Difference between revisions of "Toronto"
Revision as of 14:11, 2 July 2008
Toronto  is the largest city in Canada, and 5th largest in North America with a population of 2.6 million and a metropolitan population of nearly 8 million. It is the capital of the province of Ontario, Canada's most populous province.
Toronto is known as a city of neighborhoods. Distinct areas, often centered around a main street (Queen, College, Bloor etc.), are packed tightly together but each has something different to offer. The relative compactness of these neighborhoods makes exploring on foot easy and pleasant, especially in the warmer months.
In 1998 the cities of Toronto, Scarborough, North York, Etobicoke, and York and the Borough of East York amalgamated to form the current City of Toronto. This is also known as Metropolitan Toronto or "the 416" after its area code (although now there are some new area codes, the overwhelming number of area codes in the Toronto are still "416") and has a population of over 2.6 million people. More than half of these were born in some country other than Canada - a fact obvious to any visitor immediately, as the city has many vibrant bustling neighborhoods with street signs in several languages. Toronto and its surrounding suburbs are collectively known as the Greater Toronto Area (GTA). Outlying suburbs are also known as "the 905" after their area code, although technically this code is also used in both Hamilton and the Niagara Region, stretching to the border in Niagara Falls. The entire area including Toronto is known as the "Golden Horseshoe" and has a population of over 8 million people.
Free weekly newspapers, distributed from boxes on street corners and in racks in stores and restaurants (can be good sources of information on cinema, dining, music, theatre, and other events and local news):
Depending on where you go in Toronto, you will be able to find locally printed newspapers in a variety of languages. For example, in Chinatown you'll find Chinese newspapers. In "Little Italy" you'll find Italian newspapers. You'll also find newspapers in Spanish, Portuguese, Arabic, Tagalog, Greek ...
A popular urban myth has it that the United Nations rated Toronto as "the most multicultural city in the world". While the UN and its agencies are not in the habit of rating cities, it remains a fact that Canada is a nation of immigrants, and Toronto demonstrates this abundantly. A UN agency lists Toronto as second only to Miami as the city with the most foreign born residents, but Toronto's residents represent far more cultural and language groups, which is arguably a better measure of multi-cultural. Most immigrants either pass through Toronto on their way to other parts of the country, or they stay in Toronto permanently. This contributes to the overall cultural mosaic that is Toronto today. Within Toronto, most ethnic groups will work their way into the fabric of Canadian society but still retain their distinct ways such as language, dress (for special occasions), customs, and food.
As a result of this cultural mosaic, Toronto is home to many ethnic festivals throughout the year. Toronto also boasts several radio stations which broadcast in various languages as well as at least two multicultural television channels. The City of Toronto officially deals in 16 different languages while the Toronto Transit Commission (public transit) has a helpline that deals in 70 languages. Even large department stores such as The Bay in downtown Toronto proudly advertise service in 9 languages. The lingua franca of Toronto however, remains English.
Toronto's climate is characterised by fairly cold and icy winters where temperatures average 24°F (-4°C) in January. Contrary to Canadian stereotypes, the city experiences very hot and humid summers with an average high of 80°F (27°C) during the daytime in July. Late spring and early fall are generally considered to be the most pleasant times to visit, and summer is by far the busiest tourist season, but visitors will find that Toronto's vibrancy extends well through the winter. Toronto's public buildings are nearly all air-conditioned in summer, and are well heated in winter. Sometimes, during the winter, severe storms can shut down the city for a day or two. In the summer, many thunderstorms are common.
Sports teams & arenas
Toronto has several major league sports teams:
The Air Canada Centre  (40 Bay Street) is sometimes referred to as "The Hangar".
The Rogers Centre  (1 Blue Jays Way) is often referred to by its original "SkyDome" name.
