A Whirlwind Weekend in Toronto
A multicultural vibe permeates the soul of Toronto. Dotted with expansive parks, public art and cutting-edge architecture, Toronto is one of the most walkable cities in the world. Plus, it’s fun to explore, with its diverse ethnic neighbourhoods and fantastic foodie scene. With more than 6 million people of every ethnicity, making it the largest city in Canada, Toronto is also a city of festivals, with more than 50 in spring and summer alone.
Prince Harry courted his Duchess to-be, Meghan Markle, here when he presided over the Invictus Games Toronto 2017, so Toronto is in high celebratory mode. Whether you’ve Come From Away to see the Tony-nominated musical, to celebrate the Royal nuptials or to take in a Raptors basketball game at Air Canada Centre, you are sure to make lasting memories and plans to return during a weekend in Toronto.
If you’re planning a weekend in Toronto in May around the Royal Wedding, Fairmont Royal York is rolling out the red carpet for A Month of Romance and Celebration.
Make plans to toast with sparkling wine and watch the Royal Couple as they exchange vows on the telly at 6 a.m.! If you prefer to celebrate with other guests of Fairmont Royal York, the hotel has arranged a Royal Wedding Breakfast of bubble & squeak (cabbage with mashed potatoes) and bangers & eggs (sausage and eggs) on May 19 in the EPIC Lounge, where screens will broadcast the event live.
The hotel has also partnered with WedLuxe Media to create Roses & Crowns on May 19 in the lobby-level Showroom. It’s an exhibit combining couture, wedding cakes and floral décor inspired by a history of royal weddings.
The Fairmont Royal York lobby is decorated in the style of a lovely English country garden with installations of exquisite roses, peonies and delphiniums, and the upper balcony is adorned with floral garlands. Windows overlooking Front Street and Union Station showcase a commemorative pictorial of Royal visits to Toronto and the hotel for the past 90 years.
Royal York Lobby courtesy of Alec Donnell Luna
The Prince & Princess Diaries
At a celebratory announcement at Fairmont Royal York in 2016, His Royal Highness Prince Harry and Canadian Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau announced the 2017 Invictus Games would take place in Toronto. The international sports competition invites servicemen and women affected by physical injury or PTSD to participate. Actress Meghan Markle, who portrayed the character Rachel Zane in the popular legal series Suits, was living in Toronto where the show was shot. Her character aspired to a dream wedding at The Plaza, A Fairmont Managed Hotel, but the scene was actually filmed at Fairmont Royal York in Toronto.
Prince Harry and Meghan were introduced by a mutual friend, and The Invictus Games Toronto 2017 marked their first public appearance together.
“For more than a century, Fairmont Hotels & Resorts has welcomed members of the British Royal Family as cherished guests,” says Sharon Cohen, vice president Fairmont brand management. “For guests gathering to toast Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, our hotels offer a remarkable sense of place, a feeling of being part of history and a link to something meaningful, important and enduring, everything a Royal Wedding promises.”
Live on the Edge
After settling in at the hotel, head out to get your adrenaline going with a visit to EdgeWalk, the first in North America and the world’s highest circular, hands-free, albeit tethered, walk along the edge of the CN Tower’s 356-metre-tall main pod, 116 storeys high. What a view!
Edgewalk CN Tower courtesy of Tourism Toronto
Have a Cuppa at The Royal Romance Afternoon Tea
In addition to a traditional afternoon tea, sample a miniature version of Meghan and Harry’s lemon elderflower wedding cake and the Queen’s favourite chocolate biscuit cake in the Library Bar of the Fairmont Royal York. These cakes are found in the special Royal Romance Menu offered for a limitied time only in May.
High Tea Queen’s Cake (right) and Meghan’s Wedding Cake (left)
Dinner at Buca
Toronto has the fourth largest Italian population outside of Italy, so it’s not surprising there are numerous fantastico restaurants in the city. Every year chef Rob Gentile’s Buca on Scollard Street in the Yorkville neighbourhood receives rave reviews by food critics and numerous mentions in foodie circle publications. Try the delectable butternut squash gnocchi with prosecco and black truffle.
Brunch in the Distillery Historical District
The Distillery Historical District by Tourism Toronto
Hop on the 121 Bus at Bay downtown, or take a leisurely stroll along Front Street, walking east towards Parliament and Cherry Streets. After all, you need to work up an appetite for brunch at Cluny Bistro located in the Distillery Historical District. Formerly the 1832 Gooderham and Worts Distillery and composed of cavernous Victorian brick warehouses and meandering cobblestone streets, the district was converted into a car-free heritage site filled with hip galleries, cafés, a skating rink in winter and live theatre throughout the year. The restaurant’s interior is reminiscent of a turn-of-the century French bistro, whose vintage charm is juxtaposed with modern tile, leather-upholstered seating and a spectacular coffered ceiling featured in Architectural Digest and created by Toronto’s award-winning Studio Munge. Try the coq au vin poutine to share or the decadent baked chocolate and vanilla French toast.
Cluny Bistro Patisserie courtesy of Cluny Bistro
As you’re exploring the Distillery, drop into Soma Chocolatemaker located on Tankhouse Lane to taste their luscious truffles. Named after the mystical substance in Aldous Huxley’s book Brave New World, the store features an open concept chocolate making factory for your chocolate viewing pleasure. Have a cup of Maya, a rich hot chocolate with a dash of chile for a fiery finish.
