Falling for Niagara – A trip to Toronto

WHEN you think of Canada the first things that come into your mind are likely to be forests, lakes, mountains and moose, so it might come as a surprise to some that the country is in fact home to a number of large and interesting cities.  This June, I was lucky enough to travel to the largest Canadian city, Toronto, where I enjoyed five days exploring the fascinating multicultural metropolis.

Toronto

Brits travelling to Toronto will find themselves touching down at the city’s International Airport around seven hours after taking off from the UK.  Soon after this you will be ready to begin exploring the different neighbourhoods in the city centre, all of which are easily located thanks to the grid street system and an excellent subway and tram network.  Each area has its own unique flavour, largely dependent on the predominant culture in that part of the city.  In Little Italy you can find authentic Mediterranean cuisine and Italians conversing in their native language, while the huge Chinatown area is the place to go for excellent Chinese food.

For those looking to escape the hustle and bustle of Downtown, Toronto Islands are ideal.  Easily reached from the city’s waterfront via a free ferry link, you can enjoy the peaceful parks and lakeshore walks there.  Across the lake there is also the perfect position for you to absorb brilliant views of the Toronto skyline!

Shopping

If you enjoy shopping then you are sure to enjoy a visit to Toronto.  The city boasts a huge shopping mall, known as the Eaton Centre, where many of the Canadian and American stores which aren’t found in Britain have outlets.  Roots Canada is a clothing store which is a particular favourite of mine.  Here, you can pick up some quality t-shirts which also serve as a great souvenir of your visit.  An added benefit of shopping in Toronto is that our pound is currently much stronger than the Canadian dollar, meaning you’re able to get a lot more for your money.

Sports fans are likely to find something to keep them entertained when visiting Toronto, although they may find that the games played here are slightly different to those that they’re used to back home in the UK.  Canada’s national sport, ice hockey, is popular in town with the National Hockey League’s Toronto Maple Leafs based in the city’s Air Canada Centre.  During summer, there are baseball games on offer, with the Toronto Blue Jays playing other North American teams in their Downtown stadium.

If you enjoy a pint, then a visit to Toronto is sure to satisfy.  The city is home to a number of Canadian craft breweries who produce good beers.  Steam Whistle Pilsner was a particular favourite of mine, providing perfect refreshment on a hot summer’s day.  Why not enjoy a plate of Poutine (a Canadian speciality – basically chips with gravy and cheese!) washed down with a nice cold beer?

CN Tower

No visit to Toronto would be complete without a trip to admire the amazing views from the top of the CN Tower, which holds the record of being the tallest freestanding structure in the Western Hemisphere.  My girlfriend and I decided to try the revolving restaurant, where we enjoyed good food and great service with a panorama of the sunset over the lakeshore. Despite the dizziness that followed the meal it was a worthwhile experience and offered good value at $65 (£35) for three courses and access to the tower’s summit.

CN TOWER TORONTO

One of the main draws of Toronto as a city break destination is its proximity to the stunning Niagara Falls.  Easily accessible by public transport, the falls are a must-see for visitors to this corner of Ontario.  Ignoring Niagara’s tacky tourist-trap town centre, the best advice is to head straight for Hornblower cruises, which are Canada’s answer to the American Maid of the Mist.  Here, for around $20 (£10) you can don a plastic poncho and enjoy a half hour trip to get up close and personal with the falls which are sure to leave you drenched but with fond memories of your Niagara experience.

The Toronto area has lots to offer visitors and while it may seem like a distant destination a trip there can be surprisingly affordable.  Airlines such as Air Transat offer good deals on flights from the UK, while the city has a choice of hostels and budget hotels which are ideal for students.  What’s stopping you making this Canadian melting pot the next destination on your travel radar?