Pearson International Airport (YYZ)  (or LBPIA - Lester B. Pearson International Airport) is about 45 minutes by car from the downtown core and is serviced by most major international carriers. There are two terminals: Terminal 1 hosts all Air Canada flights and a few other international carriers, while Terminal 3 hosts all other airlines. (There is no longer a Terminal 2.)Do be aware though, Pearson International Airport's management is third-world and the norm for baggage claim is 45 minutes.
Several options exist for getting downtown from Pearson:
Taxis run a flat rate of $40 while airport limousines  go slightly higher at $50-70. Limousines are generally slightly larger (though not stretched) and more comfortable vehicles than taxis. Government approved rates can be found online .
Toronto City Centre Airport (YTZ)  (or TCCA, or "The Island Airport") handles much less traffic. One of its main tenants is Porter Airlines which services New York (Newark), Ottawa, Montreal, Mont Tremblant, and Halifax. Toronto City Centre Airport offers mainly short-haul regional flights to neighboring Canadian cities, with a few Northeast US flights.
A free ferry service makes the short crossing (just 121 metres - possibly the world's shortest regularly-scheduled ferry route) between TCCA and the mainland every 15 minutes, 6:45AM-10:07PM.
A free shuttle bus is offered for Porter Airlines' passengers between the airport and Toronto's central Union Station.
Frugal travellers coming from the US or Central America should consider flying into Buffalo (New York), due to cheaper prices. Megabus  (prices vary, book early) runs from the Buffalo Niagara airport to Toronto; the trip takes 3 hours and includes the border crossing.
Greyhound, Coach Canada and Ontario Northland buses stop at Toronto Coach Terminal, which is a short walk to the Dundas or St. Patrick subway stations of the Toronto Transit Commission.
Toronto is situated along a primary VIA Rail  corridor. Frequent trains travel east towards Montreal and Ottawa, west towards towards Western Ontario (Windsor, Sarnia, and Niagara Falls) and north to Northern Ontario and Western Canada.
Express service exists between Toronto and Montreal, with Dorval/Montreal Airport as the only intermediate stop. Hourly service in this so-called corridor is frequent, comfortable, and generally adheres well to schedule, making it extremely popular with local travellers. Remember to ask for student fares if you have an ISIC; see Rail Travel in North America.
The Canadian service operated by VIA (three times weekly) goes through "Northern" Ontario, across the prairies, then through the mountains all the way to Vancouver.
Trains arrive in downtown at Union Station (65 Front St West), which is connected to both the subway and GO Train networks.
Major highways leading into Toronto are the QEW, the 404, the 401, the 400, and the 427. Toronto is in the enviable position of being the largest city in Canada, so it's relatively easy to find a sign pointing you in the right direction. Be advised that traffic on incoming highways can be extremely heavy. In the downtown core it is often illegal to make a right or left onto Yonge Street. The exception is Front Street.
The main streets in Toronto are laid out in a grid pattern that makes it one of the easiest cities to get around in by car. Getting from point to point anywhere in the city can be achieved with only a few turns. Parking in the downtown core can be expensive and hard to find, but is plentiful and inexpensive or free throughout the rest of the city.
Toronto follows some bylaws related to the transit system that often confuse or surprise visiting drivers:
Additionally, drivers are advised that Torontonians generally take their obligation to give a wide berth to emergency vehicles quite seriously: if you hear sirens or see lights, pull over to the side of the road safely but quickly.
Toronto is huge, and most roads run for very long distances. Use public transit if your destination is downtown. Otherwise, it is probably easier to drive. Be aware that the highways regularly backup during rush hour (7am-10am and 4pm-7pm). Toronto has plentiful parking garages downtown but these are usually expensive.
Subway, Trams, LRT and Buses, and you can get pretty well anywhere you want in the main part of the city with the subway / Tram Light Rail/ buses. Current plans to greatly expand the Light Rail system within the next five years should greatly improve the current system.
Current fares are $2.75 (discounted to $2.25 if you buy 5 or 10 tickets or tokens at a time).
