When I flew into Toronto in early February the temperature on the ground was minus 22 degrees Celsius but with the wind chill factor, it felt closer to minus 40. Let that sink into every fiber of your being for a minute, will you? Allow the thought to settle and then freeze into place.
I’m convinced the city realized it was my first time on Canadian soil and decided to throw me – a warm weather island girl – its frostbite version of a welcome party. Hip hip, horaay? No way. But with every vapor-forming breath and crunch on day-old snow step, this chica was ready to make the most of her time in the stark-looking yet blissfully new and unfamiliar terrain.
These are a few suggestions of fun things to see and do in Canada’s most densely populated city.
Visit The Bata Shoe Museum
I love shoes, so needless to say, I was like a kid opening multiple gifts at Christmas as I entered each floor of this more than 13,000-strong collection. Picture me giddy and unsure where to focus first and dying to unwrap each lovely package!
Founder Sonja Bata and her team spent years curating this world-renown exhibition that takes you on an evolutionary journey into the design and production of shoes over many decades.
There is an interactive Design-A-Shoe display, 17th century glass shoes from Holland, silk covered shoes from Korea and Barbie bite-sized footwear collection. I also saw Treccani Milanos, 19th Century Turkish bathhouse sandals, gold-leafed slippers of Asante rulers, plastic thong sandals worn by the Dalai Lama, and much more.
Many of the artifacts are fascinating. If you’re strapped for time, go see Standing Tall: The Curious History of Men in Heels or the Traditional Artic Footwear sections first. They put an entirely different spin on shoes as we know it. The cost for adult entry is CA$14.
Walk through Kensington Market
Located in the heart of downtown Toronto and west of Spadina Street, Kensington Market is a multi-colored and multi-cultural neighborhood that is a mix of residences and shops that sell food, drinks, spices and clothing. Here’s another plus: its brightly painted buildings and graffiti-outfitted walls will form picture-perfect backdrops for your Instagram and Facebook feeds!
If it’s cold when you’re there and the weather gets too chilly, don’t despair. Super cozy cafes are likely to beckon with steaming cups of hot chocolate and energy-rebooting expressos or soothing lattes. After a warm-up cuppa something, tiny alleyways leading to throwback 19th century cottages that sit on close lots will entice you to explore more. There is no entry fee.
Time travel at Casa Loma
From the minute you step across Casa Loma’s threshold you are ushered into a time of no-expense spared splendor. Buildings of this size and grandeur were unequivocally the domain of the rich and indulgent. Actually, make that the super-rich and unapologetically indulgent – underlined and bolded, full stop.
It is the former home of Sir Henry Pellatt, a little known stock market investor who just happened to build a house the size of a castle then walk away from it when he ran into money problems 10 years later. It has 98 rooms and reportedly took 300 men and three years to build.
The ‘castle’ is now a much-visited museum and landmark but on occasion, it also is the place to be for private events. To get invited, chances are you must be loaded. The guard at the gate told me that multi-millionaire Michael Jordan had rented the entire venue for his birthday party the night before for the cool fee of one million dollars. C’mon now, why did you raise that eyebrow? How else would basketball royalty throw a memorable shindig over Canada’s NBA All Star weekend? Of course, his Royal Airness had to have it in a castle!
Regular visitors like you and me can enjoy far-reaching views of the city from the towers, gaze unabashedly at the ornate and intricately built period furnishings or see a small antique car collection. Music lovers will appreciate the magnificence of the piping system for a 3/15 model Wurlitzer Theater organ that was added after the owner died and young kids can enjoy a bite or two in the on-site restaurant.
Everyone who has the luxury of life without knee pain, will be tempted to explore the secret passageways. Phew. Those stairs are not just narrow; they’re STEEP. The stables and carriage house are connected to the main building by an 800-ft. tunnel. Entry admission is $24 per adult.
Take the required pilgrimage to the CN Tower
Imagine racing to the top of the world (well honestly, a tower) at 15 miles per hour! Sounds thrilling, doesn’t it? Well, the city scenes that rush by serve as the precursor to the full-spectrum of your CN Tour experience – if you decide to brave joining all the winding queues. There is an Outdoor Sky Terrace where the natural breeze whips through your hair minus staged Beyoncé-style fans; a SkyPod observation platform; an EdgeFloor and an EdgeWalk.
There’s also my personal favorite, the Glass Floor. Entry to this level is free if you dine at the 360 Restaurant. Made of glass that was built to withstand the weight of 35 moose, you can stand on it and see the street below you, a toe-curling 342m (1,122’) straight down.
Yes, you may get a little queasy or your mind might trick you into thinking it will crack beneath you. But it won’t. Personally, I think it is a whole lot safer than taking the world’s highest full circle hands-free walk on a 5 ft (1.5 m) wide ledge encircling the top of the Tower’s main pod. Now, that is outside at 116 storeys above the ground! (Never mind my weary heart, if you opt to try that, trained guides are with you all the way).
Ride a streetcar
Whether you think streetcars are ‘a remarkably efficient way of moving people’ or ‘as obsolete as the horse and buggy’, you cannot visit Toronto and NOT ride on this unique type of transportation. Operated on an intricate layer of overhead cables, the streetcars are an inexpensive way to see the city and the best part is, you can cover what you want to see at your own pace.
There are 11 routes to choose from but the 506 Carlton Street Car is perhaps the most sight-seeing friendly. It travels from the eastern side of High Park and goes through Little Italy, past the University of Toronto, Cabbagetown and into Little India. If you’re on a walking tour, be careful! The streetcars share lanes with regular vehicles so both motorists and pedestrians must remain alert at all times.
What are some of the things you did when you visited or hope to do when you go? Soon, I’ll add a post about my three favorite food spots.