Toronto is a fabulous, multicultural city that offers visitors cultural, natural and gastronomical adventures. It’s possible to explore this dynamic city on a tight budget with a few insider tips courtesy of Toronto native (and my first guest poster!), Lauren from Global Locavore! Here are six of her favorite summer activities both on and off the beaten path. Stick around until the end advice about getting around!
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1. The City Explorer: Tour the City by Bike
Exploring the city by bicycle is a perfect way to explore Toronto’s many neighborhoods. Follow this itinerary for a budget-friendly ride through a few of my favorite areas.
Local’s itinerary: Start your journey at the Coxwell Avenue Subway in Greektown. Here you can find a Toronto Bike-Share stand where you can rent a bicycle for the day. Head out along Danforth Avenue to appreciate the character of the neighbourhood. Turn south along Broadview Avenue and take your first stop at Riverdale East Park to get a caffeine hit at the local favourite - Rooster Coffee. Continue on to Queen Street where you will turn west and head to the Distillery District. Here you’ll find art studios that display beautiful works done by local artists. Grab a sandwich from Bricks Bakery for a budget friendly lunch before heading back to Queen Street. Cycle across town and stop once you reach the Queen West area for some funky window shopping. You last stop is Trinity Bellwoods Park. If you’re thirsty, grab a craft beer from Trinity Bellwoods Brewery ($4-8/bottle). While I can’t officially condone drinking them in the park, you’ll see many locals doing so.
Insider’s advice: This route doesn’t follow streets with designated bike paths, but click to view the dozens of bike routes around Toronto. The Bike Share program does not provide helmets, so bring your own.
This route stays mostly on bike lanes, however be careful on Queen Street due to the traffic. Biking is not the same as biking in certain European countries, however in general, cars respect bikes.
Budget tips: To keep this bike rental on budget, you need to get a little bit creative. A Day Pass with Bike Share costs $7 (more info here). The day pass includes unlimited 30 minutes rides, but after the first 30 minutes, it will cost you $1.50/30 minutes. To avoid paying the extra fees, find a bike stand every half hour and exchange your bike, which resets the clock. Use these pit stops as an opportunity to explore the areas above.
2. The Multicultural: Chinatown, Kensington Market & Little Italy
Toronto is an extremely multicultural city and it’s possible to “travel” the world without leaving Toronto within its many distinctive cultural neighborhoods with fantastic food, shopping, and people watching.
Local’s itinerary: Start your day in Chinatown for a brunch of Dim Sum at Rol San, a local budget favourite. Afterwards walk to Kensington Market, a diverse, fun neighbourhood in the heart of the city, which shines on Pedestrian Sunday. Shop at its many clothing outlets, record shops and secondhand stores before grabbing a seat on an outdoor patio with a drink. Later, walk west along College Street to Little Italy where you can enjoy some gelato and excellent people watching.
Insider’s advice: Check Toronto’s event calendar to know which festivals will be taking place during your visit. You can dance along to Soca and Calypso music at Caribana, an annual celebration of West Indian and Caribbean culture. Other fantastic festivals include eating your way through the Greek Islands at the ever popular Taste of the Danforth Greek Festival or celebrating love in rainbow colours at Canada’s largest Pride Parade.
Budget tips: Dining out can be expensive when traveling, but sharing dishes or ordering small plates (think dim sum or tapas) can be a great way to sample many dishes without the high cost. Kensington Market is known for budget-friendly eats many of which can be eaten on-the-go, which saves on gratuity costs.
3. The Creative: Appreciate Art Attractions
With world class museums, art galleries and studios, Toronto is a wonderful place to enjoy a dynamic arts scene. Annual festivals including TIFF (Toronto Film Festival), North by Northeast (live music festival), and Fringe (live theatre festival) offer the perfect opportunity to discover up and coming artists. Open year-round, the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) and the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) offer cheap access to their general galleries.
Local’s itinerary: Spend the afternoon exploring downtown on foot. Make sure to visit Nathan Phillips Square, the Eaton’s Centre and Queen’s Park. Take a stroll through the University of Toronto Campus and grab an affordable early dinner at one of the plentiful food trucks. Enjoy an affordable evening of culture at the AGO or ROM.
Insider’s advice: NOW Magazine is an amazing, free weekly newspaper that lists all the latest events including music shows, art installations, movies, theatre openings, and so much more. Pick it up from the newspaper boxes on just about every street.
Budget tips: Save by planning ahead by visiting on the days with discount admission. The ROM offers $10 admission on Fridays from 4:30pm-8:30pm and the AGO has free entry on Wednesday nights from 6-9pm. Bonus: The COC offers a weekly free concert series on Tuesdays and Thursday from 12-1pm during several months of the year.
4. The Outdoorsy: High Park
Enjoy a break from the city with a walk through an urban forest. High Park is a large park located in the west side of Toronto, perfect for a day in nature.
Local’s itinerary: High Park is easily accessed by its namesake subway station (High Park). Follow the paved trails that crisscross the park to discover a pond with many wildlife species and a public pool. There is also a zoo with deer and bison. Once you’ve had your fill, leave the park by the south side, close to the waterfront. Enjoy the views as you walk down the car-free waterfront path to the Humber Bay Arch Bridge. Finish your walk in the Roncesvalles neighbourhood, where you’ll find plenty of restaurants and cafes with patios.