A TTC Day Pass is available for $9.00. This pass allows unlimited travel on all TTC services within the City of Toronto, except for Downtown Express buses. For one person, it allows unlimited one-day travel on any day of the week, from the mid-morning (9:30AM) until 5:30AM the next morning. On Saturday and Sunday, and statutory holidays, up to 6 people can travel with the TTC Day Pass, from the start of daytime service until 5:30AM the next morning:
The day pass does not have to be purchased on the day of use.
For many years, the TTC has offered a monthly pass, the Metropass. This usually costs $109 a month, though it is available at a lower price under certain conditions. The monthly pass is transferable, allowing owners to transfer the pass to another person at the end of their trip.
A weekly pass was introduced in September, 2005. It now is sold for $32.25 a week. It lasts from the start of daily service, 5:30AM Monday morning, to 5:30AM the following Monday. The weekly pass is also transferable.
There are three subway lines:
Other TTC services are provided by buses, streetcars, the Scarborough RT line, and Wheel-Trans vans (for people with disabilities). There are also a number of Downtown Express buses that run during rush hour, for which additional fare must be paid.
Tokens vs. Tickets
If you have decided not to purchase a daily pass (and they are an excellent option for those who intend to use transit a lot, especially for families), you may want to purchase tokens instead of tickets. They're equally valid at collector's booths and when boarding busses/streetcars, but the TTC also offers separate and automated token and metropass-only turnstiles at all stations which are often much quicker than waiting for the queue in front of the collector's booth to clear. Unlike tickets, they do not expire or become devalued when the cost of fares increase (as they often do).
Tickets may be purchased from many convenience stores (look for a TTC sign in the front window) and a few hotel desks as well as collector's booths at any subway station. Tokens may be purchased from vending machines in stations and from collectors. Bus and streetcar drivers do not offer change and do not sell tickets or tokens.
All but one (Route 99) of the TTC's bus and streetcar routes have a subway station somewhere on the loop, and while many routes will take you into the station and beyond the ticket barrier, some of them (especially downtown) will only take you to the outside of the station. In this case, you can enter the station by presenting a valid transfer. If you don't have one, you need to pay another cash fare. (Although in practice, station collectors who see twenty people with transfers from the same route and one person without one will often wave the extra person by, don't count on it.)
Transfers are free, but should be obtained at the first vehicle or station you enter on your journey. If your journey starts on a bus or streetcar, ask for one as you pay your fare (simply saying "Transfer, please" to the operate will suffice). If you start at a subway station, look for a red machine just beyond the ticket booth, with a digital time clock on it's face. Press the gold button and collect your transfer.
Connecting public transit services
The areas that surround Toronto--Mississauga, Brampton, York Region, Durham Region--have their own transit systems. There are no free transfer privileges between the TTC and these other transit systems. To use both the TTC and another system, two fares must usually be paid (though see GTA Pass below). In many places, these networks do overlap, so you can transfer easily. Prices are similar to prices for the TTC.
A weekly GTA Pass (Greater Toronto Area Pass) is available for the price of $47.00 (recently raised from $43). It is valid on the TTC and the transit systems in Mississauga, Brampton, York Region, but not Durham Region. This pass is also tranferable, although only one rider may use it at a time. If you are traveling through the fare-zone boundary in York Region with a GTA pass, you will have to pay an additional $1.00. A new region-wide integration system is in place, known as 'Metrolinx', and will provide seamless connections between transit operators. A new high-speed rail link between Hamilton, Toronto and Peterborough, ON is being built.
A system of regional trains and buses, GO Transit , connects Toronto to its surrounding areas. The majority of these services, especially trains, are oriented to weekday commuters traveling to and from downtown Toronto. Go Transit charges fares by distance. Trains are safe and mostly reliable usually running every 20 to 60 minutes. There is currently construction at the downtown hub of Union Station which is causing delays of 10 to 20 minutes.
