Destination of the Week: Toronto
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After my roundup on Monday of the Top Travel Credit Cards for Canadians, Canada was on my mind, so I decided to have TPG Contributor Candice Abraham, a Toronto native, share the ins and outs of her hometown and its many opportunities to earn and redeem those points and miles. So for today’s Destination of the Week, we head north to one of North America’s most dynamic cities: Toronto.
WHAT TO DO
Often mistaken for Canada’s capital, Toronto is actually just the provincial capital of Ontario, but it wins out as Canada’s preeminent metropolitan city. So much more than beer and hockey, Toronto is blessed with a whole passel of outstanding attractions that include a buzzing theater culture, the most diverse restaurant scene in the nation and a slew of boutique shopping options where visitors can get lost in for days. Save even more by visiting this fine city in the off-season (like right now), when the humidity gets thrown out with the anti-frizz and the brisk air puts a swing in your step.
Toronto is Canada’s largest city, with a population of just over 2.6 million. Don’t confuse Toronto proper with the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) though, which is represented by a hodgepodge of suburbs that circle the downtown core. Many believe the only time to visit Toronto is during its short but gorgeous summer, but this city far from hibernates during the colder months. When planning your trip, surfing over to Tourism Toronto is a great idea. There you’ll find a score of information on places to visit, dining options and theater packages as well as a list of festivals and events going on throughout the year.
If you’re visiting over the late fall or winter and looking for an excuse to check your coat, explore a few of Toronto’s most popular indoor attractions, like the new and improved Art Gallery of Ontario, designed by Frank Gehry. There’s also the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) where you’ll find Michael Lee-Chin’s $30 million dollar Crystal building, and the CN Tower (the tallest freestanding tower in the world up until 2007) for Toronto’s number one city view. Tickets to the observation deck start at $23.99.
On the more fun side of things, sports fans should take some time at the Hockey Hall of Fame, which is housed in a 19th century building that used to be a bank, and Sex and the City fans will plotz over the collection of footwear spanning millennia that is on display at the Bata Shoe Museum. If you’re in the mood to collect some cool contemporary art, stroll the streets of trendy West Toronto like Queen Street and Ossington Avenue.
From Szechuan to Ethiopian, Northern Italian to South Korean, you can find the cuisine you’re craving in eclectic Toronto with options to spare. Many of the city’s chefs have also risen to international acclaim. Try Lee on King St. for Sursur Lee’s fusion of Asian and French, Lynn Crawford’s Ruby Watchco for locally grown fare and Lorenzo Loseto’s premier fine-dining experience at George. You can also follow the Toronto hipsters to Woodlot, where Chef David Haman (the man with elBulli on his resume) turns hearty comfort food into a culinary journey. Or check out the hipsterific Ossington and Dundas neighborhood where chef Tom Thai blows Asian fusion out of the box at Foxly’s Bistro and authentic Neapolitan pizza cooks in less than 90 seconds at Pizza Libretto.
For real foodies, a visit to the historic St. Lawrence Market downtown is a great way to sample the wares of some of the city’s gourmet food purveyors and to try the city’s specialty peameal bacon sandwiches. Just a few minutes to the east along the waterfront is the newly restored Distillery Historic District where you can spend a low-key afternoon in cafes and browsing the shops, or come in the evening for a fun night out in the hip restaurants and happening bars.
Got more suggestions on what to see, do and eat in Toronto? Share them in the comments below!
Toronto Pearson International airport ranks among the top 30 airports around the globe for passenger traffic and aircraft movements, providing service to over 180 destinations. This is Canada’s busiest airport, with over 65 airlines operating out of its two terminals. Here’s a complete list of airlines that fly into Toronto Pearson and the destinations they serve. If you’re coming from the east coast or Midwest, flying to Toronto can be a great use of your British Airways Avios since it is a distance-based mileage award system and flights on its Oneworld partner airline, American, from New York or Chicago to Toronto are just 9,000 Avios roundtrip. That means you could fly 11 roundtrips if you apply for the British Airways Visa Signature Card with its current up to 100,000-Avios sign-up bonus (50,000 bonus Avios after you spend $3,000 on purchases within the first 3 months of account opening and an additional 50,000 bonus Avios after you spend $20,000 total on purchases within your first year) and still have 1,000 Avios left over.
