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Sunday Life

Falls in love with Toronto: Canadian city is the perfect destination for sightseeing, shopping and dining

Niagara Falls at dusk, Canadian side
Niagara Falls at dusk, Canadian side
Toronto skyline at sunset in Ontario, Canada

By Chris Cairns

As I've got older, I've got much worse with heights. I believe it happens to many people. So when I heard it was a glass-fronted elevator to reach the restaurant in the CN Tower, I was immediately nervous. Sweaty hands, pulse racing when I even thought about it. How would I cope?

Thankfully, I'd nothing to worry about. The lift is big enough and fast enough that the 350-metre journey up to the revolving restaurant takes a matter of seconds. And believe me, it's worth it - the views are truly spectacular from Toronto's iconic tourist attraction.

Canada's largest city had always been on my bucket list to visit. So when the opportunity arose to visit with my wife Samantha to celebrate a milestone birthday, we jumped at the chance.

Our base was the boutique Bisha Hotel on Blue Jays Way, a stone's throw away from the baseball stadium. Situated in Toronto's Entertainment District, the Bisha is an ideal location from where to explore this cosmospolitan city.

We stayed in the Stella suite on the fourth floor. With a huge king-size bed, separate living room, two bathrooms, shower and bath tub, two huge flat-screen televisions and a large outdoor balcony with floor-to-ceiling windows, staying here really does make you feel like a rock star.

Take the lift to the 44th floor and you are in Kost, the Bisha's rooftop restaurant and bar with panoramic views of the city. It's a beautiful setting to have a peaceful breakfast here and plan your day of sightseeing ahead.

The first port of call is a visit right opposite the Bisha. Gretsky's is a sports bar dedicated to former ice hockey star Wayne Gretsky. It's well worth popping in to see the collection of memorabilia for one of Canada's most famous sporting figures.

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City Sightseeing Toronto don't only do hop-on hop-off bus tours around Toronto (of which more later) but also run day trips to Niagara Falls.

Conveniently picked up outside our hotel, it's about an hour-and-a-half drive by bus to Niagara Falls. I'd recommend booking lunch in the Skylon Tower when you're there.

It too has a revolving restaurant and offers amazing views of the Falls. The day trip then visits the quaint Niagara-on-the-Lake, a well-preserved 19th century village often described as the prettiest in Ontario, and finishes with a visit to a winery to try some wines from the Niagara region.

Bakery inside of the historic St Lawrence Market in Toronto. Province of Ontario, Canada
Bakery inside of the historic St Lawrence Market in Toronto. Province of Ontario, Canada

On our third day, we did the City Sightseeing bus tour (this ticket can be bought in a combination with the Niagara tour ticket).

Among the attractions worth stopping at during the bus tour are the Hockey Hall of Fame (that's ice hockey), St Lawrence Market (think St George's in Belfast but much bigger - make sure you visit the Carousel Bakery for the famous Peameal Bacon roll), and Ripley's Aquarium (which is right beside the CN Tower).

Also try out Kensington Market - it's renowned for its colourful shopfronts, vibrant murals and some excellent independent eateries, including Pow Wow, which serves the best beef tacos.

If you're staying for at least three or four days, it's sensible to buy a Toronto CityPASS. It's around £55 for adults and £35 for children aged four to 12 and will save you a considerable amount of money if you intend to visit Toronto's major tourist attractions.

Another stop on the bus tour downtown is the Eaton Centre - this is one of the busiest shopping malls in north America with more than 250 shops and restaurants all under one roof.

For posh boutiques and designer brands, visit the Bloor-Yorkville area to give your credit card a workout - it's the city's answer to New York's Fifth Avenue.

Inside view of the Eaton Centre.
Inside view of the Eaton Centre.

As for eating out, well you're spoilt for choice in Toronto. From the outside Sassafraz, in the Yorkville area, looks like a large Victorian house. Inside, however, is an exceptional and reasonably-priced restaurant, serving the best Canadian cuisine with a great selection of wines from the Ontario region.

The Distillery District is a pedestrian-only area whose cobblestone streets are lined with galleries, restaurants and boutiques. It's here you will find the Mexican restaurant El Catrin.

We had the 11-course tasting menu and loved each and every course. It's a fun place with a vibrant atmosphere and good food to boot.

And what better way to finish our holiday than a trip to Billy Bishop Airport, located on the Toronto Islands. It's accessible from a pedestrian tunnel (a five-minute taxi from the Bisha) and it's here that you can enjoy a helicopter tour of the city with Toronto Heli Tours.

The flight is only 6-8 minutes but you enjoy breathtaking views of the Toronto skyline and harbour while snapping away to capture some amazing pictures. It was the perfect end to the perfect trip.

Our favourite restaurant on our trip was Jacob's Steakhouse (www.jacobssteakhouse.com), a 10-minute walk from the Bisha.

Toronto, ON, CA - August 30, 2015: CN Tower from inside the Rogers Centre
Toronto, ON, CA - August 30, 2015: CN Tower from inside the Rogers Centre

Set over two floors with a piano bar downstairs, it's a superbly laid out restaurant run by manager Kayla Brown and head chef Danny McCallum.

A huge plate of oysters and shrimp to start followed by a light chicken Caesar salad made from scratch beside your table was a great start. Then three steaks arrived at our table. But these weren't any three steaks.

One was a Canadian prime tenderloin, one an Angus ribeye aged for 120 days, and a Japanese Kobe California Cut Striploin. Without doubt, these were the best steaks I've ever tasted, in particular the Kobe.

With wine pairings to complement every course and a standard of service that matches the exquisite food, Jacob's Steakhouse is a must-visit if you are ever in Toronto.

Travel factfile

Chris flew with Air Canada from Dublin to Toronto. Air Canada offers more daily flights from the UK to Canada than any other airline.

From Dublin this summer, the airline operates daily non-stop services to Toronto, with economy fares starting from £363.10 inclusive of all taxes and one checked bag (subject to change). Find out more at www.aircanada.com or call Reservations on 00 800 6699 2222.

He stayed at the Bisha Hotel, 80 Blue Jays Way, Toronto. For more details visit www.bishahoteltoronto.com

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