Three Perfect Days: Seoul - United Hub
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Three Perfect Days: Seoul

By The Hub team , November 08, 2016

Story by: Leslie Patrick Moore | Photography by: Marco Argüello | Hemispheres November 2016

Since the Korean War ended in 1953, South Korea has undertaken an unrelenting drive toward modernization, nowhere more so than in its capital. The fifth-largest metropolitan area on Earth, Seoul is buzzing with energy and ambition, epitomized as much by the near-universal wireless access as by the brand-new Lotte World Tower, the planet's fifth-tallest building. And yet, despite the frenetic pace of change, the city has not lost its sense of history, thanks to its many ancient temples, traditional houses, and tranquil palace gardens. Indeed, it's the ever-shifting swirl of the old and the new that makes Seoul such an intriguing, enchanting place to be.

Day 1 Graphic

In which Leslie fails chopsticks 101, joins the k-beauty craze, and loses a Korean drinking game

A cough jolts me awake. “Who's in my room?" I think. Then, “Why am I on the floor?" It takes a moment to remember I'm staying at Secret Retreats Rak Ko Jae, a boutique hotel set in a 130-year-old hanok, a traditional type of wooden house that's still common throughout Seoul. I shift on my floor mat, lifting my head from the seed-filled headrest I gamely chose over a fluffy pillow, and look out through the papery window shade. Outside, I see wooden decks, a tranquil courtyard dotted with pine trees and huge brown kimchi pots, and the source of the cough, a smiling woman who shuffles in with my breakfast of eggs and bacon.

After my meal, I take the short stroll to nearby Gyeongbokgung, the largest of Seoul's five palaces, arriving just in time to watch the changing of the royal guard. Brandishing pikes and colorful shields, the bearded guards march past the imposing stone gate, Bugaksan Mountain rising darkly in the distance. After the ceremony, I meet Young Sun Nam, a guide with the Korea Tourism Organization. Young Sun tells me that the palace was built in 1395 during the Joseon Dynasty but has since been destroyed several times by aggressors (more than once by the Japanese, who ended Korea's imperial period when they annexed the country in 1910). We walk through the outer courtyards and into the palace complex through a series of diminishing gates, each topped with a curving dancheong roof, elaborately painted in burnt reds and pale greens. At one gate, a weathered ticket collector mumbles something, then bursts out laughing. “He said we're looking really hot," Young Sun tells me afterward, “and this is only the second gate."

Royal guard at Gyeongbokgung PalaceThe royal guard at Gyeongbokgung Palace; opening spread: women in hanbok dresses at the palace

Indeed, it is uncommonly hot today, and I wonder why so many women are wearing hanboks, high-waisted, floor-dusting dresses that date back to the 14th century. But for the sneakers visible beneath the colorful skirts, I could have stepped back in time. A teenage girl tells me she's renting hers by the hour. “You must try," she says, perspiration sparkling on her forehead. “It's actually very comfortable in the hot weather." I smile and shake my head, fanning my face with the palace visitor's brochure.

Young Sun and I continue on, wandering through clusters of buildings bristling with dragons, pigs, and monkeys, supposedly Buddhist messengers sent to protect the royal family. Queen Inhyeon's quarters are tucked away in the back, the elegant painted doors of the inner chamber opening onto a tiered garden. “This is the crying garden," Young Sun says. “The queen cried because she wasn't allowed to be jealous, even though she had to raise the children of the concubines." I may cry too if I don't find an air conditioner soon.

After a quick spin through the National Folk Museum of Korea—a pagoda-topped structure on the palace grounds that houses thousands of cultural artifacts, ranging from shards of ancient pottery to photographs from the Japanese occupation in the first half of the 20th century—we catch a cab to Myeong-dong, Seoul's buzziest shopping district, for a more modern cultural experience. The shoppers here are packed in shoulder to shoulder, buying everything from foot-tall ice cream cones to Obama-themed socks, and it takes 15 minutes of squeezing and sliding to reach Myeong-dong Kyoja, a no-frills eatery known for its bibimkuksu, a traditional dish of noodles with sesame oil and spicy pepper paste. Sitting at a stark wooden table, I watch as diners move flailing noodles from bowl to lip with silvery flashes of chopsticks. My sticks are slippery with steam and oil, and when it becomes apparent I might starve, Young Sun conjures up a fork.

