Toronto, Canada

Toronto skyline with CN towerToronto is the capital city of Ontario province and considered the largest city in Canada with a population approaching 5.6 million. If you count the whole urban area around Toronto then the population increases to 6.5 million. 

What distinguishes Toronto from other major urban centers is its multicultural vibe. Everywhere you go you will come across people from all over the world coexisting in peace and harmony. 

Interesting Facts: The area known as Toronto now started life as the city of York, the capital of Upper Canada. 

Toronto Dundas Square - Taste of the middle-eastThe city celebrates its cultural heritage by hosting many festivals and carnivals throughout the year.  During my 5-day visit in August, I encountered 2 separate festivals: Caribbean Grand Parade (Caribana) and Taste of the Middle-East. Many more cultural events happening every month. See the calendar here.  

Interesting Facts: In the annual survey of most livable cities, Toronto often places fourth in the world.

Toronto is also known for its support of diversity. LGBTQ residents and visitors enjoy the tolerant atmosphere, events and many venues and clubs catering to the community. The city also hosts the Toronto Pride which has been running for 38 years as of 2018.

Getting Around

Toronto Streetcar - from WikipediaIt is possible to ditch your car in Toronto with the help of the extensive transit network. The Toronto Transit Commission offers Bus, Subway and Streetcar services to connect you to where you want to be. 

The rocket line connects the Airport to Downtown. From there you can take one of the routes listed here to get to your destination. 

Interesting Facts: PATH is considered the largest underground walkway in North America - extending for 17 miles. It connects 1200 stores and restaurants, 50 office towers, 20 parking garages, five subway stations and a railway terminal.

Toronto yong-dundas square fountain - from WikipediaFor destinations outside of the service area, you may need a taxi or an Uber. 

Finally, the downtown area is walkable. You can reach most attractions by taking a leisurely walk. During inclement weather (or just for fun), you can take the Path, which is a system of underground tunnels connecting many of the major buildings.

Things to do

Toronto Chinatown - from WikipediaThere is no shortage of activities and attractions in this global city. It all depends on your preferences. You can spend time in downtown exploring the architecture, history and visit museums. 

You can go back to nature with visits to parks and the waterfront or go on a food tour to sample foods from across the globe. 

Interesting Facts: The city boasts an average of 301 days of sunshine per year. But temperatures can vary from -24F to +105F

A short distance away, you can visit Niagara Falls for some amazing views and adventures. Read more about Niagara Falls here.

Downtown Toronto

Toronto city hall - from WikipediaTake a stroll through downtown Toronto and experience its multicultural vibe first hand. As you walk around, you will notice historic buildings mixed in with modern skyscrapers, open public squares next to shopping malls. If you get tired from walking, just hop on a bus or a streetcar to your next destination. 

Interesting Facts: The city of Toronto has over 1600 parks covering 13% of the city area.

During bad weather or just for the fun of it, go underground and traverse the city through the PATH – a system of tunnels connecting many of the important destinations. 

Some highlights of downtown:

Toronto Yong-Dundas Square at night - from WikipediaYonge-Dundas Square:

This public square is a recent addition to downtown and it is Toronto’s answer to New York’s Time Square.

A large open area is set aside for events and festivals. Around the public gathering place, you will notice huge billboards, pedestrian walkways, theaters and shopping centers. 

Royal Toronto Museum:

Royal Toronto MuseumAlong with holding a treasure trove of artifacts from around the world and through the ages, the museum’s architecture requires a gander. The building itself is old with Neo-Romanesque architecture, but the eastern entrance looks like a giant crystal had crashed into the building dragging the museum into the modern era. 

Every galley and exhibit is worth a visit, but if you are pressed for time you must see The First Peoples exhibit. Learn about the original inhabitants of the region– their arts, crafts and culture. 

Toronto Eaton CenterEaton Center:

If the shops around Yong-Dundas Square are not enough, walk to this huge mall and enjoy the shops and restaurants. This mall is considered the busiest mall in North America, with 250+ shops, a large food court (The Urban Eatery) and many restaurants. It is also connected to the PATH.

