“Toronno” for the locals. Here we don’t pronounce the second "T". Pronouncing the second "T" is a dead giveaway that you are not from Canada or Toronto, in addition to taking selfies in front of the iconic CN tower..
Toronto’s population reflects its current and historical role as an important destination for immigrants. In fact, 51% of Torontonians were born outside Canada. Looking at my group of friends, I often feel like we are a delegation of the United Nations or part of the next Benetton commercial: accents all over the place, rainbow of skin complexions, curious keyboard alphabets and conversations that often start with “ back home”….
No wonder Toronto has been ranked one of the best cities in the world for millennials to live and work. The city is very dynamic and ultra-cosmopolitan. A streetcar ride is enough to travel through the most popular boroughs of town: Danforth (Greektown), Chinatown, little Italy, little Portugal, little India...
Located just a “few” miles away from the Arctic Circle, winters are COLD with frequent snow and temperatures can drop below −25 °C (−13 °F). Summer is the best time to visit. Daytime temperatures are usually around 20°C (68 °F), and often rise above 30 °C (86 °F). Summer offers more opportunities to be outdoors and really enjoy the city.
All international flights will arrive at Toronto Pearson Airport. Head to Skyscanner to find cheap flight deals. From the airport you have few options to get downtown based on your budget:
- Taxi (flat rate around $58 CAD/$45 USD), 30 minutes if there is no traffic
- Public transportation ($3.25 CAD/ $2.5USD). Bus 192 will get you to the nearest subway station and then take the subway to your final destination.
- Up express Train: Leaves from the airport and gets you to downtown in 25 minutes ($12.35/$9 USD one way).
*I always take the bus and then the subway. It’s cheap, fast (40 mins) and you avoid all the traffic.
Toronto has a city airport (Billy Bishop) that offers service to more than 20 cities in Canada such as Montreal and Ottawa and the U.S. (Boston, New York, Chicago). The Airport is located on Toronto Island, Yes, an Island!
- To get to the terminal you can take the tunnel or the ferry. The ferry ride to and from Billy Bishop Airport is one of the shortest in the world (90-second trip). If you are not in a rush, take it!
Bus companies (Greyhound or Megabus) will get you from Niagara Falls, Montreal, NYC and many more cities in Canada and in the US. You can either buy your tickets online or at the Toronto Coach Bus terminal.
Go Travel and Talk top tip: Buy your bus tickets in advance and be flexible with your dates; you might score $1 seats on Megabus.
Public transport is very convenient and we finally have the WIFI. Take the subway, streetcar or bus: Opt for a day pass on weekends.
Use the city bike share, there are over 350 locations across town. Most main streets and avenues have designated bike lanes for safety.
Uber is very popular as well ~ Use the Express pool if you are on a budget.
Kensington is a very eclectic market, you can pretty much find everything, from cheeses, produce, international cuisines (e.g. Salvadorian, Polish, Syrian) to second hand clothes shops ~ Check out Pedestrian Sundays (last Sunday of the month from May to October). These events are a chance to observe the unique independent business community. It’s full of artists, musicians and performers. Did I already mention the food?! Be prepared for some out of the ordinary moments. I once saw a man biking with a squirrel on his shoulder, and a couple having drinks with snakes around their neck. Totally normal in Kensington market!
St Lawrence Market:
Wonder around St Lawrence Market which has over 120 vendors, merchants and artisans selling fruits, vegetables, meats and beautiful artisanal products. Open daily.
Casa Loma is a beautiful Gothic style mansion and gardens in midtown Toronto. Built between 1911-1914 it welcomes in over 350,000 visitors a year and hosts some of the most spectacular private parties and hospitality events. You can visit it during the day and take a tour of the house and gardens or head to one of their evening events ~ make sure you don your best dress though and maybe you will bump into a celebrity or two!
As one of Torontos biggest tourist attractions, Casa Loma has something for everyone, from Symphony nights, Great Gatsby parties in the gardens, the Legends of Horror tour and an Escape room series.
It is easy to find online, check out their website here and book your tickets for a visit. Open daily from 9.30am-5pm. Price for an adult ticket is $30.
The University of Toronto is based on the grounds that surrounds Queens park and frequently ranked as Canada's best university. It was founded in the 1800's but has grown substantially over the years, with now 11 colleges, each offering different characters and histories, so the University's architecture is a melting pot of old and new.
Take a walk around the campus and marvel at the different buildings and beautiful grounds. Some of the greatest movies of all times were shot here such as: Good Will hunting, The Incredible Hulk, Resident Evil, Urban legend and Robocop.
It is totally free to walk around the grounds of the University and if you have some spare time, I would highly recommend it.
Bike along the lakeshore and all the way to Scarborough Bluffs ~ Get ready to be blown away by spectacular views of the bluffs and Lake Ontario.
Take over the lake and the islands You have many options: sail, canoe or book a boat tour. You must spend one full day at one of the islands (Ward’s island, Centre Island or Harlan’s point).
- Take the ferry ($8 CAD / $6 USD) from the city to the islands ~ the ferry from the islands to the city is free.
- Alternatively take a water taxi from the city ($10 CAD / $7.50) and take the ferry to come back.
Enjoy the hot weather, go for a swim, have a BBQ, rent a bike and explore the islands. The islands are the go to place for Torontonian to take a break from the city. Stay until sun down for a beautiful sunset on the lake.
Plan your nights out:
Most trendy clubs and bars are located on Queen West, King street and Ossington. We are in Canada so last call for drinks is 2AM. Bars and pubs close shortly after. Follow the crowd, have a slice and go get some rest.