Non-stop Sports or Shopping
Rogers Centre & CN Tower courtesy of Tourism Toronto
Toronto is a huge sports town, so don your favourite team’s jersey and listen for chants of “Go Leafs Go” or “How about those Blue Jays, eh”!
Baseball fanatics who have scored Toronto Blue Jay seats, migrate to Rogers Centre located at the foot of the CN Tower. Fans of the Toronto Raptors can catch a basketball game at Air Canada Centre and maybe a sighting of their official ambassador, hometown celeb rapper Drake who attends many games. Hockey buffs can check out the interactive Hockey Hall of Fame, celebrating its 75th Anniversary in 2018, featuring The Mask tribute of 90 NHL puck-stopping goalie masks.
Hockey Hall of Fame Toronto courtesy of Tourism Toronto
Fashionistas, continue north to midtown to the Bloor Yorkville area, now considered the toniest outdoor shopping area for fashion boutiques, restaurants and luxury condos in Toronto. But it wasn’t always so chic. You might be surprised to learn that in the 1960s, it was a rundown area filled with coffee houses, including The Riverboat where struggling musicians named Neil Young, Joni Mitchell and Gordon Lightfoot got their start.
The Bata Shoe Museum, on the corner of Bloor Street and St. George Street, is an absolutely fascinating tribute to precious and outrageous footwear. Designed like a gigantic shoe box by renowned Canadian architect Raymond Moriyama, the museum showcases more than 13,000 pairs of shoes, boots and related artifacts from Chinese foot-binding shoes to Elton John’s glamourous platforms. The collection was the brainchild of collector, philanthropist and visionary Sonja Bata. The current special exhibition Manolo Blahnik, The Art of Shoes runs May 16th, 2018, to January 6th, 2019.
Bata Shoe Museum courtesy of Bata Shoe Museum
Close by at Avenue Road and Bloor Street is the ROM or Royal Ontario Museum. You’ll know you’ve arrived when you see a gigantic, 3,500-tonne “crystal” protruding from the historic edifice. Berlin-based architect Daniel Libeskind sketched his initial concept for the building on a napkin while attending a family wedding at the ROM. Named after its Toronto donor, the Michael Lee-Chin Crystal is a very talked-about addition to the city’s architectural footprint. And speaking of footprints, if you see a Barosaurus peering through the prismatic glass, don’t be alarmed. It’s the largest dinosaur fossil in Canada, measuring 27 metres in length and sharing the stage inside the Crystal addition with a Tyrannosaurus rex, a Triceratops and a Stegosaurus.
ROM courtesy of Tourism Toronto
Need to rest those tired tootsies? Pop into Sorelle and Co., a jewel-box of a patisserie in Yorkville serving exquisite desserts and confections worry-free because everything is vegan, nut-free and delectable.
Revel at Bar Raval
Located on College Street, Toronto’s lively “Little Italy” neighbourhood houses trendy bars, cafés and restaurants.
Bar Raval Toronto couresy of Bar Raval
Lineups (no reservations) start early at award-winning Bar Raval known for sensational Spanish tapas and its Gaudí -inspired interior. Start with a refreshing Tinto Fino cocktail made of Tio Pepe Fino sherry with pineapple, lime, white sage and soda. Then choose from a selection of freshly prepared tapas such as fried eggplant & honey or octopus a la planxa.
Lunch in Chinatown
Dim Sum courtesy of Tourism Toronto
Heading out for leisurely dim sum in Toronto’s vibrant downtown Chinatown at Spadina Avenue and Dundas, you might mistake the area for the dynamic city of Hong Kong. Walk for blocks through fruit and vegetable markets spilling out onto the sidewalks. Restaurants are crowded but worth the wait. Rolled out in a traditional cart service, delectable two-bite delicacies come steamed in fragrant bamboo baskets, so just point and enjoy. Try sticky rice in lotus leaf at Rol San Restaurant near Kensington Market or Asian Legend for soup-filled dumplings and green onion pancake with beef.
Chinatown Toronto Spadina Avenue courtesy of Tourism Toronto
If you’re travelling with kids, Harbourfront Centre is a year ’round destination. The International Children’s Festival “Junior,” May 19-25, 2018, presents exciting productions from puppetry to theatre and music concerts from as far away as Norway and Australia as well as Canadian First Nations performances. Craft workshops, face painting and lots of foodfare overlook Lake Ontario. If you want to explore Toronto’s waterfront while getting some exercise, rent bicycles for the entire family at Wheel Excitement.
Harbourfront Centre Junior courtesy of Harbourfront Centre
Come From Away
If you’ve come from afar to see Come From Away at The Royal Alexandra Theatre, you’re in for a wonderful experience. Built in 1907 and deemed a historical landmark by the city, The Royal Alexandra is the longest-running theatre in North America. Come From Away is based on the true experiences of Americans who were grounded on 9/11 and taken in by Canadian strangers in Gander, Newfoundland. The Tony Award-winning musical plays until September 2, 2018.
Royal Alexandra Theatre courtesy of Royal Alexandra Theatre
A whirlwind weekend in Toronto ends before you know it, but this vibrant city welcomes you back for future visits to enjoy even more of what it has to offer.
Born and raised in Toronto, Laura Goldstein will travel almost anywhere to write about (and eat) a good meal and explore hotels and homes with great design. These travels include everything from dining in an underwater restaurant in Eilat, Israel, to truffle hunting at a cooking course in Provence, France. A highlight of her 25-year career was covering Kate Middleton & Prince William on their 2017 Royal Tour in Vancouver, Canada.
Main image Toronto night shot courtesy of Tourism Toronto