From early morning markets to late night gallery openings: How to take in Toronto's thrilling highlights in one long weekend

  • It's easy to explore the highlights of Toronto in just three days - even taking into account the flight times
  • St Lawrence Market is open as early as 5am on a Saturday and you can visit Ripley's Aquarium until 11pm
  • There's many hip restaurants and bars to visit or for a spot of culture try one of the city's many museums

It's an unlikely travel challenge: squeezing in all the highlights of Toronto in just three days - especially when it takes seven hours in the air just to get there from the UK.

But as I'm time-short and visiting Canada for the first time, I didn't want to miss a thing.

Making the most of my long weekend means rising early and taking advantage of the markets for breakfast and packing as many highlights in before ending the day at attractions that run late into the night - which is all helped by getting orientated with the city first.

 Blend of old and new: A view down Front Street towards the financial district with Gooderham Building (Flatiron Building) to the right

 Blend of old and new: A view down Front Street towards the financial district with Gooderham Building (Flatiron Building) to the right

Toronto's lively harbourside (above) has music and events in the summer. You can also get ferries to the islands just off the mainland

Toronto's lively harbourside (above) has music and events in the summer. You can also get ferries to the islands just off the mainland

There are many boats docked in the harbour, some of which offer cruises around its coastline. There's also a waterfront museum nearby

There are many boats docked in the harbour, some of which offer cruises around its coastline. There's also a waterfront museum nearby

I slug through the slow-moving traffic in a vintage-style bus that's part of the city's sightseeing tour, taking in each of the hotspots without getting off.

In the low season, the tours don't run as frequently so it's less 'hop-on, hop-off' and more 'get-on and stay-on'.

We start in Yonge-Dundas Square before winding our way up to fashionable Bloor Street West, past the historic Casa Loma and up to the edge of the harbour.

It feels very touristy but in some respects, I like the way that I can pick out the highlights of the city before deciding on which bits I actually want to go to. 

By the time I get off, it's beginning to get dark - awful for taking photographs but a great time to check out the La Tour CN Tower.

As the highest tower in Toronto, the CN Tower offers panoramic views of the whole city with the harbour and islands to the south, high rises to the east, historic buildings to the north and residential areas to the west.

As the elevator takes me up towards the top of the 553-metre structure at speed, I take in my first glimpses of the whole city sprawling before me.

Yonge-Dundas Square (above) feels like New York's Time Square and is where the City Sightseeing tours depart and return to each day

Yonge-Dundas Square (above) feels like New York's Time Square and is where the City Sightseeing tours depart and return to each day

Toronto has a surprising number of skyscrapers housing the city's many financial institutions.
Toronto has a surprising number of skyscrapers housing the city's many financial institutions.

Toronto has a surprising number of skyscrapers housing the city's many financial institutions. Some also have upscale restaurants (left) and the iconic landmark CNT Tower is pictured (right)

The historic Casa Loma is definitely worth a visit. There's a free audio tour inside that will guide you around the enormous stately home

The historic Casa Loma is definitely worth a visit. There's a free audio tour inside that will guide you around the enormous stately home

There's an enormous number of high-rises and skyscrapers in this part of town, dwarfing some of the older buildings in the city. In the distance, Toronto's islands resemble a national park under the dense cover of foliage. Once in a while, a small jet flies out of the inner-city Billy Bishop Airport.

Up at the top, I walk around the viewing platform, which offers 360 degree views of the city. 

There's a restaurant in the upper level, where you can sit and enjoy the sights, but you can also just walk around and peek through the gallery. Downstairs, an outdoor area, caged in for safety, lets you take a breath of fresh up from high up.

If you're really daring, the EdgeWalk, the highest external walk on a building in the world, will let you experience the thrill of leaning right over the edge, with nothing but the harness separating you and long way down.

However, with legs turning into jelly and heart beating out of my chest, I find myself too scared to even take photographs from the glass-bottomed viewing platform inside.

Back down at a reasonable incline, I head past the entertainment district to Loka on Queen Street West. It's perhaps one of the hippest restaurants in Toronto right now, having been the first one to be successfully crowdfunded in the city, and it's one of the few 'foodie' places open on a Monday.

St Lawrence Market dates back to 1803 and is home to some 120 stall holders today. It was once voted the best food market in the world

St Lawrence Market dates back to 1803 and is home to some 120 stall holders today. It was once voted the best food market in the world

Chef Scott Savoie led me around the market, stopping at some of the iconic places like Carousel Bakery
The peameal bacon bun

Chef Scott Savoie led Qin around the market, stopping at some of the iconic places like Carousel Bakery where she tried peameal bacon bun

You will be able to find everything from fresh fruit and vegetables to meat. There's also plenty of spaces to sit down to enjoy cooked food

You will be able to find everything from fresh fruit and vegetables to meat. There's also plenty of spaces to sit down to enjoy cooked food

I grab a bar seat, though secretly pining for one of the perches next to the open kitchen, and order the entire menu of eight small courses of eclectic fare.

