By Joe Kirchmyer
Toronto has always been a fun and quick getaway for residents of Buffalo and Western New York, and like many, I try to get up there at least once a year for a weekend of R&R.
In this case, the term “R&R” is somewhat misleading as there was very little rest or relaxation. Our weekend visit was well planned out and packed with numerous first time visits, as well as return visits to a few of our favorite attractions.
An interesting side note was this was our first visit to Toronto while sporting Fitbits to track our activity. Needless to say, we walked a lot, registering 25,000 to 30,000 steps and approximately 30 flights of stairs each day. I’m not entirely sure how accurate these things really are, but it was fun to track our adventure over the course of the weekend.
Arriving early Friday afternoon, we first headed to the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) after checking into our room at the conveniently located Chelsea Hotel (formerly the Delta Chelsea). Filled with interesting displays, exhibits and galleries, the ROM is a huge multi-level building. From dinosaurs and mummies to themed exhibits and amazing sculpture, the building is so massive that you probably need a good four hours or more to make your way through every room. We were fortunate to catch the “Wildlife Photographer of the Year” exhibit before it closed on March 20 as it was one of the highlights of our weekend.
(Interesting fact: Many movies have been filmed in Toronto, and one was being filmed in the Chelsea Hotel during our stay.)
Friday evening we walked over to the historic Royal Alexandra Theatre to catch the Tony Award-winning “Kinky Boots,” which is on stage through May 15. Billed as one of the oldest theatres in North America, theatre-goers making the trip from Western New York will be tempted to draw comparisons to Buffalo’s own historic theatre, Shea’s Performing Arts Center. While “Kinky Boots” was a lot of fun, the classy theatre itself was just as exciting to this first-time visitor.
Our jam-packed weekend continued on Saturday when we walked through the Eaton Centre to access Toronto’s underground pedestrian walkway known as the “PATH.” Exiting at Union Station, we were just a short walk from our next destination — Ripley’s Aquarium.
The aquarium visit was also a first for us, and it definitely lived up to our expectations. Our favorite attraction was the “Dangerous Lagoon,” where a slow-moving walkway guides you through underground tunnels where you can get amazing and up close views of sharks, stingrays, sawfish and countless other creatures. As for our favorites, the jellyfish exhibit was a close second to the “Dangerous Lagoon.” The color-changing displays were indeed mesmerizing!
After a nearly two-hour visit, we took a very short walk over to the CN Tower for our obligatory ride up to the observation deck for a spectacular view of the city. The glass floor is still a huge hit with visitors and gives you a bird’s eye view of the aquarium and Rogers Center (formerly the SkyDome) below. Daredevils might want to check out the CN Tower’s EdgeWalk, where harnessed walkers can step along the ledge that encircles the top of the tower’s main pod some 116 stories high. Thanks … but no thanks!
Next on our agenda was a first-time visit to the Art Gallery of Ontario, another huge structure featuring five floors filled with paintings, photography, sculpture and other exciting exhibits. Like the ROM, you’ll want to give yourself a good four hours or so to take in all there is to see. Be sure to check out the wood, glass and light-filled Espresso Bar when you find yourself in need of a mid-visit break!
Saturday evening we took a cab over to The Distillery Historic District where unique shops, art galleries, restaurants, a brewery and a theatre occupy an area of town that was once home to the Gooderham and Worts Distillery. Founded in 1832, many of the original structures still stand, and the attraction is now a National Historic Site of Canada. If industrial architecture is your thing, this re-use will really appeal to you.
Our journey back to Buffalo Sunday morning was slowed by an accident investigation on the QEW, but that gave us a little more time to reflect upon a fun but exhausting weekend and begin to make plans for a return trip. With so much to see and do — and new attractions popping up all the time — it may take multiple trips to curb our craving for Ontario’s capital city.
To help plan your trip, visit www.seetorontonow.com, the official website of Tourism Toronto.