About this series: Wheels wants to inspire you to explore. This series of daytrips and longer drives highlight great experiences you can have in the province, ands show you why Ontario is “Ours to Discover.”
Often overlooked by Niagara-bound day-trippers, Burlington is a nearby jewel that that will make you feel like you’re on holiday by the sea. Here are our suggestions on how to spend a day exploring the city.
In the morning:
Leave downtown Toronto heading west along the Gardiner Expressway to the Queen Elizabeth Way. If there are no traffic delays, you’ll be pulling into Burlington less than an hour later, and just in time for coffee and a breakfast treat at Kelly’s Bake Shoppe.
This cheery, locally owned spot offers classic baked goods with a modern twist: everything is plant-based, dairy-free and peanut-free – not that you’d know it from the thickly iced cupcakes and toothsome doughnuts (healthy muffins are on the roster too).
Enjoy your goodies on one of the flower-flanked benches outside this Brant Street charmer before heading to the nearby Pearl Street’s Village Square, a delightful pocket of shops and eateries presented as an old-fashioned town square, complete with festive string lights and a very Instagram-able red British phone booth.
After strolling the Village’s cobblestones, meander over to the Art Gallery of Burlington which, along with special exhibitions, has the biggest comprehensive offering of contemporary Canadian ceramics in the world – with more than 4,000 pieces. There is a well-stocked gift shop (for an original souvenir of your trip) and don’t miss the gallery’s lush greenhouse garden that leads to a pretty, hidden-from-the-street courtyard.
Back out on Lakeshore Road, and just across from the gallery, is Spencer Smith Park. There is a centre-piece fountain with an impressive bronze “Lady of the Lake” sculpture, as well as the waterfront trail, a lakeside promenade that’s an ideal place to stroll, cycle or rollerblade. A walk out to the Brant Street Pier is a must as it offers a breezy perch and panoramic view of downtown.
In the early afternoon:
Have lunch in the heart of the city. Downtown Bistro & Grill, one of the area’s most popular eateries, serves up classic casual fare (the house burger is a crowd-pleaser), while Rayhoon Eatery is the go-to for expertly prepared Persian dishes (don’t miss the house-made Barbari bread and Kashkeh Bademjoon, a rich, mint-flecked eggplant dip topped with lashings of yogurt).
In the late afternoon:
After lunch, the Royal Botanical Gardens are a must. They are the largest in Canada – think 2,400-plus acres of nature and gardens – and include a rock garden, an indoor Mediterranean greenhouse garden and an Arboretum that will make you think you’re in the English countryside. There are also 27 kilometres of nature trails, perfect for butterfly and bird watching, as well as walking off a rich lunch.
Quench the thirst you’ve worked up trekking through the gardens with a stop at the award-winning Nickel Brook Brewing Company, one of Ontario’s original craft brewers with a cool facility – check out the Funk Lab, which focuses on small-batch funk and sour beers. Designated drivers can grab a pack to be enjoyed once back at home (the limited-edition Daily Grind, a unique blend of coffee, berries and pale ale, is worth a look).
In the evening:
Treat yourself to dinner at Isabelle, the farm-to-table restaurant at The Pearle Hotel & Spa, where composed dishes and comfort food are served up with equal aplomb. A medley of Middle Eastern and Italian plates delight, and the cacio e pepe
cries out for alfresco dining on the impossibly pretty patio overlooking the water.
If you’d like to extend the magic of the evening, splurge on an overnight stay at The Pearle, which opened its doors last February (the lakeview rooms are stunners). Its contemporary design channels a modern lake-house aesthetic and the lobby’s grand curving staircase triggers an immediate away-from-it-all feeling. Bonus – if you do stay overnight, you can spend the next morning doing laps in the sun-drenched indoor pool or pampering yourself with a treatment at the spa.
Whenever you decide to leave, don’t head straight to the highway. Instead, drive east along the lakeshore to admire the gorgeous homes as you make your way to the Paletta Mansion. Built in the 1930s and bequeathed to Burlington by a wealthy citizen, it is 11,000-square-feet of grandeur set on 14-acres that include a children’s dollhouse and one of city’s last remaining stables. Its prosperous provenance, beautiful grounds and elevated perch over the lake might even evoke a “Great Gatsby” moment as you gaze across the water. No matter the effect, it is a fitting farewell to the hidden gems and obvious charms of nearby Burlington.
For the Drive
Get in the mood for Burlington by listening to one of its most famous bands, Spoons. If you’re of a certain age, it will bring back nostalgic memories and even if you’re not, it’s pretty hard to resist the catchy “doot-doots” in the chorus of “Romantic Traffic” (also, is there a better song title for a road trip?).
Drive west on the Queen Elizabeth Way
- 9:30 a.m. Kelly’s Bake Shoppe
- 10 a.m. Village Square
- 11 a.m. Art Gallery of Burlington
- 12:30 p.m. Spencer Smith Park
- 1 p.m. Waterfront Trail
- 2:30 p.m. Royal Botanical Gardens
- 4:30 p.m. Nickel Brook Brewing Company
- 5:30 p.m. Isabelle