Daniel Gray, President, Delectable TravelsDaniel Gray, President, Delectable Travels

My next cross-cultural challenge is to decide which of Myeong-dong's many K-Beauty stores I'll be entrusting my skin to. I settle on Olive Young—the Sephora of South Korea, according to Young Sun—where a saleswoman inspects my face with an expression of pity. “N.M.F. Aquaring Ampoule Mask Rex," she says, bowing as she hands me a sheet mask. I have no idea what that means, but I pay up and slip the mask into my purse, hoping I'll remember to put it on before bed.

At nearby Anguk subway station, I meet Korean-American Daniel Gray, owner of food tour outfit Delectable Travels. We grab iced coffees at one of Seoul's omnipresent cafés, and Daniel provides a primer on the history of Korean cuisine. “Traditionally, average Koreans didn't eat a big variety of food because the best was reserved for the royal court," he says. “For a long time, there was a big barrier because the taste [of high cuisine] was so strong, but now it's the fighting between all the different flavors that Koreans really love."

A couple of trains later we arrive in Hapjeong-dong, a formerly rundown riverside neighborhood in western Seoul that now buzzes with bars and restaurants. We meet up with a few more tour-takers, then head for the famed Korean barbecue joint Seo-Seo Galbi, where the staff greets us with a synchronized bow before offering chilled emerald bottles of the country's favorite liquor, soju. “Gun-bae," Daniel says, Korean for “cheers," then downs his shot.

“Meat was a luxury in Korea 20 or 30 years ago. People would dress in their Sunday best and drive out to the countryside to eat at restaurants called gardens, then sit around with a toothpick in their mouth to show off. Eating beef was such a special thing, but now it's become mainstream." —Daniel Gray

After that first clink, things happen fast. Galbi, beef on-the-bone, sizzles on a central grill as the table heaves beneath an ever-increasing selection of sides—kimchi, pickled radishes, bean paste—delivered by ostentatiously polite waiters. Daniel uses giant scissors to cut the meat into bite-size bits, while I clumsily fumble garlic toward the grill with my chopsticks. “This garlic has a bite," Daniel warns. “Vampires don't do well in Korea." He's right, and I regret popping the entire clove into my mouth at once. Luckily, soju is the perfect salve.

Our next stop is Mangwon Market, where we try pan-fried jeon pancakes and sticky rice doughnuts called chapssal. Mangwon isn't Seoul's glitziest shopping destination, but it's where locals go to buy things like kitchen sponges and ingredients for the night's dinner. The din is deafening, and every square inch is taken up with vendors hawking miniature crabs, dried turnips, sesame leaves, and just about anything else you can imagine. I'm particularly intrigued by a stall that sells rice cakes shot from a machine at warp speed, like clay pigeons. We finish the tour at one of Korea's 36,000-plus fried chicken joints—a figure that's about the same as the number of McDonald's restaurants globally. While waiting, Daniel leads our little group in lively Korean drinking games that involve a lot of clapping and counting. My mind's addled by the heat and soju, so I lose repeatedly, which means I drink repeatedly. It's a vicious cycle.

The Zaha Hadid–designed Dongdaemun Design PlazaThe Zaha Hadid–designed Dongdaemun Design Plaza

Somewhat woozily, I check into the glossy, hyper-modern Conrad Seoul, in the city's main financial district, Yeoeuido, which takes up a large island in the Han River, Seoul's version of the Seine. Before bed I head up to the 37 Grill & Bar, where I sip a Tanqueray and tonic nightcap and watch the blinking lights atop the rocketlike N Seoul Tower. Back in my room, there's a jar of tiny candy letters that I munch on while applying the facial mask I bought earlier. The mask is cold to the touch and a bit slimy, and it takes a few moments to properly align the eye, nose, and mouth holes. When I spot my reflection in the mirror, I instantly think of Halloween. This is the last thing I remember.

