Australian travellers have long been enamoured with New York City, but the low Aussie dollar against the Greenback has injected some bite into a Big Apple holiday. Well, start spreading the news: Toronto is the next best thing. In fact, Toronto was originally called York and it even has a flat iron building, just like its southern cousin.
1. It has attitude in spades
From horn-tooting cab drivers who won't lift your luggage directly onto the actual pavement (no matter how much you tip), to restaurant staff who text you when your table is ready, even if you are standing right in front of them, that Seinfeld Soup Nazi attitude abounds in Toronto. Don't get me wrong, Canadians are an incredibly friendly bunch of people, but you'll notice a shift in 'tude if you're travelling from more laidback Vancouver.
2. The hotels are hip to be square
The Drake Hotel is a popular and historic boutique hotel, restaurant, cafe including an underground basement nightclub featuring live performances, on trendy Queen St West. Photo: iStock
One of the newest entrants into Toronto's hotel game, The Thompson is all art deco reds, blacks and greys with quotes by the likes of Jim Hendrix scattered along the hallway walls. The foyer is as dark and noisy as a New York nightclub and has the same amount of seats (none) but it's the rooftop pool, which provides one of the best views of Toronto's skyline, that's the real winner here. For those seeking a more historic establishment, at 126 years old The Gladstone Hotel is Toronto's oldest. A recent renovation has transformed this grand dame into an art hotel with its 37 rooms decorated by different artists and foyers transformed into galleries. Also check out The Drake, with its retro fit-out. See thompsonhotels.com; gladstonehotel.com; thedrakehotel.ca
3. The bars are almost too cool for school
The rooftop pool at The Thompson.
Perched on the top floor of The Thompson Hotel, you'll find the Rooftop Lounge with a cocktail list serving the likes of "What the cool kids are drinking". In summer, the rooftop pool attracts the cabana crowd. Toronto's Madison Avenue Pub is actually three Victorian mansions that have been bunged together, and the rooms have been kept exactly as they were. Visitors often become lost in this rabbit-warren establishment and are encouraged to tweet their fate so that staff can find them. Nordstrom department store has just opened Bar Verde on Level 3 and in the King West Neighbourhood you'll find Lavelle – a rooftop restaurant, lounge bar, pool and cabanas with 360-degree views of the city. See madisonavenuepub.com; shopnordstrom.com; chezlavelle.com
4. The food is fab and you'll find "concept restaurants"
Concept restaurants are all the rage in New York, and Toronto has jumped on this bandwagon. At Signs Restaurant and Bar, run by hearing-impaired people, guests are encouraged to use sign language to order their meals. Menus feature sign language diagrams to assist diners in this elegant, yet affordable establishment. At O.noir Toronto, diners are served by blind wait staff in a pitch-black restaurant designed to heighten other senses such as smell and taste and to deepen an understanding of the visually impaired. See signsrestaurant.ca; onoirtoronto.com
5. The shopping is schmick
Head to west Queen Street West for local Canadian designers such as Fresh Collective, Ynot (the only Canadian-made school bag) and Coal Miner's Daughter. Along nearby Ossington Street, Stylegarage sells funky furniture while Rotate This has old and new vinyls for sale for as low $1. In Toronto's Yorkville district, discover the Mink Mile for all the posh brands such as Gucci and Prada. There's even a Sak's Fifth Avenue in this city. See freshcollective.com; Ynotmade.com; coalminersdaughter.ca; stylegarage.com; saksfifthavenue.com
6. It's lean, clean and green
The maple leaf, High Park, Toronto. Photo: iStock
Like New York City, Toronto embraces its parks and green spaces. Spanning 161 hectares, High Park is the city's largest green space. The Toronto Hemp Company is able to operate under a technicality that it sells "gardening supplies". There's plenty of indoor plant stores around the city, such as Dynasty, which sells tropical varieties for those who live in Toronto's huge high rises and brave its cold winters. See highparktoronto.com; torontohemp.com; dynastytoronto.com
7. The street art is smart
New York City is considered the birthplace of the graffiti art movement, which has exploded around the world. Toronto's Queen Street West area is reminiscent of Brooklyn in this regard. Head to Rush Lane and Graffiti Alley where you'll find a large concentration of street art. For an unusual work of art, down near Toronto's waterfront you'll find a public toilet that cost $40,000 to build. A mere 25 cents buys you precisely 20 minutes in this toilet, which sprays lemon scent and plays jazz while you are going about your business. A woman's voice counts down from the 20 minute mark and, whether you are finished or not, the door swings wide open once the time is up. See waterfronttoronto.ca
The writer travelled to Canada as a guest of Destination Canada (keepexploring.com.au)
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