Toronto City Guide
What makes your city great? Ask anyone who hails from Toronto and they'll proudly say diversity. With 2.9 million residents from more than 250 ethnic groups, speaking more than 180 languages, it's no surprise that the city's motto is "Diversity, Our Strength".
In recent years, Canada's largest city has experienced a shift in character, output and self-confidence, creating a fascinating and increasingly complex place. This may be due to amazing musical and cultural talents that shoot to international success – most notably Drake and The Weeknd – who help amplify Toronto's cool factor. Or unforgettable sporting moments, such as when the Toronto Raptors won the 2019 NBA Championship, the first NBA finals played outside of the U.S.
This shift is also a sign of maturity due to economic, intellectual, and educational development. The city is known as "Silicon Valley of the North", because of its growing technology hub, and "Hollywood North" because of its strong film and TV industry. The food and beverage scene is also having its own renaissance that will blow your taste buds away, as local chefs and business owners draw inspiration from the multicultural city they've grown up in and reflect this in their food.
Regardless of what spurred Toronto's caterpillar-to-butterfly moment, the city has a unique character and multiethnic voice that you'll experience in no other place. T+L's Toronto City Guide shows you what makes the city interesting, vibrant, fun and so very special.
Eastern Standard Time
Best Time to Go
Not surprisingly, visiting Toronto during the warmer months of the year (late spring to mid-autumn) is the best time to experience the city. Although winter is cold and can be a pain, there are just as many things to see and do, just make sure to bundle up!
In spring/summer (May to mid-September) an innumerable amount of festivals, events and performances happen every weekend. Notable ones to catch are the Beaches International Jazz Festival, Toronto Caribbean Carnival (known as Caribana), Luminato, Pride, Toronto International Film Festival, and many other neighborhood events that are just as fun and delightful.
Winter activities in the city (December to February) are just as plentiful – just make sure to wear a good winter coat and thermal wear. Some great experiences include Toronto Christmas Market, Toronto Light Festival, Winterlicious, and outdoor ice-skating in public spaces such as The Bentway. This is also a perfect time to explore Toronto's excellent museums and galleries, such as the Bata Shoe Museum and the Art Gallery of Ontario, who host a slew of indoor programs and activities for kids and adults.
Things to Know
(Check the current exchange rate)
Canada does not have one or two dollar bills. This currency has been converted into coins; the loonie ($1) and toonie ($2).
In 2012, the Government of Canada phased out the penny from the country's currency system for economic and environmental reasons. As a result, cash payments or cash transactions are rounded up or down to the nearest five-cent increment.
Canadian currency is colorful and pays homage to historical figures and key moments in the country's history. In November 2018, The Bank of Canada released a new vertical $10 bill featuring Viola Desmond, a Canadian civil rights activist and Black businesswoman from Nova Scotia.
Contactless payment: Contactless or tap payment is a common payment system used by Canadians and nearly all retailers in the country. Contactless payments can be made by using major credit or debit cards, and mobile wallets like Apple Pay, Google Pay, and Samsung Pay.
The dollar limit for contactless payment at a point of sale is typically between $100-$250 CAD. If a purchase exceeds this amount, merchants will either require you to sign a receipt or enter a PIN number. Remember that bank fees and currency conversion may apply, check with your financial institution for more details.
Calling codes: 011 international call prefix, +1 country calling code
Essential stores: looking for essential toiletries, health products, over-the-counter medicine, a pharmacy or other convenience items? There are a number of retail drug stores in Toronto where you can pick up these items. Look out for Guardian and I.D.A., Rexall, and Shoppers Drugs Mart (aka: Shoppers) to purchase them.
Directions: for the most part, the development of Toronto's streets is based on a straight line, grid pattern. The benefit of this street system makes it easy to navigate in and around the city. If you lose your bearings while downtown, look at the direction a major road slopes; downward is south, upward is north.
Phrases to know
The Six or The 6ix: a nickname used to describe the City of Toronto, pronounced as "The Six." This was coined by international rapper, singer, and Toronto native Drake who developed the term based on the city's area codes 416 and 647.
The 905: areas of the suburbs outside of the City of Toronto whose phone area code starts with 905.
Big Smoke, T-Dot, T-O, T.O. and The 416: alternate nicknames used to describe the City of Toronto.
Double-double: a coffee order with two creams and two sugars. Traditionally, a double-double is used to describe a coffee order from Tim Hortons, an iconic Canadian coffee chain.
Streetcars: Toronto has a network of above-ground streetcars which run throughout the downtown core. They are referred to as "streetcars" not "trams."
Toque: another word for a beanie.
