JOIN US IN AN INTERVIEW WITH LAUREN CHU FROM TORONTO, ONTARIO !
Lauren is an expedition guide for hiking trips around the world, but is based in Toronto, Ontario. Her blog, The Ridgeline Report, exists to help people spend meaningful time outside. Here, she shares her stories of cycling the length of Vietnam, living in New Zealand, climbing Kilimanjaro, and finding adventure in her own backyard: Canada. She is passionate about showing travellers how to embrace the outdoors, step out of their comfort zones, and reconnect with fresh air.
Toronto city in Canada is the capital of the province of Ontario. It is located on the shores of Lake Ontario which stretches upto 43 kms. The word “Toronto” comes from the Mohawk phrase “tkaronto” which means “where trees grow in water”
The people of Toronto are certainly one of the most welcoming in the world.
It is home to six professional sports team like Jays, Leafs, Raptors, Argonauts, FC and Rock. Toronto also has more than 8,000 restaurants hence it is one of the best place to sample cuisines from all around the world.
What is the best time to visit Toronto?
The popular answer to this would be Summer (June through mid-September). In the sun, Toronto comes alive. With so many hours of daylight, hot (but not sweltering) temperatures, an endless number of patios and beer gardens, and beaches with all sorts of fantastic water activities off Toronto Island: Summer is a dream. However, if you do find yourself in the off season (November through March, it’s a Winter Wonderland. Outdoor skating, Christmas markets, and snow make it not so bad for the willing tourist!
Which is the most convenient and favored transport of Toronto?
I travel everywhere around the city by bicycle until there is just too much snow on the ground. Dangerous, yes, but efficient: downtown, it’s faster than both cars and public transit. There are cheap bicycle sharing stations all around the city, which is the most affordable way to go for sure. Our subway, bus, and streetcar system is fine if you don’t stray far from the core, and if you need a lift Uber is reliable.
The TTC (public transit) runs a route from the airport right to Union Station (the major terminal for the subway and other buses & trains leaving the city). In 25 minutes, you can be right downtown. It’s called the UP Express, and costs around $12CAD. Uber and Lyft work too!
Where to get the best exchange rates in Toronto? Do you recommend any particular bank for it?
In general, an ATM will give you the most up to date exchange rates. There’s no particular bank that is known for giving better rates, but they are all pretty reliable so no need to be choosy. There are also money exchange booths all around the city (we’ve got a lot of different people from a lot of different places) which usually give a better rate than the bank, but I would still recommend using an ATM if you don’t have physical cash.
What are the top three must visit places in Toronto?
This is hard to say, since Toronto is so spread apart. It’s one of those places that gets better the longer you spend. However, if I had to choose, the best spots in the city are:
Toronto Island (Summer) : Yes, Toronto has an island, and it is beautiful. The Islands provide many visitor attractions including formal gardens and theme parks. Here, you can lie on the sand, bike around the island on bike-only paths, play beach volleyball, go for a swim, paddleboard, sail, jet-ski… it’s all there for you on the island.
To get across, head to the Jack Layton Ferry Terminal by the waterfront. It’s accessible by public transport, and the ferry takes around 15 minutes. If you go during the day, you’ll be greeted with a multitude of beachy activities. If you head over in the evening, you’ll mingle with a laid back but social crowd, ready to enjoy the view of the skyline in as it lights up for the night.
Kensington Market : Nestled in Chinatown, this shows a different side of the city with tons of specialty shops and awesome food such as the Global Cheese store, Rasta Pasta Jamaican/Italian Fusion, Blackbird Bakery, tons of vintage clothing, and a few bike shops. Its best visited in the Summer, when you can enjoy beers on a patio surrounded by all sorts of people. Kensington is people watching at its finest. The street art in and around Kensington is great, too! Though it’s busier on weekends with a more touristy crowd, that can add to the fun as a market is made merry with hustle and bustle. To get here, take the 506 streetcar west from College subway station and get off at Agusta St. You’ll be steps away from Supermarket, a casual bar with a bumpin’ dance floor.
The Distillery District : East of the financial district is a little area with a lot of character. Cobblestoned streets, old brick buildings, and lovely one-of-a-kind stores fill the area. This is the location of the annual Christmas Market, which attracts half a million people every year! If you’re here in the Winter, the Distillery is a must-see. Giant turkey legs, mulled wine, poutine, Christmas lights, and beautiful shops full of unique gifts will make your heart swell. A favourite restaurant is El Catrin, the Mexican restaurant, for a darn good ceviche. Accessible by streetcar, take the 504 east from King Station to Cherry Street. Be sure to check out the dozens of art galleries and pick up a truly special souvenir.
What are the best day trips for nature, culture and history from Toronto ?
Southern Ontario is totally underrated for its beautiful nature. Algonquin Park is 3 hours from Toronto and is chock full of lakes, trees, wildlife, and wonder. There are a few hiking trails, but the thing to do would be to rent a canoe and paddle around for the day. If you’re looking for fresh air, this is where you’ll find it.
