Destination: Toronto, Canada
Flying: 6 hrs 50 mins with Air Canada
Staying: Omni King Edward Hotel
Duration: 4 days
Currency: Canadian Dollars ( CAD)
Visa Required: Yes ( Well an Electronic Travel Authorisation for UK Citizens)
My sister moved to Toronto last year, after she successfully applied for the International Experience Visa IEC Visa, which allows you to travel to Toronto and both live and work there for up to two years for Under 30’s from the UK. I mean who knew this stuff existed?! Knowing our luck, it probably didn’t!
I ceased the opportunity to stop by and make Canada, Country 29 and tell you all about a huge oversight on my part which would’ve definitely seen me not leave the airport! The best of us have to make mistakes some time…
My flight was in the morning, but I suddenly woke up at 2am, almost in a cold sweat, remembering I hadn’t checked in. I remember thinking, why on earth is that a big deal Lerease? Let’s just say, that moment of madness, saved me! Lol
I’d like to state, I’m a seasoned traveller so you can understand my dismay when I went to check in online, in the dark of the night, with only my lit up phone screen, a message flashed up saying “You don’t have an eTA” A what?! What’s an eTA?! I quickly googled, but before the page even loaded, It was at that moment, I realised what it was… UK citizens require an Electronic Travel Authorisation to travel to Canada. This takes up to 72 hours to be approved by the way, and here I am a few hours before my flight without one! Therein followed a number of expletives! I hit the light switch and rummaged around for my laptop.
Firstly when you google eTA, you’ll find a whole host of unauthorised sites selling this for very BIG money, ignore, ignore! If ever in doubt with these things, always visit the official government sites. It is only $7 CAD – Less than £5. (See sometimes, the common sense my parents nurtured in me makes an appearance). Get it from the official site here – I pressed the apply button and crossed my fingers. Thankfully 3 minutes later, it was approved. A whole 30 minutes of madness for those 3 minutes, i tell ya! Perhaps if I’d lived a more colourful life, I might be here telling you it didn’t get approved, and I didn’t get to go on the trip, but no, nothing that exciting.
Never leave it last minute, ever! Always do this after you initially book your trip or even prior.
Check in with Air Canada was somewhat chaotic, even for those of us who checked in online before hand ( just! did you hear that mild disgust of those checking in at the desks Lol), by the time I got through, I had time to wolf down some sort of breakfast in the Lounge ( Thank you Amex) and be on my way.
Flights with Air Canada were just under 7 hours and as my hotel was downtown, I looked into the best and quickest way to get there.
I settled on the UP Union Pearson Express train. It leaves straight from the airport, has places to put suitcases and arrives into Union Station in a very quick 25 minutes. (It does make two very brief stops and Bloor & Weston). Tickets are $12.35 ( £7.50approx) one way or $24.70 (£15 Approx) return.
I bought mine online and literally added the ticket to my Apple Wallet. You can also buy in the station, on board ( an extra $2) and with a Presto Card ( we’ll get to that in a bit)
Once at Union, there is actually a lift that will take you to an Uber Pick up / Drop off – which is perfect for the suitcase brigade. I was about a 12 minute walk from the station, but with a heavy suitcase ( Blame my sister, not me! :-), I settled on a taxi. If you get in a taxi downtown, be prepared for TRAFFIC! Lots of it. 45 mins for a 10 minute journey is a definite possibility.
My sister conveniently bought me a presto card ( The Oyster / Metro card equivalent) thankfully it works more like the oyster, with a tap. No matter how cool I think I am in New York, the issue I have swiping a metro always reveals me as a tourist! The “tap” element is much preferred! They do actually have one for the occasional travel/visitor but this has to be bought in person, details here
Back to the Presto, It has an app where you can top up funds, or you can top it up via the machines in the station. You’ll need this for both the subway and the streetcar. Streetcar meaning the tram, or sometimes bus that pretty much goes back and forth all day along the same straight route. You can see all the streetcar routes here
I stayed in Omni King Edward Hotel on King Street East, which was a really great central location and being on King, its served by the Streetcar. Really spacious rooms and they got an extra point for leaving me a birthday surprise!
I hit the ground running and went to dinner at Cactus Club Cafe, a sleek yet also casual place with a rooftop and a DJ. The starters were HUGE and service was great. Good atmosphere and nice to be sort of outside!
From here, they took me to a club called Bunda Lounge Two DJs were in town from London, so we got our fair share of home grown music too! Yes I was running on energy overtime, because Jetlag was trying to call me at this point, but I made it to the end.
