Three Perfect Days: Hong Kong
Monday, August 12th
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Story by Nicholas DeRenzo | Photography by Victor Cheng | Hemispheres August 2019
Like many world capitals, Hong Kong entered the 21st century with a renewed sense of purpose. In 1997, the city bid farewell to 156 years of British colonial rule, and Hong Kongers have since experienced a period of transformation, growth, and experimentation. Developments like Victoria Dockside and the West Kowloon Cultural District have reshaped the skyline, a shiny new train station has connected the city—symbolically and practically—with other booming Chinese metropolises like Guangzhou and Shenzhen, and next-generation tycoons (such as Rosewood Hotels' 38-year-old CEO Sonia Cheng) are reinvigorating it from the inside out. There's no better time to explore this place, as it remakes itself from a staid financial hub into a progressive city of tomorrow.
Tarts, temples and Tai Kwun
The former Police Headquarters Block at Tai Kwun
Hong Kong is a vertigo-inducing, vertical city, with more skyscrapers than any other place on the planet. Especially on Hong Kong Island—the Manhattan of this 263-island archipelago—folks build skyward, turning the green hillsides into upturned combs of tightly packed towers. I wake up on the top floor of the Ovolo Central, a boutique hotel in a relatively modest 27-floor building just up the hill from the party-hearty Lan Kwai Fong district. Up here, I'm at eye level with gliding birds of prey (the ubiquitous black kites), and I suspect we have the same thing in mind: breakfast.
My goal is to eat as many buns and dumplings and tarts as possible while here, so I walk five minutes down the hill to grab a custardy egg tart at the 65-year-old Tai Cheong Bakery. For good measure, I cut across the street to the no-frills Cheung Hing Kee Shanghai Pan-Fried Buns and order the signature sheng jian bao, which are crunchy on top and squirt scalding pork broth like erupting cherry tomatoes when bitten into. They take some practice.
A few minutes back uphill sits Tai Kwun (Cantonese for “the big house"), a sprawling new cultural center that comprises the imposing colonial-era prison, courthouse, and police station, plus two new contemporary art spaces by Swiss starchitects Herzog & de Meuron. It's the city's biggest conservation project ever, and I hop on an English-language tour to appreciate the full scale of the place. “We called it a one-stop approach to law and order," says the guide, as we stop under a towering mango tree in the courtyard. “A lot of police officers believed that if a tree bore a lot of fruit that year, it would be a good year for promotions. Others thought a lot of mangoes meant a lot of bad things were going to happen in the city. For police officers, those two ideas aren't necessarily incompatible!"
The Fortress Hill MTR Station
I tour through the old cells (cramped!) and the new contemporary art museum (avant-garde!) and then make my way a few blocks west to PMQ, the former Police Married Quarters barracks. It's now a multistory design incubator, where local artists sell everything from a roast goose stuffed animal to steamed bun–shaped salt and pepper shakers. Did I mention people here really love to eat? On the first floor, I stock up on kitschy souvenirs at design chain G.O.D. (Goods of Desire), but how to choose between mah-jongg-tile-print underwear and a “Dinner's Ready" apron that sarcastically uses figures from Maoist propaganda posters?
For lunch, I hop on a Ding Ding—a double-decker, onomatopoeic tram—and head to Causeway Bay, the land of glitzy shopping malls. While most dim sum spots have all the charm of a bar mitzvah banquet hall, John Anthony is a Wes Andersonian fantasia of sherbet tones and tropical wallpaper patterns. Named for the first Chinese man to become a British citizen in 1805, the restaurant nods to his legacy with a menu of globally focused dim sum, such as Szechuan Iberico pork rolls, abalone teppanyaki, and cumin lamb dumplings. The waitress tells me to order the air-dried duck because “people love it for Instagram." Far from a gimmick, it's a delicious work of edible art, potato-chip-crispy shards of duck prosciutto draped over a craggy geological formation made of honey.
After snapping a glamour shot of that duck, I hop on the immaculately clean MTR subway line back toward Central, getting out a few stops early to take a ride on the Mid-Levels Escalator—2,600 feet of public outdoor escalators and moving sidewalks that make the hilly terrain much more manageable. Eat your heart out, San Francisco.