For a look into a vacation spot that is increasingly popular with locals, check out Prince Edward County. Picton, the main town, and the surrounding towns are full of character and charm. With tons of wineries and craft breweries in the county, it’s great for a relaxing but satisfying escape from Toronto. For more things to do in the County, click here.
Of course, the infamous Niagara Falls is but an hour and a half away. While I encourage you to go see the falls – they are inexplicably enormous and the town of Niagara is a bit cheesy. Instead, check out Niagara on the Lake nearby.
What is the most loved local food, savory and sweet of Toronto? Is it a vegetarian friendly city?
What makes Toronto’s food scene amazing is that it’s an international food scene. Toronto is home to some of the best Vietnamese, Thai, Jamaican, Hungarian, Slovenian, Phillipino, Malaysian, Japanese, Caribbean, French, Italian, Korean, Mexican, Peruvian, and Brazilian food in the world: we’re all hanging out in the same city.
However, if you want to have poutine (fries, gravy, and cheese curd dish originally from Québec), Smoke’s Poutinerie is always around. Insider tip: the poutine at LOCAL Eatery in Leaside is tastier ;). As for sweet things… there are a few good ice cream spots. Check out Booyah, Summer’s in Yorkville, Hollywood Gelato, and Ed’s Real Scoop to name a few.
Absolutely. Besides the infinite variety of cuisines, there are a plethora of veggie specific restaurants. Try Fresh on Bloor, and for vegan food The Hogtown Vegan is a good spot. Planta is a new one that is fancy (but allegedly amazing).
Where to head for shopping in Toronto? Are there any popular weekend/night/flea markets which tourists must visit?
If you’re looking for high-end shopping, walk around Bloor & Yonge St. and then West into Yorkville. Yorkville is where the A-Listers hang out, and is a great neighbourhood for window shopping and celebrity spotting. As I mentioned before, Queen St West is the arts district with textiles and quirky shops. Again, Kensington Market and the Distillery offer more local products from artisan shops.
As for a defining souvenir? I can’t think of a singular item unique to Toronto! If I were to take something home, however, I’d look at getting a jersey from one of our three most popular sports teams. A Blue Jays baseball cap, a Toronto Maple Leafs toque, or a Raptors jersey would embody the pride and spirit of the city for me.
Where can one spot street art in Toronto?
Queen St. West is notorious for street art: there is even an entire street called Graffiti Alley. It does not disappoint, and the neighbourhoods around Graffiti Alley are full of spontaneous bursts of colour on the walls. A little further north, Kensington Market and west into Little Italy has some great street art as well. For street art guide in Toronto, click here.
Which is the most happening area in Toronto?
This is a question whose answer is certainly always changing, and is subject to your preferences! Of course, the financial district is always a spot for nightlife and bars. However, I find it to be expensive and unexciting: the people are predictable and so are the places. Instead, try The Annex for a student crowd (Bloor & Bathurst St.). Eat at Sushi on Bloor for cheap and delicious sushi; dance at Dance Cave for loud music and a good time, have a beer at the Madison Avenue Pub for a pint and a game of darts.
A little further South and West is Little Italy, with a trendier vibe and bars like Track & Field and Pray Tell. For some of the best nachos in the city, head to Sneaky Dee’s! Then, in the morning, head back to Starving Artist for brunch with epic Eggs Benedict waffles.
Can you suggest a place from where one can get the best view of the city?
The easy answer would be from the top of the CN Tower, the highest building in the city and iconic landmark.
One option is to go for an expensive meal at the 360 Restaurant. Here, you dine while slowly rotating, giving you unparalleled views of the city in every direction. It sounds unsettling, but don’t worry, it’s fine!
However, if you want a view OF the CN Tower and the city skyline, you’ve got to head across the Lake to the Island. From the Jack Layton Ferry Terminal, take a ferry across to the beach and watch the sun as it descends over the illuminated city.
Would you recommend any local apps for food, transport or hidden gems in Toronto?
Nope! The only thing I will suggest is that you feel free to ask the people around you for suggestions and help if you need it. From my experience, we’re here to help. All we want is for you to enjoy our city as much as we do, so reach out and talk to us :).
Do you have any suggestion for tourists coming to Toronto?
The city has banners hung all over the place with the words, “we’ve been expecting you”. I think this is representative of everything Toronto stands for. Come to Toronto with an open mind. Yes, it is just another big city. But it is a big city with a big heart, and takes some time to warm up to. We are truly a melting pot of anyone from anywhere. No matter who you are, you belong: remember this as you walk the streets. You aren’t an outsider, because in our own ways, we all are! What we share is the city, so embrace its quirks and you will slowly but surely fall in love. So, join us and discover what we’re all about: we’ve been expecting you.