Canada, the country of great experiences and roots… LOL
It was not the first time I traveled there, but the first time I had a really amazing time. So let me tell you all about it. Many of you have been asking me to write about Toronto, as I go there quite often but yet was missing a city guide on this breath-taking capital!
Tradition has always been to escape the town for Thanksgiving and enjoy the time elsewhere. This year was not an exception, therefore with all the wild fires that were going on in the Bay Area this year, we escaped to Canada promptly.
The first thing I thought was “ahhhh, fresh air” while I took a deep breath of crisp air as soon as I got off the plane. The second thought was “oh, no!”, as there was no snow on the ground. Sonya was really looking forward to it. Okay, enough on extra detail, let’s cut to the chase as I fill you in on the fun adventures in Canada.
First of all, you need to be ready for sunshine, snow, hale and WIND while exploring Toronto. So bring gloves and a hat for sure to be comfortable.
A fusion city of small little boutique villages, big parks, authentic cuisines and cultures from around the world will definitely have something for EVERYONE to explore. Sonya had a blast trotting through the busy city streets and abandoned parks during the week.
The very first destination we chose was Christmas Market downtown Toronto. I felt like we were in Europe somewhere with its red brick buildings, curvy little streets running through the holiday fair and apple cider taste in the air. If you want to try the REAL bratwurst hotdog, authentic pecan holiday tarts (yeah, like the ones in France and Germany), experience the holiday fair crafts from artisans and local shops, you MUST go there. It is so peaceful and Christmas-themed setting. Bring your kiddos – a lot to do and to taste! Ride a Ferris wheel as you are taking a stroll through holiday market streets.
Fun comes with the sunset. Grandma was finally home and Sonya was put to bed while we got to go out and explore Toronto at night. One place I wanted to visit was Pravda Vodka Bar. Why? Not because I am a vodka fan, but because I suspected I might become one after this exclusive vodka tasting experience. What got me wanting to go there is TASTING concept of this bar. I never tasted vodka before and always assumed that flights and pairings are just for wine and well, maybe, beer. I had it wrong this whole time! Okay, guys, so first we got to this 2-story Soviet-themed lounge that was decorated in USSR style with red walls, communism slogans and portraits of those who used to be at reign. Oh yeah, Lenin statue – captured!
Next we were presented with a tasting menu boasting VODKAs all of the world. Then I got to know that apparently there was potato vodka on the menu, as well as wheat, rye and rice!! I never knew!! But now I was excited to try them. Vodkas are sorted by countries and are offered in 3 various tasting pairings, like various caviar, pickled veggies and more! The food menu was definitely short, but to the point. I got Kiev Chicken entrée and was really pleased with the presentation and TASTE while Eugene got the lamb rack and his was excellent also! We shared a tasting flight of 3 vodkas: potato vodka from Poland, volcano stone filtered vodka from Iceland and ice wine vodka! Yeah, to die for! Look at this pairing sample that accompanies the tasting set!
Another tasting that was offered there is the ice cellar tour. Surely I gladly accepted the offer! You get a fur coat and frozen shot glasses as you walk in this narrow ice cellar that features all the vodkas they serve and have! You can just simply point at the bottles you like as the guide is telling you about the story behind this particular vodka and while you are taking a shot!
What got me amazed was the absolute lack of any hangover. None! I did not feel any buzz at all, even after a glass of wine I would feel more “relaxed”. Definitely a MUST try experience. But book a table in advance, as this place is sold out EVERY night almost. DJ takes over at 10pm.
If you are thinking that the waiters are Russian, nope, they are not! The Latin tunes are playing in the background while you are staring at Stalin’s portrait and trying to make sense of this all. “The owner must be Russian”, I thought to myself and urged to ask that question. To my surprise the waitress said “No, he is South African”. Well, my astonishment did not stop just there. The owner came up to me when he got to know that I was planning to feature this place in my blog series and gave me his card. It turned out that he also had two more restaurants in the city. Italian family-inspired gem, Uncle Tony's, next door to Pravda and an upscale steakhouse Woods downtown. We ate at the Italian place the other day and it was also excellent. Gotta give a try to this steakhouse on the next visit!
Must-see of a Toronto visit is Niagara Falls, of course. I visited the landmark about 10 years ago and was happy to see it again. So much fun! Not only kids friendly, but advised for kids!!! Next to Niagara Falls they have an entire theme park located just in a walking distance with haunted houses, arcades, 3D/4D motion rides, huge Ferris wheel and racing track! Eat, play, REPEAT! In summer you can enjoy the zipline adventure right above the water!
I will be short on this landmark. We visited it on my very first trip to Canada and I liked the experience of the transparent floor and looking down from such height, but the restaurant was not good at all. At least back then. It was empty with only one server running around and the food was so mediocre. I would not have even imagined it being so blend at this sightseeing exhibit… So I would definitely recommend a tour up the tower, but not the restaurant. Money waste.
