Toronto Halal Travel Guide
Toronto is the most populous city in Canada and the provincial capital of Ontario. It is located on the northwestern shore of Lake Ontario. Toronto has a population of 2.7 million, and is the heart of the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) containing 6.4 million people. It also anchors the Golden Horseshoe region, which wraps around Lake Ontario from Toronto to Niagara Falls and totals over 9.2 million residents, approximately a quarter of Canada’s entire population. Toronto is the fourth largest city and fifth largest urban agglomeration in North America.
Spawned out of post-glacial alluvial deposits and bluffs, the area was populated at different times by Iroquois and later Wyandot (Huron) peoples. European settlement began in the mid-1700s when the French built a seldom-occupied fort near today’s Exhibition grounds. The city then grew out of a backwoods English trading post established as York in 1793 (reverting to the current name Toronto in 1834). Later in the 19th century, it grew to become the cultural and economic focus of Canada. Owing largely to the country’s liberal immigration policies starting in the 1960s, and the region’s strong economy, Toronto has become one of the most culturally and ethnically diverse cities in the world. More than 80 ethnic communities are represented, and over half of the city’s residents were born outside Canada.
When Metropolitan Toronto was amalgamated in 1998, its six former municipalities became one new “mega-city”. Toronto is made up of varied and unique neighbourhoods. Covering more than 600 km², Toronto stretches some 32 km along the shores of Lake Ontario. The city is laid out on a very straightforward grid pattern. Streets rarely deviate from the grid, except when topography interferes, such as the curving Don River Valley, and to a lesser degree the Humber and Rouge valleys at opposite ends of the city. Some main thoroughfares intersect the grid at angles. For travel purposes, we have divided Toronto into twelve districts:
The dense urban core of Toronto. It includes many of the city’s attractions and hotels.
The heart of downtown Toronto with Yonge St, the Eaton Centre, theatres and City Hall.
|Entertainment and Financial Districts
The entertainment and financial heart of the city, including some of the city’s most prominent tourist attractions: the CN Tower, Rogers Centre (formerly SkyDome), Union Station and the Hockey Hall of Fame.
Diverse neighbourhoods with lots of little shops, markets and restaurants, and some of the city’s best known bars for live music. Includes Queen West and the Fashion District to the south.
|Yorkville and the Annex
The boutiques of Yorkville and the museums and student energy of the Annex and University neighbourhoods.
South of Downtown, this area is popular for its parks and recreational activities. Walk along the water’s edge, take a harbour tour by boat, have some family fun at various events at Exhibition Place (“the Ex”; including the Canadian National Exhibition (CNE) in August) or take in a Major League Soccer or Canadian Football League game at BMO Field.
Take the ferry to the Toronto Islands. Stroll through the parkland, enjoy the beaches, see the petting zoo, have fun in the amusement park, see the quaint cottages and front-yard gardens of the permanent island community.
Older neighbourhoods between Church St and the Don Valley. Includes Church & Wellesley (Toronto’s gay village), Cabbagetown, the St Lawrence Market, Old Town Toronto, and the Distillery District.
Outside Central Toronto
These are the older suburbs that ring the downtown followed by an outer ring of post-war suburbs. There are fewer attractions here, but if you have the time, some of the neighbourhoods are well worth visiting.
|Midtown (Yonge & Eglinton, Davisville Village, Forest Hill)
Upscale neighbourhoods with grand old mansions housing the city’s moneyed and elite, beautiful parks, and ravines that extend for kilometres. The area around Yonge & Eglinton is in the midst of a rapid transformation into an urban core of its own.
|West End (Little Italy, Little Portugal, West Queen West, Parkdale, Roncesvalles, High Park,)
Ethnic enclaves, dive bars, and hipsters abound in this rapidly gentrifying part of town. High Park preserves a slice of green space from Humber Bay all the way north to Bloor Street, providing an escape from noisy city life.
|East End (Greektown, Leslieville and The Beaches)
The West End’s quainter, quieter alternative, with low-key neighbourhoods and nice beaches. This area hosts multiple ethnic and cultural festivals throughout the summer months. The Beach, Centred along Queen Street east of Kingston Road, is alive with weekend foot traffic year-round, out to take in the refreshingly small, local businesses, and the lake breezes in the summer.
An economically diverse suburb with some undiscovered gems along Bloor Street and near the lake in Mimico, New Toronto and Long Branch.
This district is largely suburban but has something to offer the casual tourist. The Centre of this district is more densely urban in nature, as it was designed to serve as the downtown of the former City of North York.
The eastern suburb of the city has lots to offer, including the Scarborough Bluffs, Rouge National Urban Park, authentic (and affordable) ethnic cuisine, and the Toronto Zoo.
Begun in 1794, Yonge Street is one of the oldest streets in Toronto, but few of its current buildings date back to much before 1900. It divides the city into east and west – street numbering for east-west streets begins at Yonge Street and increases in either direction. Within the City of Toronto, Yonge Street is roughly 15 kilometres (9.3 mi) long.
Under Yonge Street runs the eastern branch of Line 1 Yonge–University, serving nearly the entire length of the street in Toronto. You can drive along this street if you want (give up trying to find parking), but the smart way to explore Yonge is on foot, with a TTC day pass to whisk you between the spots you want to see.
Until 1999, the Guinness Book of World Records repeated the urban myth that Yonge Street was the longest main street in the world, running from Toronto’s harbour to Lake Superior, a distance of 1,896 kilometres (1,178 mi). It was erroneously assumed that Yonge Street ran the full length of provincial highway 11 (actually, it only runs a distance of 88 kilometres (55 mi) to Barrie, Ontario on Lake Simcoe). Nonetheless, the myth is enshrined by a bronze map set into the sidewalk at the southwest corner of Yonge and Dundas Streets.
Here is a brief description of Yonge Street as it passes each district from south to north:
- Harbourfront: Yonge Street starts at the water’s edge at Harbourfront. A long sidewalk plaque at the foot of Yonge Street promotes the myth that Yonge Street is the world’s longest street.
- Financial District: The section of Yonge between Front and Queen Streets passes through the Financial District typified by large office buildings, most of them built in the 1970s or later, but with several beautiful older exceptions. If you want to have a good look at the skyscrapers of the Financial District, walk west from King Subway Station to the corner of King and Bay Streets.
- Yonge-Dundas: The area between Queen and Dundas Streets is dominated by the Eaton Centre shopping mall and, at Dundas Street, by the flashy Yonge-Dundas Square. The east side has two historic performance venues, the Ed Mirvish Theatre and the stacked Elgin and Winter Garden Theatres. In addition, Massey Hall is located just to the east on Shuter Street. From College Street north to Bloor Street, Yonge Street serves smaller street-level retail, mostly in two- to three-storey buildings of a hundred years’ vintage. The businesses here, unlike the large chains which dominate south of Gerrard Street, are mostly small independent shops and serve a dense residential community on either side of Yonge Street with amenities such as convenience stores.
- Yorkville: Yonge Street crosses the “Mink Mile” at Bloor Street, a strip of very expensive stores near the equally upscale Yorkville district.
- Midtown: Toronto’s Midtown is characterized by multiple local shopping/restaurant strips consisting mostly within two-storey buildings with apartments on the second floor. In the strip along Rosedale, Summerhill and St. Clair subway stations, you will see a few sights such as the architecture of the former North Toronto Railway Station and Balmoral Fire Hall built in 1911. The intersection at Eglinton Avenue has become a focal point, serving as a high-density residential, commercial and transit hub.
- North York: At Hoggs Hollow, a steep ravine beside parkland, Yonge Street crosses into North York. After passing Highway 401, shops again line Yonge Street. However, north of Finch Avenue, Yonge Street starts to look more suburban with retail strip malls until it leaves Toronto at Steeles Avenue.
Introduction to Toronto
In 1998, the cities of Toronto, Scarborough, North York, Etobicoke, and York and the Borough of East York amalgamated to form the current City of Toronto. This is also known as Metropolitan Toronto or “the 416” after its area code (although now there are some new area codes, the overwhelming number of landline phone numbers in the Toronto area are still “416”) and has a population of over 2.6 million people. More than half of these were born in some country other than Canada: a fact obvious to any visitor immediately, as the city has many vibrant bustling neighbourhoods with street signs in several languages.
Toronto and its surrounding suburbs are collectively known as the Greater Toronto Area (GTA). Outlying suburbs are also known as “the 905” after their area code, although this code is also used in the Hamilton and the Niagara Peninsula, stretching from Cobourg and Colborne in the east to the border in Niagara Falls to the southwest. The entire area including Toronto is known as the “Golden Horseshoe” and has a population of over 8 million people. Distances between cities in the area can be great as it sprawls along, outward and even wraps around the western end of Lake Ontario; public transit is not always effective enough to make it a quick or seamless trip. Many suburban residents rely on private cars to get around.
