Toronto has much to offer those who enjoy great food, delightful museums and fearsome heights, discovers Felicity Cousins.
1. Jamie Kennedy at the Gardiner
Toronto’s streets are laid out in a grid system. Start by heading north up Yonge Street, which was the world’s longest street when it stretched from Lake Ontario to the Minnesota border, until it was split with the formation of Highway 11. Turn left at Bloor Street West and four blocks east you’ll find Jamie Kennedy’s eatery at the Gardiner Museum. Kennedy is Canada’s equivalent to the UK’s “chef with a social conscience”, Jamie Oliver. The restaurant is on the third floor of this charming ceramics museum and is open for lunch every day (dinner on Fridays only). Kennedy serves delicious local seasonal produce and regional wine. Booking ahead is essential. Queen’s Park 111; jkkitchens.com; tel +1 416 362 1957.
2. Royal Ontario Museum
Continue east along Bloor Street West to the Royal Ontario Museum. Its mission is “to engage the public in exploration of cultural change and to serve as an advocate for science in the study of nature”, and it excels with room after room of well thought-out displays. In preparation for its centenary celebrations in 2014, the museum is undergoing renovations and additions, including 27 new galleries.
In 2007, it hit the headlines with the opening of the Michael Lee-Chin Crystal extension, designed by Daniel Libeskind. The Lee-Chin Crystal is five interlocking, self-supporting prismatic structures – a stunning architectural feat. The building juts out from the museum entrance and it’s impossible to walk by without being drawn in. I found a special exhibition tracing the history of the diamond. The Egyptians believed in the vena amors (the vein of love), which runs directly from the heart to the tip of the fourth finger, hence why this became the engagement ring finger. Until July 5 there’s a Wedgwood exhibition with almost 100 of Canada’s finest examples, and you can see the Dead Sea Scrolls from June 27 to January 3, 2010 (C$28). Open Mon-Thu and Sat-Sun 10am-5.30pm, Fri 10am-9.30pm. Entry is C$22. Visit rom.on.ca
3. Bata Shoe Museum
Turn left and walk for about five minutes until you see the Bata Shoe Museum on your left – it’s a magical place. The founder of the museum, Sonja Bata, has been collecting shoes since the 1940s and her personal collection became such a passion that she set up the Bata Shoe Foundation in 1979. The museum opened in 1995 and has around 12,500 artefacts in its collection – and not by any means all Jimmy Choo. The collection tells the story of footwear across different cultures over 4,500 years, from warriors’ boots and high heels for men, to shoes fit for a king – Henry VIII. There’s also a section dedicated to famous fictional characters, including Cinderella, the old woman who lived in a shoe, and Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz. Open Mon-Sat 10am-5pm (until 8pm Thurs), Sun 12-5pm. Entry is C$12. Visit batashoemuseum.ca
4. Kensington Market and ChinaTown
Walk left until you hit Spadina Avenue and jump on a streetcar going south (510 to King Street). Get off at Kensington Market in the Chinatown district for a lively alternative scene much like Camden Lock in London, with groups of friends chatting in the road. The streets are crammed with bright stalls selling vegetables and second-hand designer clothes shops (I liked Sarah Campbell’s The Rage store).
Keep wandering south on Spadina Avenue and you’ll hit Chinatown – the packed streets and colourful sights and smells are captivating. If you enjoy this it would be worth hiring a bike and exploring Toronto’s other varied neighbourhoods – the city is very cycle-friendly. Heading south you’ll also be close to the newly reopened Art Gallery of Ontario, one of the largest art museums in North America, at 317 Dundas Street West. Visit ago.net
5. Steam Whistle Brewing
Continue south and at the foot of the CN Tower opposite the Rogers Centre – home to the city’s baseball team, the Toronto Blue Jays – is Steam Whistle Brewing, which makes “Canada’s Premium Pilsner”. The building dates back to the 1930s and used to be the Canadian Pacific Rail steam repair centre. Steam Whistle Brewing is recognised for its green practices, using 100 per cent green electricity sourced by the Deep Lake Water Cooling system.
The brewery was established in 1999 by three friends and follows the Bavarian Purity Act of 1516 to make the beer. The brewers use only four ingredients – malted barley and water from Canada, yeast from Hungary and hops from Germany. Take the half-hour tour and you will hear how the Steam Whistle Pilsner is fermented in two stages and then aged for 21 days (this is three times longer than many other breweries, who will use the yeast again and again). Each bottle is stamped with the date and time it was bottled (the beer lasts for only 90 days). Tours are every 30 minutes between 1pm and 5pm (4pm on Sundays). The cheapest tour costs C$8 and includes a Pilsner sample and a souvenir retro bottle opener. Visit steamwhistle.ca
6. The CN Tower and 360 Restaurant
The CN Tower is Toronto’s most famous landmark and is an architectural marvel. Now 33 years old, it was the world’s tallest free-standing structure (554 metres tall or the equivalent of 147 floors) until the still-under-construction Burj Dubai took the title last year.
The CN Tower still has the world’s highest observation level, so it’s worth enduring the stomach-plummeting 58-second lift journey to the top. It’s best to go early – more than two million people visit each year. The views are stupendous and on a clear day you can see Niagara Falls. The day I went was a little overcast but the viewing deck was exhilarating, as the platform becomes a wind tunnel – don’t wear anything loose that can fly away.
For those who need a further thrill, there’s a glass floor you can walk on which, while only two and a half inches thick, can apparently withstand 39,000kg (14 hippopotami or, as I calculated in a mild panic while standing on the glass, 607 of me). You can pay more to go higher up the tower, and lunch and dinner are available at the 360 Restaurant, which revolves once every 72 minutes. I had a lovely meal here and it was obviously the place to be as every table was taken. Entry to the tower costs from C$22. Open 9am-10.30pm (11pm June-Oct). Visit cntower.ca