Canada's largest city is one where the appeal grows the more you explore it. Toronto doesn't have a single, overriding identity – it has several, all packaged up into distinctive neighbourhoods. Cabbagetown offers swoony Victorian homes, the Distillery District redbrick artist studios and Kensington Market is an affordable, globe-spanning foodie hub. Put simply, if you head east or west from anywhere in the centre, you're likely to find an area that's thoroughly enjoyable and personality-packed.
The Toronto Islands (torontoislands.org), just a short ferry ride away from the waterfront, are where the locals go for a bit of mellow downtime. Beaches on the placid shores of Lake Ontario and an old school children's amusement park have major appeal for families, but on a blue sky day it's hard to beat simply strolling or cycling along the network of trails.
A good, long walk down Queen Street West throws up a lot of what makes Toronto so endearing – especially for those who fancy giving the credit card a workout. Variety is the key, with independent fashion stores, art galleries and heart-warmingly niche shops all rubbing shoulders among some of the city's top people-watching cafes and quirkiest bars.
An Iberian influence creeps into many of Toronto's most engaging restaurants, and Bar Isabel (barisabel.com) on College goes in for an impeccably atmospheric basement bodega vibe. Going without trying the whole sea bream ceviche, served up on the carcass of the fish, can legitimately be regarded as a criminal offence.
Fashion Crimes (fashioncrimes.ca) at number 706 is a top example, with always inventive window displays selling unashamedly bold dresses on mannequins posing like tongue-in-cheek Stepford wives.
The CN Tower is the tallest building in North America, and it's possible to walk around on the roof of the revolving restaurant, 356m above ground. The Edgewalk (edgewalkcntower.ca) sees guinea pigs harnessed in and taken right to the edge, then encouraged to lean over in Superman poses. It is simultaneously terrifying and exhilarating.
There are plenty of solid but slightly corporate options downtown, but for personality, it's difficult to look beyond the Gladstone (gladstonehotel.com) on Queen Street West. The 19th century heritage looms large – especially with the creaky, old-style lift – and vintage features are scattered throughout. Each of the 37 radically different rooms has been designed and decorated by a local artist, and the bar downstairs is one of the buzziest joints in the city.
The ubiquitous Tim Horton's coffee shops are something of a national emblem for Canadians, but you're going to get a mediocre coffee in there. Go for the indie joints instead.
David Whitley was a guest of the Toronto Convention and Visitors Association (seetorontonow.com)