A Whirlwind Weekend in Toronto

By Laura Goldstein

A multicultural vibe permeates the soul of Toronto. Dotted with lush expansive parks, public art and cutting-edge architecture, its diverse ethnic neighbourhoods and fantastic foodie scene makes Toronto one of the most desirable and walkable cities in the world to explore. With over 6 million people of every ethnicity and the largest city in Canada, it’s no wonder it’s also a city of festivals- over 50 in spring/summer alone.

It’s also where Prince Harry courted his Princess-to-be, Meghan Markle when he presided over The Invictus Games in 2017, so Toronto is in high celebratory mode. Whether you’ve Come From Away to see the Tony-nominated musical; to celebrate the Royal nuptials or to take in a Raptor’s basketball game at the Air Canada Centre, a weekend in Toronto will leave you with lasting memories and wanting more.

Friday Morning Check-In: The Prince and Princess Diaries

If you’re planning your weekend in Toronto in May around the Royal Wedding, the Fairmont Royal York is rolling out the red carpet for A Month of Romance and Celebration. Here’s the backstory:

At a celebratory announcement at the Fairmont Royal York in 2016, His Royal Highness Prince Harry with Canadian Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, announced that the 2017 Invictus Games, would take place in Toronto. The international sports competition invites servicemen and women affected by physical injury or PTS to participate. Meantime, actress, Meghan Markle who portrayed the character, Rachel Zane, in the popular legal series Suits was living in Toronto where the show was shot. While her character had her heart set on getting married at the Fairmont-managed Plaza Hotel in New York, the scene was actually filmed at the Fairmont Royal York in Toronto!

Prince Harry and Meghan were introduced by a mutual friend and The Invictus Games in Toronto marked their first public appearance together.

“For more than a century, Fairmont Hotels & Resorts has welcomed members of the British Royal Family as cherished guests,” said Sharon Cohen, Vice President, Fairmont Brand Management. “For guests gathering to toast Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, our hotels offer a remarkable sense of place, a feeling of being part of history and a link to something meaningful, important and enduring – everything a Royal Wedding promises.”

The lobby of the Fairmont Royal York has been transformed into an elegant English garden with installations of exquisite roses, peonies and delphiniums and upper balcony flag standards festooned with floral garlands. Windows overlooking Front Street and Union Station showcase a pictorial of Royal visits to the hotel and Toronto over the past 90 years.

Afternoon: Living on the Edge

Get the adrenalin going with Edgewalk – the first in North America and the world’s highest full-circle, hands-free walk (you’ll be tethered,) along the edge of the CN Tower’s 1,168-foot main pod, 116 storeys above the ground. What a view!

Late Afternoon: Have a Cuppa at The Royal Romance Afternoon Tea

Along with a traditional High Tea, sample a miniature version of Meghan and Harry’s wedding cake and the Queen’s favourite, Chocolate Biscuit Cake in the Library Bar of the Fairmont Royal York.

Friday Night:  Dinner at Buca

Toronto boasts a huge Italian population- the 4th largest outside of Italy- so it’s not surprising that there are numerous fantastico restaurants from which to choose. Every year Chef Rob Gentile’s Buca on Scollard Street (Yorkville neighbourhood,) receives a top ten in restaurant rankings in Canada. Savour the butternut squash gnocchi with prosecco and black truffle.

Saturday Morning Brunch in The Distillery District

Hop on the subway at Union Station downtown or take a leisurely stroll along Front Street, walking east towards Parliament and Cherry Streets. After all, you need to work up an appetite for brunch at the French, Cluny Bistro. Formerly the 1832 Gooderham and Worts Distillery composed of cavernous Victorian brick warehouses and meandering cobblestone streets, the district was converted into a car-free heritage site filled with hip galleries, cafes, a skating rink in winter and live theatre year ‘round. It’s also in great demand for film and commercial shoots. You’ll say “ooh la la” when you’re transported back into a beautiful turn-of-the century bistro whose vintage charm is juxtaposed by modern tile, leather-upholstered seating and spectacular coffered ceiling (featured in Architectural Digest,) created by Toronto’s award-winning, Studio Munge. Try the Coq Au Vin Poutineto share or the decadent Baked Chocolate and Vanilla French Toast.

As you’re exploring The Distillery, drop into Soma Chocolatemaker located in Tankhouse Lane and taste their luscious truffles. Named after the mystical substance in Aldous Huxley’s book, Brave New World, you can actually watch the bean to bar and gelato concoctions transformed daily from the glassed-in laboratory. Have a cup of Maya, a rich hot chocolate with a dash of chile that gives it a fiery finish.

Saturday Afternoon:  Sports action or Shop ‘til you drop

It’s here we reach the fork in the proverbial road (or subway.) Toronto is a HUGE sports town so don your favourite team’s jersey but don’t be surprised to hear chants of “Go Leafs Go” or “How about those Blue Jays, eh”?!

