After living in Ontario for 7 months, I still hadn’t taken the time to explore the beautiful city of Toronto (unbelievable!) So I jumped at the chance when an Australian friend invited me to stay at her condo to get our tourist on…
We walked everywhere! It was great to leave the busy subways behind and enjoy the exercise as we soaked up our surroundings. We stumbled on unexpected street festivals, connected with other vivacious travellers and even had our photo taken by a local journalist as we discussed our expatriate lives. Toronto is never as busy as some other cities like London and is very easy to navigate, so being on foot was a dream!
Just 24 hours later and I felt like I’d been on a vacation – I was refreshed, exhilarated and inspired.
I love my new home.
So here are my top 5 recommendations if you are tight on time but excited to embrace the culture of Toronto:
- Grab a coffee at quirky Kensington Market
We left the condo early so we could make the most of the day, however unlike some cities that never sleep, we quickly realised that the rest of Toronto was definitely still in bed!
Kensington market is known for closing its streets and overflowing with stalls selling food, clothes and merchandise, street performers and vibrant crowds. Despite it looking more like a deserted movie-set early in the morning, I still appreciated the laid-back mood of the outside wooden seating areas, boho cafes and multi-coloured painted houses that transported me back to the streets of Bali or Thailand.
Despite the 20 degree sun that was already pulsing down on us, I couldn’t resist sampling one of Toronto’s coffees… As I only have Tim Hortons and diner filter coffee where I’m living, you can imagine my pure delight holding my delicious fluffy milk latte from the quirky café Fika. Heaven.
I LOVED this café. Hammocks in the outdoor patio, a wall decorated with book pages and a delicious frittata breakfast sandwich for only $5 – A Toronto gem!
- Spam your Instagram at Graffiti Alley (Rush Lane, Spadina at Queen)
Just a short walk from Kensington Market (approx. 12 minutes), you can spend time taking in the sights of the incredible graffiti walk-way. Every building, staircase and trashcan is covered in brightly-coloured murals and inspiring quotes. I always love when a city has a graffiti alley where artists come to showcase their skills – and they make great backdrops for your city photo album.
- Brunch on the glittering Harbour-front
Walking a further 30 minutes from Graffiti Alley, we arrived at Toronto’s sparkling harbour-front. My friend and I found ourselves instantly comparing the vibe that ricochets off the stylish restaurant-bars along the water line to Sydney. Something about enjoying delicious food with friends by glittering waves and floating boats is unbeatable.
After our poached eggs brunch, we spent time walking around the area, listening to street performers and purchasing fresh fruit (and an amazing watermelon smoothie!) from the market stalls by the water.
- Get jam-in’ on the Tiki Taxi to the Toronto Islands
There are various taxi boat services on the harbour-front that offer transport to the Toronto Islands. The main ferry is cheapest, but is a longer journey than others and can sometimes be very crowded with tourists and families. We instantly liked the look of the Tiki Taxis – which are Caribbean style pontoons seating around 8-10 that can take you across the water in approx. 10 minutes for $10 per person each way. Coupled with the reggae music to accompany your journey and a place to store your bikes if you plan on cycling on the Islands, the driver also stopped the boat half-way to let us take photos of Toronto’s famous skyline behind us. This is definitely the way to travel!
We chose to boat across to Wards Island which is the furthest away and much quieter than the other areas. As soon as we disembarked, it was as if we had taken a road trip out of the city to a national park. Kayakers, stand-up paddle boarders, sunbathers, swimmers, families enjoying picnics and building sand castles, friends cycling along the wooden boardwalks and playing soccer. What an incredible place to be able to escape to – So close in distance to the city and yet so far! We sat on the beach, ate our fresh fruit bought from the harbour-front and watched the waves lapping at our feet. Bliss.
5. Feel the love in the Distillery District
After speeding back across to the harbour-front (you give Tiki Taxi a call to say when you want to be picked up), we walked to the Distillery District (approx. 25 minutes walk).
This was the perfect place to be as the end of the day drew near.
The large ‘LOVE’ letters attract a lot of attention from crowds and loved-up couples add their padlock to the hundreds of others, Parisian-style! There are also handfuls of tiny stores and cafes to duck your head into as well as museums where the history of the district and old distillery equipment are displayed.
After wandering around appreciating the last moments of the sun, we entered the busy chic patio of El Catrin. We rested our tired feet, ordered a huge pitcher of the most delicious white wine sangria for only $40(!) and indulged in their home-made fresh guacamole bowl that the server mashes up in front of you with chips.
Watching the crowds from our seats confirmed how beautifully diverse Toronto is. From teenagers and tourists to families and the elderly, everybody mingles, interacts and shares the experiences on hand – and the atmosphere is addictive.
If I have learnt anything from the past 2 years of my life, it is that unexpected experiences are ready and waiting to roll effortlessly into your life.
So faced with 24 hours in Toronto, I clothed myself with zeal and anticipation and the city repaid me with steaming sunshine, luscious food, artistic grace and a truly stunning skyline.
I can’t wait to go back.
Where are your favourite Toronto hot-spots?
Let me know if you have any recommendations for my next visit!