Toronto with kids – a few fun ideas
I hadn’t ever thought of visiting Toronto with kids until work brought me there at the beginning of June. I was actually in Toronto for two events: An intensive blogging workshop (do my photos look better? I hope so because that was one of the things I worked on) called Blog House, which is run by a truly generous and fabulous group of bloggers who in addition to their own sites operate collaboratively under the aegis of Navigate Media. After the workshop I stayed on for the TBEX Conference, an annual meeting of travel bloggers and industry representatives of all stripes.
Of course, this was a relatively quick trip, a business trip, and a trip without the kids, all of which means that I didn’t get to do as much research as I would have liked while I was there since I was busy learning and rubbing elbows with fellow travel bloggers. But I always have my family travel radar operating, and thanks to some truly great event sponsors, I did come away with a few ideas for what I’d do on a return family visit.
When I go back to Toronto with kids I will:
Take a Bruce Bell tour. Many of the photos you see in this post, as well as a number of the suggestions it contains came from a tour I took with Bruce Bell, the man who seems to know everything about Toronto (as well as everyone who lives there).
The tour was billed as a historic overview of downtown Toronto, and I’m pretty sure my history-loving 8- and 11-year-old boys would have enjoyed it. Highlights included a visit to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation building, which has a small museum showing historical highlights from Canadian television, unknown and yet somehow oddly familiar to American eyes.
Want to focus on the photos? Click on them for a slide show.
We got behind the scenes at the Royal York Hotel where in the early 1970s Bruce worked as a busboy and saw performers like Marlene Dietrich, Duke Ellington, and Tony Bennett. He showed us where the showgirls used to come out of their dressing rooms and then brought us downstairs into the kitchen, which he said is the largest in Canada.
We also saw the Dominion Bank Building, which has been encased in modern steel and glass to spectacular effect, the King Edward Hotel (where the Beatles stayed on their first tour of the United States), and the Tiffany stained glass window in Saint James Cathedral.
Bruce is about as engaging, knowledgeable, and passionate tour guide as I’ve ever had the pleasure to walk with. The man cares so much about the history of his city that for a period of time when the local government stopped placing historic markers because of budget cuts, he started a foundation and put them up himself. I was so grateful to both him and Tourism Toronto for hosting the tour and I will definitely contact him for a tour with my kids the next time I’m in Toronto.
Check out the CN Tower. You don’t really need me to tell you to do this, but I’ll tell you anyways – this super tall tower is really cool, and probably worth waiting in line to go up. I don’t actually know, because I didn’t have time on this visit to ascend – which means of course that I’ll have to do so the next time I’m in town. One insider tip that I received for avoiding the wait is to either get there early in the morning before the tour busses start arriving or to book a dinner reservation at the revolving 360 Restaurant at the top.
The whole area around the tower is touristy, but there are numerous things to do with kids including checking out the roundhouse and trains (to say nothing of the beer) at Steamwhistle Brewing, which is situated in the remnants of Toronto’s once great switching yard. Or see the Blue Jays play at the Rogers Centre, which has the only fully retractable roof in baseball. And later in 2013 you will also be able to visit the Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada at the tower’s base.
Visit the Saint Lawrence Market. My family has never met a market it didn’t like, from Reading Terminal in Philadelphia to the Public Market in Milwaukee. The Saint Lawrence Market has two attractions that I know would make it especially appealing to my boys. For one thing, the south building of the market originally housed Toronto’s first city hall, and the building is still there behind the market stalls.
For another thing, it is possible here to purchase and eat an item called a bacon sandwich. Now, when Canadians speak of bacon like this, they are generally referring to something that Americans would call “Canadian bacon” but which they of course simply call “bacon.” (And if you think I got into many serious conversations about the semantics of bacon while I was in Canada, you would be correct.) The Carousel Bakery offers thick slices of this salty delight on dense chewy bread.
And if that doesn’t appeal to your kids perhaps the numerous bakeries selling macarons and treats like maple caramels will.
Go for a stroll along Canada’s Walk of Fame. This is one that may be more fun for the grownups than the kids, but I found it very entertaining to be surprised by celebrities I didn’t know were Canadian – William Shatner, Howie Mandel, and Christopher Plummer for example.
I also enjoyed seeing names I knew were from up north, including the stars of the sketch comedy TV show Kids in the Hall, which Matt and I enjoyed in excess during the halcyon days of our early courtship.
Eat at Cheesewerks. If I don’t have you at the name, would it help to know that this local restaurant bills itself as all about the Cheese? Whether you want it grilled on a sandwich or served with macaroni, you’ll find what you’re looking for.
Local is a byword at this cozy restaurant (and I may have heard the term “Pan-Canadian” tossed around as well) There are all kinds of artisinal Canadian cheeses being served as well as cracked pepper sourdough bread made locally at the Saint John’s Bakery. The sodas are in-house creations full of real fruit and other natural ingredients – I sampled the blueberry maple and it is to-die-for delicious.
See the old and the new City Hall. Toronto may be the only city I’ve ever visited where I’ve had the chance to see three city halls. In addition to the remnant that remains in the Saint Lawrence Market you can also check out the early and late twentieth iterations of this civic building, which sit right next to each other and are as different as night and day. The older version has gargoyles to spy,
and the newer one looks like it just might take off for Mars any minute.
Nathan Phillips Square, adjacent to both buildings, is also a fun place for kids to get their wiggles out both summer and winter, when the fountain becomes a skating rink.
I know that this is the tip of the iceberg when it comes to exploring Toronto with kids – there are islands in Lake Ontario that offer great opportunities for biking; the Hockey Hall of Fame; not to mention Little India, home to the largest Indian market in North America; the Toronto Zoo; the Ontario Science Centre…you get the idea.
When you’re looking for a place to stay in Toronto with kids, consider using FlipKey to find vacation accommodations. They put me and my Blog House friends up in this nice little joint:
Photo courtesy of Keryn Means, Walking On Travels
It was certainly quirky; the bathroom I used had a barber chair in it and the monks who own the place were in and out during parts of our stay. But I liked how much character it had and would certainly browse the Toronto apartment options on the site when looking for a place to stay.
Another travel planning tool you might find helpful when booking your flights to and hotels in Toronto is FlightNetwork, another backer of Blog House.
If you’d like to see more photos from my time in Toronto, be sure to follow the Mother of all Trips on Facebook.