A Guide to The Heart of Toronto

Toronto is an incredibly vibrant city, one that’s always had a place in my heart. I was born there, grew up in the suburbs, and my childhood memories are full of wonderful experiences there – taking the ferry to the Toronto Islands, cheering on the Blue Jays, exploring the Royal Ontario Museum, and having the time of my life at the yearly Canadian National Exhibition. There was always something exciting to see or do. In my early teens, my family moved to the lovely yet decidedly less metropolitan outskirts of Halifax, Nova Scotia, but I’ve never forgotten what a great city Toronto is.

King Street West

After four years in Copenhagen, when it came time to pay a visit to my family in Halifax, I knew that we had to experience Toronto, too. Travelling with a one-year-old, we weren’t able to do all of things the city has to offer, but we managed to do, see, and eat plenty.

What To Do

Our first day in Toronto we hit the major tourist attractions – my husband has never been to Canada before, so we had to make the most of it! We visited Canada’s own Times Square at Yonge & Dundas, and walked along Front Street, where we stopped at Berczy Park, home of an adorable dog fountain that our son loved!

Yonge & Dundas Square

Berczy Park

We also went up the CN Tower, and I couldn’t believe just how expensive it’s gotten: with tax, it was $40 each! The good news was we went at 5:30pm, and only waited about 20 minutes – at an attraction where wait times can run up to 3 hours, that was pretty great! The elevator ride was exciting, the views as incredible as you’d expect, and the glass floor a lot of fun (for me anyway, the husband refused to step on it even if it does hold the weight of three orcas!). Going at that time also meant that a Jays game was on, so not only could we look down into the SkyDome, there was great atmosphere.

Front Street & the CN Tower

View from the top

As huge foodies, a must on our list was St Lawrence Market, which is ranked as one of the top markets in the world. The main floor of the market has produce, meats, cheeses, and ready to eat foods like pasta, seafood, and the famous peameal bacon sandwich from Carousel Bakery. The lower level has shops and dry goods, where you can get everything from souvenir maple treats to a dozen kinds of rice. Another great spot for food lovers to check out is the Saks Food Hall, a pricey but fabulous spot to pick up goodies like maple-smoked cheddar and delicate pastries.

St Lawrence Market

Saks Food Hall

Toronto has a multitude of vibrant neighbourhoods to explore, including the second-largest Chinatown in North America. Centered around Spadina Avenue, this bustling area is home to Asian restaurants, groceries, bakeries and more and has an amazing international vibe. Bordering Chinatown is Kensington Market, a hippy district with a range of interesting restaurants and independent shops, many of which are found in beautiful historic homes. We tried Dirty Bird Chicken and Waffles for lunch (the buttered maple Dirty Sauce sauce was unreal), followed by delicious gourmet donuts like Smores and Maple Bacon at Jelly Modern, then browsed the sprawling Blue Banana Market, and the delightful Good Egg, offering unique books and home wares that were hard to resist.

Spadina Avenue, Chinatown

Kensington Market Shops

Nearby Queen Street West is a hip neighbourhood that’s home to trendy shops and galleries and a centre for arts and fashion. We browsed the colourful shopfronts and paid a visit to stylish éclair café Nügateau to sample some of their gorgeous pastries in flavours like Raspberry Rose Lychee and Blueberry Violet (you can read more about my experience at Nügateau here). Just south of Queen Street at Spadina is Graffiti Alley, a long stretch of colourful street art and something of an outdoor gallery.

Trendy Queen Street West

Incredible éclairs at Nügateau

Of course, we had to visit the CNE – the Canadian National Exhibition. This yearly event (also know as The Ex) was one of the things I have always missed the most about Toronto. Taking place over the last two weeks of summer, the CNE was a place to visit farm animals, watch horse shows, check out exhibits from sports to horticulture housed in historic buildings, experience the thrilling midway, and of course eat your face off.

The CNE midway

It was a lot of fun, but the CNE doesn’t have the County Fair in the City feel that it once did. We did love the Food Building (of course), with cuisines from all over the world, and I had a blast taking a spin on the old Polar Express (let me hear you screaaaaaaam!). It was nice to relive the memories and introduce my family to the legendary Ex.

Where to Eat

Even though we had to give fine dining a miss this time around, we did find some fantastic little casual spots. At TLP Sandwich Co, I had the incredible fried calamari with lemon dressing, while my husband tackled a tasty schnitzel sandwich as big as my head, each for under $10. Another favourite was Wilbur Mexicana on King Street West, where we tucked into a range of tacos (the chicken hard taco with guacamole was my favourite) and loved the expansive hot sauce and homemade salsa bar.

Calamari Sandwich from TLP

Wilbur Mexicana’s fabulous hot sauce bar

We also enjoyed the innovative French-Canadian crèpes at the elegant Le Papillion on Front. For great coffee and pastries, we loved the French Le Gourmand (which also has incredible hot chocolate) and Italian Sud Forno (try the custard Bombolone!).  I couldn’t leave Toronto without trying the sushi burrito trend I’d read so much about, so on our last day in Toronto, we stopped by Rolltation, where I built my very own shrimp tempura sushi burrito, with mango, avocado, and teriyaki mayo – it. was. incredible. Like eating one giant sushi roll. I think it would catch on in trendy Copenhagen – maybe someone will open a place here!

Breakfast at Le Gourmand

Rolltation’s Incredibly Fresh Sushi Burrito

More to Explore

We had such a fantastic time in Toronto, and we really only scratched the surface – there is just so much going on in this amazing city that there’s no way to experience it all in just a week. We’re hoping to be back in the next few years, and with our son a bit older by then, there will be even more experiences open to us. We can head a little bit out of town to kid-friendly places like the Toronto Zoo and Black Creek Pioneer Village, and I can’t wait to take him out to the Toronto Islands, show him the wonders of the Royal Ontario Museum, and especially, take him to cheer on the Blue Jays at a baseball game, just like I did as a kid. There are far more memories to be made.

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