A popular urban myth has it that the United Nations rated Toronto as “the most multicultural city in the world”. While the UN and its agencies are not in the habit of rating cities, it remains a fact that Canada is a nation of immigrants, and Toronto demonstrates this abundantly. A UN agency lists Toronto as second only to Miami as the city with the most foreign-born residents, but Toronto’s residents represent far more cultural and language groups, which is arguably a better measure of multi-culturalism. Most immigrants either pass through Toronto on their way to other parts of the country or stay in Toronto permanently. Many people born abroad consider themselves Canadian as much as native-born Canadians and will be offended if treated otherwise. This contributes to the overall cultural mosaic that is Toronto today. Within Toronto, most ethnic groups will work their way into the fabric of Canadian society but some still retain their distinct ways such as language, dress (if only for special occasions), customs, and food.
As a result of this cultural mosaic, Toronto is home to many ethnic festivals throughout the year. Toronto also has several radio stations that broadcast in various languages, and two multilingual television channels. The City of Toronto officially deals in 16 different languages while the Toronto Transit Commission (public transit) has a helpline that deals in 70 languages. Even large department stores such as The Bay in downtown Toronto proudly advertise service in 9 languages. The lingua franca of Toronto, however, remains English.
Climate & Weather
Toronto’s climate is on the whole on the cool side, and variable conditions can be expected. Come prepared for winter: winters are cold (temperatures average -3.8°C (25°F) in January), mostly cloudy, at times snowy and uncomfortably windy. However, the type of extreme cold experienced further north in Canada usually lasts for no more than a couple of days at a time. The city experiences warm and humid summers with an average high of 27°C (80°F) and a low of 18°C (65°F) in July/August with many muggy evenings but rarely extreme heat. On average, the temperature exceeds 30°C (86°F) only 12 days per year, but hotter air masses often arrive with moderately high humidity levels. Late spring/early summer and early fall are generally considered to be the best times to visit for weather and less crowds, mid-summer is the peak tourist season, but visitors will find that Toronto’s vibrancy extends through the winter with outdoor skating rinks and bundled up club-goers, etc. Toronto’s public buildings are nearly all air-conditioned and fully heated.
Sometimes during the winter, severe storms can slow down transportation and activities in the city for a day or two. In the summer, thunderstorms occur from time to time, most lasting less than an hour.
Areas closer to the downtown core are generally 1 to 1.5°C warmer in winter due to the urban heat island effect. For the rest of the year, areas close to Lake Ontario are warmer by about 1°C due to the moderating effects of the lake. This is especially prominent in March and November when the city receives rain while areas just north of the city receive snow.
- Ontario Travel Information Centre, 65 Front St W (within Union Station; follow signs towards UP Express). M-Sa 8AM-8PM, Su 10AM-6PM.
Sports teams & arenas
Toronto has several major league and minor league sports teams:
- Toronto Argonauts – Canadian Football League, playing at BMO Field on the Exhibition Place grounds.
- Toronto Blue Jays – Major League Baseball, playing at the Rogers Centre (formerly known as SkyDome, and still generally called such by locals).
- Toronto Maple Leafs – National Hockey League, playing at the Scotiabank Arena (formerly known as Air Canada Centre).
- Toronto Raptors – National Basketball Association, playing at the Scotiabank Arena.
- Toronto Rock – National Lacrosse League, playing at the Scotiabank Arena.
- Toronto FC – Major League Soccer, playing at BMO Field.
- Toronto Marlies – American Hockey League (Toronto Maple Leafs farm team). Play at the Ricoh Coliseum.
- Toronto FC II – USL League One (Toronto FC reserve team); as of 2019, TFC II plays at TFC’s training facility at Downsview Park in North York. League One is actually a third-tier league; TFC II dropped from the second level, now known as the USL Championship, after the 2018 season.
- York 9 FC – Another pro soccer team, this one set to begin play in 2019 as a founding member of the new Canadian Premier League. They will play home games at Alumni Field on the campus of York University in North York, but have long-term plans to build their own stadium in the York Region.
- Toronto Wolfpack – Rugby league team playing in the Championship, the second level of Britain’s rugby league pyramid, which includes 10 teams from England and one from France. In 2018, they narrowly lost out in their bid for promotion to the top level of said pyramid, Super League. The Wolfpack play at Lamport Stadium in the Liberty Village neighbourhood.
The Scotiabank Arena, 40 Bay St. It was called the Air Canada Centre (or “the Hangar”) until July 1, 2018.
The Rogers Centre, 1 Blue Jays Way. Most often referred to by its original “SkyDome” name.
The Maple Leaf Gardens, 60 Carlton Street. Historic arena in Toronto, on the northwest corner of Carlton Street and Church Street in Toronto’s Garden District; now converted into a Loblaws supermarket and an athletic Centre for Ryerson University, the Mattamy Athletic Centre at the Gardens.
The Aviva Centre, 1 Shoreham Drive. A tennis complex that serves mainly as a training facility, but also includes a main stadium court that frequently hosts seasonal concerts. The most notable use of the complex is for the annual Canadian Open (sponsored as the Rogers Cup), a high-profile event on both the men’s ATP World Tour and women’s WTA Tour. The Aviva Centre hosts the ATP event in even-numbered years and the WTA event in odd-numbered years, alternating with Montreal in both cases.
Toronto Pearson International Airport in Mississauga is about 30-50 minutes by car from downtown Toronto (depending on traffic) and is served by most major international carriers. There are two terminals: Terminal 1 hosts all Air Canada flights and a few other international (mostly Star Alliance) carriers while Terminal 3 hosts all other airlines. When travelling from Toronto International (and other major Canadian airports) to the United States, travellers will go through United States immigration and customs pre-clearance in Toronto, and should leave some extra time to account for this. The airport has free WiFi internet access.
The main article describes ground transportation to and from Toronto Pearson.
Billy Bishop Airport
- Billy Bishop Toronto City Centre Airport (commonly known as “The Island Airport” by locals). Short-haul flights only. Its main tenant is Porter Airlines, a short-haul carrier that operates turboprop planes to many cities in eastern Canada (Ottawa, Montreal, Quebec City, Halifax and St. John’s) and parts of the United States (Boston, Chicago, New York/Newark, Washington, DC, Myrtle Beach and others). Air Canada provides service to Montreal. Porter is aggressively fighting for market share and you can take advantage of it by getting really low fares (often lower than Westjet – if booked 2 weeks or more in advance) combined with complimentary drinks and a waiting lounge with amenities.
One of the main benefits of flying into Billy Bishop is its proximity to the downtown core. Upon landing, you can be downtown within ten minutes. A tunnel under the channel takes you to the city. A free ferry service also makes the short crossing: it is just 121 metres, the world’s shortest regularly-scheduled ferry route. It operates between TCCA and the mainland every 15 minutes: see full schedule. Once on the mainland, a free shuttle bus connects the terminal with the Fairmont Royal York Hotel, across the street from Union Station.
TTC streetcars are available a short walk north from the mainland ferry terminal. Route 511 Bathurst provides service north along Bathurst, to Bathurst subway station. Route 509 Harbourfront travels east along the waterfront (Queens Quay) to Union Station. Both routes end a short distance to the west at Exhibition Place. However, the most convenient connection to TTC subway and GO Transit services are via the free shuttle to Union Station.
Hamilton International Airport, located about 80 km from downtown Toronto and Niagara Falls, is served by WestJet and CanJet. See section on John C. Munro Hamilton International Airport for ground transportation including buses to Toronto.
For frugal travellers coming from the United States, Buffalo-Niagara International Airport, , is another option. Flights to Buffalo tend to be significantly cheaper than to Pearson, but then you still have to get to Toronto. Megabus, the airline-type coach service with varying prices and required early booking, runs a daily bus that takes 3 hours, including the border crossing. Several private livery agencies will drive you there for a fee (usually in the $200 range, give or take), or rental cars are available at the airport if you prefer to do the drive yourself.
There are two bus terminals in downtown Toronto:
- Toronto Coach Terminal, 610 Bay Street (just north of Dundas St W; underground connection to Dundas subway station via the Atrium mall; also close to St. Patrick subway station at University Ave). The main bus terminal in Toronto serves Greyhound, Megabus, Trailways and Ontario Northland. The terminal has two buildings: the Bay Street terminal for departures and the Elizabeth Street terminal for arrivals across the street. The Bay Street terminal has ticket counters (Greyhound and Megabus) which can have 20-minute lineups during busy periods. The Bay Street terminal provides baggage lockers for storage during the day ($5/locker).
- Union Station Bus Terminal, 141 Bay St (on the east side of Union Station connected by a footbridge over Bay St). Union Station Bus Terminal serves GO Transit and Can-ar Coach buses with connections to rail services and TTC Union subway station (Line 1).
Here is a list of minor terminals and stops in various parts of the city. Check the Wikipedia link for a list of bus routes serving each terminal.