Day 2 graphic

In which Leslie snaps selfies with an actress, dons a batting helmet, and loses her voice at a karaoke bar

Overly moisturized and sticky-mouthed, I decide to start the day with a dip in the Conrad's 8th-floor indoor pool, only to find a cluster of women bopping along to K-Pop in a water aerobics class. So I skip the healthful bopping in favor of a quiet bath in my room. Breakfast is back up on the 37th floor, where I consume ample quantities of pan-fried mandu, beef dumplings that come with spicy soy sauce, while watching water-skiers create sparkling silver stripes on the river far below.

I'm spending the rest of the morning at Siloam Fire Pot Sauna, a traditional jjimjilbang bathhouse back across the river in Jung-gu. Immediately, I am faced with a dilemma: Do I start in the ice room? The jade room? The salt room? I decide to stew in one of the hot pools. I feel a bit out of place as the lone oversize foreigner amid the little old local women wearing towels on their heads, but I close my eyes and focus on the healing qualities of the natural germanium water lapping at my chin.

Byeokje Galbi's marbled hanwoo beefByeokje Galbi's marbled hanwoo beef

I end my treatment with a remarkably vigorous body scrub, then zip off to check into the Four Seasons Hotel Seoul, an unremittingly luxurious property that opened late last year in the Central Business District. The cavernous lobby leaves me momentarily dumbstruck, but I snap out of it when I remember I have an appointment across the city, in the south-eastern residential district of Songpa-gu.

From the window of my cab, I spy what looks like an alien spacecraft that has landed in the middle of the city, but it turns out to be the Zaha Hadid–designed Dongdaemun Design Plaza, an innovative venue housing galleries and concert halls. While I'm pondering the consequences of an extraterrestrial invasion, my cabbie announces that we've arrived at Byeokje Galbi, a wood-and-glass-paneled restaurant known for its highly marbled hanwoo beef.

Waiting for me is Seoul native Hyun Ah Han, a poised starlet with coiffed brown hair and a wide smile. As I scan the menu, the actress launches into a soliloquy about Korean beauty—of which she is a particularly fine example. “Korean women are known for having nice skin," she says. “We have high quality beauty products in Korea, but we also eat a lot of green food, and we have good weather."

Hyun Ah Han, actressHyun Ah Han, actress

I've had the rejuvenating face mask, but based on “beefmaster" chef Won Suk Yoon's rundown of the menu, my lunch isn't going to be very green. I order a dish with a name that translates to “char-grilled chef's special assorted Korean prime beef steaks with sea salt," which comes with sides of thick bokki noodles, pungent kimchi, and yellow root vegetables (good for digestion, the beefmaster tells me).

After lunch, Hyun Ah takes me to Garosugil, the most popular shopping spot in Gangnam, the district immortalized by the K-Popster Psy. The name Gangnam means “south of the river," but many Seoulites refer to it as “Beverly Hills," due to its profusion of high-end retailers and pocketbook-size dogs. On tree-lined streets, fashionable young women totter about on vertiginous heels, flitting in and out of shops with names like Skin Food. We stop at chic café C27 Cheesecake and Coffee, where a sign reads: “A-musement park for women." I probe Hyun Ah about it. “It's because the light is good and the cake is good. It's perfect for taking selfies, which is what Korean girls do these days."

“One of my favorite things to do is to see the night view of Seoul from the mountains or from the top of N Seoul Tower. I suggest it to everyone because it's such a unique perspective of the city." —Hyun Ah Han

As we nibble photogenic slices of green-tea cheesecake, Hyun Ah outlines the historical roots of local fashion tastes. “We are a Confucian society, so we have always followed our elders, which in the past used to be royalty," she says. “Now, celebrities are like the new royalty, and Koreans will buy a shade of red lipstick or an off-the-shoulder top if their favorite celebrity is wearing it." She confesses she would like to become an “it" actress responsible for starting such trends, which doesn't seem like a stretch to me.