Discounts on the fares for connecting transit services are available under certain conditions, if you are traveling to or from a GO Transit rail station. The GTA Pass is not valid on GO Transit.
NOTE: in many cases a GO bus will not stop unless the passenger-to-be indicates they are waiting to be picked up, even if standing at a designated stop. Users must flag the bus down, usually just by raising their hand or ticket in the air as the bus approaches. This is because GO stops often share stops with other municipal transit systems.
Taxis are plentiful and safe, but not cheap. As with most big cities, driving a car downtown can be annoying; parking is often hard to find and expensive, and traffic along certain streets can make vehicle travel slower than mass transit.
In recent years the "core" central area has become relatively bike friendly. The city government has installed many new bike only lanes that span major east-west or north-south corridors. The city takes a reasonably pro-bike position and a bike-map is available on the city website . Doughnut shaped bike lock racks have been installed on many sidewalks, usually in front of shops, restaurants or major points of interest.
By far one of the nicest bike paths is the Martin Goodman Trail, the east-west route that hugs lake Ontario, spanning the city from Etobicoke to the eastern ends of the city. Take care- this path, while busy, is also enjoyed by pedestrians and rollerbladers who are not as speedy as the typical biker. Biking is fairly common on major routes without bike paths too, such as Yonge Street, King and Queen Streets and Dundas and College. Beware of parked cars - often accidents are not caused by moving cars, but rather by careless drivers or passengers who unexpectedly open their driver's side door. However, by and large Toronto is about as safe for bikers as most European cities, and certainly safer than most U.S. cities with their much reduced density of bikers. Here, at least you are expected. Also be cautious of street car tracks as bike wheels can be easily caught and cause a spill. The city is general pretty safe and in the centre of the city mainly flat which makes it ideal to bike, while dodging busy public transit, traffic jams or taxi fares or the severe parking fees and scarce spaces, and most of all SEE the city. And it is fast: door to door, in all of downtown Toronto bike beats car every time.
A special treat for bikers of all levels is a tour out to the Leslie Spit lighthouse and bird sanctuaries (no cars!) east of the islands (bring a picnic); as well, the island ferries transport bikes at no extra charge (again, no cars on the islands) and this is just the best way to get around by far.
Although you will certainly see large numbers of locals riding the streets year-round, be warned that biking in the winter months is only enjoyable with proper equipment and reasonable skills; winter weather does get cold, it can be quite windy, and snow removal may take some time, especially in bicycle lanes.
see Downtown district article for more possibilities & further information:
Toronto has great tours available; most are very affordable ($25-$38) and offer hotel pick-up and drop-off.
see district articles for more detailed information
Toronto has ample opportunities for shopping, and nearly any section of the city has unique places to shop and find deals:
Toronto is generally considered to be one of North America's top food cities. It has the same variety as New York or San Francisco and the compact and safe downtown keeps them closer together. As a multicultural city, Toronto boasts authentic ethnic cuisine like no other city in North America. It is easy to eat out in Toronto and have a superb meal for cheap.
see district articles for further information
Surrounded by the extensive fertile farmlands of Southern Ontario, Toronto has an abundance of farmer's markets - one is happening, in season, almost every day. Several markets are year round, while others are seasonal, generally running from May to October.
Other farmer's markets in Toronto:
Interesting food districts
see district articles for further information
see district articles for more information
The majority of Nightlife in Toronto is centred around the appropriately named Clubland and in the fashion district on Queen Street West. Nearly everywhere is packed to the brim with pubs and bars, but none so much as Adelaide and Queen Street in those districts. Clubs tend to operate on Richmond and Adelaide streets (both run east-west, 1 block apart); names change frequently, but the district keeps on going. Three other clubs of note outside this district: The (long-lasting) Phoenix (on Sherbourne), The Guvernment (Toronto's largest club - on the harbour east of Yonge Street) and the Docks (literally operating on part of Toronto's commercial port, but this place has an outstanding view of the city on warm summer nights, and boasts an extensive entertainment complex).
