The decision of whether or not to go “home home” for the festive period was made a lot easier by the fact that my girlfriend is also studying abroad in a nearby university. We decided that we’d make the most of being in another country for New Year’s Eve, and so we headed to the nearest big city: Toronto!
Toronto isn’t far from Hamilton; only an hour by the express bus, and because it wasn’t far it didn’t feel like it warranted a trip. I’ve been there a couple times, but only when passing through to other cities like Montreal. This was the first time that I was actually going to Toronto to see Toronto, and it was worth the wait.
Whilst planning our trip we’d read about the “CityPass”; a one-off ticket that gives you access to most of the main attractions at a discounted price. This provided a good framework for our adventuring, so we did one of the at least one of the four activities on each of our first few days: Day One was the CN Tower and Ripley’s Aquarium, Day Two was Casa Loma, and Day Three was the Royal Ontario Museum. Once we arrived and started exploring, we found more things we wanted to do, so we tried to go to a second ‘Non–CityPass’ attraction on each day as well: a shopping centre on Day Two, the Toronto Islands on Day Three, and The Art Gallery of Ontario and Distillery District on Day Four. We certainly kept busy!
When people think of Toronto they certainly think of the CN Tower, so we made that our first stop as soon as we stepped off the bus. After only a short walk we were shooting up one of the express elevators, getting a gorgeous look out onto Lake Ontario and the nearby Islands. Heading around to the other side of the observation deck, we also got to look out onto the city itself, and one of the most striking things to us was to see the well-ordered grid system of the city. It’s not something you see much in the UK, and serves as interesting reminder that Canada is a young country; it’s clearly been built from well laid plans, rather than grown organically like most towns in the UK.
The following day was in fact New Year’s Eve, so later in the evening we headed out to Nathan Phillips Square. We never really had a full plan for NYE, but we felt certain that something big would be happening in the centre of the city. When we got there, we found huge crowds and a wide variety of performers including a reggae group, a Quebecois group rapping in Spanish, and the main attraction: Walk Off The Earth. I’ve never been in a big city for the countdown before, so it was nice to be in a huge crowd of people, sharing this moment with so many others. After the countdown though, everything seemed very familiar: a big fireworks display and the mumbling of Auld Lang Syne, hoping no one notices that you don’t actually know the words.
My highlight of the trip though was the following day when we took a ferry ride across from the city to the Islands, just a 15-minute boat ride away. The contrast between where we were and where we had just been was astounding; the Islands were so quiet and calm, nothing like the constant atmosphere of urgency and hostility in downtown. We sat and looked out over the water as the sun cast a golden glow on the buildings. I don’t think I’ve ever experienced a more beautiful moment.
If I were to go into detail about every attraction I’d be here all day (and probably spoil them for you!) so I’ll give you a brief summary. In my opinion, the CityPass was worth it and gave us a good template for where to explore. We spent four days there, and still we could have done with some more time (we always seemed to be leaving attractions a little sooner than we’d have liked, but I guess that meant we never got bored!). Finally Toronto transport is pretty solid, so don’t worry if something looks a far walk, there’s more than likely a subway or streetcar on that road.
And being away from family at this time of year? Find exciting things to do, and they’ll be wishing they were with you!
Written by Luke Swallow – McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario
Photos Courtesy of Purvi Makwana