I say good-bye to Hyun Ah and make a dash to nearby Jamsil Baseball Stadium, arriving well into the first inning of a game between the LG Twins and KT Wiz, rival members of the 10-team KBO, the country's highest league. At the ticket booth, a woman produces a rapid burst of Korean accompanied by hand motions that resemble a flapping bird. I shrug, and the bird sighs, then calls over a baby-faced guard to help her handle the American woman. “You must wear helmet," he says in adorably broken English. “Follow me."

A statue of King Sejong at Gwanghwamun PlazaA statue of King Sejong at Gwanghwamun Plaza, outside the main gate of Gyeongbokgung Palace

At a nearby counter, I'm instructed to hand over my driver's license as collateral for the battered black batting helmet they insist I wear because I'm sitting in the “exciting" section. I put it on and find my exciting seat, where I notice that the only other helmeted fan is a 5-year-old boy. I grab a beer and watch the game, trying not to think about the countless sweaty heads that have donned this piece of plastic. Fans around me cheer demurely as the hometown Twins hit two home runs in a row, then they continue munching on dried squid—the Korean version of ballgame popcorn. At the end of a 10-4 Twins victory, I return my helmet and head to the Sports Complex subway stop.

I exit the subway back across the river at City Hall, a grand municipal building dating from 1926 that's now dwarfed by the Space-Age glass extension hovering behind it. I walk past a jazz band that's singing in Spanish, then pop into the popular chain restaurant Bonjuk for a late dinner. Juk is a rice porridge traditionally served to the elderly, the infirm, and babies. I order a version with mixed vegetables, served with a side of kimchi, naturally.

I finish the night by meeting one of the couples from last night's food tour (he is from Slovakia, she from New York City) at Luxury Su Noraebang, a karaoke bar in the clubby Hongdae neighborhood. We immediately set about mangling the most popular karaoke song in Seoul, “Let It Go" from Frozen. “I won't have a voice tomorrow," my Slovak friend croaks. Later, I ask him what his favorite thing about Seoul has been so far. “It's either this or eating kimchi," he replies. I can't argue.

Day 3 graphic

In which Leslie eats silkworm larvae, listens to a gargling artist, and takes a cocktail cruise with her former student

The windows in my plush purple-and-gray room at the Four Seasons overlook Gyeongbokgung Palace, allowing me an encore viewing of the changing of the guard. Beyond the compound, I spot the sloping roof of the Blue House, home to President Geun Hye Park. It's pretty far off, but I offer a small bow, just in case, before I head to breakfast at Boccalino, a bright, Milan-inspired restaurant that overlooks commuters hustling to work below. There's a Western-style buffet, but the Korean menu of ginseng salad, grilled mackerel, and baechu kimchi is too good to resist.

Walking down the broad and busy avenue Sejong-daero, I spot a large bronze statue of Sejong the Great, the 15th-century monarch who created Korea's modern alphabet. Not far from here is Cheonggyecheon, a man-made stream that flows for seven miles through the gleaming office blocks of central Seoul. Lost in appreciation of a waterfall, I almost step on a white miniature poodle in a bumblebee outfit, then notice another pup high-stepping down the sidewalk in shiny pink shoes. Apparently humans aren't the only stylish residents in South Korea's capital.

Shoppers at Olive YoungShoppers at Olive Young, "the Sephora of South Korea"

After soaking my tired feet in the stream, I continue on to Insa-dong, a traditional neighborhood in Jongno characterized by small alleys, tea rooms, and impossibly quaint hanok houses. The main drag, Insadong-gil, is chock-a-block with antique shops and chichi boutiques, but the real attraction is its street food, which includes swirling cauldrons of beondegi (boiled silkworm pupae). The plump, wormy niblets aren't my idea of a hearty snack, but I decide to try one. The vendor, a short woman in a very large hat, laughs uproariously as I steel myself for a bite. The earthy taste isn't exactly unpleasant, but the texture (let's call it “bursting") is. “Ha ha!" the vendor says. “Ho ho!"