Newly opened Circa is currently the hottest club in town. Worth $6.2 Million, until the next major opening, Circa represents the mecca for any visitor interested in clubbing.
Hipper more art and music oriented crowds tend to gravitate towards Parkdale (Queen West past Bellwoods Park). The hipsters hangout and comment on their outfits (and sometimes the art) in the wide array of bars, galleries and clubs that dot the area - in particular the Stones Place (mostly Indie and sometimes gay crowds), The Social (a mixed bag), and the Drake and its poor cousin Gladstone Hotels. The same folks also frequent the Annex / Kensington Market Area of the city at night for club nights, casual drinks and art / music events. One of the main "corsos" of the city is Little Italy: College Street, between Bathurst and Ossington flows over with music, sidewalk cafes and excellent food and a crowd that enjoys the summer heat and the offerings. The drinking age is 19.
see district articles for detailed information
Most hotels and hostels are situated directly outside the downtown core. Prices for rooms generally range from $150+ for a standard hotel, $60-80 for a motel, and $20-40 for a bed in a hostel.
Toronto has several youth hostels, including ones in the downtown area. Global Village Backpackers at Spadina and King is perhaps most famous, with its garish colour scheme. Equally well-situated is a Hostelling International located at the foot of Church Street.
Bed & Breakfast
Another popular alternative for over nighters are Bed & Breakfasts, of which Toronto has hundreds, many of them in the downtown core. Prices range from $60 to several hundred dollars depending on the house and amenities offered. The Toronto Townhouse  are Toronto Tourism award winners and still is one of the better ones. They have two locations - one in Cabbagetown and the other in the Annex area.
Another popular inexpensive place is Castlegate Inn Toronto Bed and Breakfast  because of its close proximity to the Spadina subway station and the University of Toronto.
International students often prefer to study in Toronto because of its safety, proximity to other tourist destinations, and favourable exchange rates and visa policies.
Toronto is home to four public universities
Seneca College  (Canada's largest college) is spread out over the city with over 16 campuses of varying sizes.
George Brown College  has two campuses: St. James (downtown) and Casa Loma (midtown).
Toronto, like other Canadian cities, also has dozens of English as a Second Language (ESL) schools. The largest association of private English and French language schools is the Canadian Association of Private Language Schools .
For emergency, dial 911 (you can dial it at the pay phone without putting in any coins).
Local calls at the pay phone cost 50 cents. Local calls are not metered, so you can talk as long as you want. However, due to the popularity of cellphones there are fewer pay phones than before but contrary to what some believe they are not dissapearing, rather there are fewer street booths than were found 10 years ago. Despite this, most large public facilities still have ample pay phones to use. In malls, pay phones are usually located between the inner and outer doors at the entrances.
In addition, many public facilities (such as shopping malls) now also have phones which provide free local calls, which are funded by advertisements run on colour LCD screens. Watch for large, wall-mounted ovals in high-traffic areas.
Toronto has two area codes: 416 and 647. These area codes overlap. That is, they are both associated with the same geographic area. The suburban areas outside of the city also have two overlapping area codes, 905 and 289. As a result, Toronto has 10-digit local dialing. You must always dial the area code as part of the number you are trying to reach.
International calling cards are widely available to many countries for reasonable rates.
Toronto is a city with many Internet cafés, especially on Yonge Street around Bloor, and also on Bloor Street between Spadina and Bathurst. It's not hard to find a place to call home and the costs are relatively low, from $3 for 30 minutes. However, currently Internet cafés are opening and closing at an astounding rate so on repeat visits to the city you may find that the one you used last time has disappeared. For a guide to some of them, see YYZTech's Internet cafe reviews online . Most major hotels offer high-speed internet in their rooms and in their business centres. Many coffee shops, donut shops and some food courts in the downtown core offer wireless, high-speed (some free, some not). The widespread availability of high-speed internet access in homes, businesses and hotels means that internet cafes are largely becoming a thing of the past.
