It’s no wonder that Canada’s most populous city is often a top choice for tourists, students, Working Holiday travellers or newcomers—the country’s business and financial capital is a vibrant destination with plenty of opportunities.
Looking to experience Toronto? Check out this practical guide for an easy introduction to the city!
What does Toronto look like?
If you’re landing at Toronto Pearson Airport, you will be greeted by the huge Great Toronto Area (GTA), which is the City of Toronto and the regional municipalities of Durham, Halton, Peel, and York.
The City of Toronto covers 630 km². It became a “megacity” following the amalgamation of Etobicoke, Scarborough, York, North York and East York in 1998.
Toronto extends northward from the shores of Lake Ontario along Yonge Street, often dubbed the “longest street in the world.” “East” and “West” are divided by Yonge Street in Toronto, e.g. “Dundas West” is west of Yonge Street.
On postcards, Toronto looks like an urban jungle with tall glass towers and skyscrapers, including the famous CN Tower. In fact, only the financial district offers this skyline. From the top of the CN Tower, you’ll notice most buildings are at most three-stories tall. It’s basically the best of both worlds—a typical modern North American cityscape but also charming, historic neighbourhoods and a very reasonable population density of 4,336 people/km².
Much like many cities in the new world, Toronto follows a grid-like pattern with businesses lining East-West streets and residential areas on North-South streets (yes, there are exceptions!).
Pro-tip, locals use intersections to give directions, i.e. College and Bathurst or Eglinton and Yonge (skip the “street” or “avenue” part).
Is Toronto a multicultural city?
Canada is a multicultural country but Toronto takes it to a whole new level—more than 50% of residents were born outside Canada!
Toronto is often referred to as “the most diverse city in the world” and most newcomers love the international atmosphere. In today’s complicated world, it’s refreshing to see how open-minded and respectful people can be.
If you have an accent in English, don’t worry—most people in Toronto do too. This is a city where people from all walks of life can fit in easily and reach their personal goals through hard work, flexibility and perseverance.
Living in Toronto is also a chance to discover cultures from all over the world. If you were considering applying for a Working Holiday to South Korea, Hong Kong, Chile or Portugal, you’ll feel like you’re halfway there in many neighbourhoods!
What’s the atmosphere like?
Many Canadians see Toronto as a big city with big-city issues but frankly, by world standards, it’s a very safe place with a moderate crime rate. To put things into perspective, Toronto had 32 homicides in 2021—still too many but a far cry from the 271 homicides in 2019 in Detroit.
The biggest issues are drug use and petty crimes.
Getting there and getting around
Pearson International Airport
All international flights land at Canada’s busiest airport, Pearson International Airport (YYZ) located in Mississauga. A few flights from the US and Canada land at Toronto City Airport, minutes from downtown Toronto.
Taxi and rideshare services are available at Pearson Airport but the cheapest option will likely be the Union Pearson Express train that takes passengers to Union Station in just 25 minutes for $12.35. Trains run every 15 minutes and you can buy your ticket online to save time.
VIA Rail, GO Trains and buses
All trains leave from the very central Union Station:
- GO Transit is the regional train with seven lines providing service to the GTA, Hamilton and the Greater Golden Horseshoe.
- VIA Rail is Canada’s long-distance railway system with service to other major cities and provinces (and even to the US with transfers).
GO buses generally leave from Union Station as well and they connect with a number of subway stations. Check the GO trip-planning tool for details.
The Toronto Coach Terminal is located at 610 Bay St., close to the Eaton Centre. This is where you can catch long-distance buses with companies such as Busbud and Flixbus.
Public transportation in Toronto
The Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) operates a subway, streetcar and bus network to navigate the city.
There are only four subway lines, two of them very central—the U-shaped line 1 and east—west line 2. Note that the streetcar is much slower than the subway because it stops more often and shares traffic with other vehicles, except in dedicated lanes on Spadina and Saint Clair.
Pay-as-you-go options include a day pass for $13.50 and a monthly pass ($156/month or $146/month with a 12-month upfront payment). A single ride is $3.25.
Monthly passes are valid for the entire calendar month. Weekly passes are valid from Monday to Sunday and day passes are valid until 5 a.m. the next day.
Check fare and pass pricing for the most up-to-date information.
