While Toronto may lack the historic charm of Montreal or the outdoorsyness of Vancouver, it’s still an incredible city to visit with tons of markets, delicious food, wonderful museums, funky bars and speakeasies, and lots of things to see and do.
Toronto also the most multicultural city in the world, offering tons of diversity and culture (including lots of delicious Asian food). The more I visit, the more I love it. There are plenty of free and cheap activities that can make this an affordable place to visit.
This travel guide to Toronto can help you plan the perfect budget trip to the city.
Table of Contents
Top 5 Things to See and Do in Toronto
1. Visit the CN Tower
2. The Art Gallery of Ontario
3. Royal Ontario Museum
4. Spend the day at the beach
5. Toronto Island Park
Other Things to See and Do in Toronto
1. Enjoy the Harbourfront Centre
This cultural hub is a great spot to visit during the warm summer months. Located on water in Queens Quay, there are often free festivals and concerts held here. Check their website to see what’s happening during your visit. There are a couple of free art galleries here with rotating exhibits (Artport and The Power Plant) and in the winter they create an outdoor skating rink here too.
2. Bike the Don Valley
These trails are perfect for any outdoorsy travelers. They are accessible from the city and extend toward Toronto’s northern outskirts. Trails range from easy to very hard (the trails begins at the intersection of lakeshore Blvd and Cherry St.). There are also walking and running trails too. Here is a map of what’s available.
3. Go ax throwing
If you’re looking for a unique way to spend an afternoon, this is it. The city has a couple different ax-throwing venues, such as BATL, where you can book a timeslot and then compete against your friends in an ax-throwing competition (you need a group of 2 at a minimum in order to book a timeslot). Think of it like bowling, but with throwing axes! You don’t need to bring your own ax (but you can) and you can also bring your own drinks too! It’s a fun way to spend a couple of hours.
4. Wander Kensington Market
This bohemian hub offers an eclectic mix of alternative restaurants and shops. They often have free concerts during the summer too. It’s one of my favorite places to wander around. Don’t miss Bunner’s Bakeshop if you have a sweet tooth!
5. See the Hockey Hall of Fame
Canadians take two things seriously: hockey and hockey. Opened in 1943, this museum is dedicated to the history of their favorite sport. It is both a museum and a hall of fame, full of memorabilia, artifacts, and even an interactive game where you can test your slapshot against a virtual goalie. Admission is $20 CAD. (Temporarily closed due to COVID)
6. Explore St. Lawrence Market and Gallery
This market has endless rows of local treats to taste and buy. Inside the gallery, you can learn about the evolution of the city via historical documents, film, photography, and artifacts. Admission to both is free. (Temporarily closed due to COVID)
7. Eat Chinese food
Chinatown in Toronto is gigantic and still retains a lot of the authenticity that’s missing in many other Chinatowns around the world. After the original Chinatown was demolished in the 1950s to make way for government buildings, the local Chinese population relocated to the intersection of Spadina and Dundas Street West. Definitely visit here and eat a few meals — they are delicious and super cheap. For tasty eats, don’t miss Mother’s Dumplings, Little Sheep, and Red Room.
8. Visit the Ontario Science Center
This interactive museum is perfect for anyone traveling with kids. They have an indoor rainforest, tornado machine, sound proof tunnel, balance testing machines, and so much more. There’s also an IMAX Dome which plays educational films. Admission is $22 CAD for adults and $16 CAD for kids.
