This summer, timeout in Toronto

With this year’s IIFA awards putting the spotlight firmly on this Canadian metropolis, we experience Toronto and uncover its similarities to its sister city of Dubai

If spring is in the air on the streets of London during the early months, and autumn explodes with all its vibrant colours in New York, then turn to Toronto for some warm-hearted summer fun that waits at every twist and turn.

The multi-cultural metropolis bears an uncanny resemblance to Dubai, which is home to over 100 different nationalities, offering new pleasures to experience every season.

Be it curling up with the latest thriller on the Island’s sun-kissed beaches in the summer or indulging a game of ‘around the world’ on Queen Street during the early evening, Toronto is always a visitor’s delight.

Towering heights

While summer season serves up throngs of tourists nudging each other for room at some of the city’s most traditional tourist spots - this summer more so what with the International Indian Film Academy awards reeling in all the big Bollywood celebs to Toronto – you humour the frenzy when considering the breathtaking the sights that await you.

Arguably the most famous landmark in the city is the CN Tower, which raises majestically 553 metres in height to make it one of the world’s highest freestanding structures. Burj Khalifa anyone?

Additionally, it also held the record for the world’s highest observation deck at 330m, and, get this, the most steps fallen down by a person in two hours; if you are wondering, its 1,760 steps.

Incidentally, a professional stuntman managed that feat with enough padding to avoid bruising the backside, should you be interested in breaking that record.

The Glass Floor is the closest you can come to screaming ‘I’m the King of the world’, with an overpriced but well invested option of quirky photographs that make a precious memento for a future trip down memory lane.

The Sky Pod, which is a separate ticket purchase, seemed like just another ‘panoramic’ view from the top.

Another attraction at the CN Tower is the 360-revolving restaurant. While food lovers will be far from satisfied with the menu and the price, the majestic views of Toronto are worth a little blandness.

Be sure to book a table before you plan to pay a visit, as empty tables are hard to come by (we booked two months in advance).

Castle in the mist

The CN Tower is in close competition in the popularity stakes with Toronto’s second most famous landmark — Casa Loma. Spanish for ‘House on the hill’ (probably inspiring the best-forgotten horror movie), Casa Loma is a mystery-lover’s delight.

Shrouded in legendary intrigue, with secret passageways to boost, the castle stands imposing with its turrets weathering the onslaught of time for generations.     

Built by Sir Henry Pellatt from 1911 to 1914, part of Casa Loma’s attraction was its important role in history for being the base of a World War II top-secret government project.

The story goes that hidden behind a cheap padlock and a sign that stated ‘Construction in progress — Sorry for the inconvenience’ was the Allies’ development of their Anti-Submarine Sonar Detection devices (ASDIC). These proved crucial in the Battle of the Atlantic against the Axis powers.

While the grandeur of Casa Loma will leave you awe-struck, a word of advice seems apt. Please remember to pack your trainers when planning a trek around the castle.

Not only is it exhaustingly enormous, but even the most adventurous climber can be daunted by the courtyard steps, the garden steps, the tunnel steps, the first floor steps, the second floor steps, the third floor steps, the servant room steps and the tower steps (probably missed a few, but who’s counting).

An elevator option is available, but at the expense of your ego — especially when people twice your age are happily skipping along without breaking a sweat.

Cultural retreat

After spending a long fun-filled day at the castle, and weather permits, take a leisurely stroll via parts of Old Town — an affectionate name for the prominent nine neighbourhoods at the lower east end.

In this community, beautiful 19th-century buildings mark the city’s beginnings, while the art galleries, offices, shops and restaurants chart its future.

Revitalised areas such as the Distillery District, the picturesque Flatiron Building, St. Lawrence Market, Front Street and King Street have made this community popular with shoppers, art lovers and photographers looking for a glimpse of Toronto’s past.

If art seems alien to you and museums aren’t your thing, then explore one of the cultural areas of Chinatown, Little Italy, Greek Town or Little India. One thing guaranteed is that you will walk away with a full stomach just about anywhere you visit.

Zoolander

A trip to the city is incomplete without a visit to the Toronto Zoo. Now before you start complaining, this isn’t your everyday animal park where cramped conditions make your visit even more miserable while entering the grounds.

