Last month I took part in @seetorontonow’s x @expediauk stopover challenge, consisting of a mini urban break on route to the US. It was my first time visiting & so had fresh eyes on what was in store.


There I was sat inside the gleaming Heathrow hub of Terminal 3, munching on an Aspire lounge buffet spread, in preparation for my seven hour hop across the Atlantic. Through the floor to ceiling windows, my eyes honed in on the red maple leaf tail fin of the Air Canada 777 jet that awaited me - and being the proud AV geek that I am, I was particularly excited to end my newbie status with this national carrier. Initial impressions? Spacious interiors, smiley crew & great entertainment!

Toronto Int. Pearson Airport. 11:40 local time. I had touched down. It was still Monday. Arrivals was a straight forward process for my tired body to navigate. After a speedy baggage pick up, I followed signs to the UP Express Train, one of the cheapest & fastest ways into Toronto’s centre. 12 CAD$ got me to Union Station in 25 minutes, where I then jumped on an southerly tram to the Exhibition District. Destination? Hotel X, one of the city’s newest waterfront additions. The sleek lobby paved in marble, bathed in natural light is abundant with climbing plants - there’s a strong presence of bringing the outdoors in here, which I lived for. Whilst guests are based just outside of downtown, you’re well connected to the nearby tram lines which take you straight to the action within 20 minutes - but on site there’s plenty to make you not want to leave. The SKYBAR with it’s epic skyline views, the rooftop pool to enjoy a sundowner & their very own cinema with nightly showings are just some of the offerings here. For you gym junkies, there’s an extensive 24h gym complete with 4 tennis courts & 9 squash courts. It’s Canada’s largest hotel gym - crazy. Or for a breath of fresh air, might I suggest Trillium park just over the road which holds even more breathtaking views of the harbour & nearby islands for a morning run or yoga sesh. Speaking of, that’s how I kicked of my next 48 hours…



Downward dogs completed & breakfast devoured, I left early to hit the local neighbourhoods. On my first day in a new place, I always like to go for a walkabout; I feel you earn a greater understanding on what makes the destination tick, especially when you unintentionally get lost. I took a wander & soon found myself on Queen Street West, a shopping paradise for unique gifts. Named as one of the world’s hippest districts after Tokyo’s Shimokitazawa, I couldn’t help but have a browse. Maple Syrup - where you at?! This soon lead me into Kensington Market - a bohemian, free spirited part of town that’s built from Toronto’s melting pot of international influence. A thriving bustle & energy fill these streets; with smatterings of graffiti plastering every corner, all bringing a distinct vibe of what I can only imagine what the 70’s might’ve felt like. Somehow, I circled back & pleasantly found myself on Ossington Avenue, a foodie haven over run by the creatives who brought this area to life. Freelancers flock to the kooky coffee houses, the brunch time rush pack out the independent eateries. Now this, this was my part town. I had a craving for Mexican, so I popped by Maizal which had the best taco’s I’ve ever eaten (no joke) & for dessert, well my sweet tooth couldn’t hold back at Bang Bang Ice Creamery. Try the Cinnamon Toast - you’ll thank me later. After a morning of making the directions up as I go, I noticed how each district I entered had their own unique feel. This reminded me similarly to my hometown of London - but this city is far from an urban jungle. The view from the CN Tower Observation deck will open your eyes to the expanse of suburban nature below. Whilst it was fun learning all about this architectural feat of engineering & the glass floor was a bit of a thrill, take your time exploring what’s on the ground as the price point is pretty steep for a 360 vista that’s a tad lacklustre from all the way up there. As sunset neared, I hopped on the ferry to the islands in Lake Ontario which in a way, is the city’s Central Park. Return ticket’s are only 7 CAD$ which is a small price to pay for the best sunset seat in the house, and boy did this park open my eyes to how luscious & scenic Toronto truly is. For some unreal views, visit Centre Island over the other two, take a left out the gates once you dock, head over the bridge & gaze on the skyline that lays before you. From there you can see how the CN tower dominates over it’s neighbours, all 553m high to be exact. After the light show ended & twilight began, I made a stop at The Broadview Hotel for a spot of classic cuisine with a spectacular skyline view to round off the night.  


To kick off the next day I took a journey into the mist and no it wasn’t as treacherous & scary as Steven King made out. Niagara Falls - one of our planets most renowned waterfalls - is a 90 minute train ride south from Toronto’s Union Station. Spanning the Canadian / US border, this natural wonder is a sheer sight to behold. In person, you can sense & hear how powerful these cascading waters are but no image can truly do these falls justice. When you arrive, you’ll discover the best view of ‘Horseshoe Falls’ - the iconic postcard view that brings in travellers from far n’ wide. However I couldn’t help but think the town itself was rather Vegas-esque. Each hotel had it’s own casino & bar, making up the Canadian side into one big amusement park - not to mention the 5, (yes 5!) IHOP’s that take over the main street too. If pancakes are your vice, you’ll be in heaven. I left Niagara with mixed feelings, the strip doesn’t do mother nature any right to be honest, but for the day I was chuffed that I got to tick the majestic Falls off my bucket list! I returned to Toronto on the last train back, Lake Ontario glistened in the final hours of the day as I gazed out the window & reflected on my time here. 

In a nutshell, I loved my time here. To mention a few stand outs, Toronto wouldn’t be Toronto without its people. The locals are without fail, polite and helpful to strangers. The food & creative scene is incomparable to any other city I’ve visited - it’s in a league of it’s own and I think that’s down to the multiculturalism that’s so apparent here. You’ll be spoiled for choice on how to fill your 48 hour stopover & that’ll be merely just the beginning. Would I be back? Most definitely, and I can’t wait to be! :)

~ James x

James Relf-DyerComment