- Yorkdale Bus Terminal (across a footbridge from Yorkdale subway station on Line 1). GO Transit ticket counter with buses to Toronto Pearson International Airport, Mississauga, Milton, Brampton and Oshawa; Ontario Northland buses to North Bay and Timmins; Greyhound Canada buses to Barrie and Sudbury.
- York Mills Bus Terminal (at York Mills subway station on Line 1). GO Transit buses to Mississauga, Milton, Brampton and Oshawa.
- Finch Bus Terminal (adjacent to Finch subway station on Line 1). GO Transit buses to Toronto Pearson International Airport, Mississauga, Milton, Brampton, Keswick and Oshawa.
- Scarborough Centre Bus Terminal (at Scarborough Centre Station on subway Line 3). GO Transit to Oshawa; Can-ar Coach to Haliburton Highlands; Megabus to Montreal; Greyhound Canada to Ottawa.
- Greyhound Canada’ offers service to nearby cities such as Kitchener, Guelph, Barrie, Peterborough, St. Catharines and Niagara Falls as well as longer routes eastwards to Ottawa and Kingston (Ontario); southwards to Buffalo and New York City and westwards to London, Windsor, Detroit and Chicago. Note: Greyhound Canada services in Northern Ontario west of Sudbury and in Western Canada have been discontinued since Oct 31, 2018, including the services to Sault Sainte Marie, Thunder Bay, and Winnipeg.
- Megabus (Coach Canada) runs buses from Toronto to Kingston (3 hr) and Montreal (7 hr); to Hamilton and Niagara Falls (1½ hr); to Buffalo (2½ hr), New York City (10½ hr), and Washington DC. Megabus boasts of wi-fi and electrical outlets on many of its buses.
- Ontario Northland provides service to/from northern Ontario: Barrie, North Bay, Parry Sound, and Sudbury and small towns en route. Connections are available from Sudbury and North Bay to other parts of Northern Ontario
- Can-ar Coach has 2 scheduled routes. One route serves Orangeville, Kincardine and Port Elgin. The other serves Port Perry, Lindsay and Haliburton.
- Trailways offers service between Toronto and New York City stopping at Niagara Falls (Ontario).
- Shuttle transports groups of people throughout all Ontario and to Buffalo and Montreal.
- GO Transit (website) runs bus and rail commuter/regional transit within and near the Greater Toronto Area. GO Transit buses make connections to many nearby cities including: Oshawa, Peterborough, Hamilton, Niagara Falls, Barrie, Guelph, and Kitchener.
Union Station, 65 Front Street West (between Bay St and York St). 5:30AM-12:45AM or until last train. Opened in 1927, Toronto’s Union Station is one of the grandest, most impressive train stations in North America, with the ceiling of its enormous Great Hall rising to a height equivalent to seven stories. The Grand Hall accommodates the VIA Rail ticket counters and gives access to VIA train platforms via the branching VIA Concourse. The Union Pearson Express station is 250 metres west of the Great Hall via an enclosed pedestrian corridor. The GO York Concourse on the lower level at the west (York Street) end of the station has GO Transit ticket counters and access to GO train platforms. (A food court is located below the GO York Concourse.) Union Station Bus Terminal is to the east across Bay Street which can be accessed via an overhead walkway. The TTC Union subway station is at the north-east corner of the main building, and serves subway Line 1 and the 509&510 streetcars through the Harbourfront district.
The following are the railway services operating out of Union Station:
- VIA Rail has many intercity trains operating out of Union Station including The Canadian to Vancouver anf The Maple Leaf to New York City.
- GO Transit (website) operates 7 commuter rail lines radiating from Toronto serving smaller cities within and near the Greater Toronto Area. The Lakeshore West and Lakeshore East lines operate every day from 5:30AM till 12:30AM between Burlington and Oshawa. Three other lines have limited mid-day service to Unionville (Markham), Aurora and Brampton. Other GO rail destinations have only rush-hour, peak-direction service.
- Union Pearson Express operates trains to Toronto Pearson International Airport every 15 minutes.
VIA Rail services
Most intercity rail travel in Canada is provided by VIA Rail. Union Station is one of VIA Rail’s main hubs and connects several of their lines. Railway lines operated by VIA Rail out of Union Station include:
- Corridor—This is VIA’s busiest line running from Windsor and Sarnia in the southwest to Quebec City in the northeast. Regular trains run from Toronto directly to Montreal, Ottawa, London, Kingston, Windsor, and Sarnia as well as stations in between. The lines between Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal are VIA’s busiest and most frequent; they also have the largest discounts if booked well in advance. There are multiple classes of service, including business and economy. All cost more than the same trip by bus or private motorcar. However Escape fares (limited amount sold; non-refundable, 50% exchange penalty) can be really cheap (as low as $44 from Ottawa/Montreal). Various promotional campaigns can also make rail an attractive option. Business class includes meals and alcoholic beverages. There is no direct train to/from Quebec City: connections must be made at Montreal.
- Maple Leaf—This service is run jointly by VIA and U.S. passenger rail company, Amtrak. Trains on this line run between Toronto and New York City once a day in each direction stopping at Albany, Syracuse, Rochester, Buffalo, and many smaller stations. Trains between Toronto and New York are extremely slow and very expensive – the coach services listed above generally take several hours less and cost several times less than the train. Around 2 hours are spent at the border. Escape fares are also not available on this train.
- The Canadian—the transcontinental route from Toronto to Vancouver. Trains run two-three times a week each way, and stop at many smaller stations on the way, including: Sudbury, Sioux Lookout, Winnipeg, Saskatoon, Edmonton, Jasper and Kamloops. The full journey takes about 3½ days. This is one of the most expensive rail journeys in North America and is many times more expensive than flying. However, Rail travel in Canada runs ‘express deals’ 2–3 weeks before travel that can reduce the price by 75 percent. Escape fares (see above) also provide a deep discount. The trains contain both sleeper berths and cabins, as well as reclining economy seating. Three meals per day are cooked in the train’s dining car. These are included in sleeper fares and are available for purchase for economy passengers.
Travel times (including border crossings and halts) and costs (economy, no concessions, promotions, or escape fare) by intercity rail:
Central Canada: Niagara Falls: 2 hr, $44; London 3 hr, $73; Windsor 4 hr 15 min, $83; Ottawa 4 hr 30 min, $114; Montreal 5 hr, $115; Sudbury: 7 hr 15 min, $103
United States: Buffalo 4 hr 45 min, $95; Rochester 6 hr, $117; Syracuse 7 hr $133; Albany 10½ hr, $183; New York City: 13½ hr, $214
Western Canada: Winnipeg 35 hr, $383; Saskatoon 50 hr, $488; Edmonton 58½ hr, $570; Jasper: 63 hr, $643; Vancouver 87 hr, $779.
Major highways leading into Toronto are the Queen Elizabeth Way (QEW), the 404, the 401, the 400, and the 427. Toronto is the largest city in Canada, so signs pointing you to Toronto are common. Traffic on incoming highways can be extremely heavy. In the downtown core there are many turn restrictions, particularly from main thoroughfares to other main thoroughfares (e.g. Yonge to Dundas Streets). Canada drives on the right.
The main streets in Toronto are laid out in a grid pattern that makes it one of the easiest cities to get around in by car. Getting from point to point anywhere in the city can be achieved with only a few turns. Parking in the downtown core can be expensive and hard to find, but is plentiful and inexpensive or free throughout the rest of the city.
Toronto follows some bylaws related to the transit system that often confuse or surprise visiting drivers:
- If a bus is signalling intent to merge into traffic from a stop, you must yield to the bus.
- Streetcars (trams) – several rules and customs are observed; these rules are more familiar to European drivers, where trams are common, but generally unknown to drivers from elsewhere in North America:
- If a streetcar in front of you and travelling in your direction has its doors open, by law you may not pass the open doors, because of the risk to passengers exiting and boarding. Often (especially during rush hour when large crowds are to be expected), passengers will step out into the road before the streetcar has come to a complete stop, in anticipation of the doors opening. In this situation, it is customary to stop, as crowds of passengers can overwhelm the road within seconds, and some can be quite brazen about stepping off the curb. If a streetcar pulls alongside your vehicle while you are stopped, and opens its doors, you must remain stationary until the doors have closed. Cyclists on the road frequently disregard the stopping rule, as they generally can fit around the crowd, but it is best practice to stop, out of consideration for passengers.
- However, if a traffic island (it’ll look like a raised median with a transit shelter on top) separates the streetcar from your lane, you may pass with caution. Beware of jaywalkers who do not wait until the light has changed to cross the lane.
- When in mixed traffic, streetcar tracks are located in the Centre lane of the road. Streetcars perform right turns from this lane; other vehicles are generally not permitted to do so (except oversized trucks), and it is important to give clearance so that turns can be made, whether travelling in the same direction as the streetcar or facing an oncoming one. These turns are marked by dotted white lines following the contour of the curve, indicating how far out a streetcar will swing.