Of course, the major airline here is Air Canada, which is a member of Star Alliance, so even if you don’t have Aeroplan miles banked to fly here, you can use your United and US Airways miles instead. However, remember that Aeroplan is a transfer partner of American Express Membership Rewards, so transferring points you’ve earned on a card like the Premier Rewards Gold or Platinum is always an option.
This airport is located well outside the city center but you can still get to and from the airport quite easily. Take a shuttle like the Airport Express ($25), a taxi ($50) or — if you’ve packed light — use Toronto’s transit system.
There is more than one option for flying into Toronto, though. Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport is located on Toronto Island Ferries depart every 15 minutes from the dock at Bathurst Street and the ride takes just 90 seconds and is free. Comparing this with the 30- to 45-minute highway drive from Toronto Pearson makes Billy Bishop a viable option. Porter Airlines flies between the city airport and five U.S. destinations, including Boston, Burlington (Vermont), Chicago, Myrtle Beach, Washington D.C and New York City. Porter also offers a free airport shuttle that runs between the airport and the Fairmont Royal York Hotel. And if you’re planning on visiting Montreal before or after your trip, Air Canada offers up to 30 flights daily between Montreal and Billy Bishop and Porter also flies between the two destinations. If you’re keen, you can also stay awhile on Toronto Island before or after you flight (or any time for that matter). Many Torontonians flock here in the summer, spring and fall to enjoy picnics, go jogging as well as cycling and to kickback on the beaches around the island.
It’s also no secret that Canada has some of the highest airport taxes in the world, so flying into Toronto Pearson or Billy Bishop can be expensive. That’s why many a Torontonian will fly in and out of Buffalo Niagara International Airport instead, located just a two-hour drive from downtown Toronto and only forty minutes from Niagara Falls. Airlines that service Buffalo Niagara are AirTran, American Airlines, Delta, JetBlue, Southwest, United and US Airways. Fly into Buffalo then take a cab or airport shuttle across the border and all the way downtown. Just remember though, there’s no need to rush to the city lights. Stopping in Niagara Falls makes perfect sense when you’re flying in from Buffalo. Spend a moment gazing at this natural wonder (it’s one of the seven) and then take a night or two to explore Ontario’s wine country, the picturesque Niagara-on-the-Lake.
You can bypass the customs lines too, at the airport or on the road, with a Nexus Pass. The pass lasts five years, costs $50 and will get you across the Canadian and U.S. borders much faster than without one.
Toronto has an almost endless supply of hotel options, making it far from a challenge to find properties where you can collect and spend points. The Canadian dollar has been on par with the U.S. since about 2008, so keep in mind here that prices quoted are for both currencies.
Radisson Hotel Admiral Toronto-Harbourfront: For a lakefront hotel with a boutique vibe, the Radisson Hotel Admiral Toronto-Harbourfront could be the property for you. It’s right on the waterfront but also just minutes from some of the big attractions like the Rogers Centre, Air Canada Centre and the Metro Toronto Convention Centre. And if you’re flying into Billy Bishop airport on Toronto Island you will not have far to go because the Toronto Island Ferry Terminal is within walking distance. This hotel also offers a fully renovated fitness center, Watermark Restaurant for upscale dining with Canadian influences and Watermark Lounge for microbrews while enjoying the lakefront. There are 157 rooms at this property with large windows, nice-sized work desks, high-speed WiFi and fireplaces in the Studio category. Rates in December starts at $179 per night or 44,000 Gold Points per night.
Hilton Toronto: You’ll be smack dab in the middle of all the action at this hotel and also find a good mix of business and leisure travelers because of the location. The Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts, which is home to the Canadian Opera Company, is next door and if visiting in the winter you can walk around the corner to Nathan Philips Square for ice-skating in their outdoor arena. Another of the Hilton Toronto’s great perks is that it’s connected to Toronto’s PATH system, so you don’t have to brave the cold. The PATH comprises of 17 miles of connecting tunnel that gets you around the city — and there are also 1,200 shopping outlets inside the PATH, making it the largest underground shopping space in the world. Hilton Toronto is also located in between two metro stops, so getting around the city couldn’t be easier. If you’ve got work to do while you’re here, the hotel’s rooms come with oversized desks and high-speed Internet. Upgrading to a recently renovated Deluxe Guestroom means your high-speed Internet and local calls are included. The Executive Lounge is also WiFi enabled. Guests will also find a 24-hour fitness center and heated indoor and outdoor pools. If it’s a fitness class you’re after, guests of Hilton Toronto have free access to classes at the exclusive Adelaide Club, only five minutes away. Rates for December start at $169. This is a Hilton Category 5 hotel.