Baseball fanatics who have scored Toronto Blue Jays seats, travel south to Rogers Centrelocated at the foot of the CN Tower. Fans of the Toronto Raptors can catch a basketball game at the Air Canada Centre and maybe a sighting of  their official ambassadour, hometown celeb rapper, Drake who attends many games. Or check out the interactive Hockey Hall of Fame, celebrating its 75th Anniversary in 2018 with the exhibition, The Evolution of the Goalie Maskwith 90 NHL puck-stoppers on display.

Fashionistas, continue north to midtown to the Bloor Street/Yorkville area, now considered the toniest outdoor shopping area for fashion boutiques, restaurants and luxury condos in Toronto. But it wasn’t always so chic. You may be surprised to learn that in the hippie 60s it was a rundown area filled with coffee houses like The Riverboat (#134 Yorkville Avenue,) in which struggling musicians like Neil Young, Joni Mitchell and Gordon Lightfoot got their start amongst many others.

The Bata Shoe Museum on the corner of Bloor Street and St. George Street, is an absolutely fascinating tribute to some of the most precious and outrageous footwear in history. Designed like a gigantic shoe box by renowned Canadian architect Raymond Moriyama, over 1,000 pairs of shoes, boots and 13,000 related artifacts from Chinese-bound foot shoes to Elton John’s glamourous platforms are on display. The collection was the brainchild of collector, philanthropist and visionary, Sonja Bata who recently passed away at age 92. A special exhibition entitled Manolo Blahnik, The Art of Shoes runs May 16th, 2018 to January 6th, 2019.

Close by at Avenue Road and Bloor Street is the ROM (Royal Ontario Museum.) You’ll know you’ve arrived when you see a gigantic, 3,500- tonne ‘crystal’ protruding from the historical edifice. Designed by Berlin-based architect, Daniel Libeskind, he sketched his initial concept on a napkin while attending a family wedding at the ROM. Known as the Michael Lee-Chin Crystal, named after its Toronto donor, it’s been a very talked about addition to the city’s architectural footprint. And speaking of footprints, if you see a Barosaurus peering through the prismatic glass, don’t get scared. It’s the largest dinosaur fossil in Canada – 90-feet in length and shares the stage inside the Crystal addition with T.Rex, Triceratops, and a Stegasaurus.

Need to rest those tired tootsies? Pop into Sorelle and Co., a jewel-box of a patisserie in Yorkville for exquisite desserts and confections guilt-free because everything is vegan, nut-free and delectable.

Dinner: Revel at Bar Raval

Located on College Street in the heart of Toronto’s lively “Little Italy” neighbourhood, it boasts many trendy bars, cafes and restaurants.

Lineups (no reservations) start early for award-winning Bar Raval for sensational Spanish tapas in their Gaudi-inspired interior. Start with a refreshing Tinto Fino Cocktail(Tio Pepe Fino sherry with pineapple, lime, white sage and soda.) Then choose from a selection of freshly prepared tapas like Fried Eggplant & Honeyor Octopus a la Planxa.

Sunday Morning: Lunch in Chinatown

Heading out for leisurely dim sum in Toronto’s vibrant downtown Chinatown at Spadina Avenue and Dundas you might mistake it for the dynamic city of Hong Kong. Walk for blocks through fruit and vegetable markets that spill out onto the sidewalks. Restaurants are crowded but worth the wait. Rolled out in a traditional cart service, delectable two-bite delicacies come steamed in fragrant bamboo baskets so just point and enjoy. Try sticky rice in lotus leaf at The Rol San Restaurant in Kensington Market or Asian Legend for soup-filled dumplings and green onion pancake with beef.

Sunday Afternoon:

If you’re travelling with the kids in tow, Harbourfront Centre is a year ’round destination. The  International Children’s Festival “Junior”, May 19th to 25th presents exciting productions from puppetry to theatre and music concerts from as far away as Norway and Australia as well as Canadian First Nations performances. Craft workshops, face painting and lots of foodfare overlook Lake Ontario. And if you really want to explore Toronto’s waterfront (and get some exercise,) rent bicycles for the whole family from Wheel Excitement at Harbourfront.

Sunday Afternoon: Matinee

Or, if  you’ve come from afar to see Come From Away at The Royal Alexandra Theatre in Toronto, you’re in for a wonderful experience. Built in 1907 and deemed a historical landmark by the city, it’s the longest-running theatre in North America. Come From Awayis based upon the true experiences of Americans who were grounded and taken in by Canadian strangers in Gander, Newfoundland during 9/11. The Tony Award-winning musical plays until September 2, 2018.

Your whirlwind weekend in Toronto may be over but it’s just the tip of the iceberg – this vibrant city welcomes you back soon.