Budget Travel: Toronto

With a metro area of more than 8 million people, Toronto is one of North America’s largest cities. It is the economic and cultural center of Canada and is by far the country’s most international city. Even when compared to New York and LA, it is a culturally diverse place. Nearly half of Toronto’s residents were born outside of Canada. Because all these different cultures have been absorbed into one place, Toronto is unlike anywhere else.

It is also a destination for budget travelers who want an urban vacation but do not want to deal with New York or LA prices.

Getting in

It is easy to get to Toronto by car. Highways 404, 401, 400 and 427 converge on the city. Driving is also advantageous if you plan to explore the outlying areas of this spread out metropolis.

Pearson Int’l Airport hosts a majority of the flights from the US. You might be able to hook into a cheap Air Canada flight, although it is often a better investment to fly into Buffalo and then take a bus to Toronto. Megabus runs regular service between NYC and Toronto via Buffalo. Greyhound also runs the route, as well as connecting Toronto with Chicago and Detroit.
Getting around

The subway is the way to go. Weekly passes cost $32, while daily passes are $9. Buses and street cars are also reliable, but not during high traffic times, when they, like cars, get caught in the rush. Public transit is necessary downtown and in high traffic areas, but if you plan to explore further, a car is the best option as taxis are not cheap.

Where to stay

Global Village Backpackers and the downtown Hostelling International are both good bets for those who travel light and want to keep their hotel fees light as well. Spartan accommodations are the name of the game at both these venues, but if you don’t care about noise and luxury, you’ll be good. Another hostel is Kensington Castle. It offers much more personality than the previously mentioned pair, but the accommodations are pretty much the same. You will be within walking distance of Kensington Market and downtown Toronto.

There are some good two-star inns right downtown. The Bond Place Hotel is definitely a good value as is the Best Western Primrose.

Being a large city, there are plenty of mid-range chain hotels. Holiday Inn Express and Best Western usually offer decent value for the price.

What to see

Toronto Music Garden is designed by famed cellist Yo-yo Ma. It is meant to represent Bach’s First Suite for Unaccompanied Cello. It is a haven of green in the center of the city (and admission is free).

The CN Tower
is one of Canada’s iconic landmarks. It is one of the seven modern wonders of the world. Standing at 1,815.39 ft, it is the tallest free-standing structure in the Americas.

Central Toronto is also home to the Wednesday night art crawl. Unlike some cities, where art galleries open their doors to the public once a month, it is a weekly occurrence in Toronto.

Take the ferry to Toronto Island Park. There are several miles of bike trails and the shoreline offers superb views of the city skyline. Also, there is Hanlan’s Point Beach, where you don’t even have to own a swimsuit to take a dip in the lake. That’s right: clothing optional.

The Kensington neighborhood is easily accessible by public transit as it is directly adjacent to Downtown. This neighborhood offers a rather bohemian vibe. It is full of bistros and cafes serving good food for good value. There are also plenty of thrift stores, if you are looking for a bargain but weren’t able to find anything Downtown. Kensington Market offers interesting and eclectic shopping and eating options. Russian bakers, Vietnamese food stalls and vintage clothing booths sit side by side.

Toronto’s Chinatown is one of North America’s biggest. More of a pan-East Asian town, there are plenty of eating opportunities and, though most of the shops are aimed at Asian clientele, anyone can find good deals by simply wandering down the narrow market aisles.

There are beaches all along the strip of land where Toronto and Lake Ontario meet. Though a majority of the year brings cold temps and, therefore no swimming, the summer means that many locals are out taking advantage of the sun and warm weather. The lake is not the best place to swim however, so swim only in marked areas to avoid currents. Authorities test water for pollutants daily in swimming areas.

The Toronto Zoo is definitely impressive. A $20 admission might seem expensive, but there is enough to keep you busy for an entire day. This is a solid investment if you have kids.