Exploring the Waterfront by Bicycle and the CN Tower

Since my European visitors are quite sporty I figured that renting a bicycle would be the perfect way of exploring the city. So to join them on their first guided bicycle tour I grabbed my bike and the 5 of us headed off to the subway station to go to Bicycle Solutions near Parliament and Carlton Streets. Getting outfitted with a bike didn’t take long and the cost was pretty reasonable at $70.00 for a whole week. Now all 5 of us had a bicycle.

Our tour began in Cabbagetown, one of Toronto’s historic districts. We first explored Riverdale Farm which is composed of a historic farm house, a number of stables and several corrals holding a variety of farm animals. This miniature zoo allows city kids to get to know farm animals up close. We then headed to the entrance of Toronto’s Necropolis. Established in 1850, the Toronto Necropolis is one of Toronto’s oldest and most historic cemeteries. Its picturesque location, collection of sculpture and Victorian buildings also make it one of the most beautiful cemeteries in the city.

Riding through the gritty Regent Park neighbourhood on Parliament we made a left to head over to the Distillery District – Toronto’s newest entertainment district. Founded in 1832 by brothers-in-law William Gooderham and James Worts, the Gooderham and Worts Distillery eventually became the largest distillery in the British Empire. Set on 13 acres in downtown Toronto, the forty plus buildings constitute the largest and best preserved collection of Victorian Industrial Architecture in North America.

Toronto’s Distillery District

The Distillery is now a pedestrian-only village entirely dedicated to arts, culture and entertainment. Internationally acclaimed galleries, artists’ studios and workshops, restaurants, bars and cafes, as well as live music, all form part of this new landmark cultural centre. In addition to the history, arts and culture, The Distillery has been the location for over 800 film and television productions in the past decade, including Chicago, X-Men, Against The Ropes and The Hurricane, making The Distillery District the most popular film location in Canada.

Of course we had to stop at the Mill Street Brewery, one of Toronto’s fine micro-breweries. My Austrian visitors are great beer lovers and I have been working on giving them a wide variety of samples of Canadian beers, and we added the Mill Street brand to our tasting tour.

From the Distillery District we headed south to Lakeshore Boulevard where we cycled west past Harbourfront, an area that holds high-priced condos right next to the waterfront, where highlights include speciality shops at Queens Quay Terminal, art, theatre and cultural facilities at Harbourfront Centre and a terrific lakeside walking trail. Cruises of the harbour and ferry services run from here.

Having a hot dog outside the Princess Gates

Our bike tour continued west by the water on the Martin Goodman Trail, past Ontario Place and the CNE – Canadian National Exhibition, which was in full swing with its rides and amusement activities. We enjoyed the lake-front ride and were fascinated by the Toronto Hippo Bus that was cruising on the water inside a harbour basin.

Our turnaround point for the tour came at Sunnyside Pavillion, a historic bathing pavillion dating back to a time when the lakeshore was home to a large amusement park. We sat down and had some refreshing drinks right next to a sandy beach on Lake Ontario. Rejuvenated we started our ride back and stopped off at a hot dog stand just outside the Princess Gates of the Canadian National Exhition Grounds. My European visitors were fascinated by the hot dog stands, particularly about the fact that you could scoop all sorts of salads and condiments like sauerkraut, hot peppers and even corn onto the sausages, and we simply had to stop and sample some road-side cuisine.

Serenity on Toronto Island

After heading back through Harbourfront we took the ferry over to Hanlan’s Point with our bicycles and started exploring the Toronto Islands on two wheels. We were all astounded by the serenity of the surroundings, truly an oasis of green right in front of busy downtown Toronto. We cycled all the way from the west to the east side where we had another fabulous view of the cityscape from an old abandoned pier.

Of course all this working out would necessitate a little refreshment break and we cycled over to Centre Island where there is a restaurant next to the ferry dock, unfortunately it was closed. So we cycled back to the Centerville amusement park area where there was a beautiful restaurant with a gorgeous outdoor patio right next to a tranquil waterway and we had a well-deserved rest., admiring the huge white geese that came up to us to request some food.

Hungry geese

After taking the ferry back to the mainland we followed the Martin Goodman Trail east along the Eastern Beaches and had a peak at Ashbridges Bay and the little peninsula right next to it, one of the most scenic and tranquil spots in Toronto. We then headed home on the trail past the Kew Gardens Tennis Club, the hockey/ lacrosse arena and the lawnbowling facilities and my European guests commented on how surprised they were that so much of Toronto’s waterfront is publicly accessible and not fenced off as private property as is the case with so many European waterfront locations.

A gourmet dinner capped off a beautiful day of exploration, allowing us to rest up for the next day to explore the CN Tower, just in time before the remnants of Hurricane Katrina were scheduled to come into town. On Tuesday I joined my guests only for a half day since I had to do some work in the afternoon and we took the subway in to explore the CN Tower. There were absolutely no lineups on Tuesday, which was great, since the Sunday before we had noticed hundreds of people lining up to get up the famous tower.

The CN Tower

We enjoyed the quick 58 second elevator ride that whisked us up to the restaurant level and we started to take in the panorama. Toronto’s most famous, most visible landmark, the CN Tower is the world’s tallest building. Built in 1976, the tower measures 553 metres in height. From its Look Out Level it offers a stunning view of the city, especially at sunset. Daring visitors can test their courage by taking a walk across the Glass Floor 113 stories above the ground, or travel higher up the tower to the Sky Pod, another 33 storeys above ground.

We only went as far as the Look Out area and went one level down to experience the Glass Floor. I stepped on the Glass Floor very very briefly, the feeling of standing on a clear surface 113 floors above ground level was just a little too much and made me a little squeamish. All of us really enjoyed the view from the tower, even though it was a little hazy, but it really gave us a great overview of the city. What amazed my visitors was that Toronto looks so amazingly green from above, and they had commented several times how unusual it is to see such a huge metropolis that has so many green zones, parks and ravines, something that definitely enhances the quality of life in Toronto.

Taste test at the Steamwhislte Brewery

After having taking in the city, we zipped back down in the glass-enclosed elevators and took a walk over to the Steam Whistle Brewery, located at the former John St. Roundhouse, a Canadian Pacific Rail steam locomotive repair facility that was built in 1929. We had to wait about 15 minutes for the facility to open and admired the beautifully renovated industrial architecture. Once inside we got a free taste of Toronto’s premium pilsner. I am not a beer drinker myself, so I quenched my hunger with a fresh pretzel, while my Austrian visitors savoured their samples.

After the visit to the brewery I had to head back to my office, but my visitors continued with a visit to the St. Lawrence Market and a brief stop at the Eaton Centre. When they arrived back at our place, I could tell they had spent another great day exploring Toronto.

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