A Guide to Spending a Weekend in Toronto, Canada (Winter Edition)

Visit

I traveled solo to Toronto, Canada for a winter weekend getaway a few days prior to New Year’s Eve.

Language

English

Flight

I flew roundtrip from Washington D.C. (departure DCA/return BWI) to Toronto on Air Canada for $279.

Travel tip: it is cheaper to travel during the low season. This not only applies for Toronto, but any destination. Additionally, check the prices for flights at airports that are near you. For example, sometimes I will fly out of New York to Europe because it is cheaper than flying from Washington, D.C. I’ll use my miles (Delta, American, United, etc.) to fly from Washington, D.C. to New York and pay for the roundtrip ticket from New York to Europe. If you try this travel trick, you could save a lot of money compared to what you would have paid for a roundtrip ticket departing from/returning to the same airport.

Accommodations

I stayed at the Delta Hotels Toronto which is conveniently located across the street from Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada, the CN Tower, and Rogers Centre. The hotel is also in walking distance from the Harbourfront Centre, Union Station, and connected underground to the PATH (underground pedestrian tunnels).

https://www.marriott.com/hotels/travel/yyzdl-delta-hotels-toronto/

Travel Tip: During the winter, hotel rates tend to be lower than normal because it is the off season. If you visit during the high season, consider an Air B&B in Toronto as most are cheaper than hotels and have pretty good reviews.

(Picture: Ceiling at Brookfield Place)

Transportation

To get from the Toronto Pearson Airport to my hotel, I took the Union Pearson Express (UP Express) train. The UP Express is a 30 minute train ride from the airport to Union Station and it is the best and most efficient way to get to the city center. There are also outlets on the train to charge your electrical devices (phones, iPad, kindle, etc.). Prior to getting on the train, I purchased a UP Express pass for 18 CAD from a ticket machine at the airport. Once I arrived at Union Station, I bought a Presto card (public transportation card) and added money to it for use on the metro rail, street cars, and UP Express (return trip to the airport).

While in Toronto, I only used uber once to get from my hotel to the meeting point for a food tour with Culinary Adventures Co. The cost of the uber was around 9 CAD which was not expensive at all. When the food tour was over, I took the streetcar back to my hotel. The street car is fun way to get around and see the city.

What I Did In Toronto

Food Tour

As noted above, I signed up for a “Sunday Brunch” food tour with Culinary Adventure Co. This food tour covered restaurants located on King and Queen West streets in Toronto where you can find a variety of international cuisines. On this tour, we (the group) stopped at and were given samples of the following: chocolate chip cookie (the best chocolate chip cookie ever–unfortunately the café closed), pizza from Northern Brooklyn Pizzeria, Mexican brunch at Milagro Cantinas (see pic below), Pretz snack bag from an Asian grocery store, bombolones at Sud Forno, and an espresso or coffee from a coffee shop.

Brunch w/ mimosa at Milagro Cantinas

Additionally, this tour included a walk through Graffiti Alley where you will find some of the most creative and impressive street art in the city. It’s also a great backdrop for colorful photos.

https://www.culinaryadventureco.com/city/toronto

Free Walking Tour

I signed up for a free walking tour with Tour Guys Toronto. I took the Downtown Toronto Tour, which covered the downtown area and discussed the history (finances, buildings, architecture, politics) of Toronto. Some of the highlights of the tour included the Royal Bank Plaza, city hall, Berczy Park, Bank of Commerce, a walk through the PATH, and the Toronto sign at Nathan Phillips Square.

Toronto sign at Nathan Phillips Square

The tour began at Union Station and ended at Nathan Phillips Square where there is an ice skating rink (in the winter) and the Toronto sign. Keep in mind that with every free tour comes a large crowd. So, to get the most out of the tour, make sure you stay near the guide so that you can hear him or her without any trouble.

Inside of Union Station

St. Lawrence Market

The St. Lawrence Market is a must visit for any trip to Toronto! This is a public market with locally produce products and vendors selling delicious and fresh prepared food, baked goods, meats, seafood, fruits and vegetables, spices and much more. The market has an upper and lower level and I recommend that you take your time exploring each. Also, if you want to avoid the crowds, then I recommend that you visit early in the morning. I visited the market on a Saturday, in the middle of the day, and it was really crowded. However, that did not deter me from visiting and should not deter you either. It is worth visiting with or without a crowd!

CN Tower

For the CN Tower, Ripley’s Aquarium, and Royal Ontario Museum, I bought a Toronto City Pass. The City Pass included all of these excursions and more (Casa Loma, Toronto Zoo or Ontario Science Centre). I visited the CN Tower around the late afternoon (3:30 pm) and had to wait in line for 1.5 hours. To keep visitors entertained, the history of the CN tower is printed on the walls. Also on the wall is a tv showing a video of the tower’s construction. Regardless of the time spent waiting in line, it was definitely worth it because the views from the top are amazing!