Other Hilton properties in Toronto include the Hilton Garden Inn Downtown Toronto, the Hilton Garden Inn Toronto City Centre, the Hilton Toronto Airport Hotel & Suites for overnights near Toronto Pearson, and if you’re visiting Niagara there’s the Hilton Garden Inn Niagara-on-the-Lake.
Park Hyatt Toronto: Located on swanky Yorkville’s main strip (Bloor St.), the Park Hyatt Toronto is also listed as an American Express Fine Hotels & Resorts property. Big attractions like the Royal Ontario Museum and the Bata Shoe Museum are across the road, but be sure to get off of Bloor and over to Yorkville’s quainter streets, like Cumberland and Bellair. This is where you’ll find Toronto’s best high-end boutique shopping and exceptional meals at restaurants like Sassafraz and Yamoto. Rooms at this property are part of the Respire by Hyatt program, meaning they’re classified as hypoallergenic. So if you tend to be the sneezy one, you’ll be glad to know Park Hyatt Toronto rooms undergo a specialized 6-step cleaning and disinfecting process to minimize irritants. You’ll also find marble bathrooms in the guestrooms as well as feather duvet bedding, 42-inch LCD TVs, an in-room safe, a comfortable workstation and terry bathrobes. The Park Hyatt Toronto’s Stillwater Spa is hailed as one of the best in the city. There are also two full-menu restaurants at the hotel, Annona Restaurant and Morton’s, but the place to see and be seen is The Roof Lounge, where visiting celebrities sip martinis and take in the city skyline. Park Hyatt Toronto guests also receive complimentary car service and high-speed Internet. The Average Daily Rate for December starts at $234. This is a Category 5 hotel, so free night redemptions require 18,000 Gold Passport points for standard rooms and 27,000 for suites.
Hyatt Regency Toronto: You’ll find this property on busy King St., not far from the Roger’s Centre — Toronto’s big, white dome where the Blue Jays play and superstar concerts pack the stadium. Its proximity to the financial district means that business travelers will frequent the property but because it’s so central you’ll find vacationers here too. There are 394 guestrooms and 32 suites as well as a VIP floor and Hyatt Grand Beds in all rooms. The Metro Toronto Convention Centre is also within walking distance. Average daily rate in December is $143.10. This is a Category 2 hotel, so free night redemptions require 8,000 Gold Passport points for standard rooms.
The Ritz-Carlton Toronto: It only opened in February 2011, so you’re not just getting pure luxury here but also the added bonus of brand-new accommodations. The hotel overlooks both Lake Ontario on the south side and the Toronto skyline to the north, with 267 guestrooms that include 56 Corner Suites, two Deluxe Suites and one Ritz-Carlton Suite. All rooms are at least 450 square feet and feature 42-inch LCD flatscreens, floor-to-ceiling windows, bathrooms with marble stone walls and flooring, dual vanities, a private shower with rain showerhead, a deep-soak tub, Italian 400-thread-count Frette bed linens and African Anigre wood millwork. Guestrooms also feature high-speed wired and wireless Internet access as well as electronic in-room laptop safes. The Ritz-Carlton Club Level, on floors 18 to 20, include access to the 20th floor Club Lounge, which offers continuous complimentary food and beverage options throughout the day. On the fifth floor guests will find the Urban Sanctuary, a 23,000-square-foot space that includes a pool, fitness facility, kinesis center, yoga studio, relaxation area as well as a wrap-around terrace. On the lobby level is chef Tom Brodi’s TOCA. The restaurant’s Canadian focused menu concentrates on dishes prepared with local, sustainable ingredients. Rates in December start at $400 per night. This is a Tier 2 property so requires 40,000 points for a one-night stay. This is also an American Express Fine Hotels & Resorts property.