You may want to buy a PRESTO Card ($6) and load it to pay your fare—it’s quicker and easier! TTC tickets, tokens and passes are no longer available for sale in subway stations. All subway stations have a fare vending machine offering one-ride, two-ride or day-pass PRESTO Ticket. PRESTO cards and PRESTO Tickets are also available at all Shoppers Drug Mart locations and online at prestocard.ca.
If you pay cash on the bus or the street car, note that you must have the exact change (or you won’t get any change back).
As in most Canadian cities, Toronto’s public transportation system isn’t cheap but at least there are no fare zones. The fare is the same regardless of the distance so it’s worth it if you live far. The TTC also encourages family members to share their monthly or weekly pass because there are no pictures on them!
Biking and walking
Toronto is very walkable and arguably best explored on foot if you want to fully appreciate each neighbourhood’s atmosphere. Cold winter day? Take the PATH, a 30-kilometre underground pedestrian walkway with restaurants, shops and services along the way!
Keep in mind that some streets are very, very long (looking at you, endless Yonge Street…) and two places that look close enough on the map can be kilometres apart.
You will quickly notice few locals use scooters or motorbikes, which makes sense considering that roads are slushy half of the year. Biking is popular, though, and Toronto offers a Bikeshare program. Check the cycling network map to stay safe.
Driving in Toronto
Driver’s licence and traffic rules
You will have to show an International Driving Permit (IDP) along with your foreign licence or an Ontario driver’s licence if you’re buying a car. Ontario doesn’t issue IDPs, this is a document you have to get before coming to Canada. Don’t have an IDP? Ontario has licence exchange agreements with certain provinces, states, and countries—check the full list and requirement details here.
You can use your foreign licence if you’re staying in Ontario for up to three months—car rental companies will accept it. For longer stays, start the driver’s licence exchange process.
Just to be on the safe side, you may want to apply for an International Driving Permit (IDP) before coming to Canada. Your IDP must be presented along with your foreign licence if needed.
If you’re going to drive in Toronto and Ontario, it’s probably a good idea to review local traffic rules and road safety. The Official Ministry of Transportation (MTO) Driver’s Handbook covers all the basics you already (should) know and a few Canada-specific situations. For instance, school bus safety is taken very seriously—drivers travelling in both directions must stop for a stopped school bus with its red lights flashing or else you’ll get a hefty fine.
Road network and parking spots
Downtown Toronto can be accessed through the Gardiner Expressway at the South End, Don Valley Parkway (404) at the East End, Highway 427 at the West End and Highway 401 at the North End. Highway 400 connects the city with Northern Ontario and beyond and Highway 404 goes into the northern suburbs.
The 401 is one the world’s busiest highways in the world—traffic is often slow and frustrating around Toronto, especially during “construction season.”
Downtown Toronto is also often congested and no expressways are cutting through the city, except the aptly named Lakeshore Boulevard. Try to aim for the main arterial roads in yellow on this map.
Parking is another issue in Toronto—few spots, expensive lots and many cars are a recipe for disaster. Residential side streets can be an option. Otherwise, try a municipal parking lot.
Renting a car
All the main companies like Avis, Hertz, Dollar, and Budget have offices in Toronto. Note that you will likely need a credit card (and not a debit card). Several banks make it easier for newcomers to get a credit card, including Desjardins and National Bank of Canada—these two also have special deals for PVTistes.net members!
PVTistes offers discounts and perks if you rent a vehicle with Hertz, Dollar and Thrifty—check them out!
Car-sharing companies such as Turo can also be a good option if you don’t mind renting from a private car owner.
Tackling your newcomer to-do list in Toronto
If you’re just getting started in Canada, you will probably need to open a bank account, apply for your social insurance number and get a cellphone. Toronto is a great place for tackling your to-do list, with many options and services designed for new residents. But first, read The landing process and your first steps in Canada to get a gist of what should be a priority.
Taking English classes in Toronto
Toronto is a great place to work on your English skills! PVTistes.net offers members a generous discount on various programs with ILAC International Language Academy of Canada. Check out this special offer before deciding on a school!
How to find a play to stay in Toronto
For tips on finding the perfect place, deciphering rental ads and various legal matters, don’t forget to read Finding Accommodation in Canada!
Where to live in Toronto
Toronto is made up of a patchwork of neighbourhoods, each with a distinct atmosphere and many featuring a specific community—Chinatown, Little Italy, Koreatown, etc.
