The Panda Exhibit in the Toronto Zoo has special programs for visitors. // © 2014 Thinkstock
Thinking of heading north of the border? It’s easier than you might think. Toronto, Ontario, is a vibrant city that is only an hour-long flight from Washington, D.C., or three hours from Denver.
Even better, Toronto is jam-packed with great activities for a family on the go, with everything from a world-class aquarium and one of the tallest towers in the world to pizza made with special gravy and cheese curds.
Sound appealing? Check out our prescription for the ideal family vacation in Toronto.
Plan to stay at Canada’s largest hotel, the Eaton Chelsea, where kids can go wild on the four-story waterslide and parents can kick back in the Monarch Pub, which has live music six nights a week. Want to catch a show in Toronto’s famed theater district? Babysitters are available at the hotel’s Kids Centre to take care of kids while mom and dad go out on the town. Many of the Eaton Chelsea’s spacious rooms include kitchenettes and balconies overlooking the lights of the city. Best of all, the hotel is located right in the center of the city’s action, making it a good home base for families who want to explore.
Recently opened in the fall, Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada is an aquarium unlike any other. While the sea life itself is enough to warrant a trip, the hands-on activities, such as petting rays and sharks, will push this aquarium to the top of your “best of Toronto” list. One of its coolest features is a moving “underwater” walkway that takes you through the exhibits, allowing you to watch the ocean life swimming above you as you go.
A bit farther afield, the Toronto Zoo is an animal lover’s delight. As part of a “Panda Diplomacy” program, China has loaned the zoo a breeding pair of giant pandas, and the zoo has organized programs to help visitors learn more about these furry, black-and-white creatures. Because the zoo is organized by world region, kids can choose whether to check out the lions and rhinos from Africa or learn about lynx and bison from the Canadian domain.
Farthest out of town (plan to rent a car) is LegoLand, where kids can check out a Lego representation of the Toronto landscape, watch a 4D Lego-themed movie, or try to build a Lego structure that can withstand the earthquake table. While the LegoLand here is similar to those in other cities, kids will still get a kick out of visiting a theme park made just for them.
If all this speeding around Toronto is making you hungry, take time to try some of the traditional cuisine. At the top of the list? Poutine, a brown gravy with cheese curds served over French fries, sometimes with duck. At Bannock, a casual farm-to-table eatery in central Toronto, you can even get your poutine in pizza form — and we recommend that you do.
Want something more familiar? Try brunch at the Gladstone Hotel, where live music keeps the good times going while you chow down on eggs and pastries. The art collection here is something to see, as is the neighborhood: funky, individual and fun, with lots of boutique shops and plenty of people-watching.
For the pinnacle of your trip to Toronto, you must visit the CN Tower, right in the center of downtown Toronto and one of the tallest towers in the world. The views from the top are incredible, making the CN a favorite choice for proposals. But the 360 degree restaurant is just as much fun, serving classic Continental cuisine with views of the whole city. The very brave can attach themselves to cables and walk around a deck 116 stories above the ground.
Your Guide to Toronto
What to Do:
LegoLand Discovery Centre
The Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada
The Toronto Zoo
When to Go:
Fall is beautiful in Toronto, with bright foliage and fewer crowds. Plan to pack a light jacket. In the spring, hockey is still going strong, while the Blue Jays start breaking out their bats and mitts.
Toronto’s International Airport is very conveniently situated near the city. Be sure to leave extra time upon departure, however, as American visitors must go through customs and immigration on the Canadian side.
Where to Eat:
401 Bay St.
Toronto, ON M5H 2Y4
The CN Tower
301 Front St. W
Toronto, ON M5V 2T6
The Gladstone Hotel
1214 Queen Street West
Toronto, ON M6J 1J6
416-531-4635 x 7106
Where To Stay:
Eaton Chelsea Hotel
33 Gerrard Street West
Toronto, Ontario M5G 1Z4