I am just back from a month unplugged and a month traveling around Eastern North America with my family, which was fantastic. The jet lag is still fully intact, but it is time to start sharing some of my adventures with you, so I'll start with out first stop Toronto, Ontario, Canada! I'll admit, when my mother suggested we meet in this Canadian city on Lake Ontario I was a bit sceptical, as having loved our visit to Vancouver I was afraid that Toronto just wouldn't measure up. Surprise, surprise, while Lake Ontario isn't the rocky and forested Pacific Ocean coast, it is a huge body of water which is lovely in itself (we had to remind ourselves that this wasn't the ocean!)
Toronto is a charming, interesting and accessible city full of lots of activities (and friendly, helpful people) to keep you busy. We didn't even begin to tackle them all during our 10 day stay! Do keep in mind that visiting Toronto is like visiting any large metropolis, just on a smaller scale, so in my opinion one should come equipped with an interest in exploring neighborhoods, learning about the city's history, and generally observing the whole mechanics that make a big city function.
Okay, lets get started, here are my top 25 reasons why you too should put a visit to Toronto on your bucket list. And no this post is not sponsored by the Canadian Tourist Board, but that probably would have been a good idea.....maybe next time.
1. There is a fun Toronto sign right next to the city hall, and the fountain seen here becomes an ice rink in the winter. My kids climbed into the letters and I got some precious shots. This sign was only supposed to be temporary when erected so no promises that it will be there always. That is why I have listed this reason as number one, meaning get a move on it! Not to worry, we only ended up actually visiting this sign on account of not getting onto a greyhound bus due to summer crowding, but more on that later in reason number 13.
2. Toronto is one of only three Northern American cities that have an active network of street cars, along wtih San Francisco and New Orleans. I love street cars, and you can surely get a good look at Toronto by using them! You'll see electric lines above everywhere, which helps figure out where exactly to catch one of those street cars! And speaking of electric lines, Toronto (like Vancouver) is often used for shooting movies with stories based in New York City as it makes a great double and closing off streets isn't as costly. If you happen to see some electric lines in that movie that takes place in New York city, you'll know it was actually filmed in Toronto.
3. Toronto is located on the shore of Lake Ontario, which means nice breezes, a lovely promenade stretching for miles and lots of opportunities to get out on the water. Take a short cruise around the harbor, or take a water taxi over to the Toronto islands (in the harbor) which is sort of like a Central Park only surrounded by water, and with beaches, and no taxis in sight as cars are not permitted.
4. Toronto has a very long winter, so come Spring the city is filled with flowers. And when I say filled I mean jam packed with brilliant blooms that often took me by surprise. Very well maintained planters fill the city, and I enjoyed seeing which plants where chosen for their great performance. (A post filled with just flowers coming soon.....) I was also wondering if the city maintains some huge greenhouses some where to stock all the planters come Spring, but no one seemed to know as this is not the kind of thing only gardeners ponder knowing how much work and expense all these flowers entail!
5. Toronto is a great place to take photos as there are so many things to see. No disrespect meant to Mr. Rogers, but getting this shot was so much fun! His statue is just in front of the Roger's Center, previously know as the Sky Dome, famous for being one of the first stadium's with a retractable roof, and conveniently located right next to the CNN tower, as seen in the first photo of this post.
6. Toronto is filled with many interesting examples of modern architecture, both whimsical and serious, and while some are more successful than others, (we loved this one) I was pleasantly surprised by the city's willingness to take a chance on buildings that you'd never find in Manhattan or San Francisco. (And yes, a long post with lots of photos to proove this is coming......)
7. If you favor architectural history, Toronto has its own little flat iron building which pre-dates the one in Manhattan, as well as historic districts filled with lovely well restored buildings.
8. Toronto has a popular Aquarium located right next to the CN Tower. Lines get very long (you can wait for an hour plus) during tourist season so go early, or buy a city pass and wait in a very short line. People seem to love this aquarium, and it does have some nice features, but if you've been to the Monteray Aquarium , The Steinhart Aquarium in San Francisco, and the Vancouver Aquarium, this one is more of the same, minus penguins, dolphins and sea elephants that we've seen elsewhere.