St. Lawrence Market:

A public market where local vendors sell fruits, vegetables, meat and cheese. You can also find snacks and drinks. It is an interesting place to visit, but if you are at a hotel, you probably don’t need any of the goods.

Toronto Kensington Market - Garden Car - from WikipediaKensington International Market:

Just west of Chinatown, this neighborhood is a great example of Toronto’s multicultural nature. A stroll through its streets will take you on a journey through world music, food and history. 

The best way to explore this place is to go on a food tour and sample goodies from around the world. Read here about my food tour experience

CN Tower:

Toronto CN Tower from the Waterfront - from WikipediaA great way to view the city. Go up to the observation tower and spend some time taking in the city and lake views. For a more leisurely experience, enjoy dinner at the 360 restaurants with a  revolving platform. Reservations are strongly recommended and you will get guaranteed access to the observation deck.

The Waterfront:

Along the shores of Lake Ontario, you can find a lot of activities and dining places. The waterfront is 46 km long with pedestrian trails, beaches and a ferry harbor. Take a walk and enjoy the views or stop at a bar or a restaurant. From the harbor, you can take a ferry to Toronto Islands where you can find a lot of attractions. 

Toronto Islands beach - from WikipediaToronto Islands:

Take a short boat ride to the islands and enjoy many activities like bicycling, Canoeing, Kayaking or just relax on a beach. Note that the west beach is clothing-optional.

The Islands also host an amusement park for young children. 

Interesting Facts: The Toronto Islands, just a short ferry ride away from downtown Toronto, comprise the largest urban car-free community in North America.

Outside of Downtown

Toronto High Park - from WikipediaA few steps out of downtown Toronto, you can enjoy some great experiences like parks, mansions. is rich with 

High Park:

The largest park in Toronto, it attracts residents and visitors to escape from the hustle and bustle of a busy city. Along with a beautiful pond, trails and trees, the park hosts a Zoo and playgrounds. 

Casa Loma:

Toronto Casa Loma Castle - from WikipediaA real castle overlooking Toronto, this home fit for a king was build in 1900 by am ex-soldier and spans 98 rooms with towers and horse stables. 

It took 3 years to build and cost around 3.5 million dollars. You can spend between 2 hours and a half day roaming the hallways and grand rooms or you can spend your time in the 5-acre immaculate garden with fountains and sculptures.

Toronto Science Centre - Hydrophone - from WikipediaOntario Science Centre:

For science buffs, a visit to this science museum is a must. With hundreds of interactive exhibits, you are bound to find something interesting and learn something new.

Some of the highlights are pilot a rocket chair, touch a tornado, play the hydrophone, see how you look as you age or gaze at the start in the Planetarium. 

Niagara Falls

Those amazing waterfalls are not in Ontario, but you can visit and enjoy the splendor of nature after a 1.5-hour drive. The 3-waterfalls thunder down into the Niagara Gorge spilling millions of cubic feet of water (per minute). 

While at the Niagara Parks you can enjoy many experiences that take you close to the falls. I really enjoyed the Hornblower cruise and the Whitewater walk.

Read the full Niagara article here.

   

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Kensington Market Food Tour

Toronto Kensington Market - from WikipediaI recently when on a food safari in Toronto with Chopsticks and Forks. We spent 3 hours walking through the Kensington neighborhood and sampling cuisine from 6 different regions of the world. 

The Kensington neighborhood is a great example of Toronto’s multicultural nature. As we walked through narrow streets, Victorian homes and colorful storefronts, we were greeted with sights, sounds and smells from around the world. 

Interesting Facts: This area is home to 30 distinctive cultures and religions. 

Toronto Kensington Market - Pow WowWe started our International Toronto Food Tour at Pow Wow Café, which serves traditional native Canadian foods.

Our sample was Bannock (Fried-bread) with Duck Bacon washed down with Cedar Soda. The combination of Bannock and Duck Bacon was very tasty. I didn’t enjoy the Cedar soda much. It is probably an acquired taste.

We then stopped at Nu Bügel, for a taste of Europe and Venezuela. What a unique mix of cultures. We had the Smoked Salmon Sandwich with a Sesame Seed Bagel. The place is also famous for their coconut bagels. 

