What to Know Before Traveling to Toronto
It might seem the same as visiting a city in the US, but Toronto has some quirks that you should know about before going.
Toronto is the largest city in Canada, as well as one of the largest in the whole of North America. And if you’re planning a visit to Toronto, you might think it’s no different from a US city given its close proximity to upstate New York. While in some aspects it shares similarities with its closest US neighbor, it still is a different city that’s a class of its own.
That’s why it’s useful to know what unique quirks await you in Toronto. From general information to details about money, alcohol, and public transport, here are the essential things to know before your visit to Toronto.
1. The City’s Huge
Many people don’t know exactly how large Toronto is, so it’s possible you’ll be surprised. There are only three bigger North American cities compared to it – Mexico City, New York, and Los Angeles.
Toronto has doubled in size in the past 50 years. It’s even surprising to know that it started with just almost three million residents back in the 70s. Today, it has all of the traits of a metropolis, from impressive skyscrapers, immigrants from around the world, and heavy street traffic.
Expect a crowded environment and longer travel times when getting to various points in the city and its over 140 neighborhoods.
2. Get Around the Right Way
Traffic in Toronto can be horrendous, and renting a car could prove a mistake unless you don’t mind getting stuck in slow-moving traffic. This is especially true on Fridays and the weekends. So if you want to drive around the city, plan your routes accordingly.
Public transit is a more reliable option, although you could encounter delays. The metro is a bit limited, so it’s best to rely on the streetcars and buses. The Toronto Transit Commission, or TTC, covers various transport options for every major street and it would be wise to get familiar with their schedule.
The system relies on electronic cards called Presto. The cards are a bit pricey, initially at $6 each, and you’ll need to load it with a minimum of $5 on a vending machine. This goes up to a minimum of $10 if you’re loading the card online. Once you’re in transit, tapping the card will activate it and it covers your fare for two hours.
The price of one fare for adults is $3.20. There are also other pricing options that could prove cheaper, depending on how much you intend to get around.
3. Financial Matters
If you need to exchange currency when you arrive in the city, you’ll want to find the most favorable rates. It’s best not to use the banks for this purpose because they charge higher fees for the service. Instead, find a specialized currency exchange agency.
Naturally, this won’t be an issue if you use credit cards instead of cash. But you have to be aware of possible foreign transaction fees.
Toronto isn’t a cheap city by any means, and most prices will likely be higher than anywhere in the US. This is because almost all services and goods have a federal and a sales tax attached. But the upside to this is that the taxes are already calculated into the price, unlike sales tax in the United States.
When it comes to tipping, the usual 15% is expected. Do take note that it’s not unusual for tips to go as high as 20%, and there are venues that will automatically include them in the bill. Not including a tip would be considered rude, even when the service is less than perfect. Of course, if you’re not satisfied with the service, you can tip less.
4. Don’t Miss the Attractions
Anyone with a passing knowledge of Toronto has probably heard of the famous CN Tower. The view from the top is quite memorable, although the ride to the observation level is a bit pricey.
Some of the lesser-known main attractions in Toronto are also a must, and there’s just so much to see in the city that it can be hard to choose.
But if you have the time, make sure to visit the Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada and take a walk through the transparent hallway where various species of fishes and sharks can be found swimming above.
The Art Gallery of Ontario is housed in a gorgeous building and is worth checking out. It’s filled with artwork from Canadian, European, and world-renowned artists.
A stroll through St. Lawrence Market in Toronto will take you on a journey surrounded by fresh, delicious food. The market is very lively and filled with all kinds of produce – from meats and cheeses to seafood. You can even buy ready meals and try the local specialties on the spot.
The Distillery District is historic and full of venues of different kinds, including those converted and repurposed from the distilleries that borrow the name to this part of Toronto. Today, they house galleries and art studios, as well as shops and eateries.
5. Prepare for the Climate
Toronto experiences four seasons that are quite distinct. Of course, it is Canada, so expect harsh temperatures in the winter, especially in January. These are contrasted by the heat and humidity of late summer.
Early summer and autumn are the most pleasant, so the best time to visit would be either May or September. You likely won’t be exposed to the biting cold or experience the summer sweat-fest during these months.
Enjoy Your Visit to Toronto
The Canadian metropolis is open, engaging, and welcoming. The city’s vast and interesting, with colorful, diverse communities to explore.
If you come prepared, a visit to Toronto is bound to be memorable and filled with exciting sights and experiences.