Toronto is a thriving cosmopolitan city with something to offer for everyone. To newcomers, Toronto may seem like just another big city. Downtown is dotted with skyscrapers, the city’s streets are bustling with people on the go and the public transportation system is top-notch. But lift up the hood of Canada’s biggest city and you’ll find there’s more to the eye than an amazing skyline. Toronto is considered one of the most culturally diverse cities in the world, with more than half the population born outside of the city. Toronto houses 200 ethnic groups that speak upward of 140 different languages, making this Ontario destination a world all its own. With Greek Town, Little Italy, Koreatown and Chinatown all within city limits, travelers may feel as if they’ve seen more than a couple worlds after a visit to Toronto. Mix that in with Canada’s famous hospitality and charm and you’ve got yourself a relaxed big city experience, without skimping on the vibrancy. Toronto is big in more ways than one. The city is home to one of the tallest freestanding towers in the world, the CN Tower. It is also the site of the world’s largest underground shopping mall, PATH, and the place where you’ll find the longest street.
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Things to Do in Toronto
To get the lay of the land, catch a bird’s-eye view from one of the observation decks at the CN Tower. From there, get a taste for authentic Torontonian suds by sampling some beer in the historic Distillery District, then walk over to the historic St. Lawrence Market for the best in Canadian fare.
A standout among Toronto’s dazzling skyline, the 1,815-foot CN Tower is considered one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World by the American Society of Civil Engineers. The tower’s height provides enviable vistas of the city below, but it also serves a practical purpose. When the city’s skyline began to grow amidst a construction boom, television and radio transmission towers were having trouble broadcasting. With the structure’s completion in the 1970s, the CN Tower allowed transmissions to pass with ease.
Today, elevators bring visitors to the top in less than a minute. Once there, you have four observation areas to choose from: the Glass Floor room (at 1,122 feet), the LookOut Level (at 1,136 feet), the revolving 360 The Restaurant (at 1,150 feet) and the SkyPod, which at 1,465 feet is one of the highest public observation area in the world. Although many recent travelers were wowed by the views from all observation points, some were steadfast in their opinion that the high price of admission simply wasn’t worth it.
Located in downtown Toronto near the harbour, the CN Tower is open to the public every day (except for Christmas), but hours depend on which attraction within the tower you plan on visiting. The LookOut, Glass Floor and SkyPod observation decks are open from 10 a.m. to 10:30 p.m., while the restaurant’s hours vary. Visiting all four levels will cost you CA$35 (about $25.50), but if you book online, you’ll save $3 on admission. The entire ascension fee is waived, however, if you dine at the restaurant. Admission to the CN Tower is included in the Toronto CityPASS. You’ll find the CN tower a few blocks south of the St. Andrew subway station. For more information, check out the CN Tower’s website.
Love castles? So did Sir Henry Pellatt, a former soldier whose lifelong dream was to build a castle overlooking Toronto. The 98-room Casa Loma – built in the early 1900s – took nearly three years to make and cost more than $3 million to complete. The only full-size castle in North Toronto, this grand home features everything one would need to feel like a king: towers, horse stables, secret passageways and a massive wine cellar that can hold more than 1,500 bottles. There’s also an immaculate 5-acre garden outfitted with fountains and sculptures, as well as wildflowers when the weather’s right. According to recent visitors, this quirky attraction will certainly appeal to history buffs, museum-goers and families (kids love the 800-foot-long underground tunnel connecting the house to the stables). Even if you don’t identify as one of those travelers, visitors’ collective sentiment of the castle’s stunning interiors are enough to illicit a visit.
Located about 3 miles north of downtown Toronto, you can get to Casa Loma by getting off at the Dupont subway station. Casa Loma is open every day from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission ranges from CA$24 for adults (about $18) to CA$14 (about $10.50) for kids. For more information, visit the Casa Loma website.