Marriott Bloor Yorkville Hotel: This hotel sits right at the intersection of Bloor and Yonge Streets, which is the best place you can be for subway access because both the Bloor and Yonge subway lines intersect here. Yonge Street is also one of Toronto’s busiest thoroughfares, lined with scores of restaurants, shops and theaters that lead up to Yonge and Dundas Square (Toronto’s version of Times Square). There are 222 rooms and 36 suites at this hotel, portraying a boutique style and offering a slew of amenities, which include Marriott’s Revive beds, 42-inch LCD TVs, high-speed Internet access and spacious work areas. Here you’ll also find Matisse Restaurant and Bar for International fare and a fitness center with cardio equipment, free weights and a sauna. Rates for December start at $139 per night or 25,000 points (30,000 for PointSavers) because this is a Category 5 property.
The other Marriott properties you’ll find in Toronto include the Toronto Marriott Downtown Eaton Centre, which is connected to downtown Toronto’s biggest mall (the Eaton Centre) and around the corner from Yonge and Dundas Square. There’s also the Courtyard Toronto Downtown, the Residence Inn Toronto Downtown, and the Renaissance Toronto Downtown Hotel. Close to the airport you’ll also find the Residence Inn Toronto Airport and the Toronto Airport Marriott Hotel.
InterContinental Toronto Centre: This hotel is connected to the Metro Toronto Convention Centre, which holds the majority of downtown’s trade shows and conventions and in the past has hosted both a G20 and G7. It goes without saying that you’ll find a lot of business travelers here but the hotel is also in very close proximity to the Air Canada Centre, home of the Maple Leafs and the Toronto Raptors, as well as the Rogers Centre and the CN Tower. It’s also steps away from Union Station, giving guests easy access to Canada’s Via Rail and virtually all of Toronto’s neighborhoods (by subway). There are 586 guestrooms at the InterContinental Toronto Centre, offering views of both Lake Ontario and the city skyline. Apart from the Superior Guest Room and Deluxe Guest Room categories you’ll also find InterContinental’s Specialty Suites category as well as Club InterContinental guestrooms on the 8th to 10th floors. Other amenities you’ll find here include a full-service Aveda Concept spa, a heated indoor swimming pool and a fitness center. The hotel restaurant, called Azure, showcases an extensive menu and can provide guests with private dining options. This property is also pet-friendly and offers a VIP (Very Important Pet) program. Rates for December start at $149. Priority Club members can redeem their points starting at 35,000 per night.
InterContinental Toronto Yorkville: Yet another Yorkville property for you to choose from, this InterContinental positions itself as a luxury boutique hotel. Guestrooms are a minimum of 365 square-feet and feature four-piece marble bathrooms, iPod docking stations and bay windows you can open. You’ll find the award-winning Signatures restaurant here as well as Proof, a vodka bar and lounge, and SkyLounge patio. There’s also an on-site fitness center, indoor lap pool and 24-hour business center. Rates for December start at $195 per night or 40,000 Priority Club points per night..
The Westin Harbour Castle: This 977-room waterfront property offers seven different room categories. The Westin Harbour Castle’s Traditional and Preferred Lakeview rooms offer excellent views of Lake Ontario you can enjoy from your Westin Heavenly Bed. Bathrooms include the Westin Heavenly Bath and Showers. If you’re here on business you’ll find a large work desk in your room and have high-speed Internet access, but when you’re ready to take a break just flick on your 32-inch flat-screen TV. Rooms are a minimum of 330 square feet. You can walk to the Toronto Island Ferry Terminal from this hotel and there are a number of great restaurants that line Toronto’s Harbourfront as well, so finding options won’t be a problem. You can also venture over to the Queens Quay Terminal, right on the waterfront, for dining and shopping options. If you happen to be near Queens Quay for Sunday brunch, take the escalators up to Pearl for the best dim sum in the city. Also an important place to check out here is Toronto’s Harbourfront Centre for a number of indoor and outdoor events taking place all year long. Rates for December start at $145 per night.