Now that I've begun to expand my gastronomic horizons, I'm ready to meet Derek Iwanuk, a Canadian expat and travel blogger who wrote the guidebook Itaewon Eats: Where the World Meets to Eat in Seoul. Derek reckons that the local food scene is on the up, and that Itaewon-dong, the city's most international neighborhood and the subject of his book, is the center of it all. “Seven years ago, you were lucky to find a half-decent burger," he says. “Over the years, there's been a food revolution, and now there are little pockets of world cuisine."

Yoon Kyung Kim, artistYoon Kyung Kim, artist

One of those pockets is Coreanos Kitchen, a hip Korean-Mexican restaurant opened in 2013 by two Korean-Americans who badly missed tacos. We order fries topped with galbi, hot sauce, and cilantro, plus a couple of burritos loaded with kimchi and braised pork belly. For Derek, a meal like this speaks to Seoul's ongoing emergence as a global destination. It is, he says, a city that is vying desperately for attention.

I thank Derek for the burritos, then run through the rain to hail a cab. The car whisks me back past Gyeongbokgung and up to Samcheong-dong, a hip, gallery-rich neighborhood that's home to the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art. Waiting for me inside is Yoon Kyung Kim, a petite installation artist whose nose crinkles when she laughs. We browse for a while, contemplating avant-garde paintings and multimedia works, ending up at an interactive exhibit by acclaimed Korean artist Soo Ja Kim. In a vast black room, we're invited to sit around a circular table and given pieces of clay to mold into balls. I frown at an unsettling noise. “It's a recording of the artist gargling," the curator explains. “It's the artist's intention while you make the ball that the shape of your mind is visualized." I'm not sure what shape my mind is exactly, but I hope it's not the lumpy brown blob I've created. Yoon, meanwhile, has formed two balls, one grapefruit sized and the other just a grape. “This is my brain," she says, pointing to the small one.

“Koreans are becoming more open-minded to art, especially in Seoul. They're starting to see the importance of balancing life with art and to realize the reason you go to art museums and galleries is to free yourself." —Yoon Kyung Kim

Creating brains is thirsty work, so we head to the Kraze Burgers down the block to discuss art over beers. “Korean parents are usually very focused on math and English," Yoon says as we sip from frosty glasses. “They need to realize that, even if their children don't become artists, if they're exposed to art they'll become better at other subjects."

I pop back to the Four Seasons for a massage at the spa, then hit happy hour at the 28th-floor Executive Club Lounge, whose defining feature is its wraparound floor-to-ceiling windows. I sip a sauvignon blanc and watch the setting sun light up the surrounding skyscrapers—one of which is home to my dinner destination.

In the rotating n.Grill, at the top of the 775-foot N Seoul Tower, I'm led to a secluded booth with a sweeping view of the city backed by craggy hills stretching toward the North Korean border, 30-odd miles away. As a well-groomed waiter pours me a glass of pink sparkling wine, I'm greeted by Michelin-starred English chef Duncan Robertson, who moved to Seoul after meeting his Korean wife in France. I sip my bubbly and ask Duncan for his take on the food scene here.

Man-made Cheonggyecheon streams Man-made Cheonggyecheon streams through downtown Seoul

“Seoul's becoming more and more open," he says. “When I first came six years ago and baked baguette-style bread with a crusty exterior, everyone was complaining and trying to eat it with a fork and knife. Now, artisanal bakeries here are a niche market, and people are becoming very open-minded about food."

My meal begins with a parade of appetizers, including a savory parmesan soup and poached salmon topped with potato cream, basil sauce, and salmon roe. Next come three different cuts of beef, topped with grilled green chilies and buttery roasted garlic. I top it off with a passion-fruit tart and a dollop of gingery chocolate cream, then sit back with Ol' Blue Eyes crooning in the background and look out at the glinting gold facade of the 63 Building.