- Automobile traffic must turn right after travelling a few blocks along King Street between Jarvis Street and Bathurst Street. Watch for signs. Through traffic in this zone is allowed only for streetcars and bicycles.
- Occasionally the rightmost travel lane on certain streets (notably on Bay Street between Front and Bloor Sts. as well as on many of the core arteries outside the city core) is reserved from 7AM-7PM for transit vehicles, taxis and bicycles only; you can enter these lanes only to make a right turn at the next cross street. If you do decide to travel as through-traffic in these lanes, you may be liable for a fine.
Additionally, remember that Torontonians generally take their obligation to give a wide berth to emergency vehicles quite seriously: if you hear sirens or see lights, pull over to the side of the road safely but quickly.
As Toronto is the largest city in Canada, major highways run through the city, and it is quite easy to find a sign showing that you are in the right direction. However, traffic on the highways can be remarkably heavy, and in the downtown core, parking places are often quite expensive and hard to find. On the other hand, the main streets in Toronto have a grid pattern that makes driving quite easy.
Also, given the extent of the city, several areas are not enough served by the public transit system. In the outer suburbs, almost everybody uses a private car. This is why the highways suffer from traffic jams every day, almost all day, and it gets worse during rush hours: even the 401, with 9 lanes in each direction, is slow at those hours.
The trip to the Toronto Islands from the downtown core (Bay St and Queen’s Quay) is a pleasant 15-minute ferry ride, with frequent summer service and the best views of the Toronto skyline. (Be warned: ferry boat horns are very loud and can sound at any time; they often sound when the boat prepares to leave the dock.)
There are also guided sailing vessels that take tours of the inner and outer harbours, and circumnavigate Toronto Islands.
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Toronto is huge, and most roads run for very long distances. Streetcar rail, subway rail, and intercity rail services are clean and efficient, and it’s entirely possible to get around Toronto without a car, especially downtown. You may find it quicker and easier to drive, but the highways regularly backup during rush hour (7AM-10AM and 4PM-7PM). Toronto has plentiful parking garages downtown, but they are very expensive.
Many in Toronto travel by bicycle (especially in the warmer months) and this mode is very convenient for getting around the downtown district. Not all motorists will give way to cyclists, and not all cyclists comply with the rules of the road; caution is recommended.
The Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) is the city’s main transit system and one of the most heavily used in North America. TTC consists of buses, streetcars, subway lines, and the quasi-subway Scarborough Rapid Transit line. The numbers for automated information are +1 416-393-4636 (INFO) or +1-866-642-9882, 8AM-6PM daily except for holidays.
Standard cash fare is $3.25, but this will be discounted to $3.00 if you use tokens or a Presto card. Seniors (65+) and students (13-19) are eligible for a discounted cash fare of $2.10 (or 5 tickets for $10.25) with proper ID. Children (12 and under) ride free of charge; however, be prepared to show proof-of-age for children who are tall for their age.
Presto card is an electronic fare payment system used by most public transit services in the Greater Toronto Area, including the TTC. Presto cards can be purchased for $6 plus a $10 minimum balance at the UP Express service counter (Pearson International Airport), from Presto vending machines at all TTC subway stations, at the GO Transit ticket counter at Union Station, the TTC’s head office at Davisville station and at participating Shoppers Drug Mart stores across the city. The Presto cards are automatically configured to deduct adult fares. Child, senior, youth/student and post-secondary fare concessions should have the card set up at the UP Express service counter, the GO Transit ticket counter, the TTC’s head office at Davisville station or at participating Shoppers Drug Mart stores.
GO Transit and the TTC have a co-fare discount for Presto card users only. If you need to transfer between the TTC and GO Transit (or Union Pearson Express) to complete your trip, your Presto card will be credited $1.50 for adults and $0.55 for seniors and students after completing the transfer. This discount does not apply if the Presto card is set up for a TTC monthly pass.
A TTC monthly pass is available for Presto card holders only. This option costs $146.25 (or $116.75 for student/youth/senior and post-secondary students) and provides unlimited travel across all TTC services within the City of Toronto except for Downtown Express buses (rush-hour routes 141–145), throughout the entire calendar month.
A TTC day pass costs $12.50 and allows for unlimited travel on all TTC services within the City of Toronto, except for Downtown Express buses. On Saturdays, Sundays and some statutory holidays up to 6 people (1 adult+5 youths or 2 adults+4 youths) can travel with a single day pass. Day passes are good until 5:30AM the next morning. The day pass does not have to be purchased on the day of use.
A TTC weekly pass costs $43.75 ($34.75 for seniors or students) and allows unlimited travel from Monday through to Sunday of a given week. The weekly pass can be used by more than one person but only one person may be travelling with the pass at any given time.
Tickets, tokens, day and weekly passes are available at subway stations with collector booths, variety stores and news stands throughout the city. Most businesses that sell passes and tokens have a TTC logo sticker on their front door. Subway stations with collector booths will accept debit and credit cards (Visa, Mastercard, or American Express) for purchases of $10 or more in fares. (Subway stations from Lawrence West to Vaughan Metropolitan Centre stations on the west arm of Line 1 Yonge–University have no collector booths.)
GTA Zone Fares: A few TTC bus route cross over into Mississauga or York Region. For these, you must pay a TTC fare (cash, ticket, token or Presto) in Toronto plus a Mississauga or York Region fare beyond Toronto. Riders cannot use Presto to pay the second fare beyond Toronto; it must be paid in exact cash or a TTC token plus a small exact cash supplement. See link for further details.
Unstaffed secondary TTC subway station entrances allow only Presto card holders to pass through the fare gates. All other forms of payment (such as cash, tokens, tickets, paper transfers, and physical TTC passes, including day, weekly and physical GTA weekly passes) are accepted only at primary subway station entrances where a TTC subway station attendant is present.
If you are paying your fare by cash, ticket or token, remember to obtain a paper transfer when you pay your fare which serves as proof of payment when transferring between vehicles or to/from a subway station and vice versa as well as to show to fare inspectors while riding on streetcars. Paper transfers are free and will allow you to complete a one-way trip on multiple TTC routes using a single fare. At subway stations, you can collect your transfer from a red machine just beyond the ticket booth with a digital time clock on its face. On buses or older streetcars (top photo), ask for a transfer from the driver when you pay your fare. On newer streetcars (bottom photo), the payment machine on board the streetcar will give you a receipt/transfer if you pay with coins or by token; if you pay by ticket, use the TTC Ticket Validator to time stamp the ticket and turn it into a transfer. Some streetcar boarding platforms have a payment machine similar to those available on new streetcars.
If you pay by cash, ticket or token, the paper-based transfer you obtain upon payment is valid only for one trip rather than a specific duration of time. It cannot be used for stop-overs or round trips. Walking away from a transfer point instead of waiting for a bus or streetcar will invalidate your transfer from further use as your stroll will be considered to be a stop-over.
If paying by Presto using money on a stored card balance, the transfer is valid for two hours from the first tap, allowing you to make unlimited stopovers or a round trip. Presto users are to tap their card each time they board a bus or streetcar and when entering a subway station, as long as they’re within two hours from the first tap, they will not be charged another fare.
Note: sections of the subway system will close on most weekends for maintenance and construction projects, with buses replacing each closed section. Thus, expect a longer travel time during such closures; staff will be on hand to direct passengers. Most weekend closures will affect Line 1 Yonge-University.
The subway is the fastest means to move across the city, with trains typically arriving every few minutes. Trains operate M-Sa roughly 6AM-1:30AM, and Su 8AM-1:30AM; the TTC website gives more precise first and last train times by subway station.
The subway system has four lines:
- Line Yonge-University runs in a ‘U’ shape, travelling from North York south along Yonge Street, through the downtown area to Union Station, then travelling north through North York to Vaughan.
- Line Bloor-Danforth runs east-west along Bloor Street and Danforth Avenue.
- Line Scarborough runs from the eastern end of the Line 2 at Kennedy Station to McCowan Station. At Scarborough Centre station, there is a large shopping Centre and a regional transit hub for the TTC, GO Transit, and intercity coaches heading east to Ottawa, Montreal and other destinations.
- Line Sheppard runs east from Line 1 along Sheppard Avenue to Fairview Mall at Don Mills Station.
Toronto is one of the few cities in North America (and the only city in Canada) to have kept any of its streetcar routes, and the TTC is expanding its network. See the district articles for detailed information on getting around by streetcar. Most streetcar lines serve the south, central part of the city.
The 501 Queen route is an attraction in itself passing through a wide range of ethnic and cultural neighbourhoods. It received special recognition from National Geographic magazine for being the longest streetcar route in North America (and one of the longest in the world).