Sheraton Centre Toronto Hotel: Another great option in the heart of the city, the Sheraton Centre Toronto is connected to the underground PATH as well as the city’s financial and entertainment districts. You’ll be very close to the Osgoode subway stop on the Yonge/University line as well as lots of the city’s theatres, including Roy Thomson Hall and the Royal Alexandra Theatre. The 1,377 rooms at the Sheraton Centre Toronto feature Sheraton Sweet Sleeper beds, LCD flatscreens, high-speed Internet access and work desks. The hotel also features a top floor Sheraton Club Lounge for club-level guests and SPG Platinum members. The Sheraton Centre Toronto is also a great place to stay with your kids because they have the largest indoor/outdoor heated pool in the city as well as a Splash Bar for adults. To get in some relaxation time, you can also visit the hotel spa, Senses, which offers a range of treatment options to enjoy solo or with your significant other. For dining in the hotel you’ll find Quinn’s Steakhouse and Irish Bar, BnB for knife-and-fork burgers and a breakfast buffet and a Shopsy’s Deli, Toronto’s well-loved deli chain-restaurant. Rates for December for the Sheraton Centre Toronto start at $189 or 10,000 Starpoints because this is Category 4 hotel.
Other Starwood properties in Toronto include the Four Points by Sheraton Toronto Lakeshore, The Westin Prince, Toronto, which is located outside the city center, the Sheraton Gateway Hotel inside Toronto Pearson International Airport, the Four Points by Sheraton Toronto Airport, and the Westin Bristol Place Toronto Airport.
Fine Hotels and Resorts
Amex Fine Hotels & Resorts is a program exclusively for American Express Platinum Card cardholders, who are eligible for extra benefits such as room upgrades, free continental breakfast, early check-in and late check-out, dining and spa credits and more. In Toronto, participating hotels (besides those already mentioned) include the luxury properties The Hazelton Hotel and the new Four Seasons Hotel Toronto.
Four Seasons Hotel Toronto: Recently opened in October, this 259-room Four Seasons is positioned as the company’s new flagship property, built and designed to showcase the next generation of Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts worldwide. You’ll find the Four Seasons Toronto just where it should be, in the middle of Toronto’s posh Yorkville neighborhood. Of the 259 rooms at this property there are 42 suites, with rooms featuring interactive tablets, high-speed WiFi, climate control, digital signage, marble bathrooms and televisions hidden inside mirrors. The Spa — yes it’s just called The Spa — spans 30,000 square feet across two floors and includes spa suites for couples, a hair and nail bar, a heated relaxation pool with adjacent whirlpool and a fitness center with state-of-the-art equipment. Inside The Spa you’ll also find 889 Yoga, an exclusive yoga and Pilates studio that offers group and private classes that guests and non-guests must pre-reserve. Chef Daniel Boulud has come in with two restaurants at the Four Seasons Hotel Toronto: Café Boulud and dbar, with floor-to-ceiling windows and a seasonal terrace. Rates for December start at $545 per night.
When cardholders use a Visa Signature credit card to book a room through the Visa Signature Hotels program, they are eligible to receive extra perks such as discounted room rates, room upgrades, free breakfast, early check-in and late check-out, dining and spa credits and more. Visa Signature cards include the Chase Sapphire Preferred, Chase Sapphire, British Airways Visa, the Hyatt card, the Marriott Rewards Premier and Marriott Rewards cards, the Southwest Plus card, Bank of America’s Alaska Airlines and Hawaiian Airlines cards, Capital One Venture, Citi Hilton HHonors and Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve, US Bank FlexPerks, Citi AAdvantage Visa Signature, and many more, so chances are you’re carrying at least one of them in your wallet.
The Fairmont Royal York Hotel: This hotel is probably Toronto’s most iconic as the property is deeply rooted in the city’s history with its copper roof being the most recognizable feature in Toronto photographs (apart from the CN Tower). This hotel opened as The Royal York in 1929, long before Fairmont added its name to the marquee, and has gone through many renovations since its opening, including a $100-million project from 1988 to 1993 that sought to restore the hotel’s original elegance. You can’t get more central than The Fairmont Royal York. It’s located directly across the street from Union Station on Front St. and is also connected to Toronto’s PATH system. Rooms include bathrobes, cable television with in-room movie options and express check-out, high-speed Internet access and telephones with voicemail. Guests will also find a fitness center and spa here, an indoor lap pool and a Xerox Business Centre. Restaurants and Lounges include Epic Restaurant and Lounge, Benihana Japanese Steakhouse, York’s Deli, Piper’s Gastropub and the Library Bar. Rates for December start at $179 per night.