weekend trips

TORONTO CITY AND THE NIAGARA FALLS

You know those TV quiz shows? Well, up to the age of 10 years old, I was raised on bread, Nutella and ‘L’Ereditá’ – a famous Italian TV quiz show. My fantasies about the Niagara Falls come from there. Up until I left for the United States, I was totally sure those waterfalls were located somewhere else – in Africa to be exact. My mind was so sure about it that I have never felt the necessity of any further confirmation.

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I am 24 years old now and I can tell you the famous Niagara Falls are located instead between Canada and United State. Just 80 miles outside of Toronto, the Falls site is a perfect destination for a quick spring getaway. My travel buddy and I chose Toronto as our ‘home-base’ so that we killed two birds with one stone. Despite the 25 miles covered in little more than two days and a half – blisters on our feet included – I can say that I spent and amazing weekend between the breathtaking spectacle of the Cascade and the modernity of a metropolis such as Toronto.

TIPS BEFORE YOU GO

  • Put aside all the ideas you have about the ‘White Country’ and get ready to make up your mind – for better or worse.
  • Get comfy shoes. I usually alternate two pairs of shoes in order to give my feet rest after wearing the same pair for a long time.
  • The temperature between April and May are pretty warm. However, it can happen to catch a couple of rainy hours. It is better taking along a packable rain jacket easy to fold and keep in your purse or backpack.
  • Buy online the tickets for the Niagara Falls – it will be far less expensive.
  • If you decide to take the Niagara Falls cruise, you are going to get totally wet, trust me. Get a waterproof case cover bag for your phone – it will avoid making you miss important shots when you will be just in front of the Falls.
  • For the same reason above, during the cruise wear your sunglasses – they will help you to see through all the water splashes reaching your face.

TORONTO

As far as Toronto, the must visit place are in downtown or nearby. Toronto is a big city, as much as Chicago. For this reason, it would be a huge mistake trying to go around with a car. You would be stuck in the traffic at each corner you would turn. Moreover, if you really want to have a full immersion in the city life and stop looking around for parking spots, I strongly suggest to take up comfy shoes and get ready for a long walk along the city streets.

DAY #1 

DISTILLERY DISTRICT

From the Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport, we covered part of the City Waterfront to get to our accommodation in downtown. After dropping our backpacks and taking the room’s keys, we decided to head for the Distillery District. Once upon a time site of Whisky and Rum production, ‘The District’ was designated a National Historic Site of Canada in 1988 for containing the largest and best-preserved collection of Victorian-era industrial architecture in North America.

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Walking down the street, I was attracted by the small art museums and the little boutiques selling very particular pieces and handcrafted jams and cheese. It is really the perfect spot to hang out in the late afternoon and then having dinner or just a happy hour – that is what we had. Several lanterns hanged in the air caught our attention and led us towards ‘El Catrin’. The patio, the blue-decorated windows and the great mix of modern furniture with a Mexican feel create a unique atmosphere. The cocktails then are extraordinary and really well-presented. Average prices for tourists but a little out of budget for Au pairs. Sometimes you must satisfy your own whim, tough!

 

 

CN TOWER

The plan for this very afternoon included also renting bikes and visiting the Toronto Islands. However, The Islands have been closed to visitors just that week because of a flood. Therefore, we decided to move the CN Tower visit on Saturday in order to have more free time on Monday. Symbol of Canada, the Cn Tower is the third tallest tower in the world and remains the tallest free-standing structure in the Western Hemisphere. The tower presents three observation levels which you can have access to at different prices. The general admission costs $36 for adults. It allows you the access to the Glass Floor at 342m (1,122 ft.) and to the LookOut Level at 346 m (1,136 ft.). We went for a $48 for adults ticket including the General Admission plus SkyPod –  the third and highest observation level. The view from up there was something unique – especially when the sun was going down. At that moment, the ocean and the Toronto Islands got surrounded by a very special light. The view from the LookOut Level is totally worthy. Contrarily, I got pretty disappointed by the SkyPod deck. It is all enclosed by two rows of fences and that makes really difficult having a full view of the skyline and enjoying the sight. The CN Tower attracts thousands of visitors daily. Personally, we waited about one hour and a half to get to the first observation deck.  I suggest getting there a couple of hours before the sun sets down if you want to be there in time to enjoy the sunset.

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DAY # 2

NIAGARA FALLS 

The second day of our Canadian trip was all devoted to the Niagara Falls. We booked the bus tickets through this website. Booking tickets online in advance is far less expensive than buying them at the ticket office. We did not know how much time we were going to spend at the Falls so we decided to book just a one-way ticket for only $15. Huge mistake on our part, since we paid the return ticket to Toronto  $27 each. Once the coach dropped us off at the bus stop, we decided to walk to the Falls. It is not too far away – just 30 minutes by walking. For the laziest, a bus will take you straight to the Falls site for a few bucks. Approximatively, we spent about 5 hours in pictures, cruise, and a quick lunch. Also, the Falls are part of a State Park – the perfect place where to have a picnic and relax. As far as the Niagara cruise,  it takes you straight up to the horseshoe fall. It might sound a touristy thing to do but actually, from down there the view is amazing and it will give you the chance to experience the power of the Falls from up close. $25.95 and it was worthy.

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After the amazing morning, it was time to head back to Toronto. Our feet were pretty destroyed after all that walking. Unluckily, the buses towards downtown accept just tickets – $7 for a one-day pass. Since we lost our ride, we got back up there by walking and we made to catch the coach to Toronto.

KENSINGTON MARKET

Back to the city, we spent the rest of the afternoon at the Kensington Market. Here, the Asian, Caribbean and Jewish influences blended together to form a very particular mosaic. Proclaimed National Historic Site of Canada as well, today the neighborhood retains its charm and wonderful diversity through its eclectic mix of vintage clothing stores, grocers, restaurants, and cafes. Generally, the Market is open 7 days a week excluding Christmas and New Years. The best time for optimal shopping is between 11:00 am and 7:00 pm. However, I recommend to visit it the last Sunday of the month and experience the real life of the neighborhood. The “Pedestrian Sundays” in Kensington Market allows visitors on foot to enjoy the sights and sounds of the eclectic neighborhood, without the worries of traffic and parking. Musicians, artists, and performers will also provide extra entertainments on the streets in the area.

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On our way home we went through Chinatown and stopped by a souvenir store. Here, you will find the same postcards and the same little objects you would find somewhere else with the only difference that the prices will be far less expensive. Dinner time then. The place where we had dinner the last night was pretty cool. It was a pub at two minutes walking from our place – Fionn MacCool’s Restaurant and Irish Pub. Really good food and prices – perfect for our budgets.

DAY #3  

NATHAN PHILLIPS SQUARE AND GRAFFITI ALLEY

Since our plane was expected to leave in the late afternoon, we left our room later than the day before, had a brunch and spent the rest of the morning visiting what was left on our list. First stop Cora Breakfast and Lunch – huge portions, small prices and lots to choose from – gluten free options included.

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After grabbing the backpack we made our way to our second stop – the Nathan Phillips Square. It is where the ‘Toronto’ sign in located. During the winter months, the reflecting pool is converted into an ice rink for ice skating.

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Third stop Graffiti Alley. It is a colorful stretch of an alley that displays works by local and world-renowned wall art painters. It spans about seven blocks and it runs south of Queen Street West from Spadina Avenue to Portland Street. Many people say Graffiti isn’t art, it’s vandalism. Let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater. It can be, not here tough. It was so colorful and the art was so stunning that I could not help but keep staring at that.

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