To end the evening, I board an E-land Cruise boat, where I meet Myo Jung Kim, an all-grown-up former middle-school student of mine from when I taught ESL here. As we head for the top-deck bar, past bubblegum-pink blossoms of faux cherry trees, I tell Myo Jung that it feels odd to be drinking with her—like I'm being a bad influence. “Don't worry, teacher," she says, ordering us a pair of fruity cocktails. “Times change."

Mexico-based writer Leslie Patrick Moore lived in South Korea for three years, during which time she spent far too much energy and money shopping for beauty products.


Marvelous sites to local hideaways: the expert’s guide to Toronto

By Nick Harper

Canada's largest city spreads out along the northwestern shore of Lake Ontario, and it's a dynamic, multicultural and inclusive experience like almost no other place on earth. Not only is Toronto a thriving living city,it's also become one of the world's truly must-visit destinations. Regularly ranked as one of the greatest places to live, Toronto is the cultural center of the country and home to the biggest events, the most pro sports and the greatest concentration of theaters and restaurants.

Recent decades have seen regular multi-million-dollar upgrades to the city's public spaces, with a slew of great museums, iconic architecture and the redevelopment of the now glittering lakefront adding to the city's appeal.

Add in an ever-growing number of world-class hotels, upbeat nightlife that runs from dusk until dawn and a vibrant and diverse culinary scene influenced by the eclectic makeup of the city's people. Bright and bustling, cosmopolitan and cultured, unpredictable and energetic, Toronto has become one of the greatest cities on earth.

What you see and where you go will depend on the length of your stay. A week is good, longer is better. But even a long weekend will give you a taste of 'The Six' — one of the city's many nicknames, reworked recently as 'The 6ix' by one of its most famous sons, Drake.

However long you stay, you can't hope to see it all. So, consider what follows a starting point for your first visit…

City Hall, Toronto City Hall, Toronto

The checklist sites

No visit to The Six can be considered complete without ticking off several of Toronto's true heavyweight sights. All of the following are in or within easy reach of the city's compact, walk-able and very vibrant center.

The CN Tower is unmissable in every sense, a vast freestanding spire that looks down upon the city and takes its place as one of the 'Seven Wonders of the Modern World'. Head up for the city's best 360-degree views, or get your heart racing on the EdgeWalk — a journey around the circumference of the tower's main pod, 116 stories high and tethered by a harness.

Back on solid ground, Ripley's Aquarium is almost right next door to the CN Tower and is home to 16,000 aquatic animals and the Dangerous Lagoon. A moving sidewalk that whisks you through a long tunnel surrounded by sharks and stingrays is guaranteed to make your heart race all over again.

Ripleys Aquarium Ripleys Aquarium

Also close to the CN Tower is the Rogers Center, home to Canada's only baseball team, the Toronto Blue Jays. Visit on game day for the full experience, or take the stadium tour to go behind the scenes and through closed doors.

In a city of so many museums and galleries, the Royal Ontario Museum stands out. Not just because it's home to a world-class collection of 13 million artworks, cultural objects and natural history specimens, but as much because it hosts exciting Friday night events that include dance, drink and top DJs.

Two other must ticks include the Art Gallery of Ontario, which houses 95,000 works of art and is free for visitors under 25, and the Hockey Hall of Fame, which taps into Canada's national obsession in stunning depth.

Art Gallery of Ontario Art Gallery of Ontario

Casa Loma is a must-visit Gothic castle in the heart of the city. North America's only castle is filled with artworks and treasures from Canada and beyond, but its big pull is the network of hidden tunnels to explore as they stretch out beneath the city.

Casa Loma Casa Loma

Toronto's multi-cultural makeup is visible all across the city but reflected best in its remarkable culinary scene (see Where to eat and drink). The city's 'fresh and local' mantra is perfectly showcased at St. Lawrence Market, one of the world's greatest food experiences. Pay it a visit and grab a peameal bacon sandwich — a Canadian staple invented in Toronto and now considered the city's signature dish.

