With just under 2.8 million residents, Toronto is one of the biggest cities in North America, though it hardly feels like it. Even more so than New York, the famously diverse city is less a metropolis than a patchwork of distinct neighborhoods linked by a live-and-let-live-ethos and a vibrant street culture. Long recognized as one of the most livable cities in the world, Toronto has only recently started receiving the attention it deserves as a tourist destination, and there’s never been a better time to visit. Urban renewal projects have transformed industrial zones, and an energetic dining scene churns out a steady stream of innovative restaurants. A new airport rail link, opened last year, has made it easier than ever to get into the city, and currency exchange rates are favorable. While a long weekend offers only enough time to scratch the surface, it doesn’t take long to succumb to Toronto’s charms.
1. Go to Market, 2 P.M.
Despite the singular name, Kensington Market is actually a proudly multicultural neighborhood encompassing 10 or so disparate blocks of shops, services, grocers and restaurants. You could have a fine afternoon just focusing on newer places on Baldwin Street — grab a hibiscus and ginger kombucha on tap at Witches Brew (4 Canadian dollars, about $3 U.S.), a conchinita torta (10.50 dollars) at Tortería San Cosme, followed by coffee and an otherworldly brioche cinnamon roll at Blackbird Baking Co.But venture on for broken-in Levis, leather and (naturally) hockey jerseys at vintage stores like Flash Back or Sub Rosa, handmade paper goods and esoteric gifts at Kid Icarus, and the longstanding spice, produce, cheese and tea shops that give the neighborhood, a national historic site, its vital and diverse character. Don’t miss the colorful Victorians on Augusta or the No. 8 Hose Station, built in 1878.
2. Catalonia in Little Italy, 5 P.M.
Bar Raval is a great spot for an afternoon break, but it will be ready for you whenever you need it. This cozy, gorgeous Barcelona-style pintxos and tapas bar is open every day from 8 a.m. to 2 a.m., offering coffee and sweet and savory pastries in the morning, along with Spanish cheeses, Galician tinned seafood and succulent charcuterie like lomo Ibérico de bellota, or dry-cured pork loin, throughout the day. The wine list is well curated but the real star is the Gaudí-esque interior — all whimsically swooping mahogany millwork that will have you staring at the ceiling as you sip your Rioja.
3. New Dining Faves, 7 P.M.
Toronto is crazy about izakayas, or casual Japanese gastro pubs, and one of the newest and best is Imanishi Japanese Kitchen. This low-slung spot in Little Portugal — there is no sign — is less boisterous than many izakayas, the better to sit at the reclaimed wood bar with a yozu Tom Collins ($10) and focus on elegant snacks like the bright, citrusy tai carpaccio (14 dollars) and crispy sweet corn tempura fritter (6.50 dollars). Still peckish, somehow? Head down Dundas Street West to Antler, a year-old spot winning raves for its game-heavy menu. (The boar, bison and deer burger, 18 dollars, affirms your spot at the top of the food chain.)
4. Go to (Another) Market, 8 A.M.
Located in Toronto’s Old Town, the St. Lawrence Market opens at 5 a.m. on Saturdays; you’ll want to get there as early as you can to beat the crowds. Ontario farmers have been selling produce at this spot since 1803, but the modern version, named the world’s top food market a few years ago by National Geographic, includes bakeries (try St. Urbain Bagel) delis and cheesemongers (Scheffler’s, Olympic Cheese Mart), sweets makers (Eve’s Temptations) and a local legend, Carousel Bakery, with its renowned peameal bacon sandwich. Essentially thick slabs of pork on a kaiser roll, its humble charms have beguiled Anthony Bourdain and Emeril Lagasse, among other culinary celebrities.
5. Ward’s Island, 10 A.M.
Toronto doesn’t lack for green space, with popular neighborhood parks like Trinity Bellwoods, wilder expanses like High Park, preserves like the Leslie Street Spit, as well as a unique network of urban ravines. But if you really want to detach, head for Toronto Island, a hot spot in the summer that clears out in the cooler months. Take a 10-minute ferry ride to the Ward’s Island terminal, the only stop open during the winter, to service the small residential community nearby. From there enjoy relative solitude along with incredible city views, acres of parkland and a 1.5-mile boardwalk along Lake Ontario. Rectory Café, just off the boardwalk, is open year round — the salads are the standouts. Ferries run every 30 minutes.