Insider’s guide: If visiting in the spring, come on a weekday to experience the cherry blossoms in relative peace. If visiting in the summer, Shakespeare in the Park puts on a nightly play which is pay-what-you can.
Budget tips: Entry to the park and the Zoo is free. One adult day pass to the pool is $3.50 and the lockers are free if you bring your own lock. Having dinner at one of the neighbourhood Polish restaurants in Roncesvalles can be economical and very hearty. More information about where to eat in this historic neighborhood here!
5. The Classic: Day Trip to the Toronto Islands
The Toronto Islands are a series of pretty, miniature islands in Lake Ontario. These tranquil, car-free islands are easily accessible by a short ferry ride from downtown Toronto making for a lovely, inexpensive day trip.
Local’s itinerary: From the ferry docks, take the Ward Island ferry, which will drop you at the eastern part of the island. Go for a walk along the pedestrian-friendly streets and marvel at the cottage-like houses before grabbing a spot on the beach. Stroll along the boardwalk along the southern shore. Midway you will find the busy and aptly named Centre Island. There are a number of overpriced activities, including renting a bike, concession food, and amusement park rides. Instead, play a game of FREE BYO (bring your own) frisbee golf on the dedicated course. Afterwards, walk west to Hanlan’s Point, a clothing optional beach filled with friendly locals. It’s the perfect place to have a drink and watch the sunset over the city before taking the Hanlan’s Point ferry back downtown.
Insider’s advice: Plan a full day visit by arriving early and staying until dark. Avoid the lines at the ferry by travelling at off-peak times and skip the line entirely by purchasing your ticket online in advance. The ferries leave from Jack Layton terminal and run regularly (every 15 minutes) in summer. Click for the daily schedule!
Budget tip: Picnic! Food and drinks on the island are expensive, so bring your own food and drinks from home or the grocery store.
6. The Sustainable: Tour Evergreen Brick Works
Within the Don River Valley, you will find a stunning example of urban renewal within an abandoned brick factory. The Evergreen Brick Works (EBW) is a sustainable tourism highlight and fun for all ages!
Local’s itinerary: Visit EBW on a Saturday or Sunday. Enjoy a late breakfast of local, organic produce at the Farmer’s Market before listening to some great live music. There is a free walking tour at 2pm lead by knowledgeable guides (more information about the tour). Drop by the children’s garden to learn about growing food and building with natural materials. Lastly, visit the garden market for environmentally friendly souvenirs.
Insider’s advice: Evergreen has a calendar filled with free events that are worth looking up when planning your visit. Take a self-guided hike in the park behind EBW to enjoy ponds filled with turtles, beavers and fish. Be sure to climb to the lookout for a great view of the river valley and Toronto.
Budget tips: The EBW is completely free, however prices at both the market and the cafe can be high. To get there, take the free shuttle bus that leaves from Broadview Subway Station every half hour. If you drive, parking is expensive and limited.
Getting around Toronto can be accomplished by taxi, Uber, walking, cycling or taking transit. The most budget-friendly option is taking the TTC. One ride will cost you $3.25 cash, but you can buy (a minimum of) three tokens for $2.90 each. A day pass, for $12, includes unlimited travel for one person on weekdays OR up to 2 adults and 4 kids on weekends. Remember to always get a paper transfer as proof of payment to allow you to switch between subway, bus and streetcars. (More about riding public transit here.)
Getting to Toronto will likely involve a stop at Union Station which connects directly to the TTC. If you are arriving via Pearson Airport, you can take the new UP Express train to Union for $12 one way. Those taking flights from Billy Bishop Airport can take a shuttle from the island to Union. Both the VIA train and the regional GO bus are found at Union Station.
A TTC bus (192) is available from Pearson Airport to Kipling Subway Station at the standard TTC fare of $3.25. However, the extra comfort, convenience, and speed is well worth the extra $12 on the Up Express Train.
Accomodation / Getting In
The problem with being a local is that you live in a city, which makes it difficult to have experience staying in hostels and hostels, however Karen has stayed in a number of hotels around the city, from Yorkville to Downtown.
According to Booking.com, you'll pay about 60-70 per night for a low/mid range hotel although you can book a hostel bed for $29-$39 per night.
You can catch direct flights from major American cities for as little as $200 USD (at time of writing) in summer as Toronto is a major hub for Air Canada! Just be sure to book ahead, so you can catch one of the amazing festivals!
Have you been to Toronto? Which of the six itineraries appeals most to you?
Enjoyed this? This was written by guest author, Lauren!
Lauren is on a mission to change the world through the power of food. Global Locavore is a sustainable food tourism website dedicated to connecting travelers to local food experiences. Lauren chronicles her journey around the globe through stories about growing, sharing and eating really good food. Follow along on through her Blog, Facebook and Instagram.
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Karen & Jacob. American expats and cat lovers from New York City and Kentucky who lived in Amsterdam.... Then, Paris. (Confusing, we know!) Now, we're living in The Hague, the Netherlands.
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