Payment machines are available on board new streetcars and on the platform at most stops along the 509 Harbourfront and 510 Spadina streetcar routes. The platform machines allow you to pay your fare with coins, token or ticket before boarding a streetcar. If you have a transfer or a Presto card, you may enter a streetcar through any door; otherwise, enter an older streetcar through the front door and a newer streetcar by the second or third door to pay your fare and obtain a transfer.
Caution: when getting on and off streetcars, make sure that the traffic is stopped in the lane next to the streetcar. Also, be aware of pickpockets in crowded rush hour situations.
Some streetcar routes have been replaced by buses for the foreseeable future, all-door entry/exit and proof-of-payment rules still apply on these routes though.
Connecting public transit services
Several TTC subway stations act as gateways to other local public transit systems. You need to pay a separate fare for each system listed below as they don’t accept TTC transfers. All accept the Presto card for fare payment. The main subway stations for transferring between the TTC and a neighbouring local public transit system are:
- Finch station: YRT and Viva buses to York Region
- Pioneer Village station: YRT buses in Vaughan
- Islington station: MiWay buses to Mississauga
- Vaughan Metropolitain Centre: YRT and Viva buses in Vaughan, Züm buses to Brampton
Taxis are plentiful and safe, but not cheap. The base rate is $4.25, with an average 5 km trip costing $13. As with most big cities, driving a car downtown can be annoying; parking is often hard to find and expensive, and traffic along certain streets can make vehicle travel slower than mass transit. However, travelling longer distances, when not close to subway lines is often significantly faster by car or taxi.
Uber’s UberX service is available via smartphone app throughout the city with fares running roughly half the price of a taxi. An average 5-km trip costs roughly $8.25.
Toronto is trying very hard to become a bike-friendly city, with dedicated bike lanes being added all the time. There are many casual cyclists out all the time. And it is fast: door to door, in all of downtown Toronto, a bike beats a car or transit nearly every time.
There can be hostility between automobiles and cyclists. Generally speaking, if you are on the road, you are expected to obey the same laws as cars, and you are not allowed to ride on the sidewalk.
The city is predominantly flat, aside from a general climb away from Lake Ontario and the deeply indented, forested Don Valley and Humber River Valley. Post-and-ring locking posts are present throughout the city. There are many bike-only lanes on major roads and threading through various neighbourhoods and parks. The city publishes a cycling map, available on the city website.
Bike Share Toronto provides a public bike system with 1,000 bikes available at 80 stations throughout downtown. Subscriptions start at $5 for 24 hours and allow you to use a bike for 30 minutes or less, as much as you like (usage fees apply for trips longer than 30 minutes). It operates 24 hours a day, all year long (but see the warning below about winter biking). Several businesses also offer bicycle rentals.
It is a provincial law that cyclists under 18 must wear a helmet, and all riders must have a bike with reflectors and a bell. This tends to only be enforced when the police go on their annual “cycling blitz”.
- Beware of parked cars – often accidents are not caused by moving cars, but rather by careless drivers or passengers who unexpectedly open their driver’s side door.
- Be cautious of streetcar tracks as bike wheels can be easily caught and cause a spill.
- Although you will certainly see many locals riding the streets year-round, biking in the winter months is enjoyable only with proper equipment and reasonable skills; winter weather is cold, it can be quite windy, and snow removal is often imperfect.
Some recommended cycling routes:
- By far one of the most popular bike paths is the Martin Goodman Trail, the east-west route that hugs Lake Ontario, spanning the city from Etobicoke to the eastern ends of the city. This path is also often used by pedestrians and rollerbladers.
- The Don River trail system begins at the lake (near Queen and Broadview) and travels very far north and east. During or after heavy rains, avoid lower sections of the trails.
- A special treat for bikers of all levels is a tour through Tommy Thompson Park (Leslie St Spit) to the lighthouse and bird sanctuaries (no cars!), which is open on weekends only. Start at Queen and Leslie and head south.
- A visit to Toronto Islands from the ferry docks at the southern end of Bay Street is a great way to spend a bike-friendly, relaxed afternoon by bike. There are no private cars on the Toronto Islands.
- Art Gallery of Ontario. The largest art gallery in Canada, redesigned by architect Frank Gehry. It has a great Canadian paintings exhibit and the world’s largest collection of Henry Moore sculptures. The European paintings exhibit has a few excellent pieces including Ruben’s The Massacre of the Innocents.
- Bata Shoe Museum. This offbeat museum is devoted to shoes and footwear from cultures all over the world.
- Black Creek Pioneer Village is a recreation of life in 19th-century Ontario and consists of over forty historic 19th-century buildings, decorated in the style of the 1860s with period furnishings and actors portraying villagers.
- Casa Loma is a step back in time to a period of European elegance and splendour. The museum has decorated suites, secret passages, a 250-metre-long tunnel, towers, stables and beautiful 5-acre estate gardens.
- Gardiner Museum of Ceramic Art. Dedicated to ceramics in an exquisite contemporary building.
- Hockey Hall of Fame is both a museum and a hall of fame dedicated to the history of ice hockey.
- Ontario Science Centre. This child-friendly museum has several hundred exhibits, many of them hands-on.
- Royal Ontario Museum is a museum of art, world culture and natural history. It is one of the largest museums in North America, and the largest in Canada.
- Spadina House Museum is in a historic mansion dating from the 1860s. The grounds contain a beautiful garden.
- Textile Museum of Canada. Shows drawn from a 13,000-piece collection of textiles from around the world and from other collections.
- CN Tower. At 533 metres tall, the CN Tower is the third tallest free-standing structure in the world, and the tallest in North America.
- Rogers Centre is a large multi-purpose stadium with a retractable roof. It is home to the Toronto Blue Jays of Major League Baseball.
- Toronto City Hall. Two buildings forming a semi-circle overlooking Nathan Phillips Square. Architecturally stunning, and next door to Old City Hall (now a court house) which has a more classical architecture.
- Toronto Zoo is Canada’s premier zoo showcasing over 5,000 animals and 460 species.
- Toronto is “the city within a park”, with miles and miles of parkland following the streams and rivers that flow through the city. Edwards Gardens and the Toronto Botanical Gardens in the neighbourhood of North York might just be the place to start exploring this natural environment.
- The City of Toronto has designated various Discovery Walks which highlight the natural and human history of the region. These can be found with brown circular signs along the route and highlight other regions such as the Belt Line, Garrison Creek and the Humber River as well as the downtown core.
- Beaches. Toronto has three main sections of beach along Lake Ontario. The most popular of these is in the aptly-named Beaches neighbourhood. A less popular alternative is the beaches in the western end of the city in the Parkdale neighbourhood; this was once Toronto’s Coney Island, with an amusement park and numerous beach-style attractions; however in the 1950s the city built the Gardiner Expressway along the lakeshore, effectively separating the beaches from the city and causing the demolition of the amusement park; over the years attempts have been made to re-energize this area, but the Gardiner remains a major barrier, as well as a source of noise and pollution to keep away would-be beach-goers. On the plus side, the beaches are largely empty most of the time, providing solitude for those who seek it. The third major beach area in the city runs along the south shore of the Toronto Islands. This area is pleasantly secluded, with most of the islands covered with parkland and a small amusement park. Hanlan’s Point Beach on the western shore of the islands is the City of Toronto’s only officially recognized clothing optional beach, and a popular gay hangout. Despite these options, many Torontonians prefer to leave the city for beach trips; the most popular beaches are those in the Georgian Bay area north of Toronto, Wasaga Beach in particular is very popular during the summer.
Arts & entertainment
- Comedy. World-renowned Second City comedy/improv theatre has a location in Toronto. See great improv and situation comedy performed live with audience participation over dinner and drinks in the heart of the club district of downtown Toronto.
- Theatre. Toronto has a great theatre scene for every taste and budget. Check out the big theatres on Yonge Street for the big splashy shows. Small theatres in the Annex and elsewhere offer smaller productions that range from original Canadian works, avant-garde, experimental theatre, small budget musicals to British murder mysteries. A variety of theatre festivals such as the New Ideas, Rhubarb and Fringe festivals are the seed for many commercial success such as The Drowsy Chaperone. Also try to check out the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts, the new home of the Canadian Opera Company and the National Ballet of Canada. The Toronto Symphony plays in the acoustically renovated Roy Thomson Hall. TO Tix in Yonge-Dundas Square is the best place to get full-price advance and day-of discounts on shows across Toronto. It also offers theatre and dining packages, partnering Toronto’s theatre, dance and opera companies with local downtown restaurants and cultural attractions.
- Canadian National Exhibition (The Ex, CNE), Exhibition Place. From mid-August to Labour Day. The Ex is a annual fair offering an amusement park (the Midway), a casino, live entertainment, an international market, agricultural exhibits including livestock and a variety of other exhibits. It is Canada’s largest fair and the fifth largest in North America, with an average annual attendance of 1.3 million.