9. Tour the Steam Whistle Brewery
Located near the Roger’s Center and CN Tower, the Steamwhistle Brewery offers tours for $20 CAD (which includes a sample of their beer). Tours operate on a first-come, first-served basis and can be booked in advance on their website. (Temporarily closed due to COVID)
10. See Casa Loma
Constructed between 1911 to 1914, this is the former estate of Sir Henry Mill Pellatt, an entrepreneur and soldier. Touring this real-life ‘medieval’ castle is awesome. There are four levels to check out through a self-guided tour, with highlights including an indoor conservatory with its own fountain and the Oak Room, an ornate drawing room with tons of wood paneling that took over 3 years to complete. They also host an amazing haunted house here every Halloween. Admission is $25 CAD. (Temporarily closed due to COVID)
11. Enjoy Canada’s Wonderland
Filled with rides, rollercoasters, food, games, shops, theaters, a water park, and live shows, this summer attraction is loads of fun. Tickets are regularly $49.99 CAD for a single-day pass but have been lowered to $39.99 to boost attendance after COVID. Located 25km from the city, you’ll want to be sure to arrive early as the park fills up quickly in the summer! (Temporarily closed due to COVID)
12. Catch a ball game
Toronto’s major league baseball team, the Blue Jays, have been doing quite well in recent years and their fan base has exploded. Nose-bleed seats at the SkyDome (officially known as Rogers Centre) can be found for around $30 CAD, making this a great activity for sports fans.
13. Attend Word on the Street
Every September, Queen’s Park is host to Canada’s largest annual outdoor book and magazine festival. You can browse through hundreds of books, magazines, and literary exhibitor booths. There are also readings from famous authors like Margaret Atwood and David Suzuki. Admission is free.
14. See the Toronto International Film Festival
Toronto plays host to the stars every September, so if you’re in town be sure to grab tickets — there’s a good chance you’ll see some great films and you might just bump into a celebrity too! Screenings cost between $20-30 CAD. The festival has lots of volunteer opportunities available as well.
15. Gorge at Summerlicious & Winterlicious
Every summer and winter, the city’s best restaurants take part in a massive prix-fixe food festival. Over 200 restaurants take part, with plates starting at under $20 CAD for a multi-course meal. It’s an amazing way to sample the city’s best dishes!
For more information on other cities in Canada, check out these guides:
Toronto Travel Costs
Hostels – Toronto only has a few hostels so options here are limited. Dorms with 6-8 beds cost between $30-35 CAD per night. Free Wi-Fi is standard and most hostels have self-catering facilities if you want to cook your own food. A couple hostels include free breakfast. Private rooms begin at $75 CAD per night.
Hotels – Budget two-star hotels start at $100-125 CAD per night. These usually include free Wi-Fi and basic amenities like a TV, coffee/tea maker, and occasionally a continental breakfast. Expect to pay almost double that for hotels right downtown.
Airbnb is widely available in the city with private rooms starting at $60 CAD per night, though they average closer to $100 CAD. For an entire home or apartment, expect to pay at least $140 CAD per night.
Food – Toronto has tons of international food spots, owing to the fact that 50% of the city is foreign-born. There’s a lively Chinatown, a Little Italy, Little Tokyo, Little Portugal, and much more. If there is a cuisine you’re craving, you can find it here. The city is also a hub for vegan and vegetarian fare, with much of it centered in Vegandale (a stretch of Queen Street with a host of vegan places).
A meal at an inexpensive restaurant is about $20 CAD for a burger with fries. For a quick hot dog or sausage on the street (which are incredibly popular) expect to pay around $3-4 CAD. For a three-course meal with a drink, expect to pay at least $50 CAD. McDonald’s (and other fast food) costs around $11 CAD for a combo meal.
Beer is around $7 CAD while a latte/cappuccino is around $4 CAD. A bottle of water costs $2 CAD.
If you cook for yourself, you can spend as little as $65 CAD on groceries per week which includes basic stapes like bread, veggies, rice, pasta, and some meat.
Some of my favorite restaurants include Bar Chef, Planta Yorkville, and Egg Bae.
Backpacking Toronto Suggested Budgets
On a backpacking budget of $60-75 CAD per day, you’ll be staying in a hostel dorm, cooking all your meals, limiting your drinking, doing free activities like relax at the beach or visit the AGO on Wednesday, and taking public transportation to get around.
On a more mid-range budget of $170 CAD per day, you can stay in a private Airbnb or budget hotel, eat out, take the occasional Uber, have a couple drinks at the bar, and do some paid activities like the CN Tower or the ROM.