Torontonian: a native or resident of the City of Toronto. When pronouncing this word it is correct to say it phonetically.
How to Get Around
Toronto Transit Commission (TTC): the TTC is the city's official transit operator, running a network of city buses, streetcars and subways. A single adult fare costs $3.25, a day pass costs $13.50 and children under 12 years of age ride free. Purchase TTC fares at collector booths in subways stations. Bus and streetcar operators do not sell fares or carry change. When exploring Downtown Toronto, factor in approximately 20 -25 minutes of travel time to your destination due to wait and transfer times.
- Stay informed: the TTC has a SMS system where you can receive real-time, route data for the next bus or streetcar arriving at a specific stop, directly to your mobile phone (standard rates apply). To receive arrival times for the next TTC vehicle at your location, text the multi-digit transit stop number to 898882 (TXTTTC).
PRESTO card: a contactless smart card with an automated fare payment feature allows you to use public transit system in and around Toronto such as the TTC, GO Transit and UP Express. PRESTO cards can be bought from fare-vending machines found inside all TTC subway stations. Find out more about PRESTO.
Cycling: cycling is a popular mode of transportation in the city, even in the middle of winter! It's advised that you don't bike on sidewalks; there are dedicated lanes for cycling (protected and painted) that you can use. View the Toronto Cycle Network map to view and plan your route. Also, here are several things to remember when biking in the city:
- Dooring: proceed with caution and pay attention when biking by parked or stopped cars; many cyclists have been accidentally doored by passengers exiting a car, a collision which can result in serious injury.
- TTC streetcar tracks: cycling in and around TTC streetcar tracks can be just as damaging as being doored by a car. Streetcar tracks are indented grooves in the road with embedded metal plates. Bike tires have been known to get caught in streetcar tracks and maneuvering around them can also be hazardous leading to a collision with fellow cyclists
Bike Share Toronto: this is the most widely used public bike-sharing system in the city. Users can purchase a single trip ($3.25), day pass ($7) or a three-day pass ($15) to access more than 6,800 bikes and 600 stations so you can cycle throughout Toronto.
GO Transit (Greater Toronto Transit Authority): is the regional provider for the Greater Toronto Area, operating a network of buses and trains. Traveling on the GO is an easy and comfortable mode of travel from the suburbs to Downtown Toronto and even within the city limits. GO trains and buses are identifiable by their green and white design, and many GO vehicles and stations connect with the TTC, particularly Union Station in Downtown Toronto.
Walking: Toronto is a walkable city with sidewalks everywhere permitting pedestrian safety. Factor in 10-20 minutes of walk time between subway stops, to and from your destination. If you decide to walk the city during the fall, spring or winter time, don footwear that is warm, ideally waterproof and has traction because sidewalks can get icy, slushy or wet.
Toronto Pearson International Airport (YYZ): this airport is situated 16.7 mi (27 km) from downtown and is the main international hub in and out of the city.
Union-Pearson Express (UP Express): this train transports travelers to and from Toronto Pearson International Airport to Toronto Union Station (downtown) within 25 minutes. It is the most reliable mode of transportation, involving minimal hassle and is highly recommended, especially if you want to avoid the city's notorious traffic jams on local streets and highways.
Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport (YTZ): a small regional airport located on Toronto Island in the heart of the city, Billy Bishop serves 20 cities in Canada and the U.S. Billy Bishop Airport is situated at the foot of Bathurst Street and can be accessed via a pedestrian tunnel which runs underneath a portion of Lake Ontario. Another more scenic way to travel to Billy Bishop is to take the 90-second ferry ride that covers 396 ft. (121 m), one of the world's shortest ferry rides.
Things to Do
Neighborhoods to Know
The diversity of Toronto's over 250 ethnic groups is reflected in its multitude of neighborhoods, each with its own distinctive look and feel. This is where you can experience cultures from around the world. Ask any Torontonian what their favorite neighborhoods are and they'll excitedly relay an unending list of places to enjoy the best Jamaican patty or where you can shop for great vintage finds. Peruse our curated list of some of the best neighborhoods in the city to visit.
The Annex: Bordering the University of Toronto's St. George campus, The Annex is a lively area populated by students and grand homes. Along its main stretch of Bloor Street West, experience affordable, friendly, and locally run businesses, cafes, and indie retail stores. An abundance of casual bars and diverse restaurants is at your fingertips, from sushi to pizza, where you'll be spoiled for choice. For entertainment, check out Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema, the world's largest documentary cinema, and Lee's Palace, a rock concert hall that is a city institution.
