The Volleyball Vibe in Toronto

The Toronto skyline

Volleyball is a burgeoning sport all over Canada, and luckily this vast northern country has the attractions and restaurants to support visitors coming to enjoy the area. Read on for what to see, do, and eat in Toronto.

With the summer madness past and the deep freeze of the Canadian winter yet to arrive, November is a great time to visit Toronto. The air is crisp, the skies clear and the tourists are not descending en masse, making this an ideal moment to scale the city’s top attraction, the CN Tower. An elevator whooshes visitors to the 1,135ft-high lookout level in less than a minute, allowing you to gaze out over Lake Ontario, Niagara Falls and on clear days as far as Rochester, N.Y. The vertigo-inducing glass floor also offers great views of the city beneath, if you can bring yourself to look down (don’t worry—the glass can withstand the weight of 14 hippos so unless you’ve really over-indulged on poutine, you’ll be fine). From one Canadian icon to another, the next stop on your Toronto itinerary should be the Hockey Hall of Fame. Novices can brush up on the basics before posing for pics with the sacred Stanley Cup. If you’re seeking a more energetic hockey encounter, try stopping a shot from a digitized Wayne Gretzky or pelting a puck at a life-sized, computerized goalie.

Gentler pursuits beckon further north, with a top museum circuit featuring the immense Royal Ontario Museum (ROM), with its excellent exhibits on Canada’s First Nations people as well as extensive displays on natural history and ancient civilizations. Nearby are some of the city’s quirkier exhibitions: a permanent homage to footwear at the Bata Shoe Museum and the Toronto institution that is Honest Ed’s. Ed’s isn’t a museum, but this long running bargain store is a great place to wander and admire the idiosyncratic signs, even if you’re not in the mood for shopping. South of the university is the impressive Art Gallery of Ontario, which features everything from fabulous First Nations carvings to Picasso and Andy Warhol classics.

After all that time inside, it’s a treat to explore outdoor Toronto and a fine place to begin is where the city itself began – at Fort York. Explore the grounds and learn about the fort’s role in the War of 1812 through guided tours and demonstrations. From here it’s an easy hop to the charming Harbourfront. Uncrowded boardwalks cling to the shores of Lake Ontario, punctuated with delightful cafes, boutiques and the occasional park or garden. If time is on your side and you’re keen to escape the city for a while, the two-hour drive to explore the vineyards, the kitsch and of course the falls of the Niagara region will provide the cherry atop your Toronto cake.

Where to sleep

Sitting in the heart of the Entertainment District, the Canadiana Backpackers Inn (42 Widmer Street, tel. (416) 598-9090) is the ideal sleeping spot if you’re keen to party. As well as bright dorms and private rooms the hostel offers an 18-seat movie theater and a free pancake breakfast. Dorm beds $29, double from $82 including tax. Similarly well-located is Clarence Castle (8 Clarence Square, tel. (416) 260-1221), a quieter budget option with newly renovated rooms and charming communal areas. Dorm beds from $28, en suite doubles $90. History buffs will enjoy the Hotel Victoria (56 Yonge Street, tel. (416) 363-1666), a more upmarket option that’s still affordable. This was the city’s first fireproof building, constructed after the Great Fire of 1904. Rooms are small but ultra-sleek and modern. Doubles $120-140. For a splurge, consider the Renaissance Toronto Downtown Hotel (1 Blue Jays Way, tel. 1-800-HOTELS-1). Rooms offer the usual corporate comforts but for sports fans this is the ultimate place to stay. Rooms overlooking the Rogers Centre Skydome add at least $100 per night to your bill, but you will be able to watch live baseball or football from the comfort of your room. Doubles start at $190 without a field view.

Where to eat

Canada excels at bar food and there’s no better place to taste than at Sneaky Dee’s (431 College Street, tel. (416) 603-3090). Don’t let the grungy interior and graffiti-etched tables put you off – Sneaky Dee’s serves notorious nachos, saucy chicken wings so huge you think they might have come from an ostrich and of course the most famous of Canadian cuisines, poutine. For something more up-market, head to the 360 Restaurant (tel. (416) 362-5411), perched atop the CN Tower. The prix fixe menu offers superb value and the best part is that when you buy a main meal, taking the elevator up the tower is free. If you like to graze rather than dine, browse the gourmet food stalls of the St Lawrence Market (92 Front Street East, tel. (416) 392-7219). Once you’ve filled up on freshly baked bread, handmade cheese and decadent cakes you can shop for original souvenirs and one-off outfits.

Where to enjoy

Toronto’s nightlife is as varied as it is vibrant, with the main areas for drinking and dancing being Richmond, Queen and Duncan Streets. If you’re more of a spectator, the city’s Theatre District is a couple of blocks south, centered around King and the surrounding streets. Those seeking live music will find no better spot than the Horseshoe Tavern (370 Queen St W, tel. (416) 598-4753), where bands have been getting their breaks for over six decades. For a quieter night there are plenty of pubs and craft beer is taking off in Toronto. Based in the former Distillery District, the superb Mill Street Brewpub (55 Mill Street, tel. (416) 681-0338) serves a dozen beers brewed on site with some excellent bar food designed to pair perfectly with the brews.

Originally published in November 2011

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