The shops at PMQ
I stop into Man Mo Temple, which opened in 1847 to honor the literature deity Man Tai. Coils of incense hang from the ceiling, and the air is thick with pungent smoke. (Fun fact: Hong Kong means “fragrant harbor" in Cantonese, in honor of the aromatic agarwood that's used to make incense and that once grew abundantly on these shores.) Formerly a popular spot among scholars and students, the temple is now firmly on the tourist circuit, as evidenced by the middle-aged Russian woman in a floral kimono peeking out seductively from behind a column as she poses for a portrait. A huddle of American travelers get their fortunes read by shaking incense sticks in a bucket. “Now is not the time to be making big decisions," their guide says in a firm tone. The fortune-receiver grimaces.
I continue along Hollywood Road, past antiques shops selling intricately carved mammoth tusks (I'm skeptical), and meet up with Vicky Lau, who was named Asia's best female chef in 2015 for her work at the Michelin-starred Tate Dining Room & Bar. After an unfulfilling advertising career (“I was doing a lot of shampoo ads," she deadpans), Lau attended Le Cordon Bleu in Bangkok, having first gotten into cooking in her New York University dorm.
“Coils of incense hang form the ceiling, and the air is thick with pungent smoke."
The Tate space—with its blond wood and soft pink chairs that look like strawberry macarons—is defiantly feminine. “I didn't want something dark and trendy," she says. “I think you should not be afraid to show who you are. If I like pink, I'm going to put in pink!" The menu is distinctly modern, something that felt radical when she opened shop in 2012. “In New York, you've seen a big wave of modern Chinese, but back in the day here, it was all about woks and keeping the tradition," Lau says. “No one wanted to jump out of that. With younger chefs, we're rethinking ingredients." Her inventive tasting menu is inspired by, of all things, Chilean poet Pablo Neruda's Odes to Common Things. “We're paying homage to all the ingredients, the seasons, which makes things a little more spiritual," she says. “A meal can feel like short travel."
I order a chardonnay from China's Yanqi region, which is improbably located in the Gobi Desert. “It's a hidden gem," my waiter says. The food is subtle but flavor-packed: Chinese yam with Ossetra caviar, sea scallop with aged kumquat grenobloise sauce, blue lobster with Shaoxing wine foam, steamed pigeon in a Szechuan sauce. The showstopper dessert is a buzzing beehive-shaped box containing petit fours made with honey from urban farms.
Around the corner, I stop for a nightcap at The Sea, a new cocktail den by the trio of bartenders—two Nepalese, one Indonesian—behind the award-winning The Old Man (get it?). The nameless cocktails here purport to be simple, but they're big on flavor. I order the #5, made with peanut-milk rum, banana wine, and pineapple kombucha. It's tropical but sophisticated, inventive but fun-loving. If they need a name, I'd go with the Tiki in a Tesla (this city's favorite car). Or how about just The Hong Konger?
A Hollywood Road antiques shop
The Rosewood Hong Kong's infinity pool reflects the Victoria Harbour Skyline
Creative Kowloon and a tropical day trip
The flamingo-lined rooftop pool at the Eaton HK
If Hong Kong Island is the territory's Manhattan, then Kowloon, across the harbor, is its Brooklyn—a historically louder, messier, more vibrant, more Chinese area. It's a place where high-end (the ultra-glam Peninsula hotel) butts up against working-class (the teeming Chungking Mansions housing complex), and one where a slew of skyline-redefining developments is attracting visitors in droves.
This morning, I'm moving my bags to the Eaton HK, a new activism-minded hotel that opened last fall on an unremarkable corner. Katherine Lo—the daughter of the Langham Hospitality Group chairman—took a gauche 1990s hotel and repurposed it for millennials, complete with a food hall and a members-only coworking space.
In the lobby, I meet the Eaton's director of culture, Chantal Wong, a Canadian expat who's lived here for 13 years. We step outside and look up at the facade, where the old building's tacky billboards now display progressive art installations with messaging like “What if you were free to love everyone you choose?"
The hotel's cocktail bar, Terrible Baby
“We had these massive billboards, so we decided to curate an exhibition and do something meaningful with them," Wong says. One was created by a domestic worker turned Magnum photographer, another by a trans Filipino university professor. “My LGBT friends would feel so proud to see that up there."
We turn down Temple Street, where she tells me I can come later tonight to buy cheap factory goods from Shenzhen or jade—or get my fortune read. I make a mental note. We pass a blingy mah-jongg parlor with neon lights and Corinthian columns. “It's so intimidating, very tense, neon lights," she says. “No one has slept in three days." I'll probably skip that one.
