Toronto, also known as T.O, T.Dot or more recently, the Six, is one of Canada’s most important cities. It isn’t laid back like Vancouver nor is it charismatic or romantic in the sense that Montreal and Quebec City are. But after a recent trip to Toronto, I’ll admit, the city has character. With its imposing buildings, fast-pace big business, major league sports, museums and distinctive neighbourhoods, it’s easy to see why the residents of Toronto (Drake included) are very proud of the city they call home.
Compared to most of the world, the cost of living in Canada is very high, Toronto is no exception to the rule. In fact, I’d venture to say the rule was made with Toronto in mind. But travel isn’t meant to be expensive, it’s meant to be fun.
That’s why today, I’ve put together A Budget Traveler’s Guide To Toronto.
Getting Around: Making your way around Toronto via the TTC (Toronto Transit Commission) is simple enough. Your three best options are the subway, bus, or streetcars. The subway is split into four lines: Yonge-University (yellow), Bloor-Danforth (green), Scarborough (blue) and Sheppard (burgundy/maroon). The streetcar system is divided into 11 routes and there are over 140 bus routes to choose from as well. On Saturdays and during the week the TTC runs from 6 a.m. to 1:30 a.m. On Sundays operating hours are from 8 or 9 a.m. to 1:30 a.m. Check out all the TTC price points and maps here.
Food Prices: The cost, quality, versatility and availability of food seriously impacts the way I feel about a city (I’m a sumo at heart). The budget traveler in me (and my rapidly dwindling bank account) favours doing groceries, buying things in bulk and making my own meals (10-15 CAD/day). But food really has a way of tying a trip together nicely and gives insight on the culture of any city or country so it’s important that I taste what a location has to offer. Toronto does not disappoint.
In Toronto, you’ll find fish and chips, falafels, jerk chicken, chicken and waffles and anything else your taste buds care to enjoy. But it won’t be cheap. Toronto does however have a solid food truck and street food (a lot of hot dogs) scene that will only set you back 5-7 CAD on average. A meal consisting of an appetizer, entree and a drink will cost anywhere from 20-35 CAD (after taxes) depending on the caliber of the restaurant. A combo at a fast-food joint will run you about 10-11 CAD, these aren’t the healthiest choices (but they taste good after a night of partying).
Note: Here are a few restaurants and bars that I really loved while I was in Toronto.
- O&B Canteen – 330 King St West, Toronto, ON, M5V 3X2, Canada
- Cafe Crepe – 246 Queen St West, Toronto, ON, M5V 1Z7, Canada
- The Tavern – 147 Spading Ave, Toronto, ON, M5V 2L6, Canada
- Bar Hop – 391 King St West, Toronto, ON, M5V 1K1, Canada
Hotels/Motels: If you’re booking on short notice, the cheapest hotels/motels you’re likely to find will cost approximately 40-80 CAD/night in and around downtown. You can always pay lots more for more lofty hotels, but if you’re visiting to explore the city, most of your time will be spent outdoors, so don’t waste your money. I strongly suggest finding accommodations somewhere central in Toronto. The city is fairly large, and like many other big cities, traffic can be pretty hectic. During my last trip, I stayed on King St West (one of the major streets in Toronto), and I found the location to be pretty damn perfect.
Note: Hotel prices skyrocket during the late spring and summer time in Toronto, mostly due to the NBA/MLB playoffs and Caribana (a Caribbean themed festival similar to the ones in Trinidad & Brazil). If you’re planning a trip to the Six during these times, book well in advance.
Hostels: The cheapest hostels you’ll find in Toronto cost about 20-25 CAD/night depending on the amount of roommates you’re willing to listen to snore. If you’re looking for a private hostel room, expect to pay no less than 60 CAD/night. Many of the Toronto hostels can be found in the downtown core and are easily accessible from major city entry points, namely the central bus/train station and Toronto Island airport. If you’re low on funds, contact your hostel ahead of time and ask to exchange a few days of work for a few nights and some food. It’s common practice.
Note: Don’t forget to book a hostel with a proper kitchen or free breakfast to save yourself some money. In a city as expensive as Toronto, you’ll need it.
Accommodation Alternatives: Torontonians (Canadians in general) are pretty friendly people. Hit up Couchsurfing for free accommodation. Personally, I rented out a nicely decorated Air BnB 1 bedroom apartment with a kitchen. It was well-located and had everything I needed for a comfortable stay (including free music courtesy of the strip club downstairs).
