Canada is having a moment. Progressive Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is garnering international attention with his unabashed support of LGBT and women's rights and his welcoming stance on immigration. And the country's abundant natural parks, rich flavors, and cosmopolitan cities drew a record number of tourists last year: 14.03 million overnight visitors and 26 million on day trips, up 10 percent from previous years.
If you're thinking of making the trip, Toronto -- North America's fourth largest city -- is a good place to start. From first-class hotels and restaurants to diverse culture and dynamic nightlife, here's where to go while you're in Toronto.
Toronto is a culinary capital, with more than 8,000 restaurants that are as diverse as the city's population. Here's where to sample the city's culinary palette.
Built at the turn of the 20th century, St. Lawrence Market is Toronto’s oldest market and is one of the best displays of its culinary heritage. It overlooks Old Toronto, where the city was established in 1834. Inside, the market is bustling with vendors offering bites from Latin America, France, Ukraine, Russia, Mexico, China, Poland, Greece, Italy, Japan, and more. Try the classic Canadian peameal bacon sandwich (otherwise known as Canadian back bacon) at Carousel Bakery, or grab a spread of cheeses and meats to go. In addition to the impressive array of food, St. Lawrence Market also sells work by local artists, handcrafted jewelry, and flowers.
No visit to St. Lawrence Market is complete without a tour with Bruce Bell, who is as much of a fixture there as the food itself. His guided 90-minute tour brings you through the history of the market, with samples of its most famous foods along the way.
For a moderately priced Southern Italian meal, head downtown to one of Toronto's Terroni restaurants. The original location, on Queen West Street, opened in the early ‘90s and has a bustling back patio in the summer.
Be warned: The restaurant is very serious about maintaining the integrity of the Italian meal experience, and will not slice any of the pizza pies, offer balsamic vinegar to accompany the olive oil for the bread, or make any alterations to the menu items. Despite the attitude, the delicious pastas, pizzas, salads, and paninis keep patrons coming back for more. The olive oil, made by a family friend in Italy, and the fresh hot peppers that accompany homemade bread at the tables, are available for purchase in the restaurant's store.
For a unique culinary outing, head to Toronto's historic Distillery District, which operated in 1832 and reopened to the public about a decade ago after a total revamp. Stroll along cobblestone streets and check out its array of arts, music, and restaurants. Stop for dinner at El Catrin, consistently awarded Best Mexican food in Toronto by the locals. The menu was created by one of Mexico City's top chefs, executive chef Olivier Le Calvez. Inspired by the tastes of his childhood, Calvez's food offers a twist on classic Mexican dishes, such as flat iron steak with chipotle adobo marinated, nopales, sautéed onion, fried serrano chile, and queso fresco.
Tip: Grab a seat on the outdoor patio in warmer months for the ultimate date night.
For high-end French dining that's not stuffy, consider Scaramouche in midtown. Awarded one of the Diner's Club's World's 50 Best Restaurants, Scaramouche has been a highlight of the city's culinary scene for more than 20 years. Patrons have the choice to eat at the more casual Pasta Bar & Grill, which features eclectic dishes like Peppercorn Fettuccine with beef tenderloin and a gruyère herb crust; or in the candlelit dining room, where locally sourced ingredients accompany mains, such as scallops and roasted duck with fennel pollen and orange zest, topped with foie gras jus.
Canadians are known to enjoy a drink (or two), whether it's wine, spirits, or a local beer. According to the National Post in Canada, as much as 80 percent of the country's population drinks alcohol, and there's no shortage of beverage options in the city. Toronto also offers a dynamic cafe culture and high tea citywide.
Not surprisingly, the Distillery District is also known for its array of beverage options. The Gooderham and Worts distillery was the first to open in 1832, and from 1877 to 1905, it was the largest distillery on earth. Now, the five-hectare Distillery District houses 10 coffee shops, organic beer production at the Mill Street Brewery, and a sake brewery at the Ontario Spring Water Sake Company. Here, Japanese brewers use water from the Muskoka Region north of Toronto (which is said to be similar to the water used to produce sake in Japan) to make small-batches of Canadian sake, which are available for tastings in-shop.
Ossington Avenue, located in the western part of downtown, has had a resurgence in recent years and is now a hotspot for nightlife, dining, and shopping. Bellwoods Brewery opened its doors here in 2012, and like good Canucks, their mission is "Not to run out of beer." Chances are, they won't. Guests can enjoy an impressive array of brews, updated daily, along with a selection of local and imported ciders and seasonal bites to accompany your beverage.
In the heart of Toronto's trendy, upscale Yorkville neighborhood is Sassafraz, a European-style cocktail bar and restaurant in a small yellow house. The French-Canadian-inspired menu includes handcrafted cocktails, martinis, and of course wine -- more than 300 varieties, in fact. Grab a seat on the restaurant's patio in the summer or cozy up at the bar in winter. On weekends, Sassafraz hosts live jazz, making it a perfect date spot.
The King Edward Hotel may have opened in 1903, but it remains a popular spot to participate in the time-honored tradition of high tea. The British custom has long been a part of Toronto’s social culture. Every afternoon (Monday to Saturday from 1:30 to 5 p.m., and Sundays from 2:30 to 5 p.m.), fragrant teas are offered alongside finger sandwiches, biscuits, and homemade scones with jams and Devonshire cream.
Toronto has more than 38,000 hotel rooms across more than 230 hotels -- meaning, there's an accommodation for every budget and need. Downtown, new hotels have opened, and renovations breathe new life into existing spaces. For great value in a central location, try these.
New to the scene is the 567-room Delta Hotel by Marriott, well-situated in Toronto's entertainment, sports, and business hub. It's steps from the city's iconic CN Tower and directly connected to Toronto's PATH system, the largest underground shopping complex in the world. (The PATH allows guests to access the city and subway system without stepping foot outside -- ideal if you're visiting Toronto in winter.)
Work by local artists is featured throughout the property, including hockey puck and hockey stick art -- a nod to the city's favorite pastime. Guests can enjoy free WiFi, a heated indoor pool, a fitness center, the Mediterranean SOCO Kitchen and Bar downstairs, and sweeping views of the city and lake. It's no wonder that the Delta has become the go-to accommodation for participants of the International Toronto Film Festival and a popular spot for celebrities, athletes, and international visitors.
The Sheraton Centre Toronto Hotel in the Queen West neighborhood recently unveiled a $120 million renovation. Across from City Hall and near a diverse mix of restaurants, cafes, and shops as well as the popular Eaton Center, the hotel has revamped guest rooms and suites, including LED flat screen televisions, walk-in showers, and aerated faucets. The 43rd-floor Sheraton Club Lounge offers panoramic views of the Toronto skyline.
A highlight of the stay for all guests is access to the largest indoor/outdoor heated pool in downtown Toronto. In the summer, lounge by the hotel's pool bar, which offers drinks and bites.
There is so much to see, taste, and do in Toronto. Consider getting an All Access Toronto Pass for easy access to major sites and attractions. And, don't forget to come hungry.