I say goodbye to Wong and continue walking south to the West Kowloon Cultural District, which promises to reshape the waterfront with next year's arrival of the $2.8 billion M+, a museum devoted to contemporary “visual culture." Right now it's still a maze of scaffolding and makeshift tunnels.
In the middle of the urban scrum sits the exceedingly graceful Xiqu Centre, a Chinese opera house that opened in January and is shaped like enormous parted theater curtains surrounding an open-air atrium. I'm lucky enough to have stumbled in during an open rehearsal by a traditional music ensemble. I played bassoon and clarinet from elementary school through college, but I'm totally ignorant when it comes to the instruments here: some sort of banjo, a honking trumpet, a tiny oboe-like thing that squeaks out cheerfully nasal tones. I can't predict where the melody will go or how the chords will (or won't) resolve, but I love how expressive it is, like a gaggle of gossiping waterfowl. On cue, a bunch of songbirds—red-whiskered bulbuls, which look like brown cardinals wearing rouge—start to land in the atrium's trees. Walt Disney would have loved the scene.
"Mostly cabbage, a little bit of pork" dumplings at Ho Lee Fook
From here, I walk a few minutes to the new West Kowloon Station. The undulating train depot, which connects Hong Kong with Guangzhou and Shenzhen, is home to the latest outpost of dim sum staple Tim Ho Wan, which is often called the world's cheapest Michelin-starred restaurant. I order the pan-fried turnip cakes, BBQ pork buns, and springy prawn dumplings—all for about the price of a #saddesklunch back in Brooklyn.
This station has me thinking about the world outside the crowded city, so I decide to make an afternoon escape to the New Territories, a huge swath of the mainland and outlying islands that takes up about 90 percent of Hong Kong's landmass. I have my sights set on the Hong Kong UNESCO Global Geopark, and specifically its High Island Reservoir East Dam, an otherworldly architectural achievement set on the mountainous Sai Kung Peninsula, in the territory's far eastern stretches, once a stopover on the Maritime Silk Road.
You can get there by a subway followed by a commuter rail followed by a minibus followed by a chartered fishing boat. I decide to splurge on a taxi. Forty minutes later, the landscape shifts to tropical, as my taxi begins tracing mountain roads through jungle terrain, passing hidden coves and secluded beaches and rock formations jutting out of the sea. Do people know about this?“The 1970s dam is a climbable marvel sprinkled with wide cement holes that call to mind a 20-story Whac-a-mole board"
I arrive at a roundabout and start the half-mile hike down to the reservoir, which boasts a surprisingly diverse array of terrains within a 20-minute span: a sea cave, hexagonal rock columns that look like a curvy pipe organ, and the 1970s dam, a climbable marvel sprinkled with wide cement holes that call to mind a 20-story Whac-a-Mole board. Most impressive are the thousands of immense dolosse blocks, 25-ton concrete barriers shaped like giant jacks that are strewn here in piles to fight back against wave erosion. I stumble upon a feral cow munching on weeds under a block, which reminds me: It's been a few hours since I've eaten.
Dolosse blocks at High Island Reservoir East Dam
I head back toward civilization for dinner at Central's cheekily named Ho Lee Fook, the brainchild of Taiwanese chef Jowett Yu. When I arrive, a wall of gold-plated lucky cats waves me down into the basement space. Yu has said that the restaurant is meant to evoke late-night Chinatown dives in 1960s New York, but I can say from experience that the comparison doesn't work: Everything on the menu is too nuanced and creative to make me think of drunken nights over greasy egg rolls and wonton soup.
I order the “mostly cabbage, a little bit of pork" dumplings and a decadent roast Wagyu short rib. But the standout is a simple side dish of “typhoon-shelter-style" fried corn, served beneath a mound of fragrant fried garlic, scallions, and chilies, just as Hong Kong's boat people used to do with crab and shrimp inside their makeshift storm shelters. When I get home, I'm going to typhoon shelter everything.
But first, it's back to the Eaton HK's buzzy cocktail bar, Terrible Baby, where I order the Another Type of Fashion, a smooth concoction of aged coconut whiskey, espresso salt water, chocolate bitters, and Oreo chocolate syrup. Maybe it's the Oreo syrup, but I'm feeling reinvigorated, so I head back out to Temple Street to get my fortune read.
I take a seat at a rickety table and haggle a price, and the middle-aged woman looks me over and starts rattling off rapid-fire, fortune-cookie-style pronouncements.