St. Lawrence Market St. Lawrence Market

Afterwards, walk off the calories by wandering the historic cobblestone and car-free Distillery District. Once a vast whiskey distillery and an important spot during prohibition, historians mention that even Al Capone would visit the Distillery to load alcohol destined for the States[9] . This iconic landmark now distils creativity within the 19th century buildings now home to hip restaurants, bars, independent boutique stores, galleries and theaters. Visit in December for the Toronto Christmas Market.

Finally, don't even think about returning home without having had a picture taken with your head poking through an 'O' of the multicolored, 3D Toronto sign at City Hall — the most Insta-worthy location in a city of so many. You'll need to head there early in the morning to avoid the crowds.

If you stay long enough, take a ferry and hop across to Toronto Islands, a chain of 15 small islands in Lake Ontario just south of the mainland. They're home to beaches, a theme park and a breathtaking view of the city's skyline and will very happily fill a full day of your stay.

The bucket list

You absolutely cannot leave Toronto without having witnessed the power of the Niagara Falls and its hypnotic mist up close. Trying to visit the Falls from the States is a trip on its own, but it's almost non-optional when you're less than two hours away in Toronto. Take the trip, buy the T-shirt and tick off one of the world's must-see sights.

Explore like a local

Away from the sleek, gleaming towers of downtown lie many of Toronto's less obvious but no less essential attractions. West Queen West is Toronto's hippest neighborhood and artistic heart, a one-mile strip of very chic galleries, stores, restaurants and boutique hotels. Kensington Market is a fantastically chaotic neighborhood and perhaps the best example of the city's famous multiculturalism. It's not a market as the name implies, but a collection of independent shops, vintage boutiques, art spaces, cafés, bars and restaurants from every corner of the globe.

The Bata Shoe Museum is one of the city's quirkiest collections, an unexpectedly fascinating exhibit that retraces the 4,500-year history of footwear. And as you wander the city, you can't fail to notice that Toronto's walls are alive with graffiti. Take a free 90-minute walking tour through the back alleys of Queen Street West and down Graffiti Alley to gain a better understanding of the city's street art scene. If you visit during the sunnier months, escape the hustle by heading just east of the center to High Park, the green heart of the city where forests, walking trails, picnic spots and even a zoo await you. Ideal to unwind after a long day of urban adventures.

The essentials

When to go With the sun shining, May through October is a great time to visit, but the city is alive through all four seasons. The Spring and Autumn months are ideal as the humidity and visitor numbers are lighter, while Toronto comes alive through the colder months through a wide array of winter celebrations. One of the most spectacular is the Aurora Winter Festival, a six-week celebration that sees the Ontario Place, West Island transformed into four mystical worlds. Whichever season you choose, plan to stay for at least five nights to get a true flavor of the city.

Toronto skyline view Toronto skyline view

Where to stay To be at the heart of most of the attractions you'll want to see, aim for downtown. One of the best options is the Marriott City Center, not only because it's located right next to the CN Tower but also because it's attached to the iconic Rogers Center where the Toronto Blue Jays play and countless concerts and popular events are held.

Toronto Blue Jay stadium Toronto Blue Jay stadium

Opt for a Stadium room and you'll look out onto the field. If you want to experience Toronto's non-stop nightlife, the Entertainment District is the place to be. If you're looking for a luxury experience, discover Canada's first St. Regis hotel in the heart of downtown.

Where to eat and drink Nowhere is Toronto's incredible diversity more evident than in its food scene — taste Toronto and you're tasting the world. The city is brimming with restaurants and cafés serving everything from high-end fine dining to comfort food from an informal neighborhood joint — plus every option imaginable in between.

For fine dining, consider Alo, Canis and Edulis. Book a table at Canoe, Lavelle, The One Eighty or 360 at the CN Tower and you're guaranteeing a view as spectacular as the food. Or experience the city's remarkable fusion food at DaiLo (French-Cantonese), El Catrin (Mexican-French) and the unexpected mashup of Rasta Pasta (Jamaican-Italian).

The above suggestions don't even scratch the surface of a food scene to rival any city on earth, with options to suit every taste and any budget.

How to get around Toronto is perfect to explore on foot or via a growing network of cycle routes. For a quicker journey, buy a Presto card to use the TTC, Toronto's subway, streetcar and bus system.