For a luxury budget of $355 CAD per day, you can stay in a hotel, rent a car for some day trips, eat out for every meal, drink as much as you’d like, and see as many attractions and museums as you want. This is just the ground-floor for luxury, though. The sky is the limit!
You can use the chart below to get some idea of how much you need to budget daily. Keep in mind these are daily averages — some days you’ll spend more, some days you’ll spend less (you might spend less every day). We just want to give you a general idea of how to make your budget. Prices are in CAD.
Toronto Travel Guide: Money-Saving Tips
Toronto is one of the most expensive cities in the country. Just ask the locals about the rents! However, like any big city, there are still plenty of ways to save while you’re here. Here are some tips to keep you from breaking the bank when you visit Toronto:
- Get a City Pass – Tourists can purchase a City Pass for $94 CAD that includes admission to the CN Tower, Royal Ontario Museum, the Toronto Zoo, and more. You’ll save a ton if you’re planning to visit most of these attractions.
- Couchsurf – Toronto doesn’t have a ton of hostels (and the hostels aren’t super cheap either) so try to Couchsurf with a local to save money. There is a big CS community here and you’ll be able to connect with a local who can help you make the most of your visit.
- Bring a water bottle – The tap water in Toronto is safe to drink so bring a reusable water bottle to save money. LifeStraw makes a reusable bottle with a built-in filter to ensure your water is always safe and clean.
- Eat street food – You can find cheap hot dogs for around $3-5 CAD all around the downtown core. Fill up on them if you’re on a budget.
- Skip the taxis – Taxis and rideshares in Toronto are expensive. Stick to the TTC (public transportation), which can get you anywhere you need to go.
- Visit the AGO on Wednesdays – The Art Gallery of Ontario is free on Wednesday evenings. If you want to visit, be sure to visit then to save money.
- Get a PRESTO card – This public transportation card costs $6 CAD but it offers discounts on rides as well as the ability to get a day pass, which will save you a ton if you plan on exploring the whole city.
Where To Stay in Toronto
Here are the best hostels to stay at in the city:
How to Get Around Toronto
Public transportation – Toronto has a comprehensive system of buses, trams, and subways that link the entire city called the TTC (Toronto Transit Commission). Cash fares are $3.25 CAD and $3.20 CAD if you had a reloadable PRESTO card. You can purchase a day pass for $13.50 CAD with a PRESTO card as well (the card costs $6 CAD).
The TTC also manages the bus to Pearson Airport, which takes around 45-65 minutes from downtown and costs $3.25 (regular fare). There is also an express train to the airport called the UP Express. It costs $12.35 CAD and takes 25 minutes from downtown.
Car Rental – Car rentals can be found for as little as $20 CAD per day. Unless you’re planning to head out of the city, I would skip the car rental. Parking is expensive and you don’t need a car to get around the city.
Taxi – Taxis in Toronto are expensive, start at $4.25 CAD and costing an additional $2 CAD per kilometer. With traffic being relatively slow in the city, it’s best to skip the taxis.
Ride-Sharing – Uber is available in Toronto and is a bit cheaper than taxis, however, it’s still much more expensive than the TCC and likely not much faster if you’re downtown.
Bike rental – Bike Share Toronto offers daily passes for $7 CAD and 72-hour passes for $15 CAD. They have over 6,000 bikes spread between 625 stations around the city. You can buy a pass via their app.
When to Go to Toronto
Toronto is busiest in the summer, with June-August being the most popular time to visit. The beaches are open, there are tons of events and festivals, and the weather is hot (bordering on stifling due to the humidity). Expect daily averages around 27°C (80°F) though the humidity can make that feel well over 30°C (87°F).
Winters in Toronto are cold, windy, and snowy. It’s not a good time to visit if you want to do lots of outdoor activities, but you’ll avoid the crowds and flights to the city will be cheaper as well. Expect daily lows averaging -7°C (19°F) though it’s common to experience dips to -20°C (-4°F) as well.