“You have long ears—a Buddha face." (Thanks?)
“You will be very rich in the future." (Thanks!)
“You have a good nose…" (Yeah?) “…so you won't fall into abject poverty." (Phew.)
“A lot of people are jealous of you." (I knew it!)
“You have a good heart; you're pretty good." (I'll take it.)
Sea ChangeSince debuting the $1 billion Kai Tak Cruise Terminal in 2013, Hong Kong has emerged as one of Asia's fastest-growing cruise hubs and a perfect gateway for exploring the region. On Silversea Cruises, passengers can access Singapore, Tokyo, Bangkok, Shanghai, and Sydney. In January 2021, the ultra-luxury line will debut a 12-day roundtrip itinerary from Hong Kong that will make stops in Taiwan and the Philippines. Shore excursions include everything from temple tours and dumpling-making lessons to the Peninsula Take-Off & High Tea, a helicopter ride followed by a posh afternoon tea experience. From $5,940 per person, double occupancy; silversea.com
Kowloon Walled City Park
A rosy morning and a rocky night
Optimistic from my late-night fortune-telling session, I've decided to embrace the sweet life at the city's newest grande dame hotel, the Rosewood Hong Kong, which anchors Kowloon's Victoria Dockside development. I arrive by carshare, and as I pull up the sloping driveway, past a monumental bronze Henry Moore sculpture, I think, I should have upgraded to a black car.
Inside, I'm greeted by a lobby that's anything but stuffy—a perfect encapsulation of the brand's fresh vision under its 38-year-old Hong Kong–based CEO, Sonia Cheng. Damien Hirst butterflies line the lounge, and a team of chatty butlers leave handwritten notes and chocolate-covered marshmallows from the lobby patisserie in my room. I could get used to this. No, as the fortune teller said, I should get used to this.
I drop my bags off in my room and head back down to the lobby, where I meet Olivia Tang, an energetic young guide with Walk in Hong Kong. We drive 20 minutes north from the waterfront to Kowloon City, a densely populated but unassuming district of decades-old shops and tenements. “Neighborhood tours are a relatively new thing here," Tang says. On the drive, she tells me that she loves American TV, especially The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, whose title character has inspired her to pursue a side gig as a stand-up comedian. I ask her if there's much of a scene here. “Local humor is a lot of play on words and slapstick," she says, “like Jackie Chan slipping on a banana peel."
Our first stop is the pint-size Hau Wong Temple, where Tang shows me a wall with a grid of 60 deity figurines. “This is the org chart of the gods," she says. “Hong Kong is unique, because we have migrant gods, external consultants from Buddhism and South Asia. Temples are like 7-Eleven—the gods need to be easily accessible."
The Skin Speaks a Language Not Its Own, in the Rosewood Hong Kong's lobby
Next we step into an idyllic garden—all round moon gates and topiary dragons—that's not quite what it seems. Kowloon Walled City Park opened in 1995 on land that was once one of the most crowded and anarchic slums on the planet, ruled by neither the Chinese nor British governments. “Kowloon Walled City was as big as five soccer fields," Tang says. “At its peak, it had 40,000 people. It was at least 50 times denser than the densest part of Manhattan." It was full of crime, but it was also a place of ingenuity, a functioning mini-city, home to businesses, restaurants, factories, and dwellings. Residents stole electricity from street lamps, dug wells, and rigged a network of hoses from just three faucets. Every night, “fragrance people" collected waste buckets from the tenements' upper floors. “It was like The Wire," she says. “If you went in, you would definitely get lost."
Outside the walls of the old slum sits the refashioned Kowloon City—a refreshingly untouristed neighborhood of regular folks doing, well, regular things. As we stroll, we pick up snacks at beloved holes in the wall: cold soy milk and fried tofu at the Kung Wo Bean Curd Factory, which set up shop in 1960; egg tarts at Hoover Cake Shop, where, Tang tells me, “everything is made with love"; and bouncy fishballs at Tak Hing Fishball Company, a family-run operation that got its start inside the Walled City.
“I think Kowloon has more of a soul than Hong Kong Island," Tang says, as we stop in front of Tai Wo Tang, a new café opened inside a 1932 Chinese medicine shop. “I cried when this place closed!" Now, instead of dried roots and fungi, it dishes out Tai Wo Tang lattes, a play on the classic yuenyeung (coffee-tea mix) made with Earl Grey.
