When 30 Rock called Toronto “New York without all the stuff,” it was ... funny, honestly. But Toronto has stuff! You just have to scrape the ice off it. We asked Lifehacker readers for their best Toronto tips, and they gave dozens of great answers. Here are the highlights.
Toronto gets cold. If you go in the winter, bring a warm coat and snow boots.
Several readers suggest the PATH, a large network of underground tunnels connecting shopping centers and offices, used by commuters and tourists in all kinds of weather. (Here’s a map.) Mr. Robot gives an extensive guide, with links. Here’s a highlight:
Only grab a Presto transit card if you’ll be in town for more than a month, according to Nugz McKenzie:
Don’t use Presto, it is sometimes unreliable, especially if you’re only here for a few days. Stick with a day/week/month pass unless you’re going to be here for a while. The TTC is generally “reliable”as a method of transport, but be sure to check their website to look for closures before making your weekend travel plans.
But if you’re sticking around, Woundup_Penguin says a Presto is worth it:
It’s the easiest way to get around and it’s totally worth it for not having to juggle coins etc. People in Toronto think the transit is rubbish, but mostly I think because they haven’t experienced many other systems. In general it’s efficient and effective.
If you’re driving, listen to darkpuppet:
Be patient when driving downtown — the road rules change on a semi-weekly basis, and your GPS is going to lead you wrong. Use GPS for suggestions, accept you’ll be taking the long way to wherever you’re going.
Avoid any driving directions that take you onto King St. New rules (see above point) mean you can’t drive more than a block on it before being shuffled off.
Use one-way streets to your advantage. Avoid two-way streets downtown because it’s impossible to get the turns you want during normal traffic hours— richmond, adelaide, and wellington are the best way to go east-west downtown.
And whatever transport you’re using, listen to Matthew:
If you’re like me and don’t particularly like crowds then you’ll probably want to avoid Yonge and Dundas. There are good places to go near there, but it’s almost always busy there.
If you’re driving or cycling, watch out for streetcars. They drive in the center lane and you are required to stop behind them if they stop and their doors open. Likewise, if you’re on a streetcar, especially if you’re a tourist and not used to them, watch out for cars. I’ve seen too many close calls to count.
Avoid driving on King Street. It used to be that this was just a terrible strategy to get through traffic in general, but it’s now illegal to travel more than a block or two without turning off. While you’re at it, just pay attention to traffic signs banning left turns, u turns, right turns or entry to a street. They’re there to keep traffic moving and keep you safe, so don’t ignore them.
Like other big northern cities, Toronto gets a reputation (in Canada, anyway) for being unfriendly. But DavidLomax says it’s undeserved:
We are a little reserved compared to, say, East-Coasters or Mid-Westerners, but all it takes to crack that thin layer of ice is a friendly question. I think it comes from the extreme multi-language diversity of our city—you really don’t know if the person next to you in the grocery line speaks your language, so sometimes you don’t try. That hesitation multiplies itself a million times, and suddenly there’s this reputation for icy receptions.
Others point out that people are usually just busy or focused, not cold. Scranton’s Banana Problem adds:
90% of my family lives in Toronto, and people there are as cold as the boiler room in the Queen Mary at full steam on a summer’s day.
Almost every week, someone points out that the key to a city is its neighborhoods. And they’re not wrong! Woundup_Penguin suggests a few local itineraries:
Kam S has another:
I would add to your list the Distillery District, some nice shops there and restaurants, also home to Mill St. Brewery. Amsterdam Brew House is a great place to grab some lunch and enjoy the lake view on a summer afternoon. Casa Loma is a popular stop too.
Trollbooth has another:
The walk I do with newbies to the city goes from downtown/Queen street, up through Chinatown, then through Kensington, and finishing in Little Italy. A great walk that honestly doesn’t take much time yet passes through a very wide variety of eclectic places and districts. It kind of shows the best of what this multi-cultural city has to offer as far as variety in a small area.