Toronto Kensington Market - Nu BugelOur guide Jessup is a great host. He made sure everyone got a taste and he catered for special needs. Some in our group were vegetarian so he made sure there were always meatless choices.  

We then traveled all the way to South America for a Chilean taste. Jumbo Empanadas serves unique dishes like a 600-year-old corn hash indigenous recipe and baked wheat Empanadas with hard-boiled egg and raisins. This non-traditional combination actually tasted great. 

Interesting Facts: At its start in 1910 this area was known as the Jewish Market due to its large population of eastern European Jewish immigrants. Several synagogues are still standing now.

Toronto Kensington Market - Tibet CafeOur next stop was for a unique Toronto taste. At Golden Patty, we had a Beef patty in Coco Bread. Both items are Jamaican in origin, but the mix can only be found in Toronto. A wonderful texture and flavor.  

Without having to climb the Himalayas, we got to taste Tibetan food at Tibet Café. We started with a unique Tibetan drink, Butter Tea. This thick hot tea with butter was invented to replenish energy at high and cold altitudes. We also sampled some Momos. The Momo is basically a Tibetan Dumpling. 

Interesting Facts: Kensington’s streets have several unique public art displays. The most outlandish is the “Garden Car”. This old rust bucket was filled over time with plants and flowers by residents and looks totally out of place in this urban setting.

Toronto Kensington Market - Fika CafeWe ended our food tour with a relaxing stop at Fika Café. “To Fika” in Sweden is to stop and slow down, which is what we did at this place while sipping tea and trying a spiced morning bun. It tasted like a cinnamon bun with a hint of Cardamom. What a great way to end this world food tour. 

Interesting Facts: Pedestrian Sundays happen during the summer months letting people stroll around and enjoy this eclectic neighborhood without worrying about cars.

We really enjoyed this tour with Chopsticks and Forks and especially our friendly guide, Jessup.  He made sure everyone was happy with the samples and kept us engaged with lots of information about the neighborhood.  

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Niagara Falls, Canada

Niagara Falls Canada - Rainbow panoI have seen images of Niagara Falls since I was very young and always wanted to visit those amazing waterfalls. I finally got my wish in August of 2018 and was not disappointed with this natural wonder. The photos and video clips were amazing, but being there in person is a totally different experience. 

Niagara Falls Canada - The American fallsApproaching the falls from a distance I started to hear the thunderous roar of millions of cubic feet of water (per minute), dropping from Lake Erie to Lake Ontario. Getting closer, I was stunned by the amazing view in front of me. 

Three powerful walls of cascading water crashing into the rocks and river way below, the water rushing through the Niagara Gorge and throngs of people mesmerized by the force of nature. 

Interesting fact: Although I would count Niagara Falls as one of the Natural Wonders of the World, the fact is, it didn’t make it in any official list. Niagara Falls did make it to the USA 7 natural wonders list.

As I stood admiring the view, the wind brought a much welcome spray of water to cool me down on this hot summer day.

Just watching from a distance is not enough for me. I wanted to be close to the action so I planned for some adventures around the Niagara area. Continue reading about a 2-day fun and wonder-filled trip to the falls.

Canada or USA? 

Niagara Falls Canada - USA side across the riverAfter some research online, I decided to visit the falls on the Canadian side. Many visitors claimed that the Canadian side offers better views and attractions. I plan to go back to the US side and compare. 

Why is the Canadian side better? The majority of travelers say it is safer and cleaner to stay on the Canadian side, but you still can have a great experience visiting the US State Park too. 

If you do stay on the Canadian side, you can still enjoy the attractions on the American side like Goat Island and Cave of the Winds by crossing the border.

On the other hand, the Canadian side can be considered more touristy and commercialized. So you decide which you prefer. 

Where to Stay   

Niagara Falls Canada - The American fallsSkylineI stayed in Toronto then drove to the city of Niagara Falls. The drive to Niagara was interesting with great scenery of forests, farms and Lake Ontario, but traffic was bad. In hindsight, I should have booked a hotel in the city of Niagara Falls to avoid this drive and be closer to the action. 