After a very filling dinner, I find myself far too exhausted to consider hitting one of the cities many bars and decide to head back to my room at Delta Toronto.

As one of the city's newest hotels, it's right at the edge of the downtown area. There seems to be an endless number of people trying out the cocktails in its whisky bar Char No 5 or enjoying some snacks in its casual restaurant SOCO Kitchen but all I can think about is bed.

The following day starts with a food tour of the old city and the famous St Lawrence Market.

Scott Savoie, a former chef and now owner of Culinary Adventures, leads me on a journey past some of the city's best known sites, like the Gooderham building and St James Cathedral.

It all culminates in a tasting tour through the historic St Lawrence Market.

Dating as far back as 1803, it's home to some 120 local producers and had once been voted the best market in the world.

AM to PM: There's 360 degree views of Toronto from the La Tour CN Tower, including the city's islands, many high rises and neighbourhoods
At CN Tower there's a restaurant in the upper level, where you can sit and enjoy the sights, but you can also just walk around and peek through the gallery

AM to PM: There's 360 degree views of Toronto from the La Tour CN Tower, including the city's islands, many high rises and neighbourhoods

Exploring its maze of stalls, you can understand why.

Everything from raw meat and vegetables to cooked perogies and empanadas can be found within its hallowed walls. And unlike markets in others parts of the world, there's actually spaces for you to sit down to enjoy the snacks you've purchased.

In fact, you can eat your way from breakfast to dinner as it opens at 8am during the week until 7pm on Fridays and early risers can beat the rush with the 5am opening on Saturdays.

After the two and half hour tour, I'm filled with food and ready to explore some of Toronto's museums.

Teased by the previous day's tour, I stop at Casa Loma first.

This grand home, towering like a castle over the rest of Toronto, bears a sorrowful tale. 

The man who built it, Sir Henry Pellatt, spent his entire fortune creating the stately home, which ended up bankrupting him. His vision never fully realised, the businessman and philanthropist died in a rented room in the home of his former chauffeur.

The burger at Richmond Station Restaurant is the item that you have to order and it comes with a huge hunger-busting portion of chips

The burger at Richmond Station Restaurant is the item that you have to order and it comes with a huge hunger-busting portion of chips

At Loka, one of Qin's favourite dishes, and the one that's stayed on the menu the longest, is the pig's head croquette (pictured above)

At Loka, one of Qin's favourite dishes, and the one that's stayed on the menu the longest, is the pig's head croquette (pictured above)

Needing something a little more uplifting, I decide to go to Bata Shoe Museum where some 13,000 items, spanning around 4,500 years, trace the history of footwear.

It sits right next to the University of Toronto and I spend the rest of the day exploring the quirky architecture in the area.

I had heard that a visit to Toronto would not be the same without trying the burger at Richmond Station Restaurant and so of course I do.

Two different cuts of meat are used to form the patty, with one being the filling and the other acting as a shell. The result is a burger with just the right amount of fat to meat ratio. I have to admit, it's a great burger. But secretly, I wanted a little more gaminess.

Ripley's Aquarium of Canada opens until 11pm on most nights and, as it's right next to my hotel, I decide to take full advantage of this.

It's perfect because there's virtually no one around after dinner and I get to take silly selfies next to sharks and try to get the perfect picture of the Pinocchio fish without worrying about looking foolish in front of other people. 

After the antics of the previous night, I am grateful for the late checkout policy at the Delta, giving me ample time to have breakfast and pack.

For my last day, I start with a coffee in Greektown. It's been a while since I saw 'My big fat Greek wedding', which was filmed in the neighbourhood, so not being able to recall many of the scenes in front of me, I was soon bored.

Ripley's Aquarium of Canada is impressively large and is open until 11pm at night on some days. It's impossible not to be mesmerised by the fish swimming above you in the glass walk way

Ripley's Aquarium of Canada is impressively large and is open until 11pm at night on some days. It's impossible not to be mesmerised by the fish swimming above you in the glass walk way

One of the tanks at the aquarium is filled with seaweed. The fish can't seem to stop moving in motion with the plants - and you'll find it difficult to stop too

One of the tanks at the aquarium is filled with seaweed. The fish can't seem to stop moving in motion with the plants - and you'll find it difficult to stop too

I travel west to Royal Ontario Museum and I'm rewarded with some fascinating and rare artefacts from around the world, including entire walls of murals from China and numerous Roman busts.

My last stop before a red-eye back to London is dinner at Actinolite, a neighbourhood restaurant with rave reviews.

I turn out to be the only diner but I don't mind. It gives me plenty of opportunities to find out about the restaurants and bars I can visit the next time I'm in town and to savour the food I'm being attentively served.

And as a final farewell, I'm given one for the road - chocolate and mushroom delice with a shot of Montenegro Amaro. It's bitter sweet, a bit like saying goodbye to this beautiful city.

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