Come on, you didn’t really think we were going to get through a trip to Toronto without referencing one of its most famous sons, did you? And Drake’s ‘Started From The Bottom’ could hardly have been more appropriate given what we were about to do.
Jet lag had us out of bed bright and early, so we grabbed a coffee from the Starbucks right by the entrance to our apartment building and took a leisurely stroll through the quiet streets towards our target.
No, no, not that.
The tall one behind it.
The CN Tower is without a doubt Toronto’s most famous landmark. Built in 1976 as a communications mast, it held the records for both the tallest free-standing structure and the tallest tower in the world until 2010. And we were about to get intimately acquainted with its lofty heights.
When we were researching this trip, I’d discovered that the CN Tower offers an incredible experience called EdgeWalk – where a small group of slightly crazy people walk around the Tower on the roof of the famous revolving restaurant, 356m above the ground. And I knew that if I didn’t take the opportunity while I was there, I’d regret it forever.
Which is how, at 10.30am on a bright and breezy September morning, Jenna and I found ourselves trussed up like bright red turkeys at EdgeWalk Base Camp. Let’s be honest, nobody is gonna be hitting on you when you look like this …
We were joined on our adventure by Guy, a fellow Brit who was so tall he ended up with a bit of an ankle-swinger going on in the jumpsuit. Our guide, Jenny, also turned out to be British – a Yorkshire lass who’d fallen so deeply in love with Canada that she’d become a Canadian citizen. All we needed for our mission was a Union Jack (but I don’t think we’d have been allowed to take one).
Before I knew it, I was up on the edge.
356 metres above the ground, just hanging out there with the city of Toronto beneath my feet.
To put that into context, the height of the open-air observation deck at The View From The Shard is 244 metres. And you’re still inside a building.
I know I look super happy and relaxed here, but the truth is that my knees were wobbling for at least the first 15 minutes (you’re up there for about half an hour). I’m not generally a thrill-seeker – I’ve never bungee-jumped or sky-dived or any of those other crazy things.
But as I got used to the height and convinced myself that the ropes (capable of holding a fully-grown elephant, just FYI) were not going to fail, I wished I could have stayed up there longer.
You don’t get a view like this from anywhere else.
And sure, you can go up to the SkyPod and check out the view from 447 metres up (and we did, since it was included in our EdgeWalk ticket – more on that later).
But nothing really compares to seeing the city like this, with the wind in your hair and the sun on your face.
All good things must come to an end, however.
So with one final look over the edge, we reluctantly headed back inside and made the descent to ground level.
After thanking our wonderful guide Jenny (who was an absolute treasure trove of fascinating facts about Toronto, and Canada in general), we headed outside to take a look at where we’d just been.
Waaaaaay up there.
And we were so pleased with ourselves that we thought we deserved a treat. So after a quick bite at a little bar called Hey Lucy just around the corner (to let our jelly legs recover a little), we set off for the Trinity Bellwoods neighbourhood.
Wishing we’d held out and stopped at Poutini’s House of Poutine instead …
We never managed to figure out the public transport system (even our Toronto-native friend said when she moved back to the city from London it was a struggle), so we walked everywhere. And Toronto is a biiig city. By the end of the trip we realised we’d averaged around 11-12 miles of walking every day.
But in a lot of ways, we were glad we did, because it’s one of the best ways to get to know a place in my books. And walking through Toronto’s very distinct neighbourhoods gives you a real sense of how the city has grown over the years.
Trinity Woods is far more low-rise than the downtown core we’d been looking out over that morning. Many of the buildings are Victorian, and it borders West Queen West, the area named by Vogue as the second coolest neighbourhood in the world (after Shimokitazawa in Tokyo).
It’s full of achingly hip little boutiques, like this one dedicated solely to the art of entertaining and cocktail making.
And as we turned off Queen Street West onto Ossington Avenue, we passed a whole lot of seriously cool street art.
And some that was just trying to make a point (though I’m not sure what).
I’d have been quite happy to spend hours browsing all the cute shops and specialist stores, but we were in search of something a little more exciting.
Bang Bang Ice Cream is one of those hipster-favoured spots that has queues halfway down the block on a weekend – but by craftily visiting on a weekday afternoon, we managed to get the place all to ourselves.
So we had plenty of time to deliberate over the many, many potential ice cream sandwich combos.
It was a tough decision. But in the end I choose burnt toffee ice cream (one of my favourite flavours ever) between two Birthday cookies.
It was so hot out that it was already dripping as we went outside in the sun to demolish our monster ice cream sandwiches.
Because after all, we’d hung off a building more than a third of a kilometre above the ground that morning. I think we’d earned it.
Post Bang Bang-binge, we strolled north along Ossington until we turned off onto Dundas Street West, where we discovered more cool street art …
… admired cute tree-lined streets of Victorian houses …
… and made notes on the best pun-tastic restaurants (you could make a really long list, Torontonians love a good pun).
Before long, we’d made it back to our apartment for a quick change, and hailed an Uber to take us back to the CN Tower.
But before heading back inside to see the Tower from a slightly different (and less windy) perspective, we popped next door to the Steam Whistle Brewery for beer.
We had booked onto a brewery tour earlier in the day, but the gridlocked Toronto rush hour made us to late to join the last tour of the day. Luckily, the lovely people took pity on us and gave us a beer anyway.
Both the CN Tower and the Steam Whistle Brewery are situated on the former Railway Lands (hence the brewery’s name) and right outside the doors is a kind of open air museum of old trains and railway equipment.
We were far more interested in the beer, though. Canada is, of course, pretty well known for its beer around the world, so we felt it a duty to try as many as possible while we were there.
But as it was approaching sunset, we knew we had to make a move over to the CN Tower because we had a feeling it was going to be a good one.
While we waited for it to dip a little lower in the sky, we went and had a look through the glass floor, which hardly seemed scary at all after having hung off the roof earlier in the morning.
When you see it from up here (and you can really enjoy it because you’re not worried about plummeting 350 metres to the ground), you realise just how vast the city is.
The city of Toronto itself may not be much larger than London, but the Greater Toronto Area stretches practically as far as you can see and encompasses dozens of other cities. The line of gleaming high-rise office blocks and condos you can see stretching towards the horizon is centred along Yonge Street, which up until 1999 held the Guinness World Record for being the longest street in the world (but was eventually decided not to be because it joins up with Highway 11 around 100km north of Toronto).
With the sun sinking lower and lower, we hot-footed it 100 metres up to the SkyPod, and peered at the evening’s EdgeWalkers making their manoeuvres beneath our feet.
And we just managed to capture a beautiful lightshow before we had to dash off and catch up with our Torontonian friend for drinks.
After only one full day discovering the city and making memories, we already knew Toronto was going to stay with us for a very long time.