- Doors Open. This event, held the last weekend of May, offers residents and visitors an opportunity to take a peek behind the doors of more than 100 architecturally, historically, culturally and socially significant buildings across the city. Many of these buildings are normally not open to the public. A number of the city’s museums offer free admission on the Doors Open weekend. Free admission.
- Pride Toronto. Held the last week of June. Pride Toronto is the annual Gay festival which includes the very popular Pride Parade which draws crowds of straight people to discover how Gay people have fun.
- Toronto Black Film Festival (TBFF). Held in February. TBFF showcases the noteworthy black films and provides a forum to debate major cultural, social and socio-economic issues.
- Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF). Starts the Thursday night after Labour Day. This publicly attended festival of international film takes place in various theatres and draws many celebrities and celebrity spotters.
Toronto has so many eclectic neighbourhoods that a random walk is fascinating in its own right. You might start in the Downtown area and then try other neighbourhoods around the city. Here are a few suggestions of neighbourhoods to visit. More details and more examples are found in the district articles.
- Distillery District. The former Gooderham & Worts distillery lands have been rejuvenated into a pedestrian-only village dedicated to the arts and entertainment. It has fantastic restaurants, festivals, and art galleries housed in its 19th-century distillery buildings.
- Harbourfront, Toronto’s former industrial port, is today largely parkland with biking and walking trails and excellent views of the harbour. Harbourfront Centre is situated right by the lake, and is home to numerous cultural events of which most are free or relatively inexpensive. Take in some of the worlds most critically acclaimed performing arts productions, or enjoy one of the many world festivals that take place every weekend.
- Toronto Islands. A short inexpensive ferry ride from the foot of Bay Street and you leave the bustle of the city behind. Visually, the views of the skyline from the islands are stunning, and for cycling, walking, picnics or just relaxing, the Toronto Islands are hard to beat. There is even a small amusement park for kids, Centreville. On hot summer days, temperatures here will often be about 2-3C lower than the mainland providing relief. By mid-summer the water is warm enough to swim at Hanlan’s Point or for the more adventurous, a nude beach is located nearby.
- Little Italy is the spot to get a sense of the Western Mediterranean. Sit at one of the many coffee shops and watch the world go by on the weekends. A great time to visit is during the men’s FIFA World Cup competition (in football/soccer), regardless of where in the world it is actually being held as local communities face off and rivalries reach a fever pitch. Support can be passionate and even in adjacent communities and it is not unusual to see them draped in a mind-numbing variety of flags once every four years.
- Toronto’s Chinatown is a great way to sample a tiny bit of cities like Hong Kong, without spending the airfare. Vast crowds crush the sidewalks as vendors sell authentic Chinese and Vietnamese food, and not-so-authentic knock-offs. It is one of North America’s largest Chinatowns, and with many shops aimed at tourists, it is a good place to pick up some unusual and inexpensive souvenirs. The area is also home to a growing number of Korean and Vietnamese shops and restaurants. Toronto’s multicultural mosaic never stops evolving. For a complete tour, travel along Spadina (north/south) starting at College Street in the north or Queen Street in the south.
- Kensington Market was once a Centre of Jewish life that has morphed into the Centre of Toronto’s bohemian scene. Visitors will be assaulted by sounds and smells unlike anywhere else in the city, as narrow streets bustle with immigrants, punks, and yuppies alike. Stores include surplus shops, coffee houses, small restaurants (including vegetarian), clothing vendors, and record stores. Fish and fruit markets are also present in great numbers, and the area is experiencing a boom of South American food stalls of late.
- Koreatown has many Korean retail businesses and restaurants where Korean is as prominent as English in the signage. (There is also another Koreatown in North York.
- Gerrard India Bazaar (Little India) If you want to get a sense of Toronto’s vibrant South Asian community, this is where you want to be; not only is Indian culture represented – visible Pakistani and Afghan communities are also alive along the street.
- The 501 Queen streetcar has been recognized in National Geographic magazine for being the longest streetcar route in North America (one of the longest in the world). The journey from one end to the other takes a couple of hours and passes through a wide range of ethnic and cultural neighbourhoods.
Toronto has ample opportunities for shopping, and nearly any section of the city has unique places to shop:
- Toronto Eaton Centre. At Yonge-Dundas Square. Over 285 shops and services, including most of North America’s most popular brands, and two food courts catering for every taste.
- The ‘PATH’ System. Linking 1,200 stores and 50 buildings, The PATH is an underground shopping mall has been created for all the commuters to get from Union Station to their offices and back without ever going outside. In a city of Toronto’s summer heat and winter cold, this is essential.
- Mink Mile. If you head west from the corner of Yonge and Bloor, you are in the most upscale of Toronto’s shopping districts, easily accessible from the Bloor-Yonge or Bay subway station. Bloor Street between Yonge and Avenue is regarded as Toronto’s version of Fifth Avenue, with upscale names such as Hermes and Louis Vuitton, and the flagship Holt Renfrew department store.
- Yorkville. This high-end shopping district just north of Bloor Street and west of Bay Street is home to many designer boutiques. It also has many galleries selling art.
- Kensington Market provides a bohemian shopping experience especially along the southern end of Kensington Avenue. There houses lining both sides of the street have been turned into shops with racks of clothes displayed in the front yard.
- There are many local, neighbourhood shopping districts in the inner city. These are mostly located along major thoroughfares lined on one or both sides with shops in low-rise buildings. A few examples are Queen Street West (especially east of Spadina Avenue and extending westward into the West End), Uptown Yonge north of Eglinton Avenue on Yonge Street, and Roncesvalles Village. There are many more areas with store-lined streets within the inner city but few in suburban districts such as Etobicoke, North York and Scarborough which tend to prefer malls. Consult the district articles.
- Yorkdale Shopping Centre. A shopping Centre in the north of the city, accessible from Yorkdale subway station. This is a full-service, upscale mall with hundreds of stores, but which is also rife with packs of roving teenagers who use the facilities as a social scene. Make use of the subway if possible on weekends, as locals pack the parking areas to capacity.
Changing money at a recognized bank or financial institution is best; there are a few specialized bureaux de change in Toronto’s financial district and in Mississauga in the airport terminals. Some hotels, souvenir shops and tourist offices exchange money, but their rates won’t put a smile on your dial. Many places in Toronto accept US dollars for small transactions – with a rough 1:1 exchange rate – and it is advised to obtain some Canadian dollars if you will use cash. US coins are often mixed in with Canadian coins at stores since they are similar in appearance.
- Thomas Cook (www.thomascook.ca) branches include:
- Bloor-Yorkville (+1 416-975-9940, +1-800-267-8891; 1168 Bay St; Monday to Friday 9AM-5:30PM; Bloor-Yonge)
- Financial District (+1 416-366-1961; 10 King St E; Monday to Friday 9AM-5PM; King)
- Travelex (www.travelex.com/ca) has branches in the Financial District (+1 416-304-6130; First Canadian Place, Bank of Montréal, 100 King St W; Monday to Friday 8AM-5PM) and at the airport in Mississauga.
- Calforex Currency Services (290 Queen St West) give good rates for cash, buying and selling GBP, USD, EUR; on substantial sums can be as little as 1% from interbank rates.
- American Express branches in Toronto only function as travel agencies and don’t handle financial transactions.
- Cheque-cashing firms such as Money Mart (+1 416-920-4146, multiple locations) can usually exchange US to CAD, but the rates tend to be worse than at other financial institutions.
Toronto is generally considered to be one of North America’s top food cities and for Muslims plenty of Halal food is available. It has the same variety as New York or San Francisco and the compact and safe downtown keeps them closer together. As one of the most (if not the most) multicultural cities in the world, Toronto has authentic ethnic cuisine like no other city in North America. It is easy to eat out in Toronto and have a superb meal for cheap.
Surrounded by the extensive fertile farmlands of Southern Ontario, Toronto has an abundance of farmer’s markets – one is happening, in season, almost every day. Several markets are year round, while others are seasonal, generally running from May to October.
- St. Lawrence Market. Has been bringing the freshest foods into the city for Torontonians and visitors alike since 1901. Located at Jarvis and Front, the St. Lawrence Market stretches over 2 buildings, a main building on the south side of Front St., and a temporary building to the south of the main building. The temporary building is home to a Farmer’s Market, open Saturdays year round. It features fresh vegetables in season, preserves, spices and herbs, and direct from the source foods, such as honey direct from the beekeeper or maple syrup from the people who tapped and boiled it, and quality Ontario wines. The larger main building has over 50 specialty vendors, with a large seafood section, a dozen butchers, several bakeries, and three very extensive cheese shops. In the basement, there is also a specialty area for handcrafters, and an extensive foodcourt, with merchants often cooking food that they bought fresh that morning from upstairs. The main building is open year round, Tu-Th 8AM-6PM, F 8AM-7PM, Sa 5AM-5PM.
