AOL PICK from our Editors
Toronto has a confident roster of everything from impossibly upscale addresses with every detail fine-tuned and tweaked by the world’s top designer names, to cozy, homey neighborhood inns. Several of the best Toronto hotels are housed in soaring downtown towers. Boutique creations sprout in the latest cool ‘hoods. An impressive array of B&Bs dots the residential districts. A solid handful of hostels give good downtown vantage points. Despite this profusion of rooms, it can still sometimes be a challenge to find a moderately priced place to lay your head. Top Toronto hotels tend to be pretty busy year-round and bargain rooms are rare finds. The big names are clustered round Harbourfront Centre, the Financial and Entertainment Districts, and on the hem of Yorkville. A couple of super-hip boutiques in West Queen West give an entirely different angle for a Toronto stay—removed from the downtown traffic and bustle, but right in the heart of Canada’s coolest nightlife.
Neighborhood: Downtown Price Range: Expensive
It’s shiny, it’s showy and it’s stunning—the 102-room hotel just west of the Fashion District was a sexy addition to the Toronto hotel scene in 2010 and instantly won recognition as one of the best Toronto hotels. Studio Gaia designed the seductive space, and rooms feature floor-to-ceiling windows, angular modernist furnishings, marble bathrooms and Dean & DeLuca amenities. You’re covered if you’re craving an artisanal beer or a late-night dinner offering such as PB&J or the loaded “Obscenely Large Muffaletta” at The Counter. If you want to take your noshing up a notch, try Scott Conant’s much-hyped Scarpetta Italian Restaurant. The private rooftop bar and infinity edge pool add to its exclusive allure. We love lounging by the pool after dusk, watching the light show that illuminates the CN Tower every night and watching the sometimes A-list guests mill about us.
Neighborhood: Midtown Price Range: Expensive
With an almost one-to-one staff-to-guest ratio and a prime position at the southern edge of glitzy Yorkville, it’s no wonder the flagship property of the luxe Toronto-based hotel chain is so popular with visiting celebrities and wealthy provincials. The rooms and suites range from 325 square feet to 2150 square feet, but the property seems a little tired compared to more recent arrivals on the scene. What makes up for this is the exceptional service—expect the door and desk staff to remember your name within a few hours of your arrival, the proximity to the best of the city, the four fine restaurants, and the chances that you might share elevators with Jennifer Aniston or George Clooney. You can lurk in the lobby, pretending to admire the gargantuan flower displays, while waiting for big name guests to come and go. The best chances of celebrity sightings are during September’s Toronto International Film Festival.
Neighborhood: West End Price Range: Expensive
A former flophouse-turned-media darling, the Drake pirouetted onto the jet set’s It List when it re-opened its doors in 2004. Achingly hip and galloping ahead of every possible trend with its Green Seal eco-cleaning products, custom millwork and yoga studio, this hotel cum performance space might come off, at first take, as a tad pretentious with its model-esque staff, preciously named martinis and self-consciously cool crowd, but the Drake’s immaculately attired heart is in the right place. Many a Toronto band got its start in the Drake Underground live music space (and free meals for bands and patrons on Mondays), there are enticing tequila and taco specials at the rooftop Sky Yard, the raw bar serves up superfresh fare, and the rooms are really impeccably done with charcoal hardwood, lovely linens and quirky touches such as handmade dolls set on the beds.
Neighborhood: West End Price Range: Moderate
Built in 1889, West Queen West’s beautiful Gladstone Hotel has the same focus on art, performance, and music that the Drake has, but with none of the pretension—and way lower rates. Very much a local hangout, hotel guests get to mingle with an eclectic array of artists, musicians, moms and local characters. The 37 guest rooms are each designed by a local artist and range from the angular lines of the Offset Room to the sugar pink posters of the Teen Queen Room and the busy Chinoiserie. Downstairs, there’s a lofty café popular with local artists, graphic designers and writers, and two bars—the Art Bar and the dimly lit Melody Bar, where a scruffy artistic set gather to watch shows or sing karaoke in the evening.