KL in TO suggests a cross-city trip:
Taking the TTC’s 501 Queen Street Streetcar from one end of the line to the other, is a cheap and easy way to see many of the city’s landmarks and neighbourhoods.
And darkpuppet lists a few more neighborhoods:
Chinatown, Little Italy, Little Greece, Little Russia, Little Ukraine, Little India—these are all things to find and explore for eats and culture. Kensington market and the Brick Works are great places to discover.
- “El Catrin: Fantastic Mexican food in the Distillery District. Sit on the huge patio, or find a spot inside where you can look at the huge, complex mural.”—Woundup_Penguin (click through for more recs)
- “The quintessential Toronto food item is probably the peameal bacon sandwich, most easily found at St. Lawrence Market, the city and suburbs are filled with cuisines from all over the world.”—Scotsman in Training
- “My favourite place to eat is King Solomon and Queen of Sheba Ethiopian.”—tenyearcountdown.com
- “For food I’d recommend The Edmund Burke for brunch. They have an awesome savoury oatmeal!”—Potula Snark
- “I highly recommend King’s Noodle, on Spadina just north of Dundas St. East. Their BBQ Pork & Noodle Soup is cheap and delicious! Dumpling House, which is just a little further north on Spadina, makes (shocker) delicious dumplings, but I also recommend their General Tso chicken - I don’t care if it’s not authentic Chinese, their version is bleeping delicious.”—Matt
- “XO Bisous: In a city of Starbucks and Second Cup this is a treasure of an independent cafe where they make all their baked goods on site. Try the chocolate raspberry muffin, you won’t regret it.”—Woundup_Penguin
- “The Lockhart: Harry Potter themed bar, but not in a Disney kind of way. The non-Potter fan won’t feel out of place, but if you grew up with the books then you’ll enjoy all the little references on the walls and menus.”—Woundup_Penguin
- “Find a bar called the Cloak and Dagger. I want to say it was Sunday or Monday night they were having free comedy shows and it was awesome.”—SilverX2
- “If you like beer, I recommend the Steam Whistle brewery tour. I’ve done a fair number of brewery tours around North America, and it’s still one of my favourites. If you’re lucky, the beer you get at the end will be the freshest pilsner you’ll ever have - my record was 4 seconds off the production line, and it was insanely good.”—Matt
- “Luna makes amazing Manhattans of several varieties. They are very proud of them.. as in $17 apiece proud. Happy hour pricing, however, is $5 a pop. Sit overlooking the street from the second floor (as ‘Muricans term it) and have excellent cocktails for a reasonable price. The Palmerston Manhattan was so good I may have had three. YMMV.”—SemperSciFi
Stuff to do
Scotsman in Training knows some family destinations:
Places to take kids: Centreville on Centre Island, Ripleys’s Aquarium and the ROM are easily accessible from the subway; the Science Centre is a short ride from downtown either by car or transit; drive or Uber to the Zoo - it’s a long way by subway and bus. If the kids are a bit older, then the Shoe Museum can be added. (But probably not the Birth Control Museum - one of Toronto’s odder collections).
The Stig’s Canadian Couson has a few recs (more in the original comment), including the zoo and aquarium:
If you have the ability to drive around, check out Rouge Valley for a hike, and the Toronto Zoo (which is a non-profit and does a lot of conservation work/rebuilding animal habitats and such). Give yourself at least three hours for the zoo, but you can make a whole day out of it if you actually like reading up on the animals.
Ripley’s Aquarium is great to visit, and it’s just beside the CN tower. If you’re there on a weekday, you can check out the (small) CBC museum, free of charge, just a few steps away.
These amusement park recs from burps25 remind me of the lost glory days of Ontario Place, with its MegaMaze and pre-Discovery-Zone playplaces:
If you’re coming in the summer, you can easily get to our amusement park, Canada’s Wonderland, in about an hour from downtown on the new subway and a quick shuttle bus. Ontario Place has a few rides but is more of a walking park or attraction center, but it on the waterfront.