- Riverdale Farm, 201 Winchester St (three blocks east of Parliament Street). A year-round producing farm owned by the City of Toronto as part of its extensive park system, open daily for tours, education, and more 9AM-5PM. The Friends of Riverdale Farm operate an onsite store and restaurant, Shop at the Farm and Farm Kitchen, in Simpson House (daily 10AM-4PM), and a weekly Farmer’s Market (Tuesdays, May 10 – Oct, 3:30PM-7PM. Riverdale farm is a working farm, with barns and outdoor paddocks, and animals of all types. In an attempt to provide education about farming, the staff is approachable, and will discuss chores as they go through the daily tasks of keeping a farm running. Tours are available, or you can wander the 7½ acres freely.
Other farmer’s markets in Toronto:
- City Hall, Nathan Phillips Square, 100 Queen Street West. Wednesdays, 1 June-5 October, 10AM-2:30PM (except June 29 due to Jazz Festival).
- East York Civic Centre, 850 Coxwell Ave. Tuesdays, 24 May-25 October, 9AM-2PM.
- Etobicoke Civic Centre, 399 The West Mall. Saturdays, 4 June-29 October, 8AM-2PM.
- North York Civic Centre, Mel Lastman Square, 5100 Yonge St. Thursdays, 16 June-20 October, 8AM-2PM.
- Scarborough Civic Centre, Albert Campbell Square, 150 Borough Drive. Fridays, 3 June-14 October noon-5PM.
- The Dufferin Grove Farmer’s Market, 875 Dufferin St (across from the Dufferin Mall). Thursdays, year round (outdoors around the rinkhouse in summer and in the rinkhouse in winter) 3:30PM-7PM.
- Green Barn Market, 601 Christie St. Saturdays 8AM-12:30PM (located within the restored Artscape Wychwood Barns).
Interesting food districts
- Cabbagetown is a designated Historic District in the eastern half of the downtown core.
- University District: small section of Baldwin Street (east of Spadina, north of Dundas) has many small outdoor cafes ideal for summer lunches.
- Chinatown also has many Vietnamese and Thai restaurants.
- King Street between University Avenue and Spadina Avenue has many restaurants appealing to theatre goers.
- Queen Street East between Empire and Leslie has a number of casual, trendy restaurants that match the vibe of Leslieville.
- College Street to the west of Bathurst has a cheaper set of eclectic restaurants popular with university students from nearby University of Toronto.
- Bayview Avenue south of Eglinton is the location of some of Toronto’s best French pastry shops.
- Bloor Street to the west of Spadina in the Annex has a similar set of restaurants to College St, with a particularly heavy concentration of budget-friendly Japanese restaurants. Most restaurants tend to be very laid back.
- Yorkville: it’s more about being seen than actually eating but there are a few hidden gems, and this area is famous for sightseeing celebrities. Restaurants often charges premium for otherwise mediocre meals.
- The city’s largest newspaper, the Toronto Star, once chose the Downsview Park Flea Market food court as the best in the city. Although it is open only on weekends and rather remote, it offers a variety of authentic food from Afghan to Trinidadian and lacks the chain restaurants that dominate the city’s food courts. It is located north of downtown, but is accessible from the Downsview subway station on the Spadina line and shares space with over 400 independent retailers.
- Aroma Espresso Bar. This cafe chain has locations throughout the city. Aroma might be the best of the large coffee chains for espresso coffees and rivals the quality at many independent coffee shops. The coffee is served in a cup and saucer with a metal spoon (you might not get the spoon at some other places), and you get a piece of chocolate (a nice touch).
- Balzac’s. Balzac’s is a small chain of cafes in interesting neighbourhoods. It serves only organic, Fair Trade coffee, cocoa and sugar, and its milk is locally sourced and organic.
Some districts with vegetarian restaurants are Kensington-Chinatown, The Annex, and Chinatown East.
Where to stay in Toronto
Most hotels and hostels are situated directly outside the downtown core. Prices for rooms generally range from $150 for a standard hotel, $60–80 for a motel, and $20–40 for a bed in a hostel.
Toronto has a wide variety of hotels that can suit every budget.
Toronto has several youth hostels, including ones in the downtown area, such as HI-Toronto Hostel located at the foot of Church Street.
Bed & Breakfast
Another popular alternative for over nighters are bed & breakfasts, of which Toronto has hundreds, many of them in the downtown core. Prices range from $60 to several hundred dollars depending on the house and amenities offered.
International students often prefer to study in Toronto because of its safety, proximity to other tourism destinations, and favourable exchange rates and visa policies. However, despite its status as the largest city in the country and Canada’s economic Centre, it is surprisingly under-served by universities. This lack of post-secondary education has led to the development of major universities in the mid-sized cities that surround Toronto: the University of Waterloo and Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, the University of Guelph in Guelph, McMaster University in Hamilton, Brock University in St. Catharines and Trent University in Peterborough. The universities in Toronto remain some of the best in the country:
- The University of Toronto. Canada’s largest university, is spread out all over the city (including the main downtown campus, an east-end Scarborough campus, and University of Toronto at Mississauga (UTM) in the neighbouring city of Mississauga). This university is consistently rated among the top three in the country and is part of the “Canadian Ivy League.” Due to its size, the University of Toronto’s downtown campus, known as the St George campus, after the street that runs through it, has its own “sphere of influence,” turning the surrounding neighbourhoods into miniature college towns, with plenty of bars, restaurants, bookshops, grocery stores and cheap take-out joints. Click the link for a guide to the U of T campus.
- York University. The third largest university in Canada, York University has two campuses – the Keele Campus near Keele Street and Steeles Avenue West at the northern border of the city, and the original Glendon College at Lawrence Avenue East and Bayview Avenue. York University station on subway Line 1 Yonge–University is located within the Keele campus. Buses 124 and 162 connect Lawrence Station (also on Line 1 Yonge–University) to Glendon College.
- Ryerson University. In the heart of the downtown core. It was once a polytechnic, but is now Toronto’s third university. The university is particularly well known for its school of management, and for its journalism program. Its campus is Centred on the Kerr Hall, which forms a square around a central quad, it fills the block bounded by Gould, Gerrard, Victoria and Church streets. Ryerson also has buildings throughout this section of the city, including the Ted Rogers School of Management, at Bay and Dundas streets.
- OCAD University. The university focuses exclusively on art and design. The campus is on Dundas Street West near Spadina.
- Seneca College. Canada’s largest college is spread out over the city with over 16 campuses of varying sizes.
- George Brown College. Three campuses: St. James (downtown), Casa Loma (midtown) and Waterfront (Harbourfront).
- Humber College. Two campuses: Lakeshore and North.
Toronto, like other Canadian cities, also has dozens of English as a Second Language (ESL) schools. The largest association of private English and French language schools is the Canadian Association of Private Language Schools.
Telecommunications in Toronto
For life-threatening emergencies or crime in progress, dial 9-1-1 on any landline, mobile or pay phone (toll-free).
Local calls at pay phones cost 50 cents. Toronto’s local calling area extends roughly from Oakville to Ajax; Oshawa, Hamilton and their adjacent suburbs are long-distance. Local calls are not metered, so you can talk as long as you want. Due to the popularity of cellphones, there are fewer pay phone booths than in previous years, so they can be difficult to locate. Most large public facilities still have ample pay phones to use. In malls, pay phones are usually located between the inner and outer doors at the entrances. Payphones are also routinely provided in TTC subway stations, including on the platforms, as a safety feature. Cellular service is generally unavailable in the subway, except in outdoor or above-ground areas. In other underground areas, such as the lower levels of malls and in the PATH, reception is generally available, if somewhat weaker.
In addition, many public facilities (such as shopping malls) now also have phones which provide free local calls, which are funded by advertisements run on colour LCD screens. Watch for large, wall-mounted ovals in high-traffic areas.
Toronto has three area codes: 416, 647, and 437. These area codes are all associated with the same geographic area. The suburban areas outside of the city have three overlapping area codes: 905, 289, and 365. As a result, Toronto has 10-digit local dialling. You must always dial the area code as part of the number you are trying to reach.
International calling cards are widely available to many countries for reasonable rates. As coin-paid long distance calls are overpriced (Bell payphones charge nearly $5 in the first minute and a lower rate thereafter, competitors are $1 for three minutes), if you must place toll calls from telephone booths, it’s best to buy prepaid cards.
Internet Cafe’s in Toronto
Toronto has many Internet cafés, especially on Yonge Street around Bloor and also Bloor Street between Spadina and Bathurst, although their numbers are declining. Most major hotels offer high-speed Internet in their rooms and in their business Centres. Most coffee shops, a few hamburger joints and many food courts and restaurants in the city offer wireless Internet (more often free, sometimes not). On repeat visits to the city, the Internet café you used last time often will have disappeared, a casualty of widespread high-speed Internet availability elsewhere. Once you find a place to call home, costs are normally around $3 for 30 minutes.