9. Toronto has a historic restored fort called Fort York, which was used to protect the city in the battle of 1812. This fort is located downtown and my kids actually loved the visit, which in the summer includes all kinds of demonstrations such as musket and cannon firing, and pipe and drum concerts. The buildings of the fort are set up museum style and there isn't too much to see such that it becomes overwhelming for kids. I'd recommend entering the fort from the Bathurst Street Gate.
10. Toronto has a lovely Victorian era conservatory called the Allan Gardens, which is a must see for plant lovers and Victorian architecture fans like me! Fortunately my kids actually enjoyed it too, as getting there was a bit of a adventure on account of getting lost. The conservatory was built in 1858 and admission is free. Open to 5pm and as witness to its wonderful attributes, it is used as a location for wedding photography. (Though I did feel a bit sorry for the bride and groom as it is very humid there!) And yes, as you can guess, an entire post about this coming soon as well!
11. Toronto has a really nice collection of public sculptures, which I just love! You may remember my post about Vancouver public sculpture, so I'm guessing this love for sculpture is a Canadian thing, which American city planners should certainly consider.
12. Toronto had many interesting neighborhoods to visit, such as several Chinatowns, the Kensington market area, a little Italy, a little Portugal, an Indian neighborhood and more. Put on some good walking shoes and explore!
13. Toronto is close enough to Niagara Falls to make a day trip there, yippee! We tried to take the Greyhound bus at 9am, but didn't reserve a spot, silly me, so ended up taking the Coach bus at 12:30, which left us a few hours to explore the area around the bus station. A visit to the mega store Canadian Tire, a stop at Starbucks and photographing and climbing on the Toronto sign filled that time nicely before we finally boarded the bus. Great tip: even the Greyhound bus isn't inexpensive, and the day tours are rather costly, and I later heard that you can board one of the casino buses for only $10. Whether this is morally okay I'm not sure, but check it out!
14. Toronto is a biking city with bike rental stands everywhere.
15. If you prefer water travel, there is a sailing and kayaking school on the harbor that looks fabulous, which we had time for that!
16. There is a huge underground shopping mall beneath the skyscrapers (that we never made it to) which is a city unto itself, certainly interesting just don't get lost!
17. Toronto has several good museums, including a shoe museum, a ceramics museum and a modern art museum that I really wanted to visit, but it didn't work out.
18. Toronto has a well acclaimed science museum for kids, as well as a zoo. (At this point we have visited enough zoos to realize that our compact zoo here in Jerusalem is actually generally more interesting than the sprawling versions we've visited in the US, so zoos are generally not first on out list. We do recommend the small Central Park Zoo though!)
19. We are not into shopping, but if you are there is a high-end shopping street (though you'll find Pottery Barn there too....) as well as a huge mall in the center of the city to keep you busy for days.
20. Head east along Lake Ontario for an hour or so by car and visit the Thousand Islands area! Very lovely as you can see here above, with lots of little areas to swim as well as many tourist attractions that we didn't have time for, as we were heading on to the Adirondack Mountains in New York State (passports in hand, or course!)
21. For animal lovers there is a sweet little dog and cat museum (and you can bring your pets with you) with free admission that is run by Purina and has a nice exhibit honoring animals that performed acts of bravery. The museum is right on the harbor so you may just run across it!
22. Speaking of animals, Toronto is in Canada, so you can pick up, or just chuckle at all the moose and beaver themed souvenirs, not to forget maple syrup!
23. The Toronto International airport is just 35 minutes or so from downtown, and for domestic flights there is a small airport right on the Toronto Islands, accessible by ferry or pedestrian tunnel.
24. There are apparently some kosher hot dog and hamburger restaurants downtown, and many kosher restaurants in the Jewish neighborhoods a ways out on Bathurst Street. (We did visit one such restauant for my daughter's birthday, but I generally cook in our rental apartment using a few pots brought from home, saves time and money!)
25. Toronto has what is apparently the largest kosher food supermarket in Northern America (a branch of Sobeys), so if like us you are heading out for an adventure which is not near any such establishments, you'll have no problem filling your cooler and stocking up before you hit the road. Oh, and of course, Toronto has at least three Wal Marts where you can pick up some inexpensive coolers and blue ice.
That is it, hoped you enjoyed my little summary of things to do and see in Toronto, stay tuned for more in depth posts!