There are plenty of choices for accommodation. You can stay at a major Hotel chain like Embassy Suites by Hilton or Radisson Hotel & Suites with rooms overlooking the falls. 

You can also find cheaper hotels and motels a little further away from the view. A good choice for families with kids is Skyline Hotel & Waterpark with an indoor water fun for the whole family.

Transportation

Niagara Falls Canada - from across the river - from WikipediaOnce you are in the city of Niagara Falls, getting around is easy. There is a bus system that goes around all the major attractions in the area (WEGO). If you buy a Niagara Parks adventure pass, then the bus rides are free. 

If you decide to use your car to get around, you need to consider parking places. There are a few city parking lots along the main road, but on busy days they get filled fast. The lots further away from the falls always have spaces available, but you have to take a long walk or bus ride to get to the action.

One option, it to park inland, away from the falls and walk down to the main trail. During my visit, I parked at the Skylon Tower because we had dinner reservation later in the evening. It was a pleasant walk down some steps through a wooded area and a park.

Main Attractions

Obviously, the main reason to visit Niagara is to see the falls, but there is more than one fun way to experience this wonderful force of nature. Here are a few suggestions.

Take a hike

Niagara Falls Canada - Trail along the riverNiagara Parkway is the main road running along the Niagara River and overlooking the waterfalls. A pedestrian trail paralleling the road gets you very close to where you can enjoy an unobstructed view of the falls.  In between the trail and the road, you can walk through a very well-maintained park. 

You can start your walk from any point along this trail, but for a better experience, start from the Hornblower Niagara cruise pavilion and head south. Across the river, from this point, you can admire the American Falls and maybe get a glimpse of the Canadian Horseshoe Falls. You can also see cruise ships navigating in between the falls. Come back later to get on one Niagara Falls Canada - park along the riverof those cruises (or start with the cruise then take a hike).

As you walk south, you will start getting glimpses of the much larger Horseshoe waterfall. Parts of the fall are always shrouded in mist with a rainbow popping in and out of view.

Close to the Journey Behind the Falls welcome Pavilion, you can admire the top of the Horseshoe Fall and watch the water cascading down to the river.  

If you feel up to it, you can start your walk further to the north and enjoy a hike close to the Whitewater of the Niagara Gorge.

Niagara Parks Adventure Pass

You can visit any of the attractions mentioned below and pay as you go, but for the best value, you can buy an adventure pass ahead of time. The pass includes free use of the shuttle system (WEGO) and several attractions. Once you arrive at any attractions, the ticket booth attendant can set up a schedule for your visits. 

Hornblower Niagara Cruise

Niagara Falls Canada - Hornblower CruiseIf you only do one activity while in Niagara Falls, then you must do the Hornblower cruise. This boat ride takes you very close to the base of the larger Horseshoe Fall on the Canadian side. 

The fury of the waterfall creates strong winds and a mist that drenches everyone on board, so it is highly recommended that you wear the complementary smocks, unless you really want to get very wet.

The views from the boat are awesome. Looking back, you can see the Rainbow International Bridge high above connecting the Canadian and US sides. To one side, you can enjoy the American Falls. 

Up ahead, you will glimpse the Horseshoe fall, which will soon surround you from three sides. The boat will then turn back and you can enjoy the whole adventure in reverse. 

Whirlpool Aero Car

Niagara Falls Canada - Whirlpool Aero CarFurther to the north, the Niagara River makes a sharp right turn creating whitewater rapids and a large whirlpool. 

You can just walk along the trail and watch the rapids and whirlpool, but for a better view, take the Aero Car across the river and above the action. 

The ride is basically a cable car that travels slowly above the whirlpool and crosses the border into the US. But you can’t disembark at the other end. It just turns around and allows passengers to view the scene from a different angle.  

Whitewater Walk

Niagara Falls Canada - Whitewater WalkTo really experience the powerful flow of water in the Niagara River you have to get down close to the riverbanks. 

Most of the riverbanks in the city are blocked off to protect people and nature. So to experience the whitewater you must go through this official entrance and down to a boardwalk along the river.