Free internet access is available on computers at Toronto Public Library branches, and the Toronto Reference Library also provides free wireless access on the first two floors.
All TTC subway stations have free Wi-Fi; the ad-based service uses network name TCONNECT. See the TTC wi-fi webpage for more details.
Generally stamps are purchased and parcels are weighed and shipped, at a postal outlet located in a retail store such as a variety store or a drug store. It seems that most Shoppers Drug Mart stores have a postal outlet at a special counter often at the back of the store. Postal outlets may sell philatelic items (recent issues only).
- The Toronto Star, a broadsheet daily newspaper, politically left of Centre, covering local, national, and world news. Superman co-creator Joe Shuster, who once delivered this paper, used the Old Toronto Star Building (no longer extant) as inspiration for “The Daily Planet” newspaper.
- The Toronto Sun, a tabloid daily newspaper, politically conservative, covering local, national, and world news.
- The Globe and Mail, a broadsheet national daily with local edition, published in Toronto. Extensive business and stock market coverage, politically centrist.
- The National Post, a broadsheet national daily, moderately conservative.
- Star Metro Toronto, a free daily, with brief articles covering local, national, and world news, available at subway stations with newsstands, and at a few locations outside of subway stations. It is largely a derivative of the Toronto Star, and is politically left of Centre.
Free weekly newspapers, distributed from boxes on street corners and in racks in stores and restaurants are good sources of information on cinema, dining, music, theatre, and other events as well as local news:
- Now alternative news and comprehensive listings; published on Thursdays.
Xtra!, which provides gay and lesbian news and listings, had stopped publishing a print edition, but continues online.
Depending on where you go in Toronto, you will be able to find locally printed newspapers in a variety of languages. For example, in Chinatown, you will find Chinese newspapers. In “Little Italy”, you’ll find Italian newspapers. You’ll also find newspapers in French, Spanish, Portuguese, Persian, Arabic, Tagalog, Greek, Urdu and more.
Stay safe and avoid Scams in Toronto
Toronto is remarkably safe and the streets are vibrant with pedestrians and bicyclists, even at night in most neighbourhoods. If you use common sense, you should have no trouble at all.
The overall violent crime rate in Canada, and particularly in Toronto, is much lower than that found in major cities in the United States. Petty crime is generally not a problem in Toronto, but as always is the case, keep vigilant with your possessions. Car and bike theft are comparable to other large North American cities.
There are neighbourhoods which are known in the media and on the street as being more dangerous, though police statistics are not commonly used to justify these beliefs. Nevertheless, while assaults and other crimes can happen anywhere, especially late at night when few people are around, it is reasonable to avoid certain areas (again, generally late at night). These areas include in the old city and inner bouroughs: Crescent Town, Regent Park, parts of Parkdale, parts of St. Jamestown, Moss Park, Alexandra Park, Flemingdon Park/Victoria Village and Weston-Mount Dennis. Outer areas: Jane and Finch (“Jane Corridor”), Lawrence Heights, the Peanut (i.e., Don Mills and Sheppard), Rexdale/Jamestown Crescent, Malvern, Kingston and Galloway, Steeles-L’Amoureaux, Dorset Park, Westminster-Branson and Eglinton East-Kennedy Park. Stay away from dodgy looking areas, where drugs, prostitution and violent crime such as armed robberies can occur. These neighbourhoods become noticeably worse from a visual standpoint, giving ample warning to turn around.
Toronto has a visible homeless population, many of whom will ask you for money. Beggars in Toronto have been known to ask for handouts on the pretext that they need TTC (Toronto Transit Commission) fare. When offered TTC tokens, they will accept them and then approach other passers-by in an attempt to resell these tokens for cash. If a street person offers to sell you a token they claim to have “found” in Toronto, sometimes at less than face value, odds are this fare media was given to them by some well-meaning passer-by who believed their false claim that they needed a TTC fare to get home.
There have also been instances in the past with “squeegee kids” who would jump into intersections when traffic is stopped at lights and solicit money for cleaning windshields. This is becoming less common as this form of interference with vehicle traffic is expressly illegal under Ontario’s Highway Traffic Act and may be reported to police.
Be careful when getting off the streetcars and always look to your right before leaving the car. Although vehicles are supposed to stop when the streetcar doors open, some motorists and cyclists will ignore this and keep going.
The proliferation of mobile data devices has led to “multitasking” in a large percentage of the pedestrian population of this city. If driving, cycling, or even walking, in Toronto do not forget to keep an eye open for a pedestrian who may be more focused on his or her device.
Avoid river/creek banks or bridge underpasses during periods of excessive rain, during/after heavy thundershowers or melting snow. Flooding can soften soil and cause it to suddenly collapse into the water under any weight.
Occasionally, Toronto will be hit with a severe winter storm accompanied by significant snowfall (quite often mixed with freezing rain/ice/sleet). Avoid driving during and immediately after the storms if at all possible. This is especially true for those unfamiliar with winter driving and controlling a car in a skid. Take public transit, walk, or stay inside.
The Office of International Relations and Protocol
This office manages the Government of Ontario’s interaction with the largest consular corps in Canada (and one of the largest in the world). Approximately 100 countries are represented in Toronto.
- Brazil, 77 Bloor Street West, Suite 1109, , fax: +1 416 922-1832.
- China, 240 St. George St.
- El Salvador, 151 Bloor Street West, Suite 320, , fax: +1 416 975-0283.
- Greece, 365 Bloor Str. East, Suite 1800, , fax: +1 416 515-0209.
- India, 365 Bloor Street East. Monday to Friday 9AM to 11:30AM.
- Italy, 136 Beverley St, , fax: +1 416 977-1119.
- Japan, 77 King St West Suite 3300.
- Macedonia, 90 Eglinton Ave. East, Suite 210, , fax: +1 416 322-2412.
- Netherlands, 1 Dundas St W, Suite 2106, toll-free: +1-877-DUTCHHELP (388244357), fax: +1 416 598-8064.
- South Africa, 110 Sheppard Ave E, Suite 600, North York, , fax: +1 416 944-0925.
- Russia, 175 Bloor Street East, South Tower, Suite 801, , fax: +1 416 962-6611. Monday to Friday 9:30AM to 12:30PM.
- United Kingdom, 777 Bay St, Suite 2800, , fax: +1 416 593-1229.
- United States, 360 University Ave, , fax: +1 416 595-1090. 9AM-1PM.
Toronto is a great starting point for exploring southern Ontario. There are many golden sand beaches along the clean fresh waters of the Great Lakes that are ideal for hot summer days. Popular beach destinations within 1½-2½ hours of Toronto include Wasaga, Bruce County (Ontario), Sandbanks, Grand Bend, Long Point, and Turkey Point.
- Niagara Peninsula — A lush region known primarily for its orchards and vineyards as well as the thundering waterfalls at Niagara Falls and the beautiful town of Niagara-on-the-Lake. On the American side of the Falls are several outlet malls. 1-1½ hours south along the QEW; a few tour buses make the same-day return trip.
- Buffalo — Gorgeous early 20th-century architecture including some Frank Lloyd Wright work and excellent museums are a 1½ hour drive from Toronto.
- The Niagara Escarpment — A world biosphere, protected by UN mandate running from the Niagara Falls west to Hamilton then northward to Georgian Bay. It is covered by forest with high cliff views along the Bruce Trail bordering the western edge of the Greater Toronto Area, at its closest point it is about a ½-hour drive from the western end of Toronto.
- Waterloo Region — This area 1-1½ hours west of Toronto has large university campuses, rolling farm hills and Mennonite culture.
- Stratford — This cute town 2 hours west of Toronto is host to the world-renowned Stratford Shakespeare Festival (April–November).
- Thousand Islands and Kingston — This scenic area and its nearby historic city are 3 hours east, on the way to Ottawa
- Ottawa — The Canadian capital is about a 4½-hour drive from Toronto.
- Main Street Unionville, located in the suburban city of Markham north of Toronto, is a historic village developed in the 1840s. As typical of a small village, it has many quaint period buildings in an idyllic surrounding.
- Muskoka, Georgian Triangle and The Kawarthas — All 1½–2 hours north are cottage country areas with more rocky and hilly terrain speckled with hundreds of lakes and waterways. Muskoka and the Kawarthas are known for their country inns, cottages, spas/resorts, provincial parks, and a wealth of outdoor activities including camping, fishing/hunting, snowmobiling, nature viewing, and hiking set among natural beauty. The Georgian Bay area is where the hilly terrain and cliffs of the Niagara Escarpment meet its shores, the area has renowned ski facilities frequently blasted with high snowfall amounts but beaches Wasaga Beach, wineries and golfing are the choices in summer.
- Newmarket has its attractive Main Street Heritage Conservation District and many heritage buildings within a walkable area.
- Many people visit these regions in fall to experience some of the best fall-colour leaves anywhere in the world.