6. Distill Life, 2 P.M.
The 47 buildings that make up the Distillery Historic District, the oldest dating to the 1850s, would be notable even if nothing was in them — together they make up what’s billed as the largest collection of Victorian industrial architecture in North America. But beginning in the early 2000s, the once-dilapidated former site of the Gooderham & Worts Distillery was resurrected as a 13-acre cultural district. The cobbled lanes are lined with an array of artisans, and the factory buildings host shops (don’t miss Distill, featuring Canadian made jewelry and clothes) and galleries (Arta, Corkin, Thompson Landry) as well as artists’ studios. Worthy dining options include El Catrin, a cavernous modern Mexican cantina with excellent ceviche and a two-story fever dream of a mural by the Mexican street artist Oscar Flores. A truffle (or four) at Soma Chocolatemaker makes a fine chaser
7. Tagspotting, 5 P.M.
Street art has evolved from its illicit origins to become a source of civic pride in Toronto, thanks largely to the efforts of groups like StreetARToronto. There are head-turning splashes all over the city, but the most concentrated display is along Rush Lane, a stretch just south of Queen Street West, between Spadina and Portland, known as Graffiti Alley. Stylistically, the works are by turns macabre (elaborate skulls), whimsical (cartoon characters) and fantastical (an undersea array that covers most of a building) — and most are stunning. You’ll never look at a can of spray paint the same way again.
8. Do I Drink It? Or …?, 6 P.M.
BarChef is to mixology what CERN was to your high school physics class. Created by the modernist cocktail wizard Frankie Solarik, this dimly lit booze laboratory turns out multisensory concoctions that dazzle the eyes before they tickle the taste buds. These include a hickory-smoked vanilla Manhattan (45 dollars) that actually smokes and rotating creations (Spring Thaw, the Essence of Fall, 30 dollars), served amid foliage and soil and designed to evoke the changing of the seasons. Over the top? Absolutely, with prices to match. But when’s the last time you got to drink a season?
9. Canadian Cooking, 8 P.M.
A walk down Queen Street West is an essential part of any Toronto visit. This frenetic strip of bars, boutiques, galleries and restaurants is in a constant state of flux — sometimes for the better, sometimes not. Montgomery’s, a deceptively ambitious farm-to-table restaurant, opened in August, falls in the former category. Its stripped-down aesthetic extends to its rotating menu, which focuses on Ontario ingredients prepared with unassuming sophistication. Highlights include the goose creton with fried bread (12 dollars), steamed new potato with cured roe and Brie de Meaux (9 dollars) and raw vegetables with spinach dip and purple sweet potato miso (7 dollars).Sunday
10. Hit the Junction, 10 A.M.
A longstanding prohibition on alcohol sales in the Junction neighborhood was overturned in 1997, and the area, named for its proximity to an intersection of four railroads, has since emerged as one of the hippest districts in the city. Coincidence? This former manufacturing hub is now an easygoing mix of restaurants and shops, many specializing in Canadian-made goods. Standouts include Helen & Hildegard, offering herbal and organic skin care and shaving products; Gerhard Supply, with minimalist and military-inspired men’s wear and denim from Canadian labels like 18 Waits and Naked & Famous; Opticianado, offering a chic assortment of new and vintage eyeglass frames; and Pandemonium, for new and used books and vinyl. Refuel with espresso at Crema Coffee or brunch at 3030 Dundas West or the Hole in the Wall, a British style gastro pub that is as cozy as its name suggests.
11. An Architectural Time Warp, 2 P.M.
Completed in 1914 for the financier Sir Henry Mill Pellatt, the 64,700-square-foot Casa Loma is both majestic and slightly terrifying. (The Gothic Revival castle, a frequent filming location, was sufficiently creepy to serve as the set for another Gothic revival, Fox’s recent “Rocky Horror Picture Show” reboot.) Tours offer glimpses of many of the house’s 98 rooms, with opulent art and furnishings, as well as spectacular views of the city from the upper floors. Don’t feel like paying the 25 dollar entrance fee? Stroll around the exterior, the best feature anyway, and check out the skyline vista from the Baldwin Steps, just around the corner.Lodging
Le Germain Hotel Toronto (30 Mercer Street; legermainhotels.com/en/torontomercer) on Mercer Street, is one of two Toronto locations of this Canadian boutique hotelier. Located in the downtown entertainment district, across from the Second City comedy theater, it offers a centralized home base for exploring. From 225 dollars.
The 229-room, all suite Cambridge Suites Toronto (15 Richmond Street East; cambridgesuitestoronto.com) is centrally located downtown, close to subways and attractions like the St. Lawrence Market. Portico, the hotel’s restaurant, is pricey but quite good. From 177 dollars.