A newbie's guide to Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Stuart Forster

Stuart Forster

Toronto, Canada's most populous city, is often seen as a gateway for those keen to explore the vast expanse of this great country. However, Toronto has plenty going on itself, and can be easily reached thanks to the great value fares available from Aer Lingus. Fly via Dublin from cities such as Edinburgh, Manchester or London in 2017, and you can join in the celebrations as Canada marks 150 years since confederation - the act of union that's seen as the birth of the modern nation.

A newbie's guide to Toronto, Ontario, Canada © City of Toronto
A newbie's guide to Toronto, Ontario, Canada © City of Toronto

One of the easiest ways to head downtown from Toronto Pearson International is on the Union Pearson Express train, commonly known as the UP Express. The journey time between the airport and downtown area is 25 minutes and there are departures every 15 minutes during the middle of the day.

Places to go in Toronto

CN Tower

Rising to a pinnacle of 553.33m (1,815 ft) the CN Tower has dominated Toronto's skyline since topping out in 1975. The observation deck, known as the LookOut, provides outstanding views over the city and surrounding countryside from a height of 346m (1,136ft). Anyone with a head for heights can descend a level lower to look directly down through glass flooring with panels 6.35cm (2.5 inches) thick.

Ascending the CN Tower, Toronto, Ontario, Canada © Wladyslaw - Wikimedia Commons
Ascending the CN Tower, Toronto, Ontario, Canada © Wladyslaw - Wikimedia Commons

On clear days, views from the Sky Pod, 446m (1,465ft) above the ground, mean opportunities to see the horizon some 100 miles away in the USA. Thrill seekers can lean out from the tower during the EdgeWalk, a memorable activity for those brave enough to strap on a harness over clothing that would be named a jumpsuit anywhere else. Book well in advance if that's something you want to do.

Art Gallery of Ontario

Known locally as AGO, the Art Gallery of Ontario has a broad collection of artworks, including photography dating from the 1840s and masterpieces such as Peter Paul Ruben's dramatic Massacre of the Innocents. If you want a local focus, prioritise viewing First Nations and Inuit art or works by the Group of Seven, the Canadian artists whose stylised landscapes helped forge a sense of national identity in the wake of the First World War.

Royal Ontario Museum

The striking façade of the long-established Royal Ontario Museum resembles an angular metallic and glass meteorite that has embedded itself into a traditional stone building. The vast collection encompasses natural and cultural exhibits ranging from dinosaur fossils to Egyptian mummies. If you're interested in First Nations heritage head to the Daphne Cockwell Gallery of Canada. Insightful films are screened in the theatre that is also used for live performances.

Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto, Canada © City of Toronto - Flickr Creative Commons
Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto, Canada © City of Toronto - Flickr Creative Commons

Things to do in Toronto

Sink a beer or two

Torontonians are proud of their thriving craft beer scene, meaning plenty of local brews to sample. The Mill Street Brew Pub, in the hip Distillery District, runs tours each afternoon, serving a punchy West Coast style IPA plus an organic amber lager, in addition to seasonal ales. Meanwhile, the Steam Whistle Brewery holds tours of its premises: where locomotives were once serviced and repaired, pilsner is now brewed. Down by the harbourfront, a couple of minutes' walk from the ferry terminal, the Amsterdam BrewHouse has in and outdoor seating plus a broad selection of beers - the raspberry wheat beer is a refreshing option on summer afternoons.

Take a ferry to Toronto Island Park

Hop aboard a ship at the Jack Layton Ferry Terminal for the short journey across the harbour to the Toronto Islands, which offer outstanding views of the downtown skyline. Formed by sandbars, the islands are a popular leisure area dotted with sandy beaches. Ward's Island Beach is a quiet spot to enjoy sunny days overlooking Lake Ontario. The Centreville theme park and Far Enough Farm prove popular with young families.

The ferry to Toronto Island Park, Toronto, Canada © Bill Brooks - Alamy Stock Photo
The ferry to Toronto Island Park, Toronto, Canada © Bill Brooks - Alamy Stock Photo

Watch a pro sports game

Toronto is home to the Raptors NBA basketball franchise, Maple Leafs NHL ice hockey team and the Blue Jays baseball club. A tour of Rogers Centre, the home stadium of the Blue Jays, includes opportunities to visit the areas where players prepare and to step inside the press box.

Many Torontonians are passionate about ice hockey and the country's national winter sport is known simply as hockey. The Hockey Hall of Fame stands within a grand old downtown building dwarfed by skyscrapers. Visiting gives you opportunities to learn about the sport's stars and participate in games testing your skill with a stick and as a goalie.

Tours of Toronto

For views of the urban skyline why not take a harbour cruise? Mariposa Cruises provide GPS-triggered commentaries giving snippets of information about sights. The tour means an opportunity to see Gibraltar Point Lighthouse, whose first keeper was murdered back in 1815. His grisly mutilation has resulted in tales that the landmark is haunted.

Guided Toronto Bicycle Tours bring opportunities to see sites of interest while cycling at a leisurely pace. The tours last from half-a-day upwards, taking in points of interest such as the University of Toronto's St George Campus and the Victorian architecture of Cabbagetown. Hiring a bicycle to explore on your own is also an option.

Day trips from Toronto

The city of Niagara Falls is less than 90 minutes' drive south of Toronto but it's the cascading water, of the same name, that draws most visitors. As well as viewing Horseshoe Falls from the shore you can zip line into the gorge. Nearby Niagara-on-the-Lake is regarded one of Canada's up-and-coming wine producing regions. Tasting tours or dinner at a winery count among the reasons to stay over.

Exploring Algonquin Provincial Park, Ontario, Canada © Ontario Tourism Marketing Partnership Corporation
Exploring Algonquin Provincial Park, Ontario, Canada © Ontario Tourism Marketing Partnership Corporation

Experience Canadian nature and wildlife in Algonquin Provincial Park, a three-hour drive from Toronto. Moose and black bears count among the creatures roaming the dense deciduous forest. More than 270 species of birds have been recorded in the park, including the wonderfully named spruce grouse. You can camp in the park, whose low light pollution makes it popular for astronomy and astrophotography.

Toronto has never been easier to get to thanks to Aer Lingus, which offers direct flights from Dublin, and countless connections from Dublin to airports across the UK, from Inverness and Manchester to London. Check out the latest low fares to Toronto with Aer Lingus, and remember to see what the weather in Toronto is like, plus when we think is the best time to go to make the most of the city's many attractions.

Stuart Forster

Stuart Forster
Posted on Thursday 11th May 2017 in: City Culture Excursions North America

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