Toronto CN Tower Toronto was my family's destination of choice between Christmas and New Year for 2016. Every year, we try and go away during that period and while looking at destinations for this year's trip and realised I hadn't properly written about our last Christmas trip! If you're looking for a Winter break, here's a little itinerary for visiting Toronto!

Day One

Start the Day with an Epic Breakfast

Renaissance Toronto Downtown Hotel Breakfast If you read my review of the Renaissance Toronto Downtown Hotel, you will know that the breakfasts in this hotel are pretty damn epic and should be tried by everyone. RELATED: That hotel sounds amazing right? Read my review of the Renaissance Toronto Downtown Hotel here!

Guided Tour of the City

Toronto Christmas Skyline Toronto Flat Iron Building I talways recommend a free walking tour when you first arrive in a city as they are a great way to orientate yourself and learn about the city you are visiting. However, we visited Toronto in late December and temperatures were plummeting below freezing. For that reason, many of the walking tour companies were running a limited service (if at all), so we were left searching for an alternative. We found Gerardo on Tours By Locals who organised a drive-through tour of the city, gave us in depth knowledge on a city he is clearly passionate about and generally set-us up well for our trip. We covered so much in our time with Gerardo that it would be impossible to list it all here but highlights include the Discovery District (home to the beautiful University of Toronto buildings), Casa Lomas (from the outside, we later re-visited to go inside), the Distillery District and a secret little spot for a great skyline view of Toronto without having to visit Toronto Island.

People Watch In Nathan Phillips Square

Toronto Sign Nathan Phillips Square As we were visiting in December, the ice rink was open and people were visiting in masses to skate in-front of the famous "Toronto" sign. Given the fact that I can barely walk in a straight line without falling over (this goes for my sister too), we decided not to give skating a go - there wasn't even a rail around the edge to hold on to! But people watching was just as fun!

St Lawrence Market

Toronto St Lawrence Market Christmas St Lawrence Market is Toronto's answer to Borough Market and was extra fun to explore with all of it's Christmas decor! The perfect place to stroll around and escape the bitter Winter wind! Much of the market is aimed at locals with fresh produce for cooking, but we did find some great little "cafe" type stalls for drinks and cake! Distillery District Toronto Brewery District Mill St We were briefly introduced to the distillery district on our earlier tour with Gerardo but decided to return later on in the day to explore properly. The one thing I wish we had done is visit the district at night when it's buzzing with people! If you are visiting during a cold day, make sure you check out the chocolate shop and get one of their hot chocolates!

Dinner in the CN Tower

Toronto View From CN Tower Nighttime The CN Tower is arguably the most recognised building in the city and for good reason! One of the first things we booked (after the flights and hotel of course) was a chance to have dinner in the revolving restaurant. The entire experience was great (other than the rude waiting staff) and I will be writing a full post about the restaurant in due course! Stay tuned!

Day Two

Niagara Falls Helicopter Niagara Falls View from Helicopter  The opportunity to experience Niagara Falls was essentially the reason that we chose to visit Toronto for our annual family Christmas trip, so it's safe to say that I was excited for this day! As we were visiting in December, the boat trip through the falls wasn't running but we did manage to take a helicopter ride over the falls as well as complete the "journey behind the falls"! On the way back from the falls, we also visited Niagara-On-The-Lake which is the most gorgeous little town and tried the famous Canadian ice wine! I won't ramble about this day too much as I have a whole blog post dedicated to this day which you can read here!

Day Three

Casa Lomas

Toronto Casa Lomas Family If this isn't the first time you've read my blog, you'll know that I absolutely love castles! Casa Loma was built in 1911 as the home for Sir Henry Pellett - while it's not strictly a castle (Wikepedia describes it as a "Gothic revival style house and gardens), it's pretty damn close (albeit much newer than the Castles you see in Europe) and definitely worth a visit! Casa Lomas put on loads of Christmas activities (mainly aimed at kids) including having reindeer on the grounds!

Shopping on Bloor Street / Yorkville Avenue

Toronto Christian Louboutin Bloor St This area of Toronto is the "high end shopping" district - think Fifth Avenue and Regents Street. As we visited shortly after Christmas, the "Boxing Week" (week?! We only have a day in the UK!) sales were in full swing. Some of the shops are really gorgeous - my favourite being the bright red Christian Louboutin design! My only purchase was a Kate Spade black backpack which was heavily discounted! I've used it practically every day since, so I'm very happy with my bargain purchase!

A bit more shopping in the Eaton Centre...

Boxing Day sales scare me, in the UK they are filled with hundreds of people pushing and shoving to get their grubby hands on the best deal. This was not the case in Toronto and it was a really pleasant experience! So we decided to carry on our shopping escapades with a trip to the famous Eaton Centre which is more high-street orientated than Bloor / Yorkville.

Take a Winter Wonderland Stroll Through Queen's Park

Toronto Queens Park Winter Snow .... Or any of the park areas really! We loved strolling through Queen's Park while the snow was settling, it was really beautiful and felt like a proper Winter Wonderland!

See A Show

Toronto Disney On Ice Did you know that Toronto is home to a whole host of theatres? I didn't! There were so many great ones to choose from, so making the decision will be the hardest part! As we had my "little" sister with us (20 years old with the mental age of an 8 year old), we were all dragged to watch the latest Disney on Ice show. It certainly wouldn't be my first choice but it was fun having 6 year old girls stare and judge you for knowing all the words and singing along loudly without shame.

Day Four

Steam Whistle Brewery

Toronto Steam Whistle Brewery On our hunt for something close-by to do on our day of departure, Steamhouse Brewery was recommended to us by the lovely people of of the internet and we had a great time! The motto of this brand is to "do one thing really really well", so they only produce one type of beer but boy do they know what they're doing! I'm not a huge fan of beer but it's fun to see how these things work - our tour guide was super friendly and funny which added to the whole experience!

Lunch on the Harbour

Toronto Skyline Despite the fact it was December, on our last day in the city the sun was shining which made for a beautiful stroll along the harbour where we decided to have lunch. If you've got spare time in the city, I highly recommend spending some time in this area - there are even little beaches with deck chairs along the route (which we obviously did not use in December)!

Fly Home

And like that, our first ever trip to Canada was over and we were headed back to the less snowy but equally cold UK!

Other Options

Toronto Islands

A short ferry ride from the mainland harbour are Toronto Islands. Gerardo (our tour guide on the first 2 days) spoke glowingly of the Islands in the summertime as they are a nature lover's paradise - however we were visiting in the dead of winter and boats were not running frequently enough for us to enjoy the islands. This is where you will get the ultimate skyline shot of the city!

A Whole Host of Museums

Toronto is home to a whole host of museums. From some of the more "normal" establishments such as the Royal Ontario Museum and the Art Gallery of Ontario, you'll also find some more quirky treats such as the Bata Shoe Museum & the Hockey Hall of Fame!

Ripley's Aquarium

Directly outside our hotel and the CN Tower was Ripley's Aquarium which looks blimmin' HUGE! If you've got some spare time to kill, this looks like a fab activity, especially with kids! But if you've read my Versatile Blogger Award post, you'll know that I have a completely irrational fear of fish and all sea creatures, so this was a big no no for me!

Catch a Baseball game at the Rogers Centre

The Rogers Centre is home to the baseball team the Toronto Blue Jays. While our hotel had a view into the Rogers Centere (cool right?!), unfortunately there weren't any games on while we were visiting! So there you have it, a fab 4 days in Toronto! Have you ever been? Where would your perfect Winter break be?

Disclaimer: This is not a sponsored post and all thoughts are my own.

Danielle1      
I never do hotel reviews; namely because I don't think a hotel is what makes your trip. Of course, there are exceptions to this rule where your accommodation is really the crux of your trip - I'm thinking glass igloos in Finland and luxury safari lodges in the Serengeti! Because of that, I don't splash out on hotels and the two things that I really look for during the booking process are a) good location and b) cleanliness. I'm an easy to please sorta girl! So, you might be wondering why I've decided to write about a chain restaurant? Well, the Marriott group have excelled themselves with the Renaissance Toronto Downtown Hotel. Primarily because the location is so unusual, but also the AH-MAZING food.

