Located along Lake Ontario, one of North America’s ‘Great Lakes’ sits Toronto, Canada’s biggest city by size and population. This huge international city has so many amazing sites to see and can be reached from the UK for not as much as you think.
In June this year I took a 5 day city break to the city and in this post I am going to go into detail of what I got up to whilst there and what my recommendations are if you fancy visiting this amazing city yourself!
Some useful information when visiting Toronto and Canada in general.
- Canada has a similar electronic approval system to the United States ‘ESTA’ programme called the eTA (Electronic Travel Authorisation). If you come from one of the visa free countries, except for citizens of the US you must still get a eTA to enter Canada, it costs CA$7 to apply for it and if you are successful in being approved you are good to enter Canada through it for 5 years before having to reapply!
- Canada is made up up 10 provinces, of which 1 speaks mainly French.. thats Quebec. Due to this minority French speaking province you will find most things in both English and French, including signage and announcements.
- Canada is huge! its the 2nd biggest country in the world and therefore is located along several time zones, apart from a couple of weeks a year due to the change to and from daylight savings time where the UK is just 4 hours ahead. The rest of the year Toronto (and the Ontario province) is 5 hours behind the UK.
- Canada uses its own version of the dollar called the Canadian Dollar (who would have thought!) apart from the Niagara Falls area that straddles the US/Canada border which I found did accept US dollars at a poorer exchange rate, most places will insist on the use of their own currency!
- Canada uses the same type of plug that the United States uses, which is the the 2 narrow flat pin style.
- Canada is more like Europe than its neighbour to the south and west, using the metric system and its speed limits are in KM/H!
- Like the US, Canada has a strong tipping culture for service, typically 15-20% is expected in bars, restaurants and any other kind of service establishment
- Due to the national legalisation of the possession and use of Cannabis, don’t be surprised if you smell it more than you would normally in any other city around the world.
Getting here and entry formalities
Its very easy (and surprisingly quite cheap) to get to Toronto from the UK. Several airlines operate multiple daily return flights to Toronto Pearson International Airport (YYZ) from the UK, with London, Manchester and Edinburgh being options.
I flew round trip with Air Canada Rouge direct from Manchester for my trip, Air Canada Rouge is the no-frills, low cost subsidiary of Canada’s national carrier, Air Canada and operates its service on older aircraft which were part of Air Canada’s fleet originally (generally B767’s for their long haul routes and A319’s for regional and North America routes)
I managed to get my return flights for around £350, which for a transatlantic flight is very cheap! However this did fee did not include any checked baggage (because I didn’t need it) and I managed to get an aisle seat both ways at the airport for no extra cost., seat selection in advance would of cost more. Much to my surprise a meal service was offered on both flights at no extra cost (although coming back home I chose to pass it over much preferred and needed sleep!)
Overall I would recommend Air Canada Rouge for a transatlantic hop and would consider using them again if I ever went back again to Canada!
One thing that did catch me out is prior to landing, the crew will come round with Canadian landing cards so carry a pen with you! Up on landing its very straight forward, you hand over your passport and landing card to an immigration officer, answer a few questions regarding what you answered on your landing card and providing the officer is happy you are then on your way! I found the immigration experience much more pleasant compared to US border and customs way of doing things!
Getting into and around Toronto
There are several methods of getting into the city centre from YYZ airport, however I found the quickest and more cheaper option than a taxi was UBER. It cost me the equivalent of £20 for a 40 minute journey straight to my accommodation, which considering it was pouring down when I landed and I was also in a bit of a daze still being on UK time was worth every penny!
Once in the city their is an extensive subway, tram and bus network that you can use if you want to get somewhere easy, however like everywhere else I go to I general try my best to walk everywhere and this was what I did for the majority of my trip!
Where to stay
I chose to stay at Planet Traveller Hostel, which is located around the Kensington Market area of Toronto. It came up as a top scorer on every hostel booking site I searched on, and believe me it didn’t disappoint!
The location was ideal with so many decent amenities nearby (bars, places to eat and also some 24 hour supermarkets not too far up the road)
There are some great communal areas on the ground floor and also up on the roof is a huge terrace with some superb day and night views of the Toronto skyline!
The hostel itself was spotless, with the communal and dorms being regularly cleaned whilst I was there, the staff were all really friendly and helpful and to top it all off there was also a great included breakfast everyday until 1pm!