Chinatown: A hub of activity day or night with sidewalk markets, innumerable Canadian souvenirs shops and Asian restaurants. During Lunar New Year, Chinatown is extra festive as the community celebrates this occasion with lion dances along the street and inside Dragon City Mall. Also in the neighborhood is the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO), one of the largest art museums in North America.
Kensington Market: Next door to Chinatown, this bohemian village within the city contains an eclectic mix of cafes, vintage stores, and food markets largely untouched by the modern changes of time. Pedestrian Sundays are a popular event, taking place on the last Sunday of the month (from May to October), where the streets are closed to vehicle traffic and are teeming with music and activity. Make sure you snap a picture of the Kensington Market Garden Car, a local attraction and public art piece permanently parked at Augusta Ave and Oxford Street for more than 10 years.
Entertainment District: This was the epicenter of Toronto's club district between the 1990s and early 2000s, but has largely gentrified to accommodate businesses and condo dwellers. The area still retains a few nightclubs but is mostly known for its selection of restaurants, bars, and thriving concert and live theatre venues such as Roy Thompson Hall, Princess of Wales Theatre, and the TIFF Bell Lightbox where you can catch a show or watch some of the world's most acclaimed films.
King Street West: Formerly an area populated with industrial buildings and warehouses, King Street West has transformed into a bustling hub of popular bars, a thriving club scene, and cool shops, such as local favs SOMA Chocolatemaker and SPin Toronto. This stretch of coolness extends for approximately 1.2 miles from Spadina to Strachan Avenue.
Little Italy: This area along College Street West is lined with quaint restaurants and outdoor cafes surrounded by beautiful tree-lined streets with Edwardian period homes. Dine and explore at your leisure during the day – Café Diplomatico is a long-time community staple. At night the neighborhood turns into a lively hot spot with El Convento Rico, a Latin nightclub and drag show venue, and Revival Bar, a popular club and event space.
Old Town Toronto: The founding neighborhood of Toronto (originally named the Town of York) has the largest concentration of 19th century buildings in the province. This area has a wealth of local history, great restaurants and bars, and a thriving arts scene. Points of interest to take in are the photogenic Gooderham Building (locally known as the Flatiron Building), Berczy Park dog fountain, and Sugar Beach. Satisfy your taste buds at St. Lawrence Market, a world-renowned culinary haven, and stroll through the historic Distillery District, one of Canada's premiere arts and culture destinations.
West Queen West: Day or night this westerly area along Queen Street West is home to a multitude of cool bars, vintage shops, and a diverse selection of locally run businesses. Two of the city's beloved boutique hotels are found here – The Drake and Gladstone – as well as the ubiquitous Trinity Bellwoods Park, a popular spot to hang and partake in local community events. The vibe here is hip, young, and active – couple that with the above-mentioned points of interest and you immediately understand why Vogue named West Queen West one of the coolest neighborhoods in the world.
Yorkville: During the 1960s, this was a relaxed bohemian enclave, but is now an affluent and sophisticated area – Drake is known to frequent Yorkville and during the Toronto International Film Festival it teems with celebrities. Many upscale restaurants and international luxury retailers are found here, as well as long-time local purveyors of class Harry Rosen and Holt Renfrew. Yorkville is also a cultural destination where within a few hundred feet you can visit the Bata Shoe Museum, Gardiner Museum of Ceramic Art, Royal Ontario Museum, and Royal Conservatory of Music.
Toronto Islands: Hop on a ferry and get away to the Toronto Islands, a group of 15 interconnected islands that sit in Lake Ontario. It offers a relaxing respite for individuals and families from the bustling vibe of the downtown core. Take a dip at its beaches (note that Hanlan's Point is a clothing-optional beach), rent sports and water equipment, enjoy a picnic, play at Centreville Amusement Park, or experience the quaintness of the 150-year-old community living year-round in cottage-style residences.
In Toronto you'll experience all four seasons of the year to Mother Nature's maximum. Here, winter (December to February) means a lot of snow, wet rain, icy conditions and wind chill so intense it makes the city feel colder than the Mars. Spring time (March to May) is highly variable with warmer temperatures, periods of snow and frequent rainfall. Summer (June to August) has hot sunny days with extreme humidity and periodic thunderstorms. Autumn (September to November) starts off warm with cooler nights and signals the start of gorgeous fall colors, expect periodic thunderstorms.
January: 32°F - 19°F
February: 32°F - 21°F
March: 39°F - 28°F
April: 54°F - 39°F
May: 64°F - 50°F
June: 75°F - 59°F
July: 81°F - 64°F
August: 79°F - 63°F
September: 70°F - 55°F
October: 57°F - 45°F
November: 45°F - 36°F
December: 36°F - 27°F