Both early fall and late spring are excellent times to visit. The weather is warm, you can do all the outdoor exploration you want, and there aren’t many tourists around. Accommodation will be the most plentiful and affordable around then too.
How to Stay Safe in Toronto
Toronto is very safe and you’re unlikely to have any problems while you’re here. Your greatest risk is a petty crime, like pick-pocketing, which is also pretty rare. Just make sure you aren’t flashing your valuables around and that you keep an eye on your wallet when on crowded public transportation.
Natural disasters in the area are incredibly rare, though severe winter storms can occur. If you are visiting in the winter, dress appropriately and keep an eye on the weather.
The number for emergency services is 911.
Just trust your instincts and, if you wouldn’t do it at home, don’t do it here either!
The most important piece of advice I can offer is to purchase good travel insurance. Travel insurance will protect you against illness, injury, theft, and cancellations. It’s comprehensive protection in case anything goes wrong. I never go on a trip without it as I’ve had to use it many times in the past. You can use the widget below to find the policy right for you:
Toronto Travel Guide: The Best Booking Resources
These are my favorite companies to use when I travel to Toronto. They are included here because they consistently find deals, offer world-class customer service and great value, and overall, are better than their competitors.
- Momondo – This is my favorite booking site. I never book a flight without checking here first.
- Skyscanner – Skyscanner is another great flight search engine which searches a lot of different airlines, including many of the budget carriers that larger sites miss. While I always start with Momondo, I use this site too as a way to compare prices.
- Airbnb – Airbnb is a great accommodation alternative for connecting with homeowners who rent out their homes or apartments.
- Hostelworld – This is the best hostel accommodation site out there, with the largest inventory, best search interface, and widest availability.
- Couchsurfing – This website allows you to stay on people’s couches or spare rooms for free. It’s a great way to save money while meeting locals who can tell you the ins and outs of their city. The site also lists events you can attend to meet people (even if you’re not staying with someone).
- Booking.com – The best all around booking site that constantly provides the cheapest and lowest rates. They have a no money down policy, great interface, and the widest selection of budget accommodation. In all my tests, they’ve always had the cheapest rates out of all the booking websites.
- Intrepid Travel – If you want to do a group tour around Canada, go with Intrepid Travel. They offer good small group tours that use local operators and leave a small environmental footprint. If you go on a tour with anyone, go with them. And, as a reader of this site, you’ll get a discount when you click the link!
- Rome 2 Rio – This website allows you to see how to get from point A to point B the best and cheapest way possible. It will give you all the bus, train, plane, or boat routes that can get you there as well as how much they cost.
- World Nomads – I buy all my travel insurance from World Nomads. They have great customer service, competitive prices, and in-depth coverage. I’ve been using them since I started traveling in 2003. Don’t leave home without it!
- EatWith – This website allows you to eat home cooked meal with locals. Locals post listings for dinner parties and specialty meals that you can sign up for. There is a fee (everyone sets their own price) but this is a great way to do something different, pick a local’s brain, and make a new friend.
Toronto Gear and Packing Guide
If you’re heading on the road and need some gear suggestions, here are my tips for the best travel backpack and for what to pack!
The Best Backpack for Travelers
Straps: Thick and cushy with compression technology that pulls the pack’s load up and inwards so it doesn’t feel as heavy.
Features: Removable top lid, large pocket at the front, hydration compatible, contoured hip belt
If you want something different, refer to my article on how to choose the best travel backpack for tips on picking a pack and other backpack suggestions.
What to Pack for Your Trip
- 1 pair of jeans (heavy and not easily dried, but I like them; a good alternative is khaki pants)
- 1 pair of shorts
- 1 bathing suit
- 5 T-shirts (Unbound Merino is my preferred company. If you’re a member of NM+, you can get 15% off your purchase)
- 1 long-sleeved T-shirt
- 1 pair of flip-flops
- 1 pair of sneakers
- 6 pairs of socks (I always end up losing half)
- 5 pairs of boxer shorts (I’m not a briefs guy!)