Location

suite_bi_level_bed_6291Photo Credit: Photo of room with stadium view is taken from the Renaissance Toronto Downtown website
This hotel is located partly INSIDE the Roger's Centre (home to the Toronto Blue Jays baseball team) which is pretty unique in itself. The window in my parent's room looked into the stadium - so if you're an avid baseball fan, you'd be able to catch all of the action from the comfort of your bedroom! Myself and my sister had a somewhat less appealing view of a railway line from our window - so if you're not into baseball and want fantastic window views, this may not be the hotel for you. Although, maybe don't disregard it so quickly, it has a lot more to offer! If you've ever been to Toronto, you'll know that The Roger's Centre is directly next to the CN Tower, so this hotel is a great for a lot of the tourist attractions including the CN Tower, Aquarium, Steamhouse Brewery etc. Given that the the hotel is close to the waterfront and Toronto is a large city, depending on the time you have and your walking capabilities, you may need to get a taxi to some of the more Northern tourist attractions such as Casa Lomas.

Rooms

IMG_3870 v2.JPGIMG_3866 v2.JPGThe combination of modern decor, high levels of cleanliness, ample space and all the amenities you could need make for a very comfortable stay. My absolute favourite thing about the rooms were the beds. Those things were so damn comfy - if I could have packed the pillows, duvet and mattress in my case, I definitely would have!

Restaurant

IMG_3888 v2IMG_4090 v2 Now, this is where the review gets really good (and not because of the small Starbucks inside the hotel - however, that was convenient). The hotel has a Mediterranean restaurant called Arriba inside and the food is out of this world (mainly at breakfast). Most people have heard me say that hotel breakfasts are, in many cases, overrated (and I still stand by that statement). however, Arriba really pulls all of the stops out in the morning. It's not the cheapest breakfast in the world, but the money is well worth it when the food is so good that you go to bed excited to wake up and eat! My favourite breakfast was the banana bread french toast stuffed with bacon cream cheese with sliced banana, bacon crumbles, fresh berries, toasted almonds and maple syrup (it would be rude not to have maple syrup whilst in Canada after all!) We did also eat in Arriba one evening and the dinner menu was much smaller than the breakfast selection but the food was great regardless!

Overall

[cws_sc_progress_bar title='Location' progress='90' progress_style='thin' custom_colors='0'][cws_sc_progress_bar title='Food' progress='100' progress_style='thin' custom_colors='0'][cws_sc_progress_bar title='Cleanliness' progress='100' progress_style='thin' custom_colors='0'][cws_sc_progress_bar title='Staff' progress='85' progress_style='thin' custom_colors='0']   Yes, it's a chain hotel. Yes, hotel's don't make your entire experience while travelling. Still, would I recommend this hotel to a friend? Most definitely. If you're interested in booking this hotel, be sure to check out prices here! Have you ever been to Toronto, what is your favourite hotel?

Disclaimer: This is not a sponsored post (although it does contain affiliate links) and all thoughts are my own. Follow my blog with Bloglovin

Danielle1

Booking.com

IMG_4112 v2 We were up bright and early on our second morning in Toronto (although not entirely by our own doing, our body clocks were still stuck on silly UK time - I'm sure time changes never used to affect me this badly - am I getting old?!) but getting up early was for good reason - WE WERE GOING TO NIAGARA FALLS! I've said before that the areas of North America that interest me the most are the National Parks and places of natural beauty, so it's safe to say that Niagara falls has been on my North America bucket list since the beginning of time! My family wanted to book a guided tour for Niagara as we weren't in Toronto for long, so ease was more important than cost (for once in my life!) - we wanted our tour guide to pick us up from the hotel, tell us everything we need to know and bring us back when we want with no hanging around waiting for public transport. My dad found Gerardo on "Tours By Locals" and his tour fit the bill!