TIP: this is applicable during winter holidays. Indoor fun activities for kiddos inside the mall starting from very young toddler age and going into teen years. Railroad, miniature golf, rides, arcades, mazes and crawling labyrinths ice cream treats and even dinosaurs! All under the same roof while winds and snow are blowing outside. Sonya had a lot of fun and I take her here each time we visit in winter. Put it simple: want your child to be exhausted and sleep for the whole night – MUST visit!
Malls are different in Canada and not so upscale like in US, but you can most definitely find very good deals and warm winter clothes here.
Well, well, well… Put your walking shows and get ready to explore. I did not expect it to be so huge! By the time we reached a half point, Sonya started whining that her little legs were tired. I was fortunate to have my brother-in-law with us who gave her a lift… on his back! LOL
Castle playgrounds, cute little zoo, ice rink, various swings, TONS of space to run and go on an adventure along with a restaurant right in the middle of the park reminded me of Central Park in NYC. Every city has its gem park. This one belongs to Toronto.
Bloor West Village
Oh, my favorite village of all! When you are done taking a stroll (of many hours!!) in the park, you need to take a break by walking some more LOL through Bloor West Village and selecting a restaurant of your choice. Sonya was exhausted and so were we!
Hungry and cold we wanted to crash somewhere neat and cozy for lunch. Bloor West Village is filled with ethnic cuisines and little family-owned restaurants, but the one we chose was European bistro – Baka Gallery Cafe! The key was: Sonya was asking for crepes and they had the thin crepes, just like what she wanted. It is a very clean little place that sets you in the mood and great appetite right from the moment you open the door. The smell of baked scones and French crepes, the taste of paninis and home-made soups – to die for! The menu amazed me as it was so big and rich in selection! From the outside it looked like a small little café, but inside you will find two rooms downstairs and one additional seating area upstairs! As for the food recommendation – I have none, as everything was so yummy and we finished it till the last bite!
The night was upon us after one long day and we wanted to do something fun in the evening. The place was set – Crooked Cue. When you think of a pool bar in the US you picture just an old rusty bar with a few worn out pool tables and a distinctive beer smell that is stuck in the walls. I was taken down when I walked into Crooked Cue here. It was like a high-end bar with ample seating area (think leather armchairs and fireplaces). Huge windows let you look outside as snowflakes are floating down from the sky. Here sat a big tall Christmas tree where I felt an urge to snap a memory photo!
The bar was super exquisite with a variety of beer tastes from around the world and the food was amazingly tasty! When we were done indulging, we rolled to the pool tables where we had a blast and enjoyed a few games!
Now, for many of my moms, here comes the itinerary on what to show and do with kids on your arms or in the strollers:
- Ontario Science Center is perfect for your kids to explore, create and play. Open year-round and through any weather LOL
- Art Gallery of Ontario has various exhibits to cater to any age group and interest. You will enjoy a few floors of masterful galleries and collections
- Royal Ontario Museum is a definite must-visit with kids as they will have a blast at this place going through many exhibit rooms and enjoying special events year-round
- Ripley’s Aquarium will allow your kids to dive into the immersive water world and meet various animals and fish
- Reptilia Zoo will keep your kids entertained when it comes to wild animals and their life in this habitat
- Indoor playgrounds:
- The Wave Pool (Richmond Hill) will come in handy if you are looking for some splash and water fun for your family. Also open year-round, but be sure to check for closure notices.
- Niagara Falls has two big indoor water parks to enjoy:
Fallsview Indoor Water Park will provide summer fun even during winter months so that your kids get plenty of exercise and water fun
Waves Indoor Waterpark offers 25,000 sq. ft. of splash-tacular family fun with its retractable glass roof that provides all the advantages of the great outdoors with all the protection for year-round enjoyment.
- Blue Mountain Village
Ridge Runner Mountain Coaster: enjoy this 1 km long fast riding roller coaster in a winter setting
Plunge Aquatic Centre: can I just mention that it is a heated pool with snow laying around it as you enjoy deep water? Enough said! Experience awaits!
Apple Pie Trail: picturesque trail located in the heart of Blue Mountain Village offering various tours, wine tasting and apple picking experience
Ski school is open for kids starting at 2 years old! Get them gliding from early on!
- Horse- back riding at Pause Awhile offers riding lessons with certified instructors and wonderful school horses and ponies for all levels
- Theater performances are available year-round - the city has so many theaters to choose from! So do not forget to use Google!
Like this Toronto city guide? Leave me a comment and share this blog article with your friends as they might find the info useful also for when they are planning a visit to this gorgeous city!
If you are planning to visit Toronto yourself, do not forget to share your experience in the comments and let me know how you liked it .