- 1 toothbrush
- 1 tube of toothpaste
- 1 razor
- 1 package of dental floss
- 1 small bottle of shampoo
- 1 small bottle of shower gel
- 1 towel
Small Medical Kit (safety is important!!!)
- Hydrocortisone cream
- Antibacterial cream
- Hand sanitizer (germs = sick = bad holiday)
- A key or combination lock (safety first)
- Zip-lock bags (keeps things from leaking or exploding)
- Plastic bags (great for laundry)
- Universal charger/adaptor (this applies to everyone)
- LifeStraw (A water bottle with a purifier)
Female Travel Packing List
I’m not a woman, so I don’t know what a woman wears, but Kristin Addis, our solo female travel guru, wrote this list as an addition to the basics above:
- 1 swimsuit
- 1 sarong
- 1 pair of stretchy jeans (they wash and dry easily)
- 1 pair of leggings (if it’s cold, they can go under your jeans, otherwise with a dress or shirt)
- 2-3 long-sleeve tops
- 2-3 T-shirts
- 3-4 spaghetti tops
- 1 light cardigan
- 1 dry shampoo spray & talc powder (keeps long hair grease-free in between washes)
- 1 hairbrush
- Makeup you use
- Hair bands & hair clips
- Feminine hygiene products (you can opt to buy there too, but I prefer not to count on it, and most people have their preferred products)
For more on packing, check out these posts:
Canada Travel Guide: Suggested Reading
The Orenda, by Joseph Boyden
As amazing as Canada is, like most other colonized countries its history is steeped in violent, bloody conflict…especially with Canada’s Indigenous Peoples. This book takes place in the wilderness of 17th-century Canada, following the lives of a missionary, a young Iroquois girl, and a great warrior of the Huron Nation. The Huron have always battled the Iroquois – but now the tribes face the threat of settlers from Europe. It’s a jarring, graphic read and you won’t be able to put it down.
Beauty Tips from Moose Jaw: Travels in Search of Canada, by Will Ferguson
Will Ferguson and his travel adventures are laugh-out-loud funny. He’s like the Canadian version of Bill Bryson. This travel memoir is about Ferguson’s three years crisscrossing Canada, with adventures as far flung as the subarctic to the Underground Railroad. He goes coast to coast from the colorful neighborhoods of St. John’s to the idyllic streets of Victoria, encountering interesting people and offbeat attractions along the way (yes, there’s a place called Moose Jaw).
In the Skin of a Lion, by Michael Ondaatje
Considered a true Canadian classic, In the Skin of a Lion follows Patrick Lewis as he arrives in Toronto in the 1920s where he earns his money searching for a disappeared millionaire and tunneling beneath Lake Ontario. His life intersects with other special characters along the way, giving us a smart, passionate story that blurs the lines between fiction and reality.
Alias Grace, by Margaret Atwood
You can’t have a Canadian reading list without some Margaret Atwood! The year is 1843, and Grace Marks has been convicted for the murders of her employer and his mistress (also the housekeeper). However, Grace has no memories of these vicious murders, and so an expert in mental illness steps in to seek a pardon for her. He listens to her story as it gets closer and closer to the day she can’t remember. This book is disturbing but completely captivating, especially if you’re already a fan of The Handmaid’s Tale.
The Shipping News, by Annie Proulx
This is a beautiful book (and a really great movie too). A Pulitzer Prize winner, this story follows Quoyle, a newspaper hack who gets thrown out of his regular, mundane life when his wife dies. He moves back to his stark and remote ancestral home of Newfoundland with his two young daughters, where the local delicacy is cod cheeks and it’s easier to travel by boat and snowmobile than by car. This book reads like poetry. It’s beautiful, and although it’s fiction it gives you plenty of insight into the uniqueness of Canada’s easternmost province.
Canada Travel Guide: Related Articles
Want more info? Check out all the articles I’ve written on Canada travel and continue planning your trip: