-on! The maple leaf at the end of the sign wasn’t there when it was originally put up in 2015, but was added at the end of 2016 to mark Canada’s 150th anniversary this year.
Grab a bite to eat
From Nathan Phillips Square, it’s about a 15 minute walk to Chinatown. I only walked past the edge, but this is another great part of Toronto to explore if you have time. At this point, I was getting pretty hungry. As I’m not a huge fan of Chinese food, I was inspired by a student I saw near UofT eating pizza, so I headed back Downtown to Terroni. It’s very highly rated for pizza by blogto.com and it was absolutely packed, but they managed to squeeze me in. Another great lunch spot that I didn’t have chance to visit this time but really like is Earls on King Street – the steak and sushi meal is not to be missed!
So that was all I had time for once I’d done a last-minute spot of shopping and had to head to the airport (early, as the traffic in Toronto is nightmarish). I’d definitely recommend getting out and about and not just doing the paid-for tourist things, even though they are good. If you’re pressed for time and just want to get a sense of the city, there’s nothing better than going for a wander around Toronto. I have a new-found appreciation for the city having taken the time to discover it on foot!
Have you been to Toronto? What’s your favourite spot to visit?