BeverleyLeslie knows some music venues:
Toronto has a lot of good smaller music venues to see independent, up and coming music acts: Danforth Music Hall, The Mod Club, Rebel, Phoenix Concert Theater, Lee’s Palace, Horseshoe. A good way to see who is coming is to check out Collective Concerts, which promotes most of the shows at these venues.
EvenBaggierTrousers7 suggests a, uh, jazz/hotel combo:
My only tip is checking on The Rex on a weekend. Not the best restaurant/bar but good free jazz during the day (they start charging for the main shows later). And there’s a tiny hotel right above it that’s fairly inexpensive. If you want to be in the downtown area it’s a good option. The rooms are small but clean and not too noisy considering the location.
Darkpuppet lists more attractions:
- the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM)
- the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO)
- CN Tower (book an appointment to do the edge walk)
- Ripley’s Aquarium (it’s right at the CN tower)
- The Brick Works
- Harbourfront center
- Centre Island
- The distillery district (they currently have their Christmas market going on)
They also list events:
- The North American International Auto Show
- Heart and Stroke Ride for Heart
- Toronto International Film Festival
- Gay Pride
- Caribbean parade (formerly Caribana)
- Toronto Indy
- Toronto’s various marathons
- Canadian National Exhibition
- Any sporting event you can think of. But a Leafs game will run you a minimum $200/person to watch in Toronto. You can do it for far less by going to see a Leafs game in Ottawa or Buffalo.
You should read mcdona1d’s whole list of recs, but this one stood out:
Ravines!!! Toronto has beautiful ravines that run throughout it that makes it feel like you’re out in the wilderness despite being in the middle of a concrete jungle. Great for hiking, picnics, or biking.
Wunderstruck has summer and winter activities:
During the Summer, Toronto has 58 city run splashpads and outdoor pools open to the public. They along with our blue flag beaches are great places to soak up sun and cool off during our hot days. The pools open in July and close the first week of September.
During Winter, Toronto has over 52 city run public skating rinks open to the public, usually till March. There are also some amazing rinks including City Hall’s rink and the rink at the Evergreen Brickworks.
Bhuttman adds some more distant destinations:
If you have the desire to spread out beyond downtown and explore the Greater Toronto Area, there’s exceptional outdoor activities like hiking and rock climbing in the Niagara Escarpment (e.g., Rattlesnake Point), as well as some top-tier golf courses and world-class wineries. Going a little bit north of Toronto takes you to the Muskoka and Kawartha regions, which is our outdoor playground in the summers and winters.
So does thepointyend:
Canoe around the Toronto Islands. Look for the local beavers (seriously). Do this while drinking a Tim Horton’s coffee or beer and you’ll achieve the Canadian Trifecta. (Fun fact: this is how Drake spends most of his Sundays.)
Hazelsdottir knows an underrated museum:
Sure, the Royal Ontario Museum, Art Gallery of Ontario, the Ontario Science Centre, etc. are all great places to visit (especially on a miserable day), but—
Everyone should check out to the fabulous and little-known Textile Museum of Canada...in the heart of downtown, tucked behind the iconic City Hall. I visit it every time I can, and there’s always something dazzling to discover.
It’s updated daily with events, food reviews (take w/grain of salt) and news. Prior to your visit it’s a good place to check out and see any special events that fall within your window. Example: We have a Guillermo del Toro exhibit on at the AGO now. We’re also getting a Kusama exhibit and Dior retrospective. It also organizes restaurants by neighborhood and has a million “best of” lists.
That’s not it for Toronto, because you can still leave more tips in the comments below. Come back Monday for another Northeast city with a questionable local sandwich.
Quotes have been edited for clarity.
Each Monday on Hack Your City, we ask readers for your best tips on a city: driving tips, restaurant recs, things to do, and any other advice for visitors and locals. Then on Thursday, we present the best comments. We’re working our way around the U.S. and around the globe.
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