Along the way, you can stop at several platforms to admire the rushing water and take photos. 

Journey Behind the Falls

Niagara Falls Canada - Journey behind the fallsThis attraction promised to be a wonderful experience. I was expecting to actually walk behind the falls, but the reality was totally different.

After long lines in stuffy and warm hallways, we took the elevator down to tunnels dug behind the falls. At 2 points throughout the tunnels, you get to glimpse the back of the fall through a small window. 

The only good part about this tour is an observation platform at the beginning of the tunnels that affords a good view of the fall side and a glimpse behind it. 

I would only recommend it if you have some time to kill and if it wasn’t too crowded.

Other attractions

Niagara Parks area offers many other attractions that I did not have time to experience during this trip. Some are worth mentioning:

Butterfly Conservatory: Walk through the gates and into a lush tropical paradise full of fluttering butterflies. 

Niagara’s Fury: Learn about the history of Niagara Falls through a 4D 360-degree theater with a moving platform and multi-sensory experience. 

Things to do away from the falls

Everywhere you go in the City of Niagara Falls you will probably still hear the thunder of the waterfalls and you may get a few glimpses of the falls from afar, but once you had your fill of nature, you can find lots of other fun attractions.

Skylon Tower

Niagara Falls Canada - Skylon TowerFor an amazing view of the falls, go up to the observation deck at Skylon Tower. From the top you can get a 360-degree view of the whole area. From one side you can enjoy a great view of the 3 waterfalls and the US towns across the river. On the other side, you can see farms, lakes and the city of Toronto on a clear day.  

The elevator ride to the top is an experience by itself, as it climbs on the outside of the tower offering another great view of the falls.

Another way to enjoy the view is to dine at the rotating restaurant or the Buffett level. Any dining reservation includes observation tower access. We tried the buffet during this visit and we were lucky to have a seat with a view. The food and service were very good but pricey. 

Tip: There are 2 dining restaurants at the top of the tower. The buffet area does not rotate, so you may end up with a seat away from the view. The lower dining area does rotate providing a chance for all diners to enjoy the falls. 

The basement of the tower also hosts a fun arcade for all ages. 

The parking lot at Skylon is very convenient and always has some space available. It is a good place to park and walk down to the river trail closer to the waterfalls. 

Fallsview Casino Resort

We really didn’t go to Niagara to gamble, but we paid this high-rise casino and resort a visit anyway.

The gardens and fountains outdoors are beautiful and indoors the decor is grand. 

The best feature is the R5 Patio & Bar at the top, which overlooks the waterfalls and is the best place to watch the summer fireworks.

The Grand Buffett is a good place to have dinner and sample a variety of international cuisines. 

Fallsview Indoor Waterpark

Niagara Falls Canada - Indoor WaterparkYou might be having a blast watching the waterfalls and walking next to the whitewater rapids, but the kids are probably bored and need to blow off some steam. 

This waterpark in the middle of town is the perfect place to let the kids release their energy and be ready for bed later. 

It is billed as the largest indoor waterpark in North America and covers 3 acres with 16 rides.

It is connected to the Fallsview Resort, so you can book a room right next to the fun.

Fireworks Show

Niagara Falls Canada - FireworksDuring the summer months, a spectacular fireworks show is performed above the waterfalls. The show usually starts at 10 PM. You can see a schedule here.

The fireworks are visible from many spots along the main trail and Queen Victoria Park. Also, if you time your dinner reservations right, you can view the show from many restaurants. 

Other attractions worth mentioning

SkyWheel: Another great way to enjoy Niagara Falls while Sitting in an air-conditioned cabin.

Wild West Coaster: A thrill ride with motion and special effects. They call it 6D because, in addition to 3D and motion simulator, you get special FX, wind and acceleration simulation. 

Queen Victoria Park: This park runs along the main road, Niagra Parkway, and provides a great place for a picnic while viewing the falls and the fireworks show.

During our visit, we grabbed a snack from the restaurant close by and sat on the grass waiting for the big event. We ended our visit to Niagara Falls with a bang.

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