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Travel Diaries: Toronto with Mini Jetsetter and Local, Olga Valentin

Travel Diaries: Toronto with Mini Jetsetter and Local, Olga Valentin
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From the moment we discovered Olga and Mini Jetsetter, we were obsessed. Her Instagram profile is chock full of unique and valuable travel tips for family adventures. For example, we learned from Olga that most big cities have kid-centered walking tours. This is just one of many bookmark-worthy posts you’ll find at @mini.jetsetter

Olga  at the airport

Olga is a seasoned traveler who shares creative ways to prepare children for travel in exciting and engaging ways. What started as a way for her to organically share her thoughtful approach to global family travel has morphed into a business because so many of us have discovered and loved the valuable content that Olga creates!

We’re super excited to sit down with her today to get all her advice on visiting Toronto. And we’ll be back for more conversations on all things Mini Jetsetter in the coming summer travel months!

Nell: The first time we talked you told me how much you love Toronto as a place to live and adventure. What is it about Toronto that you love so much?

Olga: It’s a big, vibrant and diverse city with hyperlocal communities and neighborhoods. For example, everyone in my neighborhood walks their kids to school in the morning, children roam free in the laneways, and there’s a huge community farmer’s market every week. But then we can hop on the streetcar and get downtown in 15 minutes where we have access to world class restaurants, museums and cultural events.  

N: Any fun or interesting facts about Toronto that most visitors wouldn’t know?

O:  Toronto is one of the most diverse cities in the world and despite our cosmopolitan growth, we remain a city of neighborhoods with immigrant roots and district communities. From Little Italy, Roncesvalles, Kensington, Greektown to Little Portugal... you can travel the world in Toronto and each neighborhood has its own vibe and amazing food scene. 

Family in Toronto

Before we jump into all your recommendations, let’s do a speed round of advice:

N: The best time of year to visit Toronto…
O: SUMMER! September and early October are my favorite though. Our winters are long and tough. 

N: The perfect # of days to visit is…
O: At least 3, but I would recommend 5 with kids. Toronto is huge and there is a lot to see and explore. 

N: Hotel or AirBnb?
O: Lots of great options for both, but for first time visitors I recommend finding accommodations downtown or at least somewhere central on the subway line.

N: The best way to get around is… (rental car? Taxi/Uber? public transport?) O: Public transportation! Traffic can be horrible here, parking is ridiculous, and we try to avoid driving as much as possible (especially if you're crossing the city from West/East). We do sometimes take Ubers, just not with kids unless you have car seats with you.  

N: One thing all locals know/do is…
O: We don't pronounce the second "t" in Toronto. The UP Express is the best and most efficient way into the city from Pearson Airport. And the PATH is an underground pedestrian walkway network in downtown that spans more than 30 kilometers. 

N: One mistake visitors make is…
O: only trying to tackle the big attractions, especially the classic kid friendly ones like the Aquarium, ROM, Ontario Science Centre, Zoo ... those attractions are all pretty far apart from each other. The city is big and you'll spend more of your time in transit. To get a real feel of Toronto, you need to explore the neighborhoods and stick to one area at a time.

N: The kids favorite place to go is…
O: downtown on the streetcar or subway! They love the AGO and the Grange Playground right behind it. In the summer, taking the ferry/tiki taxi across to the Toronto Islands and going to Centreville. 

N: Be sure not to miss…
O: Distillery District. It's the most beautiful part of the city and feels like you're stepping back in time. 

Olga and her daughter

Now for all your tips! What is on your “Best of Toronto” list?

Best Accommodations: 

  • The Chelsea Hotel - probably the most kid-friendly hotel in the city with a family zone and waterslide 
  • Sheraton Centre Hotel - has a massive indoor/outdoor pool and fantastic views
  • Sonder - self-serviced apartment hotels, several locations and perfect for those who want more space

Places to Play:

  • Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) + the Grange Park Playground 
  • Dufferin Grove Sandpit - in the summer it's a giant mud pit with shovels for kids use to dig waterways and tunnels
  • High Park - train ride around the park, cool Adventure Playground, small zoo, massive splash pad on the north side, lots of gorgeous trails
  • St. James Playground near St. Lawrence Market
  • Ontario Science Centre - a bit of a trek but worth it!
  • Ripley's Aquarium of Canada + Toronto Railway Museum
  • BOK Play Cafe

Best Grown-up time Entertainment: 

Best Places to Eat:

With kids:

Without kids:

Best Shops: 

  • Women's Clothing Boutiques: Frock, KOTN, Oak + Fort, Suetables
  • Kids: KOL Kid, Jill and the Beanstock, Scooter Girl Toys, Mini Mioche, Advice from a Caterpillar
  • Health & Beauty: Detox Market, Health Hut, Aesop
  • Food: St. Lawrence Market, Alimentari Italian Grocery, The Big Carrot Danforth
  • Gifts: ShopAGO, Spacing Store, Indigo (we also love the children’s sections)

Best hidden gems / Spots that locals love? 

  • Kensington Market
  • Riverdale Farm
  • Evergreen Brickworks
  • Toronto Islands
  • Trinity Bellwoods Park
  • Allan Gardens
  • Wychwood Barns - farmer's market on Saturdays, children’s theater, splash pad
  • Toronto Music Garden

Family on vacation

And finally, what’s next on your travel bucket list!?

Everywhere haha! We’re heading to Nova Scotia and the Florida Keys this summer and then back to Portugal in the Fall. I’d love to do the Christmas Markets in Germany over the Holidays or maybe a ski trip in the Alps.

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