What to do and see
Although it may seem on a map like a small city, Toronto is huge! and there is loads to do while you are visiting, including some of the surrounding areas! Here are some of the things I got up to whilst I was there…
Go to the top of the tallest structure in Canada! For CA$35 you can go up to the observation deck area of the Canada Tower and see an incredible 360 degree view of Toronto, Lake Ontario and the wider area!
When you go through the entrance of the CN tower site there is a security point that you have to go pass, your bag is searched (if you have one) and you go through a metal detector, all a friendly experience!
You are really in charge of how long you want to spend at the tower site; there is a gift shop, places to eat at the foot and the top of the tower and other articles of interest along the way. I personally found I saw what I wanted to see and had a great experience with about an hour at the site (but that was as a solo visitor and I visited around 10am on a Tuesday!)
I would seriously recommend getting up to the top of the tower during your stay here, my best advice would be to come early and avoid the huge queues and masses of people.
Luckily for me Kensington Market was the neighbourhood that my hostel was located in and although there is a main street going through the neighbourhood with most of the goings on, Kensington Market is actually a roughly 1 square km area.
The neighbourhood itself is a one stop shop for getting a drink or going for something to eat, with loads of choices for bars, cafes and restaurants. Throughout my stay in Toronto I tried somewhere different in Kensington Market everyday!
Wondering around the area you can see that it is a very arty and creative place and has several points of interest, such as an entire car that has been transformed into a garden.
No matter where you are staying in Toronto, a must visit at least once while you are here!
I only visited Casa Loma once whilst I was in Toronto, located north of the main city is this stunning castle with open grounds for any member of the public to go wandering around. The walk up to the castle is really nice with some great skyline views of the city.
Located further away from the downtown, to the east of the city. Distillery District is a pedestrianised area of an old whiskey distillery, the area features loads of shops as well as some really cafes and restaurants. The area also featured some really interesting large art pieces that were on display in the central parts.
It is a little far out from other parts of the city and unless you want to walk over (which is what I did) you can very easily access the Distillery District on the tram.
If you are after a good brunch, I seriously recommend heading over to here!
Lake Ontario Waterfront
If you know of the size of the great North America lakes, then you know that the term ‘lake’ is taken with a big pinch of salt as is more like a sea. Lake Ontario alone is a similar size to Wales in the UK!
Toronto is located right along the side of Lake Ontario and there is a great range of things to do alongside the lake and actually on the lake itself. If you have had enough of cafes and restaurants, there is kayaking, boat trips and even flying excursions from the regional airport.
Outside of Toronto area…
All of the below recommendations can be experienced as a day trip with City SightSeeing Tours, its an all day tour starting with a pickup from your hotel or accommodation and a drop off back into Toronto around 8pm. It cost CA$65 (which was a little bit cheaper because of its deal with my accommodation) for the day (excluding tips) which I though was great value, that included your transport to all the sites and a very informative and knowledgeable Torontonian driver. More information here
Niagara College Teaching Winery
First stop on the tour is the Niagara College Teaching Winery, with an opportunity to learn a bit about Canada’s not much heard of wine industry and do a bit wine tasting too!
There is also some free time to do have a wander down the vines or buy a couple of bottles in the onsite store.
Niagara on the Lake
Not to be confused with Niagara that the falls sit on, Niagara on the Lake is a beautiful small town that sits at the opening to Lake Ontario and the Niagara River. Its a great place just to go for a wander, but you must get down to the lake front here where you can just in so see the Toronto skyline from the other side of the lake and even closer you can see the other side of the Niagara River and the United States of America!
Save the best till last, Niagara Falls! Although I’ve seen photos of Niagara Falls (and that scene for Bruce Almighty!) they don’t come anywhere close to the actual real life experience of seeing the water rushing down the fall the sound they make!
Not just because it cost extra but also because I didn’t really fancy getting soaked, but you can pay to go on the Maid of the Mist and travel on the water to the foot of the falls… I was more than happy watching the boat go to it from a dry look out point!
I have to admit in Niagara itself, the area resembles something very similar to Blackpool, England. There are loads of arcades and tacky amusements, which I have to admit are not my thing!
If you are after a longer haul city break and the chance to see some natural wonders at the same time then I can seriously recommend taking a trip to Toronto and getting down to Niagara Falls whilst you are there!
For Canada’s largest city I found it to be a really safe place at all times of the day and night and there was plenty to discover!
Have you been to Toronto? If so let me know in the comments what you thought and what your recommendations are!