This 710-acre park is home to nearly 5,500 animals, including 460 species, and takes nearly five hours to complete.

The most memorable experience of the zoo is the care that had been taken to allow the animals to move freely in their ‘natural’ habitat. Forget small cages and malnourished animals, here all animals ‘roam’ almost as freely as the buffalo did once upon a time.

The park has been divided into six geographic regions that simulate Indo-Malaya, Australasia, Eurasia, Americas, African Savannah (personal favourite) and the Canadian Domain. The gorillas’ enclosure promises to be great fun for the kids.

Shopping around town

A visit to Dundas Square, at the intersection of Yonge and Dundas Streets, will bring you to Eaton Centre, the oldest mall in Toronto.

With the best brand names in fashion housed there, another spree could prove injurious to the wallet.

If the heat does not get too stifling, a walk along Toronto’s trendy Queen Street West, from City Hall and Nathan Phillips Square, is always fun. This stretch of Queen Street also takes you past Chinatown and into Toronto’s fashion district.

The Yorkville neighbourhood is also a great place for the city’s most exclusive fashion design boutiques, as well as dozens of restaurants, bars, art galleries and shops.

Indoor treats

The one thing to remember about travelling around Toronto is flexibility, with enough indoor activities that will keep you entertained for days.

Take the underground PATH to The Royal Ontario Museum, The Art Gallery of Ontario (with its recent addition of the world’s most expensive painting, Rubens’ Massacre of the Innocents, which sold for $120 million) and The McMichael Canadian Art Collection; these are just some of the big museums that would make any art aficionado jump with glee.

The lesser-known museums are no less intriguing. There is the Redpath Sugar Museum for those with a sweet tooth. The 48th Highlanders Museum for those who love a man in a kilt. The Bata Shoe Museum for those with a foot fetish. The MZTV Museum of Television is for your inner couch potato.

The History of Contraception Museum, with its 600 odd items that have been used from the beginning of time to prevent pregnancy — which includes elephant dung as one of the many techniques listed.

Niagara region

When in Toronto, a day trip to the Niagara region is a must. For someone who has visited the Falls four times (once for every season), summertime is truly memorable.

Hop on to the Maid of the Mist boat ride that brings you breathtakingly close to the Falls, or take the Journey behind the Falls where you trek down the steps to feel Mother Nature’s force in all its glory.

Package tours are always available, or you can catch a bus at the transport terminal in Toronto and venture on your own.

The first view of the thundering falls is always the most mesmerising one. Watching the swirling mist rise before your very eyes suddenly makes you realise the true power of this natural wonder of the world. 

When visiting the Falls, a trip to Niagara on the Lake should be on the itinerary. 

While bus tours are readily available; if you have a car rental, it is strongly recommend taking the scenic Niagara Parkway drive between the Falls and Niagara on the Lake. The park-lined two-lane highway offers scenic lookout points of the Niagara gorge and river, as well as plenty of nice places to stop for a picnic.

This route also takes you past the famous Butterfly Conservatory and botanical garden, great places to make it a well-rounded holiday.

Don't miss bring you Toronto’s best…

Best coffee house/cafes

- Second Cup: Good Ambience

- Plantations: Classy coffee shop

- Coffee me or tea: Similar to the previous two

- Tim Hortons: Equivalent to a Dunkin Donuts, but you won’t find better coffee or coffee shop food anywhere else (personal recommendation is the Iced Cappuccino)

Best daytime eateries

- Canadian Bagel: Can’t get more authentically Canadian than this (All over the city)

- Mr Greek: Affordable and accessible Greek food (All over the city)

- Marché: Offering a international cuisine right in the heart of downtown

- Hooters- For the naughty ones

- Kelsey’s: Good and affordable diner

Best Arabic cuisine and/or halal meat

- Aladdin: Popular Arabic Restaurant and offers shisha as well (halal)

- Little House of Kebabs: Popular and tasty kababs (halal)

- Mehraan: Affordable Indian restaurant, located downtown (popular with the clubbers, taxi drivers and drags)

- Diamond: Similar to Mehraan, but a little classier

- Fredricks: Great Indian-Chinese (halal) restaurant that perfectly complements the food habits of people in Dubai

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