Check out the dozens of festivals in town:
Caribana, Salsa on Saint Clair, taste of the Danforth, little Italy festival, Beach Jazz festival, Pride parade, Afrofest festival and much more.. Caribana is by far the craziest one and drags hundreds of people from Canada and the US. Make sure to book your accommodations in advance.
Stroll around the many parks:
Whilst Toronto is a bustling city, it has many green spaces. Take a walk around Toronto's jewel and central green space, High Park or explore Toronto's Island Park.
Attend a sports game:
Check out a Raptors (Basketball), Jays (Baseball) or Toronto Maple Leafs (Hockey) game. Torontonians are dedicated fans and the atmosphere at the games is always electric.
Shop at Toronto's Eaton centre:
Yorkville (high end designers) or around Queen west (fashion district). There, you will find some unique boutiques, cafes and restaurants as well. Make sure to walk around Trinity Bellwoods park and get some sweets at Nadege Bakery.
Strike a pause and get your selfie at Dundas square:
This is our mini version of NYC Times square!
Explore the Distillery Historic District:
A blend of Victorian Industrial architecture and stunning 21st century design. Tour the numerous shops, galleries, studios, restaurants and cafes. Don’t miss the Christmas market in the winter and have the Maya chili and spices hot chocolate at SOMA chocolatemaker
Make the trip to Niagara Falls:
2 hours from Toronto with Megabus or Greyhound bus companies. Make sure to do the Maid of the Mist Boat Tour, it is a cool experience and you get so close to the falls. All the information you need is on the Niagara Falls tourism site. Niagara is a beautiful region and it is worth spending 2 days exploring the area and their renown wineries.
Rent a cottage by the lake:
The ideal localization of Toronto offers various opportunities for lake experiences (sailing, boating, canoeing, fishing, and cottage activities), go for a hike, or visit local breweries.
Head to Blue Mountain:
Blue Mountain is the perfect place for skiing, snowboarding and other fun winter adventures.
Explore Algonquin provincial park:
Algonquin park is ideal for backcountry camping, fishing, canoeing and many more activities
See below the different locations in town, which will help you when you come to book your accommodation.
- Queen West (Fashion district)
- King West (Financial district)
- Ossington (Culinary scene and fashion-forward boutiques) ~ Most parties are located here and King West / Queen west.
- Dundas Square ~ central downtown
- Kensington Market ~ central downtown
Toronto is a beautiful place and one of the most diverse cities in the world, but it comes at a price. Whist backpackers are starting to explore Toronto, it still costs and the hostel scene is a little bit behind the times. However, there are some great places to stay depending on what you are looking for.
The Planet Traveler hostel is not the cheapest hostel, but definitely one of the best. It is in close proximity to Kensington Market, Little Italy and The Annex, and they have a rooftop bar which is perfect for watching the sunset over downtown Toronto.
The Planet Traveler was started by Anthony Aarts and Tom Rand, two explorers sharing a dream of a creating a hostel that respects the environment and the world we live in. The hostel comes equipped with solar panels, hot water recycling, GEOthermal heating and a whole host of other eco-conscious and friendly considerations. There is the option of dorms, mixed and female only as well as very smart private rooms.
Unfortunately there is a 2 night minimum and it comes with a price tag of $38-$40 CAD per night for a bed in a mixed dormitory. But with breakfast included, a cafe onsite serving delicious food, lockers, free laundry soap and facilities, free WIFI and storage, whilst being considerate to the environment, IT IS A GREAT DEAL.
HI Toronto is located in the heart of downtown Toronto in close proximity to St Lawrence Market, the Eaton Centre and the CN tower, perfect for exploring. HI Toronto have a bar on site, The Cavern Bar, which makes it a perfect place to meet other people (perfect for solo travellers), super comfy beds and a whole host of activities to keep you entertained.
They give out FREE earplugs, WIFI, storage, breakfast and towels! There is the option of mixed dorms as well as private rooms and the staff are friendly and knowledgeable. It will feel like a home from home.
Expect to pay between $38 CAD per night for a bed in a mixed dormitory.
- If you are lucky to visit Montreal try “Poutine” there. If not, don’t worry, most restaurants serve Poutine in Toronto ~ French fries soaked in gravy, topped with cheese ~ Yum!
- Western Cuisines: Most restaurants are on Queen and King streets
- High end restaurants can be found in Yorkville
- Kensington Market is the place to go for international delights: Jamaican/Italian (Rasta pasta), one of the best tacos in town (Seven lives), Venezuelan Arepas (El Arepazo)
- Or simply explore the various boroughs in town (little Indian, Koreatown, Chinatown)
- Planta restaurant is the place to go in Toronto. A delicious and really affordable vegan restaurant in Yorkville.
Founded in the late 1970s, Habitat for Humanity is a nonprofit housing organisation that believes everyone deserves a safe place to live. The charity involves surrounding communities to help lower income families build stability through affordable home ownership. With the help of over 9000 volunteers per year, Habitat for Humanity have built more than 360 homes across Canada.
In 2014, Habitat for Humanity GTA (Greater Toronto Area) was established and it has since gone from strength to strength, helping thousands of families in need. Check out their website for more information.
There are many ways to get involved but if you are short on time, we suggest signing up to help at one of their fundraising events which requires a commitment of 1 day or 8 hours, Head to their website page to check if the calendar coincides with your travels to Toronto.
Please follow their journey on Facebook and Instagram. They are doing amazing things in the world, but they need YOUR HELP.