Around the World: In Toronto, Underground Warmth is Cool!
Toronto’s stellar reputation as a cool urban environment is more than well-deserved. The hip Ontario capital’s myriad attractions include wonderful museums, sports centers, great eateries, fabulous shopping and a full calendar of appealing events year round.
Year round includes winter months, when you might expect deep freeze temperatures and blustery weather to deter tourist visits.
However, regardless of prevailing outdoor weather conditions, many of the city’s most popular attractions are conveniently accessible -- thanks to PATH, Toronto’s unique underground system of walkways, all of which are fully equipped with climate control.
PATH is actually one of Toronto’s standout features, an engineered environment that shelters the city’s citizens and visitors from harsh weather that might otherwise stop them in their tracks. PATH makes it very easy to get around town.
When you enter PATH, you’re on a journey through a warren of more than 17 miles of subterranean walkways that are lined with shopping arcades and eateries. And, the walkways link directly to many of the city’s top attractions, with connections to may more via the city’s subway lines.
According to Guinness World Records, Toronto’s PATH is the largest underground shopping complex in the world. It has some 4-million square feet of retail space, which makes it roughly the equivalent of Canada’s famous West Edmonton Mall -- which claims to be the world’s largest stand-alone shopping center.
If it’s acquisition you have in mind, PATH retailers rival those of the West Edmonton Mall in both variety and quality. The PATH roster boasts some 1,200 shops, including top chains, leading brand outlets and unique boutiques, plus Canadiana, fine art galleries, book and music stores, home furnishings and just about anything you might want to purchase as personal souvenirs or as gifts for friends and family.
Once annually, when PATH vendors host the world’s largest underground sidewalk sale at which fabulous bargains abound. If you’re into shopping, coordinate your Toronto visit with this big event – but you’ll have to wait until Autumn, when PATH’s climate control will shelter you from seasonal heat.
If you harbor the notion that staying underground is a bit creepy, or fear feeling confined, you can let go of all that anxiety. PATH is modern and clean, well designed, well lit, and well ventilated -- and, if you want to explore what’s above, there are 125 convenient, well-marked exits that lead to the streets above, or to some 50 buildings, including soaring glass and steel business towers, government buildings and entertainment complexes.
And, as for tourist delights and amusements, PATH’s exits lead to theaters, concert halls, movie houses, sports arenas, galleries, historic buildings, two department stores and other attractions, including the renown Hockey Hall of Fame, Air Canada Centre (formerly the SkyDome, home to hockey's Maple Leafs, baseball’s Blue Jays and NBA's Raptors), Rogers Centre (a domed venue for concerts, the Auto Show, sports and other events), and the CN Tower (the world’s tallest building, with two observation decks, the lower of which has an amazing glass floor, and a 360 degree rotating restaurant).
PATH is also makes doing business tremendously convenient. Take note that many of those linked office towers house corporate headquarters, banks and assorted bureaucracies, as well as the CBC Broadcast Center and the Toronto Stock Exchange. Toronto’s City Hall and Metro Hall are also connected through PATH.
A number of the office buildings are also connected by overhead bridges that give tourists a glimpse of Toronto’s cityscape, without relinquishing the climate control. Several buildings are architectural classics, including the beautiful 70-year-old Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce, with sculpted ceilings and moldings.
Another Toronto classic that’s accessible from PATH is the elegant Fairmont Royal York Hotel, an ideal place to stay while touring the underground and all the attractions.
The Fairmont Royal York is one of Toronto’s oldest hotels and one of its best. Built in 1929 as a key hotel along the Canadian Pacific Railway routes, it is across the street from Union Station, another Toronto classic. Both are hubs for the PATH network of walkways.
The Fairmont Royal York has been beautifully maintained and is quite magnificent, with a sweeping marble staircase in the center of the elegant lobby and glittering chandeliers illuminating the public areas. This grand dame of a hotel is 28 stories tall, has 1600 rooms, several fabulous restaurants and a concert hall with a pipe organ. It also has a very modern business center and a great health club, and all the en suite amenities.
The Fairmont Royal York Hotel became part of the PATH network in 1927, when a tunnel was built to connect the hotel directly to Union Station. But that was long after the first tunnel was built -- back in 1900, when the T. Eaton Company accommodated customers by joining its main department store to its bargain annex. What foresight!
But most of the full PATH network wasn’t built until the 1970s, and the attractive and helpful signage wasn’t added until the early 1990s.
The signage is essential, and easy to follow. Each letter in PATH is a different color, representing a different direction. P is red, indicating South. A is orange, and directs pedestrians to the west. The blue T points to the north. And the yellow H points to the east. The design scheme is attractive and clever.
If you do get disoriented, there’s always someone around who can give you directions. Weekdays, PATH can be quite crowded, especially at rush hour when commuters arrive for work or leave for home. On Saturdays and Sundays, there are fewer Torontonians and more tourists, but friendly shopkeepers can always point you in the right direction.
You can get a PATH map online at TorontoPath,com or from the concierge at the Fairmont Royal Hotel. Further information about visiting Toronto is available from Toronto Tourism at SeeTorontoNow.com.