A(n Incomplete) Visitor’s Guide To…. Toronto

(Photo: Melissa Kania)

In case you couldn’t already tell – I really enjoy traveling; even though I haven’t gone more than 400 miles away from home in my life – I’ve seen a lot, and one of my favorite places to visit is none other than Toronto, Ontario.

Toronto is just about two hours away from where I reside in Buffalo, so it’s fairly easy to get to. As a resident of NY, we’re allowed to have enhanced driver’s licenses, permits and non-driver IDs that can be used to get across the border into Canada. (Note that a passport is still needed for air travel.)

Toronto is one of the places I’ve been the most – this year alone I’ve been four times, which is pretty good for me. Every time I visit, whether alone or with someone else, I tend to visit the same places while also venturing out to one or two new places.

Allow me to share some of this with you – some may be common, standard places to visit in the city, but maybe you’ll find a hidden gem. Feel free to share YOUR suggestions in the comments as well.

– Air Canada Centre – It’s home of the NHL’s Toronto Maple Leafs as well as the NBA’s Toronto Raptors; the building also hosts many concerts and other events. It’s a three-minute walk from the infamous Union Station and accessible by the PATH from the station, which makes it easy to find even in winter. You can also walk through the building’s concourse to travel from York Street to Bay Street or vice-versa. I’ve seen a few games and one concert there, and it’s a nice venue. Tickets for hockey games can get extremely expensive and can seem hard to locate, but I’ve never paid more than $40 for a ticket in the 300 level. Be sure to check out the historical plaques in the concourse.

– Ricoh Coliseum – Ricoh is located on the grounds on Ontario Place and the CNE. Traditionally accessible by streetcar from Union Station, recent construction has forced people to take a replacement bus instead (at least for the time being). It’s the home of the AHL’s Toronto Marlies and also hosts events during the CNE; right next door is BMO Field, home of the Toronto FC. Marlies games are fun and fairly inexpensive… and hey, if there’s an NHL lockout, they’re not far away! The Leafs & Marlies are the only NHL-AHL partnership with both teams in the same city – just a five minute drive from arena to arena.

– Rogers Centre – Formerly known as (and still known at heart to some) as the Skydome, the Rogers Centre is the home of MLB’s Toronto Blue Jays. Concerts and other events are also held there, as well as CFL and NFL games. It’s about a 20-minute walk from Union Station – which in my opinion still isn’t bad! – and located right next door to the CN Tower. The roof can open or close depending on weather, but there’s not much better than being at a Jays game when the roof is open and you’ve got a great view of the tower next door. (But uh, you might want to wear a hat or sunscreen.)

Another fun thing to try at the RC besides a Jays game is a tour of the place; it costs $16 for adults and there’s several tours per day. I took the tour over a year before I ever went to my first Jays game, and I really enjoyed it, even though I wasn’t much into baseball at the time. The tour will take you in the 100 level, the press box level and suite level, but the hands-down best part was going onto the field. An extra bonus of my tour was being on the field and having them test open/close the roof in front of our eyes – what an experience.

– CN Tower – This is a standard tourist attraction for Toronto and the most easily identified part of the city’s skyline. Right next door to the Rogers Centre, there’s a gift shop in the base of the tower. For a small fee, you can ride the elevator up to the top for an outstanding view… as long as it’s a clear day. Stand on the glass floor portion, look out and see Lake Ontario, get something to eat – and enjoy it all before you hop the elevator back down.

– Steamwhistle Brewery – By no means am I a drinker at all, but last summer, I found this place and decided to look at it a little closer. It’s located across the street from the Rogers Centre, and I was able to get a free tour (it usually costs a few bucks) with my first Foursquare check-in there! The tour is pretty neat and allows you to see all the steps of the beer-making process before you get to sample the – VERY FRESH – beer at the end. You can also purchase more of it at the store on the main floor, and check out the railway history in the area.

– Hockey Hall of Fame – As a hockey fan… it’s heaven. View the history of the league, the AHL, famous players, and much more. Take a photo with the Stanley Cup (!!!) and see the other league trophies, the Hall of Fame and comb every inch of this glorious place. Be sure to visit the fairly-newly renovated store when you’re done, and try not to spend too much money. Hah! One of the neatest things I’ve seen at the HHOF was the entire collection of Olympic medals a few years ago – who knows when that will happen again?

– The Eaton Centre – Another famous stop for tourists and residents alike. To put it simply: it’s a huge mall. To put it less simply: IT’S A HUGE MALL. I always stop in, even if I don’t walk the whole thing. It has a lot of the same stores that any mall has, with a few that I can’t find elsewhere. I also always stop at the Canadian Tire in the mall, and there’s a great place for sushi on the first floor, too. Eat, drink, shop and be merry!

– Maple Leaf Gardens – You might be thinking.. wait, isn’t this place closed? Alas, it isn’t. The former home of the Maple Leafs is now a renovated Loblaws grocery store! It may sound weird to visit a grocery store on a vacation, but the history of the building is unbelievable, and the tributes they’ve made are numerous. Can you find where the old center ice used to be?

– Harbourfront – This is sort of a broad concept, but I have some specifics for you. If you’re near Union Station or the ACC, walk down the foot of Bay or York streets and you’ll soon hit Lake Ontario. (Just, uh, be sure to stop walking before you’re actually IN the lake).

The foot of York Street will give you a Sobeys’ grocery store, a few restaurants and cafes, and Queens Quay Terminal, filled with shops and restaurants galore. If you’re only going to do one thing, however, I’d recommend a boat tour. You can purchase tickets online for $19.95; the tour lasts about an hour and starts at the foot of York Street, at Queens Quay. It’ll take you by the Toronto Islands, wildlife preserve, factories, the Island airport, the Rogers Centre and much more. It’s a really lovely tour and the views you’ll get of the skyline are unbeatable. You have to do it!

Other places I’d recommend:

– Smoke’s Poutinerie

– Real Sports (there’s a store as well as a bar & grill)

– World’s Biggest Bookstore

– City Hall

If you’re looking for a hotel, I’ve stayed at three so far.

– The Fairmont Royal York – It’s about as expensive as it sounds, but if you can afford it, it’s pretty excellent. The hotel lobby is absolutely beautiful. (Of course, as a then-20-year-old in jeans and a t-shirt, I felt a little out of place among the businessmen). Overall, I didn’t find the room to be much better than others – it’s pretty standard and the view from my window was a brick wall. It’s a great hotel though, and many visiting sports teams and performers stay there.

– Hotel Victoria – I’ve stayed here twice and while I’m not a huge fan, it gets the job done. The first time around, I nearly got screwed because I didn’t know about a $125 ‘cleaning fee’ that they charge to your account upon check-in. (The hold is removed upon checkout, but if you’re tight on money, it’s something you need to know about!)

– Strathcona Hotel – I’ve also stayed here twice, once on my own and once prior to that with my sister and brother-in-law. Like the HV, it’s a place to sleep at night, but I wouldn’t go hanging out here all day because there’s no luxury. Again, I nearly got screwed – I had paid for my room upon booking and expected there to be no charges after that. While there’s no cleaning fee, they’ll charge a second night’s stay to your account upon check-in and it’s not removed until after you checkout. I was never informed of this, but thankfully had enough in my bank account to cover it. Yikes. It might make me sound stupid, but keep in mind that I had no trouble at the Fairmont or hotels I’d stayed at in Pittsburgh or Rochester.

Are you convinced yet? Maybe you’re already planning your trip to Toronto as we speak. I hope I’ve given you some tips, and maybe you’ll discover some new places to venture out to in the future.

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