Destinations

Living on the edge in Toronto

The wind is whistling around me, snatching away the words I'm muttering again and again under my breath: "Don't look down. Just don't look down."

I look down. A small plane is coming in to land across the still body of blue water below me.

I am higher than the plane. I am standing, clutching at the harness I'm secured by, on a metal grille atop the restaurant of the CN Tower, formerly the world's highest building. To be precise, I am currently 356m above the city of Toronto.

I've been offered the chance to experience Toronto's newest and most adrenaline-pumping tourist experience, EdgeWalk, which gives visitors a whole new perspective of Canada's largest city – by effectively dangling over it.

Toronto can sometimes feel like the neglected, sensible older sibling of outdoorsy Vancouver or French-influenced Montreal. But the fifth largest city in North America has enough to please a wide variety of people – from history buffs to shopaholics, foodies to adventurers.

From my vantage point high above the city, I can see many of the city's most famous sights. To the south, ferries chug gently across Lake Ontario to Centre Island, a haven of rural tranquillity just minutes away from the hustle and bustle of downtown Toronto.

To the north, the vivid cobalt blue of the Art Gallery of Ontario stands out from the greys and browns of the surrounding buildings. Designed by Toronto native Frank Gehry and opened in 2008, the gallery houses more than 80,000 works including a modern and contemporary art collection featuring pieces by Rothko, Miro, Matisse and Modigliani.

Toronto is a city of distinct neighbourhoods, each with its own atmosphere and sense of community. I spend a leisurely afternoon wandering around the boutiques, cafes and galleries of West Queen West, where walls adorned with graffiti coexist happily with upscale clothes shops and boutique hotels.

A rejuvenating stint sitting outside the Dark Horse espresso bar provides ample opportunity for people-watching as hipsters, punks, leather-clad bikers and young families amble past. It also provides an excellent latte.

Food is a big deal in Toronto. Down by the waterfront lies the thriving St Lawrence market, dating back to the 19th century, packed with stalls selling fresh produce, pickles, jams, seafood and Canadian specialities.

And while it's easy to find all kinds of cuisine, as befits the world's most ethnically diverse city, the food scene seems to come into its own when dealing with local Canadian produce. With a slight shift in recent years away from fine dining and towards informal, seasonal eating, the city is packed with top-notch restaurants where the food is the star.

Not that food is uppermost in my mind as I cling to my harness thousands of feet up in the air. But by the time I hit the ground again, a grin is plastered across my face. It turns out that Toronto doesn't just provide a little something for culture-lovers, epicures and thrill-seekers; it has the power to turn any of us – even me – into all of them.

WHERE TO STAY

The Ritz-Carlton

Located smack-bang in the centre of the entertainment district, minutes away from the CN Tower and looking out onto the Toronto Film Festival's prime venue, Roy Thomson Hall, the Ritz-Carlton is one of the glossiest new additions to the city's hotel scene. Rooms from $C500 ($A490) and an upgrade to Club level is an additional $C100 dollars per night. Visit www.ritzcarlton.com

WHERE TO PARTY

Sky Yard at the Drake Hotel, 1150 Queen St West

The rooftop patio bar of Toronto's hippest hotel appeals to a young, edgy crowd – possibly because it's one of the few smoker-friendly spots in the city. Try a Lavender Lemonade or the signature Drake Mojito. Visit www.thedrakehotel.ca

Cocktail Bar, 923 Dundas St West

With a cocktail menu divided simply into 'brown' and 'white' categories, the sister bar of the Black Hoof restaurant offers up old-school classics such as the Blood and Sand, the Lavender Pisco Sour and, for caffeine lovers, the Tea and Sympathy, featuring gin infused with earl grey tea. Visit www.hoofcocktailbar.com

WHERE TO EAT

Union, 72 Ossington Avenue

Rustic decor, exposed brickwork, a leafy outdoor terrace and a menu inspired by French bistros make Union a favourite with locals. Try the elk sliders, the sticky ribs or head over on a Sunday evening for the $C40 Canadian dollars prix fixe menu. Visit www.union72.ca

The 5th Grill and Terrace, 225 Richmond St West

Situated on the top floor of an old warehouse, and accessed via a private lift, the 5th Grill is a hidden gem in Toronto's Queen West District. The large restaurant is dominated by a long zinc bar and hardier diners can take advantage of the year-round rooftop terrace while sampling a menu that includes steak, Quebec venison and a wicked vanilla creme brulee. Visit www.thefifthgrill.com

Dufflet Bakery, 87 Queen St West (west of Bathurst)

No trip to Toronto would be complete without popping to the city's best-regarded provider of cakes, pastries and brownies. They supply hundreds of restaurants throughout the city but it's worth stopping by their Queen Street West shop for an 'Extra Brut' hot chocolate and a slice of chocolate-banana cake. Visit www.dufflet.com

WHERE TO SHOP

St Lawrence market, 92-95 Front St East

The city's largest market is foodie heaven, with 120 vendors selling everything from cheese to seafood. Sample mustard flavours at Kozlik's mustard shop – Canada produces 90 per cent of the world's mustard – and don't forget to munch on a bacon sandwich from the famous Carousel Bakery. Visit www.stlawrencemarket.com


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