Tramping around Toronto

Last Updated on : 17th January 2024

72 hours in Canada’s largest city

Canada might seem at first glance to be an unlikely destination for a mini break, but her two largest cities Montreal and Toronto are roughly the same flying time from London as those long weekend stalwarts New York and Boston. These days the US can also seem offputtingly expensive. It was therefore as a challenge that me and my companion set off a BA 3-day holiday to Toronto to see if there was enough to do, enough to eat and enough left in the wallet after 72 hours to get a cab back to the airport.

We had chosen to travel in early December, that nice pre-Christmas period when everything is still open, but people are beginning to relax. For accommodation, we had selected the Chelsea Hotel. This was a huge ‘70s pile that had than just a touch of the Logan’s Run’s about it, but it was clean, comfortable, and conveniently located close to the heart of the entertainment district.

It was also close to many of the city’s most famous eateries, and it was by chance that we found ourselves in one only a few hours after stumbling off the plane. Donatello’s, I assume was named after the artist rather than the turtle, is an Italian restaurant of such old school charm that I’m sure it got work as an extra in the ‘Sopranos.’ The menu is also very old school, with a mixture of meat, fish and pasta courses…none of that newfangled pizza here.

Restaurants such as this apparently question the existence of meats other than veal, and so I treated myself to a Veal Marsala, veal with mushrooms and a marsala sauce (pretty self-evident.) This came with potatoes and vegetables and could only have been more of a comfort food if it sung a lullaby. My companions’ chicken was equally well received as was the tasty bottle of red that we split. The bill coming in at CAD 90 each might have seemed expensive at first, but when you realise the exchange rate is roughly 1.7 to the pound you then relax slightly.


Near Donatello’s and opposite the rear entrance of the hotel is the ‘Queen and Beaver pub,’ which is rather more upmarket than its name would suggest. The downstairs bar is rather more like a drawing room than a tap room, even if they pride themselves on pulling proper British pints. There is a good selection of beers, ciders, wines, and reasonably priced cocktails. We returned 3 times in our 3 days, and so they must be doing something right.

The next day saw us explore Toronto’s Christmas Market, which we perhaps arrived too early in the day at to appreciate properly. Feeling slightly disappointed we repaired to an English pub, the Firkin on Yonge. This has nothing to do with the old chain of UK pubs with a similar name, and the interior was looking rather shall we say care worn. The food however was excellent, chicken tenders that both tasted of chicken and were tender and a poutine where the gravy was so dark and delicious, you’d have been happy drinking it by the cup full.

That night we dined at Barberian’s steak house, again situated right outside the hotel. This has a reputation of being the finest and most expensive steak house in Toronto. Where Donatello’s had you auditioning for the Soprano’s, Barberian’s was straight out of Mad Men, with the interior hardly having been touched since 1959. With a simple menu of steak, other meats, and red wine it was for me as if I had died and gone to heaven.

In an homage to Madison Avenue, I started with a Martini so dry that I assume the vermouth was merely a pen pal. We then shared a 32 oz porterhouse, a bold Californian red with potatoes and broccoli. This was delicious, cooked to a level that would have impressed Don Draper.


The desert was something called a whisky and cigar which was in fact a portion of chocolate mousse with a chocolate cigar. Again delicious, and after worrying all day about the bill a rather pleasing approximately £100 a head. This being such a bargain we immediately headed to P.J O’Brien’s Irish pub to listen to live music and squandering our savings on Guinness.

I awoke the next day with a sore head and an appointment with destiny. I have always had a bad head for heights and have been known to get a nosebleed on a step ladder. I had therefore challenged myself by booking onto the CN Tower’s Edgewalk. This involves those foolhardy enough to do it, walking around outside and on the top of the tower’s observation deck, a mere 116 stories up.

That winter’s afternoon it was just me and a couple who brave enough to brave the elevated elements. I had hoped that most of the experience would be learning about the construction of the tower, but no, you get suited up and shoved outside.

The experience of standing over 1100 feet up is both terrifying and exhilarating. Being able to look down on planes as they came into land was something that ill never forget, or the feeling of solitude as the wind whipped around us as we faced Lake Ontario. It was both the bravest and stupidest thing I have ever done, but I did it.

My companion had gone to ground in arcade nearby and had managed to win about double her bodyweight in soft toys, which we then obviously took to the pub with us. My recent experience where it felt as if I was staring directly into the eyes of God, paled into insignificance where she had won a large stuffed hamster called Hamish.

That night we dined in China Town, which had some of the most authentic Chinese food I have tasted outside of China. Unfortunately, this included giving me an authentic case of gastro enteritis, rather putting a damper on our last day and flight back.

Would I say Toronto is a viable to New York or Boston? Hmmm, it’s interesting but didn’t feel like it had the buzz of the US cities. It felt clean and safe and was rather more affordable, but I’d recommend it as a visit once you’d been elsewhere on the East Coast. That being said I really enjoyed myself, and would happily visit again, if only for what I am sure should be recognised as one of the world’s great steakhouses.


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