At the top of the CN Tower, I photographed spectacular views of the city and Lake Ontario as the sun was setting. It was also pretty cool to see the CN Tower illuminated (like a Christmas tree) at night with various colors. The CN Tower is one of my favorite Toronto attractions and in my opinion, is better than the Space Needle in Seattle. I recommend that you visit early in the morning or late in the evening to avoid the crowds. Also, if you’re interested in the Edgewalk around the CN Tower, you can purchase a ticket for an additional fee. I did not do this, but it looks really cool.

View from the top of the CN Tower during sunset

Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada

I decided to visit the aquarium first thing in the morning when it opened at 9 a.m. By going early, I had the place to myself and could take my time to see everything at my own pace without the crowds. The best thing to see in the aquarium is the Jellyfish exhibit. It’s beautiful! I recommend that you visit the aquarium in the morning or evening to avoid the crowds.

Jellyfish at Ripley’s Aquarium
Fish at the aquarium

Royal Ontario Museum

As previously mentioned, the Toronto City Pass included admission to the Royal Ontario Museum. I visited this museum as part of the City Pass around noon on a Saturday. The museum has many exhibits but I found the dinosaur exhibit most interesting. This museum has something for everyone to see and enjoy and an entire section specifically for children (Hands-on gallery). Note that special exhibits (see website for updates) require a special pass for an additional fee and is not included in the city pass. Overall great museum and worth a visit especially if you have a city pass.

Dinosaur exhibit

Bike Tour

I took a bike tour with Toronto Bicycle Tours and chose to do the “Fall/Winter Island AM Bike Tour” which takes you on and around the Toronto Islands. Considering this was winter you might think to yourself, “she went on a bike tour…In Toronto..DURING THE WINTER?!?!?!” Yes I did and yes it was freezing cold outside. It was also only two people on the tour (myself and another person). However, I chose to visit Toronto in the winter so I was determined to make the best of this bike tour. No excuses!

Bundled up for the ride!

To brace for the winter chill, the guide provided gloves, a cloak, and hand warmers, to go on top of my winter outwear. If you choose to do this bike tour in the winter, you will need everything that the tour guides provide. Remember, that when you are riding a bike at a high speed or down hill, you will feel the wind blow, so you must bundle up to stay warm.

The bike tour began with a ride through downtown Toronto all the way to the ferry. The ferry ride to the Toronto Islands took about 10 minutes. Once we arrived, we rode our bikes around the island and occasionally stopped to hear the guide talk about the history of the island, the schools, the church, the residents who currently live on the island, and the cost of living on the island. Overall, the bike ride was fairly easy (mostly flat roads and a few hills) and a visit the Toronto islands was a great idea. I definitely plan to return, during the summer, when it is warmer and there are outdoor events to attend (i.e. festivals).

Happy Place

Happy Place is a temporary pop-up exhibit that is held in different locations around the U.S. and Australia. During my visit in Toronto, Happy Place had a pop up exhibit and I decided to purchase a ticket to visit. I had heard so much about this place on instagram that I could not miss an opportunity to visit. The Happy Place exhibit is composed of 12 themed rooms. For example, some themes you may find in each room include confetti, love, bubble gum, chains, smiley faces, cookies, and many more.

Upside down room

The most popular rooms are the duck bathroom, upside down bedroom (pic above), sunflower garden, and the ball pit) . These rooms are timed (10 minutes per group) to keep the crowd moving and to prevent long lines. Although I went solo, the employees were more than happy to take pictures of me. Even though it is no longer in Toronto, you should check the website to see when it is coming to or near your city. It is a fun experience and you will have great pictures for instagram or other social media platforms.

Tunnel of Glam (Winter Pop Up)

The Tunnel of Glam is a Toronto pop-up exhibit that lasts from December to early January. From downtown, the Tunnel of Glam is a 25 minute metro ride away and the closest metro stop is St. Clair. The tunnel is outside (no doors) and it is made up of different color reversible sequins. On these sequins, you can create a drawing, write your name, or just slide your fingers across it. It is up to you! How much time you spend in the tunnel is also up to you, but since you’re outside and it will be cold, you probably will not spend more than 30 minutes to an hour here. During the times that it is busy, you will have to wait in a line. Admission is free.

Visitors drawing on the wall

Recommendations

  • The Distillery District (Restaurants, bars, boutiques, and the site for the Toronto Christmas Market)
  • Excellent Places To Eat: Assembly Chef’s Hall, Ramen Isshin, Milagro Cantinas, and Pai Northern Thai Kitchen
  • Nathan’s Phillips Square for ice skating
  • Go to Sud Forno and buy their Bombolones (mini donuts filled with custard or nutella–omg delicious! You MUST try at least one)
  • Casa Loma (a historical mansion located in Toronto with gorgeous rooms and unique gothic style architecture—included in the Toronto City Pass)
  • Day trip to Niagara Falls (probably best to visit when it is a little bit warmer outside)

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