See the World: Toronto Layover

See the World: Toronto Layover

Trip recovery is hard, and I made it harder with a quick day trip to Chicago on Sunday because I really know to go get over jet lag. With an 8-hour round trip road trip, obviously.

Getting back into the swing of not having the day to be yours is hard.  What’s even harder? The reality of the non-vacation breakfast. For a whole week, I woke up to freshly baked bread, delicious hams and cheeses, Euro-strength coffee, and milk that actually tastes like milk.  Yesterday, I ended up taking some bread out of the freezer and thought, “Why isn’t this fresh baked? Why don’t I have butter out and soft? Why isn’t it Irish butter? Where are my cold cuts?”  Like I said, life is hard.

Thankfully, the memories and pictures will sustain me until the next trip and those I can share with you (along with a few recipe recreations, coming at you in the next few weeks). Before I talk about the glories of Holland, let’s first talk about Toronto.

On my way over the seas, I ended up with an ungodly long layover there.  It actually worked out splendidly since 9 hours is just enough time to go into the city and come back. Had it been any shorter-like 5 hours- it wouldn’t have really seemed worth it.

Thanks to a little help from my friends (Biscuit and Maple, both that hail from land above), I managed to fill my day with loads of walking (wear good shoes, and plan for about 4 hours of wandering) and eating, the perfect recipe to tire me out in the best way to prep for an overnight flight.  Should you find yourself similarly situated, I’ll give you a nice little day plan to get to see some sights, eat some good things and be nice and tired, especially for those of you that just can’t seem to sleep on planes.

Hop the train to downtown’s Union Station. Pre-book online and get the “layover special” which is 12CAD and is good if you use the round trip within 7 hours.  A steal.

Walk east towards the St. Lawrence Market, a food hall akin to Reading Terminal in Philly, Marché Jean-Talon  in Montreal, and to a lesser extent Pike’s Place in Seattle. You’ll pass the Hockey Hall of Fame, if you’re into that!

You’ve made it to the market- get ready to be really sad you’re just in town for a few hours…

Bring cash if you want to eat, since most merchants I found didn’t take cards.  I managed to grab a peameal bacon sandwich to power my walk to tacos (more on that later) and it brought back for me all the grandparent feels. 

I recommend lettuce, tomatoes, onions and relish. Delish.

The majority of this route was expertly spelled out and handed to me on a silver platter by Biscuit.  It’s great- and hit a a good mix of sweet shops, coffee chops, souvenir shops and parks.  Seriously, the yellow brick road. So, thanks to her!

From St. Lawrence, go North on Church or Jarvis to Queen St.

Turn left (west) onto Queen and walk, walk, walk. It’s about an hour.

You’ll pass Nathan Phillips Square and the illuminated TORONTO sign (Queen St. just past Bay).

Right beside Nathan Phillips Square is Osgoode Hall, Toronto’s Law School.

1 block off Queen, between Spadina and McDougall Lane is Graffiti Alley – very cool (you can put it into a google map to see where exactly – you pretty much walk right past it).

If you need a snack, head into Nadege, great macarons.

(I do as I’m told)

Right beside it is Trinity Bellwoods – amazing park, good place to sit and chill for a bit.

White Squirrel (coffee) and The Paper Place (paper, card shop) across the street from Bellwoods are cute. (didn’t make it to the Squirrel, but definitely bought something from The Paper Place)

The Drake General Store beside the Deake Hotel is super hipstery cute Canadian goods.  (Adorable and I definitely bought this…)

And then you arrive at Grand Electric, no doubt packed to the gills.

It’s a long walk, but Queen Street was definitely a fun street to explore. It’s eclectic and hipstery and great.  While my final destination down Queen Street was General Electric tacos (modeled after Big Star in Chicago), it took all of my energy and will power to not stop any one of the many, many delicious smelling restaurants along the way. Restaurants that would fit any craving, from Korean, to Iranian, to Pizza to Empanadas…. anything you could want.  However, I was on a taco mission, but walking this walk convinced me that I needed to go back, foodie friends in tow.

If you’re not up for the walk back, get on the 501 Streetcar headed east, get off at York, walk south back to Union. Streetcar is $3.25 cash on board. Use the front door. Entrance at middle door is for pass holders.

I was up for the walk back, and an ice cream stop to boot. For that, again at Biscuit’s urging, I went to Sweet Jesus.

SWEET JESUS.  I usually poo-poo on soft service ice cream (except McDonald’s because…come on), but this was so much more.  The picture above it their namesake dessert. I could not eat it all. It was 100% awesome.  Depending on how much time you have, you can wander through the streets for shopping, or head to Old Toronto and explore some history.  I was full and beat, and out of time, so back to the airport I went.

One area that I completely bypassed was Chinatown, and had I had more occasion to eat more, I would have wandered through there, likely have picked up a bao or two and stopped for dim sum.  If you want to explore this way, head due north from Union Station.  If you aren’t feeling tacos, or up for walking so far, Biscuit suggests Fresh which serves great veg/vegan and County General just by Trinity Bellwoods.  Maple chimed in with Distillery District, good for local arts and crafts and beers, even though the food is only meh, and The Works, a burger chain with the best burgers.

One thing that I loved about Toronto is that the city is thoroughly decorated with what I’m calling “organized graffiti.”  This street art was everywhere that I walked and definitely added a lot of personality to the city. I’m not usually a fan, but this had me looking down every alley and every street I passed.

This little scavenger hunt, from the time I left the airport to when I got back, took about 6 hours and was a nice little kickstart to my vacation.  If you have a long layover, I definitely recommend getting out there to explore! Yes, even in the winter.

Have you had a Toronto layover? What spots did you hit?

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