15 Things Nobody Tells You about Visiting Toronto
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Visiting Toronto is an easy decision. Just book your flight, arrive in the city, and start exploring. You may read other articles and guidebooks on famous sites worth visiting and interesting activities, and you cannot be more excited about your trip. However, there are things that these travel guides may not tell you before you get here.
As someone who lived in Toronto for three years, I wish that these insider travel tips can help you avoid some of the mistakes and make the most out of your Toronto trip.
The popular attractions like the CN Tower, Aquarium, Zoos, Dundas Square, and St Lawrence Market are not the end of all
Most people come to Toronto only to visit these popular places, but Toronto has so much to offer, including ethnic neighborhoods, and other areas including North and East York, Annex, Scarborough, and Etobicoke.
I cannot count that how many times people have told me that they have been to Toronto and that they have hit the local spots and only been to places like St Lawrence, CN Tower, Kensington Market, and Casa Loma, but in reality, CN Tower is too expensive for locals to visit.
Read More: 10 Unique and Free Things to do in Toronto
TTC in Toronto has extensive coverage but is not always efficient
TTC, also known as the Toronto Transit Commission, is an extensive public transit network taking you everywhere in Toronto, and the route is surprisingly easy to figure out. The subway runs daily from 6 am (except 8 am on Sundays) to midnight, as well as the bus, while the streetcar operates 24 hours daily.
If you decide to take the TTC for a few days, getting a Pesto Card is always worth it. You can use it for the Greater Toronto Area and keep it for the return trip as well.
However, the TTC, especially Line 1, is crowded during rush hours and the wait is long. Constructions and upgrades are a weekly occurrence. Once they take place, part of the subway stops running and you have to take the bus instead, which is a nightmare.
You cannot hail a taxi from the street
In some cities like New York, you can just flag down a taxi from the street. You cannot get a taxi if you do it this way in Toronto.
Generally, you need to call a taxi company and ask them to dispatch you a cab. For this, you need to give them your address, your name, and the major intersection you are at. As cabs are expensive and the wait takes a while, it would be better to just take public transport or Uber.
Should you drive around Toronto? The answer is no.
Unless you do not mind the traffic and the expensive cost of parking, I do not recommend that you drive around Toronto and park in the city center.
If you plan to drive into Toronto, your best option is to find a parking lot near your hotel, the subway or the train station and take public transport from there. My friends in Toronto always do this. They live on the east end. They usually park their cars in Kennedy and Ellesmere station and take the subway to downtown.
Do not walk everywhere
I have seen lots of my travel friends do this, and I do not recommend it. Toronto is huge and it takes a while to get around, so I strongly suggest that you take advantage of the public transport.
Although you may think that walking can save you money and you can see lots of interesting neighborhoods, your feet will protest after your first day. In addition, we only have a short few months of acceptable weather, and you do not want to walk for hours under -20 degrees Celsius in the winter or 30 degrees in the summer.
You can plan out your travel by walking to nearby attractions and taking the TTC from there to the next point of interest. You can always get a transfer on the bus. If you use a Pesto Card, you will not get charged extra within two hours of hopping on another public transit.
There is lots of delicious food and bars in Toronto, and you do not always have to go to chain restaurants and Kensington market for them
Toronto has lots of excellent eateries; the bars, cafes, and pubs are endless, and you can find them on every corner. If you want to eat ethnic food, there are several China towns, a Greek town, Japanese town, Korean towns, little India, little Italy, and Portuguese town. Local eateries usually feature typical Western food like pizza, meat dishes, seafood and sandwiches, burgers, and poutine. Vegan restaurants are also endless.
If you want to eat specific food, you can always find a restaurant that suits your appetite, so just take your time to research and ask around.
And Tim Hortons are not listed here because it is too popular and everyone visiting Canada should visit it at least once. Simply go to the counter and order a double-double coffee and tea, and try their Timbits.
Read More: 8 Best Affordable Restaurants in Toronto
Do not waste money on the CN Tower for a view
There are so many better places in Toronto offering panoramic views of the skyline and they are free, so do not feel the need to go all the way up to the CN Tower in order to complete your Toronto trip.
For views, I recommend Riverdale Park and Chester Hill Lookout. These two are lesser-known ones where you can go for free and stay there as long as you want. Planet Traveler Hostel also has a patio offering the gorgeous view of Toronto city center.