The best way to find your favourite spot is to explore the city on foot. All central neighbourhoods offer a mix of stores, businesses, activities, etc., so it’s really a matter of choice.
Hostels for short-term stays
Several centrally-located hostels welcome travellers for a couple of days or a few weeks. Since it’s generally not recommended to sign a lease before coming to Canada, booking a hostel is a great way to explore various neighbourhoods and take the time to find a place that fits both your needs and your budget.
Sharing an apartment or most likely a house with one or several roommates is a great option for Working Holiday permit holders—rent is cheaper, it’s a good way to meet people and it’s generally easier to move out when you’re ready to move on.
Meet your future roommates and make sure you’re a good fit before committing to anything. Ask about rules and clarify what your portion of the rent covers (utilities, Internet access, other shared household expenses, etc.). Communication is key in these types of living arrangements.
Renting your place
As in most big cities around the world, Toronto is currently facing a housing crisis and rent has been pushed to new heights after the pandemic. Basically, rental units are scarce and expensive.
It’s important that you know your rights and obligations as a tenant. Keep in mind as well that you will probably be asked for references as well as the first and last month’s rent if you’re approved as a tenant.
Basement apartments are usually the cheaper option—yes, it may sound weird, but it’s perfectly legal to rent a lower, mostly-below-ground, floor in Canada. These apartments can be surprisingly cozy but the lack of natural light is often the main downside.
Living in the GTA
If you find a job outside Toronto you may find it easier to live in the GTA, closer to work, to enjoy lower prices and avoid a brutal commute.
Now keep in mind that there may be fewer public transit options, which could be an issue to get to work and visit Toronto on the weekend. Some parts of the GTA are not walkable at all and a vehicle may be required to go grocery shopping or simply go out and have fun.
How to find a job in Toronto
For general tips and advice about navigating the job hunt, start with Finding a job and working in Canada.
Don’t forget to apply for your Social Insurance Number as soon as possible—it’s a mandatory step of the onboarding process, and your employer will ask for it!
Several great resources for job seekers can be a good start—some offer workshops, computer access, resume
- Employment Ontario (free appointment with a job counsellor available, plus tons of resources)
- YES — Youth Employment Service (counselling, job placement and more)
- YMCA Employment Services
- The Career Foundation
Most job seekers start with a small job to gain their first work experience in Canada and get references—it usually makes future job searches much easier, especially if you’re looking to move up or find a more relevant role. Call centres, restaurants and retail are often looking desperate for applicants because the turnover is high and the pay may not be high enough to retain workers.
Alternatively, you can submit your resume to various staffing agencies to access the hidden job market through contract or casual work. Don’t hesitate to contact the branch specialized in your industry—industrial, manufacturing, HR, customer service, skilled trade, etc.—for best results.
You will find a list of the main staffing agencies here.
Job opportunities in the GTA
Many companies are located in the GTA, especially in Mississauga or North of Toronto, so you may want to include these areas in your job search.
Review transportation options before signing up for a job in a completely different city, especially if work-from-home options are not available to you—daily commutes can be brutal and public transit non-existent.
Shopping on a budget in Toronto
Toronto can be on the expensive side, so most Working Holiday travellers have to adjust their lifestyle and make the most of deals, opportunities and other incentives—being a smart consumer is key.
First things first, you may need to say goodbye to your favourite delicacies from your home country or set a budget if you need exotic comfort food because imported products are typically very pricey. Alcohol, dairy products, and meat are very expensive in Canada. If you’re looking for specific international ingredients, heading to ethnic neighbourhoods such as Chinatown, Koreatown, Little Mexico, etc., products (especially condiments and produce) are usually cheaper than in supermarket chains such as Loblaws or Metro.
Don’t pay the full sticker price for clothes, shoes, accessories and more! Sales and promotions are very, very common in Canada—just shop around, compare prices and be patient. The same rule applies to groceries, you should keep an eye on “special offers,” especially for non-perishable items or food with a long shelf life. Don’t hesitate to stock up on essentials like pasta, crackers, sauce, canned tuna, etc. (yes, on toilet paper as well, just remember it doesn’t help surviving a pandemic…).
Budget shoppers will probably find good deals at the following store chains:
- Dollarama: Most items are no longer $1 (and it was before tax, anyway) but you can still find dinnerware, small gifts, holiday cards, storage products and more for less than $2. Food isn’t always a bargain if you compare the price per unit, however, Dollarama is a goldmine for cheap holiday accessories (Halloween, Canada Day, etc.).