EXPERIENCE TORONTO ON A BUDGET
High Park: This park is enormous. In fact, it’s the biggest Toronto has to offer. A free zoo, tons of walking trails, Chinese gardens, a beautiful pond, sporting facilities and an abundance of space just to kick back and chill are among some of the reasons you just might want to spend a day or two there.
Allan Gardens Conservatory: A gorgeous conservatory in the centre of the amazing Allan Gardens is definitely worth checking out. Once you arrive, you’ll find a selection of flowers, cacti (not cactuses), palm trees and more. For anything concerning plants, it’s best to see them right as they bloom (spring time). It’s open every day from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
St. James’ Cathedral: A sizeable and historical cathedral by any standards. The history of this religious relic is painted into the colourful stained glass. It’s open every day, from 7:20 a.m. to 5:30 p.m (Sunday to Friday), 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday.
Queen’s Park: Located within striking distance of the ROM (Royal Ontario Museum), this park is moderate and often very calm, even if the city continues buzzing on all around it. In nice weather, you ca go there for a picnic, hang out on the grass or simply stroll on through. Check out the Ontario Legislative Building and some pretty neat statues while you’re there (do it for the ‘Gram).
Woodbine Beach: Been working on that summer body? Here’s the perfect place to show it off. During the nicer weather, this is where you should go to lay around in the sand, swim, walk around (there’s a great boardwalk/beware of joggers) or just sit around daydreaming while looking out at Lake Ontario. But don’t be fooled by the sunshine, the water will still be a bit cold.
BEST EXPERIENCES IN TORONTO
CN Tower: It’s hard to overlook the grander and beauty of the CN Tower. It stands in the centre of the city like a sleek and giant luminescent beacon. It’s one of the tallest towers in the world and is head and shoulders above the other skyscrapers in the city. Head up to the top for the best panoramic view of the city or simply gaze up at it from pretty anywhere in the down region of Toronto. After sunset the CN Tower frequently changes colours and looks gorgeous from up close or a distance. For all the different price points and tower packages, click here. The CN Tower is located at 301 Front St W, Toronto, ON, M5V 2T6, Canada.
Toronto islands: This small cluster of islands breaks into 3 sections: Hanlan’s Point, Ward’s Island and Centre Island. For a great view of the cityscape and sunset or sun rise head over to these islands. There’s an amusement park on Centre Island, so that automatically makes it more child friendly. On Ward’s Island, there’s a quiet little beach 5 minutes from the pier. The islands were by far one of the highlights of my most recent trip to T.O. For a list of ferry schedules and fares, click right here. Get access to the ferries at the intersection of Lake Shore Blvd and Bay St.
Royal Ontario Museum: Situated at 100 Queens Park, Toronto, ON, M5S 2C6, Canada, the ROM is one of Toronto’s cultural standouts. The building itself, nicknamed Crystal for it’s flawless design featuring no right angles, is beautiful and it’s filled with some truly amazing pieces, gem stones and fossils included. For opening hours and admission prices, visit their website right here!
Art Gallery of Ontario: This art gallery is big time. It’s enormous. It’s well curated. It’s a an art lover’s artgasm (not a real word, but it should be dammit.) You’re just as likely to find pieces from the likes of Monet and Van Gogh as you are to find pieces by a number of well-established Canadian artists. This gallery is not to be missed. For details on exhibits, pricing and schedules, click here.
Nathan Phillips Square: This simple but fun Toronto attraction is great in any season. For one, there’s a cool TORONTO sign that basically screams “Take a picture with me!” In the winter, you can go there to skate with an insane backdrop of twinkling lights and a massive holiday tree. It’s like something out of a Disney movie. Get the details here. It’s also a great place to hang in the spring, summer and fall.
Insider tip: If you want to fit in and look like a local, wear any Toronto Blue Jays, Raptors or Maple Leafs gear. The city is very proud of their sports franchises. Or just recite the most popular Drake lyrics that come to mind.
Insider tip #2: Uber in Toronto is really efficient and will get you from point A to B in no time at all. But beware of traffic.
Want more budget traveler guides? Check out these two below!
Did you find this post informative? Are you heading to Toronto? Have you been to Toronto and want to share your experience? Leave a thoughtful response below! I’d love to hear from you.
Until next time,