Be sure to know the difference between Toronto and the GTA (Greater Toronto Area)
Planning a visit Toronto and ending up flying into Hamilton Airport is something I have seen happen. Toronto can be defined in two terms; the city of Toronto and the GTA. The latter consists of the city of Toronto and its 25 surrounding municipalities.
If you plan to stay in the city of Toronto, meet your friends or visit a specific place, make sure that the hotel address and the meeting point is in the city of Toronto, not just the GTA. Otherwise, you may spend hours on commuting, changing public transit, and wonder why it takes so long to get there.
Accommodations in Toronto is expensive but that does not mean you cannot travel on a budget
A trip to Toronto does not have to be expensive, but you need to research ahead and find budget-friendly places to stay, know which places you can visit for free, and learn to navigate public transit. Hostels are usually above $35 per night, and there are options of Airbnb. Couchsurfing can be a hit or miss; there are people have great experiences and others have negative reviews.
If you do not mind staying at hostels and sharing a room with others, you can stay at Planet Travelers Hostel for $47 per night, The hostel offers a central location and breakfast until 1 pm (yes you can have both breakfast and lunch there). You can also save lots of money visiting budget-friendly restaurants and purchasing at supermarkets and cooking your own meals.
The best part of Toronto is that there are always free activities you can join, like walking around High Park, free walking tours, taking a peek at graffiti alley, pillow fights, and visiting free museums.
Toronto is tough for expats and new immigrants
Toronto is not a heaven for expats and immigrants. I love Toronto, but I have also experienced struggles in the job market and turbulence in settling down during my first few years here.
Even after living in the USA for four years and having a Canadian university degree, I am still shocked at how tough it is and how long it takes to find a decent job. The most common advice you will hear is that to be able to survive on the job market, Canadian work experience is crucial, so employers will dismiss decades of your valuable overseas work experience and offer you shitty pay because you have not worked in Canada.
I am not alone here. Most of my friends are either freelancing, struggling to get a job, or changing jobs and moving places every two to three years. Living in the city is pretty rough because of high rent.
Canada is open to immigration and welcomes people from all nationalities, but it does not mean that you can just arrive in Toronto and have guaranteed financial stability.
Not all people in Toronto are rude
A lot of people I met in outer provinces told me that people in Toronto can be rude and cold, but like anywhere, you will meet nice people and some nasty ones.
After living in Toronto for a few years, I can say that people here will not go overboard to talk to strangers, but they will help you and talk to you about the city when they have a chance. If you are asking for directions, make sure to avoid people that look busy or on their phones. Ask someone working at a store, at the bus or subway station, and be gentle and you will find that they are always happy to help.
If you plan a short trip out of Toronto, Niagara Falls is not the only place to be
As heavily as Niagara Falls is marketed in the guidebooks, there are still lots of great places outside Toronto worth a day trip. If you are into natural landscapes, you can visit Algonquin National Park, the Blue Mountains, and Thousand Islands. If you are into culture and festivities, Kitchener and Stratford are good places to go for Oktoberfest, the Christmas celebration, and the Shakespeare festival. There are wineries and lavender farms in Prince Edward County that await your visit also.
Give yourself enough time at Union Station
I think of Union Station as a labyrinth as it has countless platforms with Go Train, VIA Rail, buses, and subways that are all crowded into one place. If this is not a problem, then the station itself always being under construction will make first-timers confused as to where to go.
Getting lost at Union Station is not usual. Even if you live in Toronto and GTA, you will constantly find that navigating Union Station is tricky.
If you plan to take the train from Union Station, make sure to arrive there early to navigate the place. If you are not sure where your train platform is, follow the signs and ask around if you need assistance with directions.
You need to clear US immigration at the Toronto Pearson Airport
If you plan on flying onwards to the USA from Pearson Airport, be sure to arrive there early so you have ample time to pass through USA immigration. When you arrive in the USA, it will be as if you just arrived from a domestic flight.
Alcohol sale is government regulated.
This rule does not only apply to Toronto but to all of Ontario. You can only purchase alcohol legally through government-licenced stores like LCBO, the Beer Store, and licensed grocery stores. If it is your first time in the city, take note of the hours of LCBO, which is 9 am to 11 pm from Monday to Saturday and 9 am to 6 pm on Sundays. Expect a line, as there are hardly other places where you can find liquor and wine.
Do you have any other tips to share? Comment below.
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