Montreal & Toronto: Canada's Step-Sisters


  There are exciting travel experiences all over the world, but sometimes, when there are time or budget constraints, you can find fulfilling travel adventures much closer to home.  Canada can provide satisfaction for your travel wonder lust   in many ways. 

Recently, I was able to visit Montreal, Quebec, and Toronto, Ontario, on two separate but closely timed trips.  Although they are both Canadian cities in every way, they are of different origins, which adds to the fun and discovery of the journey.

It is easy to get to Montreal with daily non-stop flights on Air Canada and on other carriers with connections. Montreal has its origins from the French and today the first words out of any Quebec citizen are always French.  They are proud of their heritage, and at times, in old Montreal, you feel like you are in Paris -- right down to the cobblestone streets, the horse-drawn carriages and a scaled down version of Notre Dame Cathedral. Montreal is an amazing city whose first buildings date from 1705, but it is as modern as the totally revamped Ritz Carlton, whose state-of-the-art Japanese toilets take a bit of getting used to. The Ritz-Carlton is extremely comfortable and in the heart of modern downtown Montreal. 

Museums are all over and a new planetarium opened this spring and has been an instant hit.  When it comes to dining, Montreal's cuisine is extremely fresh and tasty -- even a basic sandwich comes immediately to life with flavor.  For dinner I can recommend Holder, a busy more informal French restaurant at the edge of Old Montreal, near the Hotel St. James. Don't forget breakfast: the blueberry pancakes and locally produced real maple syrup somehow tastes better here.  

Toronto is quite different and, if you have the time, the two cities are not that far apart.  Culturally, however, they are worlds apart.  I think of Toronto as a scaled-down version of New York City, and growing every day.  What other North American city could boast four brand new 5-star hotels completed in the last three three years?  A very contemporary Ritz - Carlton, a dramatic Trump Hotel Toronto, an Asian influenced Shangri-La Hotel and Towers, and a residential-like Four Seasons have all recently opened. 

Toronto's architecture is a bit bolder and more dramatic. Witness the several story-high sculpture in front of the Shangri-La that seems to be taking over the building!  

This visit I stayed at the Trump, with spacious rooms and suites and dramatic views of the city.  The 32nd floor indoor/outdoor bar is the perfect place for an afternoon beverage. The suites even come with fireplaces and 1 1/2 baths.  

Dining in Toronto is also an adventure with many non-traditional venues.  Woodlot, in the emerging new culinary area, was amazing with its food combinations but it worked, and the heritage building it is located in just added to the atmosphere. 

Toronto is served with multiple non-stop flights on Air Canada and daily non-stop service on American Airlines.  You can use other carriers with a connection.  For both Montreal and Toronto, you pre-clear US Customs and Immigration in Canada at those airports; when you arrive back in the US it is a domestic arrival.  No long custom lines to go through. 

Hilton Smith can make your limited break into a meaningful travel break  in Canada.