How to get there Fly into Toronto Pearson International Airport (YYZ) with United and you're around 15 miles west of the city center. The most comfortable route in is via the Union Pearson Express, which runs every 15 minutes and gets you downtown in 25 minutes ($13).The TTC is a cheaper option at under $5, but it can take an hour and a half and involves a number of transfers, while a taxi will take around 30 minutes and cost $45.

United flies to Toronto from numerous U.S. cities including our Hub city locations. Book your trip via united.com or by downloading the United app.


Taking action to make a global impact

By The Hub team , January 17, 2020

Following the devastating wildfires in Australia and powerful earthquakes that shook Puerto Rico last week, we're taking action to make a global impact through our international partnerships as well as nonprofit organizations Afya Foundation and ADRA (Adventist Development and Relief Agency).

Helping Puerto Rico recover from earthquakes

Last week, Puerto Rico was hit with a 5.2 magnitude earthquake, following a 6.4 magnitude earthquake it experienced just days before. The island has been experiencing hundreds of smaller quakes during the past few weeks.

These earthquakes destroyed crucial infrastructure and left 4,000 people sleeping outside or in shelters after losing their homes. We've donated $50,000 to our partner charity organization Airlink and through them, we've helped transport disaster relief experts and medical supplies for residents, as well as tents and blankets for those who have lost their homes. Funding will go towards organizations within Airlink's partner network, which includes Habitat for Humanity, Mercy Corps and Americares, to help with relief efforts and long-term recovery.

Australian wildfire relief efforts

Our efforts to help Australia have inspired others to make their own positive impact. In addition to teaming up with Ellen DeGeneres to donate $250,000 and launching a fundraising campaign with GlobalGiving to benefit those impacted by the devastating wildfires in the country known for its open spaces and wildlife, our cargo team is helping to send more than 600 pounds of medical supplies to treat injured animals in the region.

Helping us send these supplies is the Afya Foundation, a New York-based nonprofit that seeks to improve global health by collecting surplus medical supplies and delivering them to parts of the world where they are most needed. Through Airlink, the Afya Foundation will send more than $18,000 worth of materials that will be used to treat animals injured in the Australian fires.

These medical supplies will fly to Melbourne (MEL) and delivered to The Rescue Collective. This Australian organization is currently focused on treating the massive population of wildlife, such as koalas, kangaroos, and birds, that have had their habitats destroyed by the recent wildfires. The supplies being sent include wound dressings, gloves, catheters, syringes and other items that are unused but would otherwise be disposed of.

By working together, we can continue to make a global impact and help those affected by natural disasters to rebuild and restore their lives

Help us (and Ellen DeGeneres) support wildfire relief efforts in Australia

By The Hub team , January 08, 2020

Australia needs our help as wildfires continue to devastate the continent that's beloved by locals and travelers alike. In times like these, the world gets a little smaller and we all have a responsibility to do what we can.

On Monday, The Ellen DeGeneres Show announced a campaign to raise $5 million to aid in relief efforts. When we heard about Ellen's effort, we immediately reached out to see how we could help.

Today, we're committing $250,000 toward Ellen's campaign so we can offer support now and help with rebuilding. For more on The Ellen DeGeneres Show efforts and to donate yourself, you can visit www.gofundme.com/f/ellenaustraliafund

We're also matching donations made to the Australian Wildfire Relief Fund, created by GlobalGiving's Disaster Recovery Network. This fund will support immediate relief efforts for people impacted by the fires in the form of emergency supplies like food, water and medicine. Funds will also go toward long-term recovery assistance, helping residents recover and rebuild. United will match up to $50,000 USD in donations, and MileagePlus® members who donate $50 or more will receive up to 1,000 award miles from United. Donate to GlobalGiving.

Please note: Donations made toward GlobalGiving's fund are only eligible for the MileagePlus miles match.

In addition to helping with fundraising, we're staying in touch with our employees and customers in Australia. Together, we'll help keep Australia a beautiful place to live and visit in the years to come.

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