A Week in Toronto and a Day Exploring Niagara Falls (Part 2)

I’m excited to dive into part 2 of our Toronto trip because it’s where we get to visit all of DJ’s and my favorite parts of Toronto. Don’t get me wrong — we very much enjoyed every experience we shared in part 1 as well, but as far as we’re concerned, this was the best of the best of what we managed to see.

Distillery District

The Distillery District is a fusion of old and new, hosting a collection of restaurants, boutiques, and galleries within the lovingly restored 19th century buildings that were formerly a whiskey distillery. Apparently, the district is the largest and best preserved collection of Victorian Industrial architecture in North America — and easily a major highlight of the trip for me.

I love old brick buildings and historical charm, and this district was bursting with it. Balzac’s coffee shop had the best chai I had while in Toronto, I found some wonderful treasures in a cute shop filled with a mix of vintage and new, and we had a great time poking through the quirky antique shops and industrial galleries in the area.

Graffiti Alley

This was sort of an unplanned addition to our Toronto activities, and the happiest of accidents. Kensington Market was on our internet researched list of potential Toronto destinations to explore. More importantly, we’d be remiss to take a trip to Canada and not locate and consume some excellent poutine. A recommendation from my boss and internet confirmation of its quality (with which we concur) led us to Nom Nom Nom Poutine on Dundas St W. It happened to be not too far from Kensington Market, so we figured it would be a perfect combo for that evening’s post-work exploration.

On planning our walking route to get there, I noticed a marker on Google Maps labelled Graffiti Alley in the fashion district. Curiosity piqued, I chose a route that would take us by it hoping it would be a worthy detour on the way. It very much was.

Some of the alleys were a bit grimy and garbage filled, but honestly, the vibrant art covering the walls was impressive enough to overlook that. This was an unexpected highlight for us and if you’re into street art even a little, it’s well worth the visit. It was a totally different kind of art gallery experience to that of AGO but no less interesting.

Since the street art is ever in flux, we’d definitely go back should we find ourselves in Toronto again.

We were not as impressed, however, with Kensington Market. Maybe it has a different energy on a sunny weekend afternoon, but on our chilly Tuesday evening stroll through the area, what we saw of it just felt extremely unkempt, dirty, and a little seedy. We couldn’t quite see the appeal. Maybe we’re just not bohemian/hipster enough to appreciate it?

Ward’s Island

Our biggest regret of the trip is not having more daylight hours to explore the Toronto Islands. After dinner one night we hopped on a (less than $8) round trip ferry to Ward’s Island. We figured that was worth going if only to see the city from across the water. What we weren’t expecting was to fall in love with the idyllic little village in which we landed. The houses were bursting with charm and we loved that a quiet little community existed a mere 15 minute boat ride from the big city. Outside of a few service vehicles, no motorized transportation is allowed on the island and there are no stores, which only added to its idyllic nature.

Plus, as you may have noticed from the feature image at the beginning of the post, the city view from there was extraordinary.

Despite our limited daylight, our timing turned out to be rather lucky. It so happens that on the spring equinox, the local community hauls their dead and dried up Christmas trees out to the beach and burns them a few at a time in a giant bonfire. Adults and children alike gleefully enjoyed the blaze and camaraderie of the event. It was such a cool thing to randomly stumble into as a visitor.

If we’re ever back in the Toronto area again, we’ll definitely plan for more extensive time on the islands. We both agree that it was our absolute favorite experience of the trip.

Niagara Falls

My fingers have never been so cold as on our visit to Niagara Falls. It didn’t help that I had managed to somehow lose a glove the day before our visit there. But it was our final destination before flying home, however, so I just suffered through it, keeping my hands pocketed as much as possible between taking pictures.

In lieu of renting a car, we booked our visit as a day trip via Queen Tour. It was more like bus service with some interesting tidbits provided by the driver on the way. Most of the “tour” was allotted time for free exploration, which is what we wanted anyway. We had three hours to explore the falls (plenty of time) before moving on to the next leg of the tour.

The most impressive view of the falls was near where the water spilled over the edge. The sheer quantity and power of the water was impressive. 3,160 tons of water flows over Niagara Falls every second. So. Much. Water. We would have loved to to do the boat tour to help us get a better feel for the height/scale of the falls, but it was off season and doesn’t run in winter.

Since we had our passports on us and just enough time to do it, we walked across the bridge connecting the Canadian side to the New York side to admire the falls from both perspectives. Canada easily has the better vantage point for experiencing the falls, but it was fun to spend a few minutes on home soil nonetheless.

After viewing the falls, the tour bus dropped us off for an hour in a cute town called Niagara on the Lake, where we enjoyed a quick bite of food before wandering through some of the shops on the main drag.

We finished up the tour with ice wine tasting at a local winery and a long, somewhat trafficky ride back to Toronto. It was totally worth not having to drive ourselves and just getting to relax or nod off on the bus after a full day of exploration in the frigid cold.

We ended the night a few blocks from our hotel with our best meal of the trip — Italian cuisine at Terroni Adelaide — and then caught a few Z’s before rising before the sun to journey home. All in all, we had fantastic time in Toronto, and are grateful that a business trip and flexible work arrangements offered us the chance to explore a new city together.

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