- Winners and Marshalls: Discounted brand names clothing, fashion and accessories.
- No Frills, Food Basics and FreshCo: Budget supermarket chains owned by respectively Loblaws, Metro and Sobeys.
Second-hand shoppers will find good opportunities in Canada, from classified websites like Kijiji or Craigslist to garage sales. Keep an eye on signs in your neighbourhood or venture into more affluent areas for discounted furniture and more!
Entertainment in Toronto
One of the perks of living in Toronto is the ability to enjoy tons of entertainment options.
Singers and bands touring in the US often stop by Toronto because it’s so close—this may be your chance to see them if they don’t venture to your side of the world!
Don’t forget to explore the thriving local indie scene (chances are tickets will be cheaper too!).
The Canadian Opera Company is one of the largest in North America.
Performing arts and musicals
King Street West is home to many theatres with programming ranging from Broadway-style shows to popular musicals.
Eating and drinking
Remember Friends? Coffee shops play an important role in North America—its where friends meet, where people network and where freelancers get the background noise and social interactions they miss at home.
The main coffee chains are Second Cup and Starbucks (on the fancy side), and Tim Hortons (much less cozy but cheaper). Don’t forget to support independent coffee shops unless you want to end up in a world with fewer and fewer options!
Food courts are another feature of North American culture. Most are located in shopping malls, such as the Eaton Centre—it’s basically an area with chairs and tables where several fast-food outlets operate side by side.
Food courts are often noisy and anything but cozy but it’s a crowd-pleasing solution to accommodate different tastes because one person can get Thai, another sushi and the third a burger and still be at the same table after picking up their respective meal.
Pubs, restaurants and nightclubs
For pubs, head to College Street. There are great options everywhere but this area has one of the highest concentration of pubs!
While it’s impossible to list all the great restaurants, eateries and food trucks in Toronto, one thing is for sure—this is the perfect city to try authentic cuisine from pretty much every country on Earth!
Clubcrawlers is a great resource for anyone looking to join a great party.
Professional teams and recreational sports in Toronto
Going to a game
Cryptic conversations about “The Leafs” and “the Blue Jays” will make a lot more sense if you go to an NHL or MLB game. Both professional hockey and baseball offer an unforgettable—if a bit pricey—experience and locals are truly passionate about their team.
Baseball fan? Go support the Raptors during exciting NBA games! And for your introduction to Canadian football, you can cheer for the Argonauts.
Sorry, “football” fans—it’s called “soccer” around here and it’s not as big as in many parts of the world. You can still watch games with the Toronto FC, a club competing in Major League Soccer as a member of the Eastern Conference.
No need to break the bank to stay active, Toronto offers plenty of interesting and free options to get your heart rate up! For instance, you can use one of the public tennis courts located in popular city parks such as High Park.
The YMCA is often one of the cheapest options for indoor fitness. And if you want to work on your skating skills during winter, head to one of the many public outdoor rinks!
You can probably find an activity partner on our Facebook group—don’t be shy, ask away!
Arts and culture in Toronto
Check out NOW Toronto for the latest ongoing and upcoming events.
The AGO (Art Gallery of Ontario) is one of Toronto’s gems. Admission is free every Wednesday from 6 to 9 p.m. but tickets must be booked as soon as they are released, on Monday at 10 a.m.
Check out the full list of the many museums in Toronto and around, from ceramic art to footwear.
Public library network
The main movie theatre chains usually play the latest American blockbusters, a few Canadian movies and almost zero international flicks. A ticket is around $13.
For a cheaper option try the Rainbow (St Lawrence Market) and the Carlton (College & Yonge) with $5 tickets every Tuesday.
The TIFF (Toronto International Film Festival) is one of the biggest international film festivals in the world with around 500,000 people attending the annual event. Don’t miss the screenings, lectures, discussions, and festivals if you’re around!
Public pools, lakeshore beaches, boat tours, public parks, festivals, special events, outdoor movie theatres and more—you’ll never be bored in Toronto!
And if you feel like exploring the area—you should!—several national parks, as well as Niagara Falls and Ontario’s wine country, are waiting for you!
Now enjoy SnobFrog’s amazing pictures and plan your trip or your next few months in Toronto!
Do you have any tips about Toronto? What are your favourite places? Share your best spots with us in the comments section below or on the forums!