For as long as I can remember I’ve wanted to visit Toronto but until recently the closest I’d gotten was a Tim Horton’s on the outskirts of the city that we stopped at when driving to Niagara Falls. Thankfully this has now been rectified and last month I got to spend a rather lovely, if very brief, couple of days there. The main purpose of our trip was to attend the Beyoncé concert at the Rogers Centre but whilst there we tried to see as much as possible of this beautiful city.
We booked a very cute and quirky Air B’n’B to stay in, a loft apartment just outside of Chinatown, which worked out much cheaper than the Downtown hotels and was perfect for our very flying one night visit.
We travelled by train, which also worked out a cheaper option, as because we booked in advance we managed to get saver tickets so paid $44 each way/pp. I would highly recommend travelling by train if going from Montreal to Toronto. The journey takes around 4 hours 45 mins- 5 hours 30mins depending on which train you get. It’s straight forward, comfortable, was on time, has excellent wifi and a good and reasonably priced food and drink trolley.(It’s pretty much the polar opposite experience of public transport in the UK) It also saves the hassle of traffic, which is notoriously bad around Toronto, and finding city centre parking both of which can really eat into both your budget and exploring time in the city.
The Distillery District
We travelled early on the Wednesday morning and arrived in Toronto around 11am.Our first stop was one which had been recommended to us by a few people, the Distillery District. It took around 30 minutes to walk here from Union station and was a really lovely place to spend a couple of hours wandering around. The former site of the Gooderham &Worts Distillery, it closed; after 153 years of production, in 1990. It then had a ten year spell as the number one film location in Canada (over 1700 films were filmed here) before being lovingly restored and opening again in its new guise in 2003. The exteriors of the buildings have had an authentic restoration to their original state while the interiors have a fully modern feel, hosting a hub of restaurants, shops, galleries and theatres.
We were very fortunate to be given restaurant recommendations by two good friends who previously lived in the city. One of these recommendations was for El Catrin which they advised us was the best Mexican food they had ever had, and since we both love Mexican food we couldn’t pass up trying this so El Catrin became our first food and drink stop of the trip and a highly worthy recommendation it was. It is based in the heart of the Distillery District and has a beautiful outside terrace which thankfully the weather permitted us to try out. I went for a nosey inside and it is just as beautiful inside too, with an exquisitely detailed huge mural on the wall, so somewhere worth a visit come rain or shine. They state that their speciality is authentic and modern Mexican cuisine and they are indeed masters at this. Mango Margaritas for me and Cuban Mojitos for my other half went down far too easily. I would highly recommend the guacamole and homemade tortilla chips to start, they make it right in front of you so there’s no doubting it’s freshness. I love guacamole, really love it. I have developed a slight obsession with it over the last few months and few live up to my high expectations but this was absolutely delicious. I then had huevos rancheros and the other half had a combo of a quinoa and smoked corn salad and pork tacos. We were both extremely happy with our dishes and were so full that we actually ended up having to miss our dinner plans that night as we couldn’t fit anything else in even hours later.
We spent the afternoon after our feast at El Catrin wandering around the city and admiring the beautiful architecture and quirky landmarks. The very North American, modern style of downtown Toronto differs greatly from that of Montreal which is much more European in style, and it’s a thriving bustling city so it was nice to just wander around and soak up the atmosphere.
Beyoncé at Rogers Centre
That evening we ventured to the home of the Toronto Blue Jays, The Rogers Centre to see Beyoncé’s Formation World Tour. The show was just as you would expect, big, bold and brilliant. Queen Bey is a professional and she certainly knows how to put on a show.
360 restaurant – CN Tower
The next morning we spent some time shopping before getting caught in a torrential downpour on our way to lunch at the 360 restaurant in the CN Tower. Not the most glamorous of ways to arrive at a nice restaurant, but a quick change of clothes in the toilet and an attempt to dry my hair under the hand drier (not an easy task for the curly haired amongst us) and we were good to sample what one of Toronto’s most famous restaurants had to offer. The 360 restaurant is based just over 350 metres high, at the top of the CN Tower and provides a beautiful 360 degree revolving view of the city of Toronto. It serves what they describe as fresh market Canadian cuisine. It’s a bit pricey, there’s no denying that. The lunch prix fixe menu offers 2 courses for $55 or 3 courses for $69. (and that’s before you buy a drink, pay tax or tip) but as long as you purchase two courses you receive complimentary entry to the observation deck which in itself costs $45 to access so if you look at it like this you’re really getting a two course lunch for around $16 (plus tax) so it suddenly doesn’t seem so bad.
I also think that the view from the restaurant is even more impressive than the view from the observation deck. When we first took our seats the view was largely clouded over (the aftermath of my soaking earlier) but as we ate and revolved around the tower the clouds cleared and we were lucky enough to get some absolutely beautiful views. It’s a very romantic setting and the restaurant was very quiet whilst we were there which added to the ambience, not sure if it would feel quite as special if it were full. The food was also incredibly good.
I had the vegetarian option, a Manitoba barley and buffalo mozzarella savoy cabbage roll which was delicious and so flavoursome. Mark had the Alberta prime rib of beef with a sour cream and horseradish mash, asparagus and a natural jus and he was extremely pleased with this. For desert I had the dark chocolate lava cake which was the perfect amount of richness and very tasty (though I have to say my Mum’s version of this is better, but she’s hard to beat) and Mark had the strawberry and pistachio pavlova which was also delicious.
We really enjoyed the food, the views and the whole atmosphere of the restaurant. I especially liked the fact that we weren’t rushed at all but even after we’d paid the cheque no one seemed to mind us sitting for a while longer enjoying the beautiful views, again though I cant be sure this would be the case were the restaurant full. We visited the observation deck and the glass floor before making our way out of the tower; stuffed and happy, and heading for the tea time train back to Montreal.
We both thoroughly enjoyed our flying visit to Toronto, though despite not stopping at all whilst we were there we didn’t get through even half of what we wanted to see and do. I guess we’ll just have to make sure we visit again soon (and for longer next time) to tick off the rest of our Toronto to do list. If there’s anything you think we should make sure to check out on our next visit there please make sure to let me know 🙂