Helicopter Ride over the Falls

IMG_4107 v2IMG_4112 v2IMG_4128 v2IMG_4130 v2 After a long chit-chat with Gerardo in the car about anything and everything, from the history of the area to Brexit and Trump, we arrived at the falls! Before heading down to explore immediately, Gerardo spotted that there wasn't anyone in the car park for the heliport, so we headed straight over for a spontaneous flight! Getting to the falls early in the morning means that you are ahead of all the coaches and tour bus' that arrive later in the day - apparently the queues for the helicopter rides can become horrendous. Flights are around 144 CAD per person, so it's a pricey experience but definitely worth it. As you are lifted into the air, you are reassured that the model of the helicopter is one of the newest, safest and quietest on the planet - so if you're scared of flying, this could be the best place to have your first helicopter trip! I'll let the photos speak for themselves now!

Walking the Length of the Falls

IMG_4138 v2IMG_4201 v2IMG_4234 v2IMG_4236 v2IMG_4131 v2 Next up, we drove closer to the falls and were given some free time to explore, wander around and take pictures. We started near the American falls and walked down to the Canadian "horseshoe" falls, stopping at practically every photo opportunity along the way (yes... I know it's just falling water and can't look THAT different). Visiting in Winter meant that there was a lot of mist coming off of the falls, but we were still able to see everything and the surrounding area had a light layer of snow - perfect! Journey Behind the Falls IMG_4267 v2You've probably all seen photos of people standing on a ridge right next to the falls, unfortunately, this access point was closed during Winter, but we were still able to complete the rest of the "journey behind the falls" - and because of the closure, the tickets were discounted to about 8 CAD! This experience takes you through tunnels behind the falls. Along the way, there are openings in the tunnel which mean you are quite literally standing behind a sheet of water - don't worry you can't get wet (unless you are a bit silly and jump over the protective barriers).

Clifton Hill

IMG_4281 v2 The Journey Behind the Falls marked the end of our time at the actual waterfalls, so we headed further in-land to explore the local area before meeting up with Gerardo for the rest of our tour/the ride home. Clifton Hill is located on the Canadian side of the falls and was described to us as "Canada's answer to Orlando or Las Vegas" - to me it gave off more of a "Southend-On-Sea" or "Great Yarmouth" vibe. Essentially, this road is a tourist trap filled with amusement rides, tourist memorabilia shops, waxwork museums, candy shops etc. It's safe to say that Clifton HIll is not my cup of tea, but whatever floats your boat! On a serious note, how many waxwork museums can you fit in one small area?! We saw SO many!

Niagara On The Lake

IMG_4312 v2IMG_4320 v2On our way back to Toronto, we stopped at the SUPER cute town of Niagara on the Lake. Every shop was perfectly designed and adorable! We spent about 30 minutes walking around, visiting all of the shops (and trying the foods they had to offer hehe).

Ice Wine Tasting 

IMG_4331 v2During our trip, Gerardo mentioned "ice wine" which we had seen advertised in different shops but didn't know what it meant! Apparently ice wine is a Canadian speciality where the wine is made from grapes that have been frozen on the vine. On our way back to the city, Gerardo took us to a ice wine tasting session (unfortunately I didn't catch the name of the place). We sampled 3 different types of ice wine and ended up buying a bottle with apricot undertones - yum!

More Things to Do! 

As always, I didn't get to do absolutely EVERYTHING that Niagara has to offer, but to make sure you are as filled-to-the-brim with knowledge as physically possible, here's all the other bits and bobs you can do during your visit! Boat Rides As we were visiting in Winter, we were unable to do a boat ride up to the falls, however I've heard great things about the trip in Summer! IMAX Niagara Falls If you're not feeling too adventurous, there's an IMAX theatre to show you sweeping views of the falls with a 4D twist! Skylon Tower Niagara Do you fancy food with a great view of the falls? Head to Skylon Tower! We decided to skip out on this experience given that we ate dinner in the CN Tower the night beforehand and the two look pretty similar, albeit the views are completely different! Fireworks and Illuminations During the Winter, the falls are lit up in varying different colours at night - we didn't get to experience this as we took a day-time trip but it looks great! Have you ever been to Niagara Falls? What was your favourite part? Or if you're planning a trip, what are you looking forward to the most?!

Disclaimer: This is not a sponsored post and all thoughts are my own. Follow my blog with Bloglovin

Danielle1