Toronto is the capitol of Ontario and means meeting place from an aboriginal word. Only an hour away from and founded at the same time as Chicago this area split from America in 1776. Both cities were considered gateways to the west. Being the largest city in Canada it is expansive and has a personality all on its own. While nice to visit, Toronto not cheap to live in as it was the highest ranked this year for cost of living.

Flying there is a breeze as Porter Airlines leaves from Midway airport daily where the snacks and drinks are flowing on the designer jet and the unlimited free Starbucks in the private lounge on return flights were a hit. A short ferry ride across the pond upon arrival and then you are on your way. Traffic can be tight though so plan on being patient. Getting around the city is very easy with railway buses, cabs and trains it’s a snap.

There are several Marriotts located in Toronto but the Eaton Center location offers a closed in walkway to start that shopping. Bars and attractions are nearby along with an excellent breakfast buffet to start the day off right.

The Royal Ontario Museum is currently presenting Maya: Secrets of Their Ancient World that shows past civilizations alongside dinosaur bones.

Take a walk on the high side at the CN Tower. Over 1,000 feet in the air, Chef Peter George serves up a cuisine that keeps diners spinning on a rotating platform at the restaurant inside the tower with a 360-degree view. After having the chocolate tower for dessert head to Edge Walk where you can be buckled in for a stroll on the outside ledge. This gives sightseeing a whole new meaning and was lit up red to honor World AIDS Day when I was there.

The St. Lawrence Market has something for everyone who loves to cook, from meat to cheeses. Don’t skip breakfast with a traditional peameal Canadian bacon sandwich at the Carousel Bakery.

Many people travel to see celebrities at the Toronto International Film Festival every year and now have a new place to eat with Luma located in the TIFF Lightbox. As you walk up the steps don’t miss the encased Oscar from the winner The Barbarian Invasions donated by the director.

The Grace Kelly exhibit runs in the same building displaying her rise to fame and the incredible outfits that she knew how to work.

Missing the comedy of Chicago? Take in an early show with this sister act from the same name of Second City presenting holiday themed shows throughout the year.

Another recent Chicago touring show was Mary Poppins landing at the Princess of Wales Theatre.

Fighting a foot fetish? Step over to the Bata Show Museum where founder Sonja Bata first started collecting footwear in the 1940’s. Now with over 13,000 artifacts including shoes from Judy Garland and Barbra Streisand, this place really has sole with the biggest boot ever from Mexico.

Decorated for the holidays was the castle Casa Loma, the previous estate of Sir Henry Mill Pellatt is the home of many movie sets including the X-men although Hugh Jackman was not to be found.

Every year the Historic Distillery District’s Christmas Market opens with wooden booths to shop at or just stroll around with a hot chocolate in hand. Barenaked Ladies front man Steven Page sang for the shoppers while Santa took care of the kiddies for the opening ceremony. Pure Spirits nearby always has a line outside for their swordfish steak and tiger shrimp angel hair pasta.

Off the beaten path is The Spa at the Old Mill Inn, which provides a getaway for travelers far and near. An indoor chapel for weddings, a 300-seat restaurant and luxurious spa conveniently means a couple never has to leave the premises.

Step back in time with the Black Creek Pioneer Village. Flaming pudding, yarn spinning, and history are all fun to witness while visiting a village founded in the 1800’s.

Speaking of blasts from the past, for fans of the Mildred Pierce movie Mildred’s Temple Kitchen is named after the film. This establishment made headlines this year when customers were encouraged to have bathroom sex on Valentine’s Day to celebrate. After your torrid toilette rendezvous return to your seat for a Makers Mark apple cider drink or the delicious gnocchi poutine.

After dinner the gay area is not too far where there are blocks of bars to try out such as world famous Woody’s, massive in size with room after room of activity. Zipperz has a piano bar and Fly is the place to be on the weekends to dance. Pride week in June is one of the biggest LGBT festivals in the world.

Take care of your sweet tooth with a Canadian baking class by Le Dolci where people of all ages learn to decorate cupcakes. All classes are two hours long and a can celebrate any special day or holiday.

Head to more shopping in the historic Yorkville area where upscale chains such as Roots and Club Monaco are all the rage. The Guild Shop featured local artists and was very reasonable with prices.

Sassafraz is a nice place for a lunch break right in the middle of this square and has a bar area to rest your feet.

For dinner located inside an upscale mall is La Societe with Parisian cuisine and a stained glass ceiling that shoppers must try.

After all this shopping, dining, and sight seeing it is only a quick trip back to Chicago.  For a nearby sister city that is among the world’s top tourist destinations there is no excuse not to experience Canada and Toronto for yourself.

For more information on many of the places mentioned above visit before your visit!