House of Coco chatted to former Leeds resident Steven Guthrie about upping sticks and moving across the pond to Canada. He tells us why he fell in love with the city he now calls home, plus the inside scoop on the best places in town to see, drink and dine.
Years ago, I’d have laughed if you told me I’d be a Toronto resident. Leeds was my home. I was nicely settled in at my first house; a bricks and mortar manifestation of years of working hard in my role within the NHS. Leeds was my city and I was there to stay, until a trip to Toronto changed everything. In a crowded Toronto bar, the night before I was due to fly back to the UK, I met Kevin. And my fate was sealed; not only would I fall in love with Kevin, but also with the city of Toronto. I liked Toronto. It has a friendly, open vibe and is so diverse. Torontonians love their sports, their coffee and Drake is basically royalty. Leeds was home; it’s where I lived for 13 years, and where I made lifelong friends. But Toronto is where the next chapter of my life has begun.
From Friday night in the city
Toronto has some amazing restaurants. With such a diverse population comes the opportunity to take a trip around the world every time you go out to eat. My top recommendations include Gusto 101 (a stylish Italian in the heart of downtown Toronto), Planta on Queen (a vegan restaurant in the Financial District), and Grand Electric (arguably the best tacos in town). Happy Hour is big here. Try Oretta on King Street for great deals on drinks and appetisers. Belfast Love, just down the road, has an extensive list of beers which makes propping up the bar for hours a breeze. Innovative bar snacks are also a thing here, going far beyond the usual olives and nuts.
The good spots are more underground, a bit like London, so it took me a little time to find my (dancing) feet. If you’re into DJs, I’d recommend CODA on Bathurst Street. Purple Disco Machine did an epic set there recently and it’s such a good space – plus it always stays open late! Most places in Toronto close at 2am, when bars are legally obligated to stop serving alcohol. The Gay Village in Church & Wellsley is always a good night out. Nestled in downtown Toronto’s core, there’s no shortage of busy cafes, bars and clubs. Gatsby Speakeasy is a fun choice, with two pianos playing requests throughout the night; expect to hear anything from Elton John to the Spice Girls. I also have a guilty pleasure for Crews & Tangos – a fun drag bar where you can dance off a busy week of work.
To the perfect relaxing Sunday
First, we observe the religion of Brunch. Toronto is big on Brunch – you’ll often find people will actively queue to get in front of their eggs benedict or tower of pancakes and maple syrup. Then it’s time to walk-off the gluttony. There are plenty of parks and public spaces in Toronto, such as Trinity Bellwoods, Brickworks, which has a great market on Sundays, or our very own Corktown Common. We usually finish up on the sofa watching British TV; it stops me feeling homesick.
If you’re going on a first date
Head to the Distillery District, located in the east of downtown Toronto. Here, cafés, bars and restaurants are housed within heritage buildings of the former Gooderham and Worts Distillery. It’s the largest collection of Victorian-era industrial architecture in North America. Start with some top-notch-quality Mexican food at El Catrin and then grab a pint (or two) at the Mill Street Brewery. Plus, you’ll need to get a photograph underneath the famous Distillery District heart sculpture, if that’s not too keen for a first date!
And if you want to escape
Niagara Falls is about a two hour drive from Toronto – and worth the trip. There are plenty of reasonably priced tours from downtown, which also stop off at Niagara-on-the-lake, a picturesque, chocolate box town that once served as Canada’s first capital. There are a number of wineries around Ontario, such as Muskoka and Prince Edward County. Toronto is also well connected with two airports: Pearson International and Billy Bishop. Within an hour’s flight you can be in the nearby cities of Montréal and Ottawa.
It’s also worth taking a trip to Toronto’s islands. They’re just a 10-minute boat ride from the city but feel a world away. There are so many things to do on the islands for young and old; relax on the beach, cycle, visit the mini funfair, or check out festivals that take place over the summer. The view of Toronto’s skyline from here is unreal – definitely one for Instagram!
Getting around Toronto: a newbie’s guide
Downtown is pretty well served by the Toronto Transit Commission, more commonly referred to as the TTC, which comprises a subway system, buses and streetcars. The Oyster card equivalent is called Presto – and it is cheap compared to UK cities. It costs around £1.80 to travel anywhere within Toronto and, as long as you’re within 2 hours from your first Presto card tap, you won’t be charged another fare for additional journeys. I also like to walk as much as possible – that way you get to see more of the city.