Back in the early 1800s, this waterfront neighborhood was home to Canada’s largest distilling company, the Gooderham and Worts Distillery. Today, this historic pedestrian-only neighborhood – flanked by industrial-style Victorian buildings and paved with cobblestone once tread on by horse-drawn carriages – overflows with art galleries, performance spaces, cafes, restaurants and yes, a brewery. For a true glimpse into Toronto’s past, this is the place to go. Enjoy festivals and outdoor exhibitions throughout the year, join an art class or kick back, relax and enjoy an authentic Canadian brewski.
Travelers say the best part of this attraction is its ambiance. Yes the food is tasty and the shops are unique, but simply visiting to take in the atmosphere of one of Toronto’s most beloved hangout spots is worth a walk around alone. If you’re not around in the summer don’t fret – Torontonians and winter visitors alike say the Christmas Market is a gem, especially with some mulled wine in hand. Hours are 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Wednesday. Thursday, Friday and Saturday hours are extended until 8 p.m. but on Sundays, businesses close up around 6 p.m. You can find the Distillery District near downtown Toronto, a little more than a mile from the King subway station. For more information, visit the Distillery District’s website.
The best way to get around Toronto is by public transportation. The Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) runs three modes – subway, streetcar and bus – which operate extensive routes throughout the city and suburbs.
You will need a token or a pass to travel on TTC; day and week passes allow for unlimited rides on all three forms of public transport. The subway also connects the city to the Toronto Pearson International Airport (YYZ), as do taxis. However, you can expect to pay around CA$50 to CA$60 (about $36 to $43) for a cab, while the subway will cost just CA$3.25.
If you’re in a hurry, the subway is your best bet. However, it is not as extensive as above-ground transportation. There are two main lines: the Yellow Line (Yonge-University) runs north to south starting at northern Yonge Street then down to Union Station and back up north again. The Green Line (Bloor-Danforth) runs east to west starting near the Etobicoke neighborhood and running through Central Toronto to the Scarborough area. The smaller Scarborough line juts off of the Green Line, and the Sheppard Line, which only consists of five stops, services a small portion of northern Toronto. Trains run every few minutes from about 6 a.m. until 1:30 a.m. on weekdays and Saturdays; they run from about 8 a.m. to 1:30 a.m. on Sundays.
Single rides on all TTC transit costs CA$3.25 (roughly $2.40), but if you’re planning to rely on public transportation for more than just the occasional ride, it’s a good idea to purchase a day- or week-long pass. Day passes cost CA$12 (about $8.75) and weekly passes cost CA$42.25 (about $30.75).
Buses and Streetcars
Where the subway doesn’t go, buses and streetcars do. You will need a token or a pass to ride. Those who find themselves alone on a bus between 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. take note: For your consideration, the Request Stop Program allows anyone to hop off anywhere along the transit’s line if they’re feeling uncomfortable or unsafe. Most streetcars run 24 hours a day.
The only way to get to and from the Toronto Islands is by ferry. The ferry departs from the Jack Layton Ferry Terminal in downtown Toronto and takes visitors to Hanlan’s Point, Centre Island and Ward’s Island. Tickets are CA$7.25 ($5.30) for adults and CA$3.50 ($2.60) for children 14 and younger. For more information, visit Toronto’s Parks and Recreation website.
Like in other major cities, Toronto cabs are not hard to come by. You can hail them on the street or simply wait in front of a major hotel or attraction. But keep in mind, taxis tend to add up quickly, no matter where you are. Relying on public transportation may not be as convenient, but it allows you to save your money for attractions and souvenirs. The Uber smartphone app also operates in Toronto.
CarToronto’s grid layout makes it easy to navigate. But a car is unnecessary if you’re planning to stay in the city proper. Traffic in central Toronto can be a major headache (especially during rush hour) and parking can get pricey. Also, if you are visiting during the winter and do not have much experience driving in snow and ice, it’s best to leave the driving to those with practice. If you do decide to rent a car, most major rental agencies are represented at the Toronto airport, and you can also find several agencies scattered throughout central Toronto.
On FootToronto is a big city, but its neighborhoods are relatively easy to explore on foot. Just be careful about walking around at night, especially if you are in an unfamiliar area. Stick to well-lit streets and never walk alone.