The next day I was introduced to the Canadian staple of Tim Horton’s. I mean I can definitely see the fuss over the breakfast muffins and the doughnuts.
In this area, you are walking distance to the Nathan Phillips Square, where the infamous Toronto sign is, normally alongside an ice rink.
However, The Toronto Raptors only went and won the NBA Final and they announced the parade would be there! so it was boarded over, so I got to get up close and personal. Go Raptors / We The North and all that jazz!
We then walked/ took a streetcar over to CN Tower. Probably the most well known recognisable landmark of Toronto’s skyline. We literally booked the tickets as we were walking. Tickets start at $38 for adults. Stunning 360 views of Toronto and that glass floor. Did I walk on it? Most definitely! You can also grab a bite to eat or book into the restaurant.
There are a number of cool things that happen in the city, especially during the warmer months, my sister likes to have things on a pulse ( as i do in London) about those fun immersive pop up events happening across the City, so it was good to know one was happening whilst I was in town.
Introducing Hide Seek(Only open from May – July 2019, but I’m sure they’ll relocate at some point.)
A throwback to everything nostalgic about ones childhood from sweets and candy floss to slinky’s across a variety of rooms in different, very instagrammable set ups and most importantly, bags of fun!
That night I met a friend and checked out Chubby’s Jamaican restaurant, completely overdosing on festival! I’d say plantain too, but it’s never possible for me to overdose on eating plantain ( My fellow Afro-Caribbeans and Brazilians will attest to that)
The next day I woke up early and walked back down to Nathan Phillips Square, I wanted to soak up the atmosphere for the Raptors Parade, such a great time to be in the city, so it was a real treat to experience it for a while.
Before coming to Toronto, I decided Niagara Falls was a must see, non – negotiable. There were quite a few all day tours there, but I really wanted a little bit more flexibility with times, so instead looked into the train / bus combo instead of a tour with Via Rail. I therefore booked a train/bus ticket combo here online a few days before my trip. It was about $85 for two of us combined.
The double decker train leaves from Union Station – Burlington, which takes 59 mins.
Then from Burlington you get on a Go coach to Niagara which takes 1 hour and 35 mins. Though when you get to Niagara, there’s a bit more to do! You need to jump on the WeGo which is the Niagara Falls Visitor transportation.
At the Niagara bus stop, there’s a WeGo office. Here, you’ll need to go inside and buy either a 24 hour or 48 hour pass for the shuttle to the falls ( bear in mind, they only took cash here, but there was a cash point inside) A 24 hour pass was $9. WeGo Route Map here .We jumped on the Green line going to the Hornblower Cruises.
Here, we opted to do the Voyage to the Falls boat tour via the Funicular ( for that added special element). It’s 20 mins & is $28.95 for an adult. We bought tickets from the self serve machine and pretty much walked straight on. It takes you down to ground level with a pretty stunning view. You have the opportunity to take those awful photos against a green background, Lol, and then get given an incredibly stylish poncho, before you board.
I’d uh strongly advise, putting your phone or camera in a waterproof case, if you think you might get a bit wet, maybe times that by 5. It was like riding into a storm, yet I loved it! Lol.
Near Hornblower was restaurants and arcades etc. It felt a lil Vegas for such a beauty hotspot in my opinion, but we weren’t there very long before we headed back to travel back to Union Station
Once back, we stopped for dinner at Jack Astor’s and had a Canadian Classic! Poutine – It’s basically fries top with cheese curds, gravy and whatever else you ask to be put on it…
The other place I spent time checking out was the Distillery District, a very cool neighbourhood. It used to be the home of a large whiskey distillery and cobbled streets which now houses a very cool selection of restaurants, shops and sculptures. It felt very Covent Garden / Shoreditch – ish. There is also a Christmas market here every year.
Try the Mexican restaurant: El Catrin
I also managed to fit in a trip to shopping village Vaughn Mills. I took the subway to Vaughn Mills and then jumped in an Uber. However they do also do a free shuttle from Union station which you have to register for at the station in advance, but on the day of travel it’s still first come first served.
It’s vast but not sure the deals are worth the visit If I’m honest! But I did alright with DKNY and Bath & Body Works stuff!
Listen spring, summer, even Autumn, I can see the major draw of Toronto. It’s cosmopolitan, fun and with lots of things going on and things to see, it’s easy to see why I’ll pay another visit. It’s easy to get around on public transport and it has so much to offer, so i’ll definitely be back. But uh Winter, Minus 20 degrees – Drop . me. out! I’m sure it looks wonderful, but I’m crying thinking about it! Lol