For anyone who enjoys big ticket entertainment and sports when they travel, Canada’s largest city Toronto is an excellent option and certainly a more economical alternative to New York. Sports fans will be thrilled to discover they can watch top notch basketball, baseball, hockey and (Canadian) football. And theatre lovers can see major productions, often fresh from Broadway, in Toronto’s many theatres. The food scene is tremendous too, making Toronto a great weekend getaway destination.
What to See & Do
Toronto has teams in nearly every North American major professional league, including the Toronto Blue Jays (MLB), Toronto Argonauts (CFL), Toronto Raptors (NBA) and the Toronto Maple Leafs (NHL). The atmosphere at a basketball game in the Scotiabank Arena is absolutely electric. The music and lively fans help to create a giant sports party. The vibe at baseball, hockey and football is fantastic too, in part due to the incredible enthusiasm of the spectators.
The Princess of Wales Theatre, dedicated to the late Princess Diana, is currently showing Mean Girls, in a superb Broadway comparable production. The musical from an award-winning creative team, including writer Tina Fey (30 Rock), composer Jeff Richmond (Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt), lyricist Nell Benjamin (Legally Blonde), director Casey Nicholaw (The Book of Mormon) and Canadian producer Lorne Michaels (Saturday Night Live).
Casa Loma (house on a hill), the biggest private residence ever constructed in Canada, is now a museum with great views across the city. The Gothic Revival castle-style mansion and garden in midtown Toronto started construction in 1911 as a residence for financier Sir Henry Pellatt. Completed in 1914, it took 300 men to complete the almost 200,000 square foot castle at a cost of $3,500,000 (at the time). Most of the rooms are furnished in Edwardian style enabling visitors to step back in time to a period of European elegance and splendor. The onsite Blue Blood steakhouse is a popular destination restaurant.
Bohemian Kensington Market, in the heart of the city, is packed with independent boutiques, vintage clothing stores, cafes and bars. Among the highlights are Courage My Love, a retro treasure trove of clothes, jewellery and home goods. Another essential stop is Tom’s Place where the same family has been selling designer men’s suits and accessories in Toronto since 1958. For food and drink, Cafe Pamenar has a cool vibe with excellent cocktails, coffee and DJs. Fika Cafe is a gorgeous, Swedish-inspired space so cozy you won’t want to leave. And it has great coffee, cakes and a lovely, private outdoor terrace in the back.
Bata Shoe Museum’s current exhibition includes over fifty futuristic footwear designs from the auto-lacing Nike MAG to the virtual RTFKT x Staple Meta-Pigeon. This show considers how cutting-edge technologies, unexpected materials and new ideas are transforming footwear today. Digitally designed and 3D printed shoes, sneakers made from mushroom leather and reclaimed ocean plastics are all here.
The headquarters for the Toronto International Film Festival, TIFF lightbox is a must visit for film buffs. As well as five cinemas showing major releases and independent films, the venue has a film archive open to the public, two restaurants, a gallery with film and fashion related exhibitions, a gift shop and rooftop terrace.
Hockey Hall of Fame covers the entire history of ice hockey in Canada. The museum holds regular exhibitions on famous players and teams and displays permanent galleries of National Hockey League (NHL) records, trophies and miscellaneous memorabilia. And for more history on hockey or other sports, theatre and food, highly recommended are Sports, Theatre and Toronto History walking tours by former actor Bruce Bell.
Where to eat and drink
Serving royal Thai inspired cuisine, Kiin focuses on beautiful presentation and the use of the freshest, seasonal ingredients to create dishes with delicate and complex flavors and textures.
Minami is the latest opening from the restaurant group behind popular Miku and Aburi Hana. Swish, award-winning decor aside, the lengthy Asian menu includes colorful bento boxes, superb sushi and meat-based dishes like the citrus-glazed charcoal aburi chicken with truffle kimizu.
Le Select Bistro offers typical French bistro fare including omelettes, steak frites, fried mussels and boullabaisse all cooked to perfection, plus a croque madame that rivals any you’d find in Paris.
LOUIX LOUIS on the 31st floor of The St. Regis Toronto offers excellent views and brunch. The fabulous royal brunch, a lovely treat, includes lobster avocado toast, filet mignon, crepes and more. Also, if you still have space, there’s an astonishing thirteen layer chocolate cake, a real work of art.
Set in a row of Victorian houses, Sassafraz is one of the best-loved bistros in the heart of historic Yorkville. It’s another excellent brunch choice, with standout dishes like french toast with Niagara peaches, maple whipped mascarpone and toasted pecans, eggs benedict and pistachio crusted Itsumo tuna salad.
Conveniently located beside Scotiabank Arena in the heart of Toronto’s Sports and Entertainment district, Realsports has a hearty menu of nachos, Canadian delicacy poutine, wings and more. Surrounded by giant screens broadcasting a variety of sports, the atmosphere is buzzy and fun.
Dog & Tiger is an excellent new gastropub with a real buzz. The chef-led kitchen and bar specializes in farm-to-table fare and handcrafted cocktails. Tuna crudo, truffle fries, mushroom caesar salad and East coast oysters are among the menu highlights.
Byblos features superb Eastern Mediterranean cuisine with menu highlights including pides, flatbreads with delicious toppings like black truffle and cheese or wagyu lahmeh. The fried chicken and short rib kebab are also real winners.
Chef Lawrence La Pianta’s Cherry Street Bar-b-que brings the barbecue traditions of the American South to Toronto in an attractive 1920s brick building that was once a bank. Pit-smoked meats, prepared over live oak fires include delicious Texas-style brisket, St. Louis-style ribs and wings.
Voted the world’s best food market by National Geographic, vibrant St Lawrence Market has hundreds of food merchants and restaurants offering locally grown produce, freshly baked goods, gourmet cured meats, specialty cheeses, preserves, soups, sandwiches and international foods.
Where to Stay:
If sports are a big part of your Toronto visit, there are some excellent hotel options very close to all the major sporting venues. The Harbourcastle Westin has one of the best positions in the city, overlooking Lake Ontario with tremendous views of the picturesque Toronto Islands. And the hotel is a five to ten minute stroll from the Skydome and the Scotiabank Arena. The hotel’s suites and rooms, including the the Scotiabank Arena, are undergoing a major refresh in stages, to be completed by 2023.
Air Canada operates more daily flights from the UK to Canada than any other airline. From London Heathrow, the airline operates daily non-stop services to Toronto, with Economy fares starting from £519.96. British Airways is another great option with daily flights from London Heathrow from around the same price.