TORONTO (Reuters) - Toronto, which is also known as Hollywood North - likes to stand in for its more famous U.S. neighbor New York, but Canada’s largest metropolis is a star all its own, which is often overlooked and under-hyped.
Toronto is North America’s fifth biggest city and Canada’s financial and artistic powerhouse. Its thriving and livable downtown is an eclectic mix of skyscrapers, historic buildings, charming parks and some avant-garde architecture that is either loved or loathed.
A relatively young city, Toronto makes up for its lack of beauty by being one of the world’s most diverse, with over 140 languages and dialects, and culture and restaurants to match.
Reuters correspondents with local knowledge offer a sample for a whirlwind winter stay.
6 p.m. - Start in the financial district at King and Bay Streets at the Toronto-Dominion Center, a cluster of skyscrapers designed by Modernist architect Ludwig Mies van de Rohe. Look for the TD Bank Tower (66 Wellington St W) and ride up to the 54th floor for a swank dinner at Canoe (here) for seasonal and imaginative Canadian cuisine. Enjoy the view of the brightly lit CN Tower, still the world's tallest freestanding tower from the warmth of the restaurant's dining room and bar.
8 p.m. - King Street is entertainment central. Home to the Royal Alexandra and Princess of Wales theaters, you'll also find headquarters of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra and Toronto International Film Festival. More theaters, a ballet and opera house and Second City comedy club are also steps away. Discounted same-day show tickets can be found online (www.totix.ca) or at the touristy Yonge and Dundas square.
11 p.m. - Go for a drink on Mercer Street to Ame (www.amecuisine.com), a stylish Japanese supper club for DJ beats and fanciful cocktails . Also check out the luxury boutique Hotel Le Germain and the Maison Mercer for party seekers.
9 a.m. - Walk east on Front Street to "Old Town" Toronto and the historic St. Lawrence Market (www.stlawrencemarket.com/), where the farmers' market in the north building on Saturday mornings bustles. In the south building, grab a bite of breakfast. Foodies flock to the peameal bacon sandwiches from Carousel Bakery in the south building. Vegetarians will love the massive eggplant parmesan sandwiches downstairs at Mustachio's.
10 a.m. - Go west to Bay and Front to Brookfield Place and its stunning galleria. Here you'll find the Hockey Hall of Fame (www.hhof.com/) with the original Stanley Cup and interactive games.
11 a.m. - Walk up Bay Street toward the clock tower of Old City Hall, an important example of the city’s Romanesque Revival architecture. Next door on Queen Street, skate at Nathan Phillips Square outside “new” City Hall, a 1950s-designed landmark of Toronto with its flying saucer-like council chamber nestled between two curved towers. Toronto is famous for its hotdog stands and veggie dogs are common. Try Canadian poutine: French fries with cheese curds and gravy.
12 p.m. - Walk along Queen West and go north on Beverly Street until Dundas to the Art Gallery of Ontario. Must-sees are the Henry Moore sculptures and Peter Paul Reubens’ masterpiece “The Massacre of the Innocents.” Snack at the gallery’s cafe, espresso bar or slick Frank Restaurant.
2:30 p.m. - Explore Chinatown, west on Dundas to Spadina Avenue. Walk north on Spadina and turn west onto St. Andrew or Baldwin Street into Kensington Market, Toronto’s beloved hippie haven. Kensington was once the city’s European Jewish neighborhood before other waves of immigrants made their mark on the neighborhood’s bohemian multicultural vibe, including Hungarian, Ukrainian, Portuguese, Italian, Southeast Asian and Caribbean influences.
4:30 p.m. - Head south on Spadina and back on Queen for an essential detour into the heart of what makes Toronto cool. Browse local designer boutiques, vintage and textile stores, tattoo parlors and record shops. The east side of Queen West has become more mainstream, but west of Bathurst to “West Queen West” is Toronto’s official art and design district, where you’ll find scores of galleries. The storied Gladstone Hotel and revolutionary Drake Hotel are hot places to party and stay.
6 p.m. - Go north on Ossington Avenue back to Dundas to the Communist’s Daughter, a hidden gem in Little Portugal, where the beer is cheap. It’s known for live gypsy jazz sessions on Saturday afternoons between 4-7 p.m.
7 p.m. - East on Dundas, head to The Black Hoof (www.blackhoof.com), a Toronto temple of nose-to-tail eating hailed for its homemade cured meats and roasted bone marrow. A menu featuring beef heart tartare and tongue on brioche is not for the unadventurous. But there are some pleasing vegetarian options.
9 p.m. - Pub crawl on Ossington between Dundas and Queen, a trendy hipster strip of edgy and kitschy bars and restaurants. For laid back drinks, check out Sweaty Betty‘s, Reposado, The Ossington, Crooked Star and The Painted Lady.
10 a.m. - Get brunch at the Queen and Beaver Public House (queenandbeaverpub.ca/) and fill up on Kedgeree (curried rice, smoked haddock and soft-poached egg) - a traditional dish. Its quaint and quirky dining room and bar areas are decorated with tributes to the Royal family.
11 a.m. - Hop on the subway from Dundas to Museum station to the Royal Ontario Museum (www.rom.on.ca). The ROM is the country's largest natural history museum and one of Toronto's most controversial spectacles with its new "crystal" addition designed by Daniel Libeskind. Its Chinese collection is regarded one of the best outside of China. The dinosaurs are also worth seeing. Have lunch at the ROM's posh C5 (www.c5restaurant.ca).
3 p.m. - Shop in the ritzy Bloor-Yorkville area, once the hippie heart of town in the 1960s, where folk-rock legends Joni Mitchell, Gordon Lightfoot and Neil Young got their start. Visit the luxury department store Holt Renfrew on Bloor (www.holtrenfrew.com).
5 p.m. - End with a panoramic view of the city. Swill cocktails at the cozy Roof Lounge on the 18th floor of the Park Hyatt hotel (here). The bar keeps its terrace open year-round for guests willing to brave the cold, with wind-barriers, heaters and blankets.
Reporting by Claire Sibonney; editing by Patricia Reaney