Happy Paradise's May Chow
All this snacking is making me hungry. I hop a cab across the harbor to Cause-way Bay for lunch. Though Hong Kong officially reverted to Chinese control in 1997, not all traces of British influence are gone. Case in point: Roganic Hong Kong, one of two new restaurants by Michelin-starred English chef Simon Rogan. The tasting menu is a hearty defense against those who think all British food is bland and gravy-covered. Among the flood of courses, I sample a one-bite pumpkin tart, grilled brassica salad with cheddar sauce and truffle custard, a funky Tunworth cheese ice cream, and raw beef dressed in smoky coal-steeped oil, which tastes like the Industrial Revolution—and I mean that in the best way possible.
After a lunch this decadent, I could use a nap, but I opt instead for a relaxing Victoria Harbour cruise on the Aqua Luna II, a red-sailed junk made using old-school shipbuilding methods. I board, grab a free glass of wine, and lean back in one of the comfortable deck chairs. If not for the incongruous soundtrack—a techno remix of Tracy Chapman's “Fast Car"—I could almost feel like some pre-colonial seafarer.
“I decide to work off some calories on Lion Rock, a 1,624-foot granite mountain. When I finally reach the peak, my legs hurt, but the view is staggering."
All that time in the sun has earned me some post-relaxation relaxation, so I head up to the Rosewood's sixth-floor infinity pool for an afternoon dip. Then, dinner, back in Central at Happy Paradise, the brainchild of May Chow, who was named Asia's best female chef of 2017. Located at the top of a steep hill, the restaurant looks like a design lover's take on the city's ubiquitous cha chaan teng diners. The whole place is cast in a noirish pallor, straight out of a Wong Kar-wai film, with a neon display of octopus tentacles and noodle-slurping lips behind the bar. The spot is a fun-loving shot in the arm—think drag parties and a dance-heavy soundtrack—in an otherwise buttoned-up business capital.
The chef's clever dishes
“Are you feeling adventurous?" the waiter asks. I let him do the ordering: sourdough egg waffles with bottarga whip, stem lettuce salad with noodle-cut squid, and an umami-bomb entree of M5 Wagyu with preserved lemon rind and seaweed butter. The pièce de résistance is a custardy pig brain, which tastes like meltier bone marrow, served in a little pig-shaped urn—a piggy bank best kept away from kids.
In lieu of a nightcap, I've planned a night hike. Many tourists reach new heights on Hong Kong Island by taking the historic Peak Tram up to Victoria Peak. The views are gorgeous, but it's easy going. Seeing as I've just eaten an entire pig's brain, I decide to work off some calories on Lion Rock, a 1,624-foot granite mountain on the border of Kowloon and the New Territories. As the light begins to fade, I don a headlamp and follow a winding path past other hikers, the odd snake, and a wild boar rooting in the underbrush.
I'm huffing and puffing a bit as the path turns into a steep staircase and dusk turns to night. When I finally reach the peak, my legs hurt, but the view is staggering: The whole city glows golden, with high-rises stretching out toward the black of the horizon. Hong Kong has been called the City of Life, and from up here, where the buzzing urban jungle meets the real one, it's hard to imagine another spot on earth that could ever hold that title.
The view from Lion Rock
Where to Stay
Ovolo CentralThis local boutique brand runs a sister property on Hong Kong Island's burgeoning southside, but you can't beat the newly renovated flagship's in-the-thick-of-it Central location. The vibe skews playful, thanks to a house-curated Spotify playlist of '80s hits and kitschy artwork, such as a portrait in the lobby of a bubblegum-blowing Queen Elizabeth II. From $230, ovolohotels.com
Eaton HKThere's a progressive political bent to this 465-room Kowloon hotel, which has its own community radio station, coworking spaces, and social justice–minded programming. But it still knows how to have fun: Don't miss the pink-flamingo-lined rooftop pool, the free tai chi classes in the gym, or the epic breakfast buffet at The Astor. From $160, eatonworkshop.com
Rosewood Hong KongThis 413-room hotel is a big statement property, but it's the little details you'll love, such as cashmere wall coverings by Loro Piana. Book a table at The Legacy House, a sure-to-be-Michelin-starred restaurant honoring the delicate cuisine of Shunde, in China's Guangdong province, home of CEO Sonia Cheng's grandfather. From $612, rosewoodhotels.com
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
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.
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
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.
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
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 . 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.
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
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
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.
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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
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.