Neighborhood: Midtown Price Range: Moderate
This perfectly positioned 14-story hotel has the top sights of the city literally on its doorstep. Just feet away from the striking spikes of the Royal Ontario Museum, the Gardiner Museum, Yorkville shopping and St. George subway station—and across the street from the Bata Shoe Museum and the University of Toronto—the location cannot be beaten. The 209 rooms are a decent size, but standard Holiday Inn quality. Make sure you’re getting the right Yorkville or “Midtown” location when booking—Toronto has a raft of Holiday Inns—not all in such ideal settings. We love having washers and dryers on site for catching up on laundry when we’ve been on the road for a while, and the on-site Daily Express Café is good for a huge muffin or poached salmon salad when we don’t feel like venturing out on the town.
Neighborhood: Harbourfront Price Range: Moderate
Moored between the two prongs of the Harbourfront Centre’s Ht0 Park, a room at Toronto’s only “floatel” is quite the catch. Open May through September, this romantic bobbing B and B aboard the MV Boatel 1 only has three guest rooms—each of them with quirky corners and one with a somewhat cramped shower. But a stay on board the Boatel is about the experience, and we always jump at the chance to lounge on a plush sofa on the polished teak deck, G&T in hand, indulging in yachting fantasies, A gourmet breakfast is served on this private yacht and there are comfortable areas to lounge and recline on deck. The CN Tower, Rogers Centre, Toronto Islands ferries and the slew of festivals and free movies of the Harbourfront all await as soon as you get your land legs back.
Neighborhood: West End Price Range: Budget
If you didn’t know it was there, you might never stumble on the cheerful block of restaurants and quaint stores that make up Baldwin Village. Despite being only a few hundred feet from Queen Street or Kensington Market, this part of Toronto feels like a world away. Nestled amid the 25 restaurants, bakeries, small groceries and quirky boutiques, the BVI is a secret within a secret. Six elegant guest rooms share three washrooms, a lounge and dining room in Roger and Tess’ pastel yellow Victorian mansion. The Inn’s hidden courtyard is the perfect place to while away an afternoon with a book after a day’s exploring. Ask for a second-floor room if you’d like more space.
Neighborhood: Downtown Price Range: Budget
Basking on a leafy street just off the rambunctious Church Wellesley gay strip, cozy Victoria’s Mansion is a refreshingly sedate address for when you want to leave the party, the crowds and the traffic behind. All 22 rooms have a fridge, coffeemaker, dishes and a microwave, and the 19th-century red brick mansion has a gorgeous quiet, sun-filled garden. Run by a husband and wife team, the mansion’s clientele is mixed gay/straight, despite the rainbow flag outside. Rooms are spotless and the area is social, but safe.
Neighborhood: Downtown Price Range: Budget
Set just opposite the greenhouses of Allan Gardens—the rather tenuously titled “Garden District”—this rather non-descript hotel on a rather non-descript section of Jarvis Street started life in 1929 as an apartment building. The Ramada is a winner, however, for really generous rooms (on a completely different scale to the miniscule elevator) and for cheerful prices. The hotel is right beside the College streetcar line and just a couple of blocks from Yonge Street and the Gay Village. Rooms got a makeover in 2009 and were brightened up to warm sandy tones. The staff ranges from helpful to disinterested, but as a good-sized base to return to after a day or night on the town, the Plaza gets our vote.
Neighborhood: Downtown Price Range: Budget
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Three famed drinkers have holed up at this spot in the past—Jack Nicholson filmed a movie at the hotel, while Mick Jagger and Leonard Cohen played concerts. Admittedly, the 155-bed hostel operated as a hotel at the time, but it feels like something of their hedonistic take on life has been preserved at these exuberant downtown budget digs. Situated on the corner of King Street and Spadina Avenue, the bars and clubs of Queen West and the Entertainment District, and downtown shopping are a mere stumble away and it’s close to many top Toronto attractions. The hostel’s Departure Lounge has one of the best patios in the city and really throws a mean party.