Toronto Hydro Telecom operates a public WiFi network called One Zone  that covers six square kilometres in the downtown core. Rates are $4.99 for one hour, $9.99 for a day, or $24.99 for a month, but you must have a cell phone capable of receiving text messages to access the network.
Free Internet access is available on computers at Toronto Public Library  branches, and the Toronto Reference Library  also provides free wireless access on the first two floors. Access to the Internet requires entry of a library card number; visitors can request a one-time-use access number to use in place of the library card number.
On the whole Toronto is remarkably safe and the streets are vibrant with pedestrians and bicyclists even at night in most neighbourhoods. If you use common sense you should have no trouble at all: don't walk around alone late at night and be aware of your surroundings. Avoid the club/entertainment district at closing time, as fights between drunken patrons do occur, occasionally escalating to where weapons become involved. Police have recently increased their presence in the club district to limit problems, but caution is still advised.
The downtown core and most of the surrounding suburbs are largely risk-free, but be careful when in neighbourhoods such as Jane-Finch, Regent Park, Parkdale and Morningside Avenue. These areas have a reputation for higher-than-average crime rates, but are still safe during the day.
Toronto's downtown core has a series of safe, underground interconnected shopping centres called the PATH. These are frequently used by locals and tourists to escape harsh weather while comfortably navigating the core. Be aware the PATH system, while very safe, is somewhat confusing, and is largely abandoned and shuttered after business hours and on weekends. Refer frequently to the posted maps or ask a security guard or store clerk for directions as needed.
Although the overall violent crime rate in Canada is much lower than that found in the United States, but is still higher than the rate in some European countries such as Germany. Petty crime is generally not a problem in Toronto, although rates of vehicle and bicycle theft are a little bit high.
Toronto also has a large homeless population, many of whom will ask you for money. If you do not want to offer them money, simply look the panhandler in the eye and say "not today," "sorry," or simply ignore them. Toronto's homeless tend to live up to expectations of Canadian courtesy and will smile and say, "Oh that's alright, don't worry about it!"
Be careful when getting off the streetcars and look always to your right before leaving the car. Although vehicles are supposed to stop when the streetcar doors open, some motorists and cyclists will ignore this and keep going.
For the average tourist, Toronto's weather presents the greatest danger. Among the major world tourist cities, Toronto has the third-coldest winter temperatures, with the first & second-place cities of Moscow & Montreal being significantly colder. Mild periods occur melting accummulated snowfall, but nevertheless you must come prepared and dress warmly, preferably in layers as conditions are changeable. The average January high temperature in Toronto is -1°C and the average low is -8°C. In January, February, and early March temperatures can drop as low as -30°C or colder with a biting windchill. Exposed skin will freeze in minutes at these temperatures. In July the average maximum is 27°C and the average low is 18°C, with sometimes hot, humid conditions but the city has many parks or public spaces with gardens to cool off. In the summer months, days above 30 degrees C are not uncommon. There were more than thirty days when this occurred in 2007.
On occasion, during the winter months, Toronto will be hit with a severe winter storm accompanied by significant snowfall. Avoid driving during and immediately after the storms if at all possible. This is especially true for those unfamiliar with winter driving and controlling a car in a skid. Take public transit or stay inside. In the most severe storms, however, surface transit has been known to be significantly delayed or even shut down.
Toronto is a great starting point for exploring southern Ontario. The Niagara Region, including Niagara Falls and Niagara on the Lake, is about an hour's drive from Toronto towards the United States border at the Falls. The Waterloo Region to the west has colleges and culture, and Muskoka, to the north and The Kawarthas to the northeast of Toronto, are cottage country areas, with country inns, hundreds of lakes and rivers, camping, fishing/hunting, provincial parks, and a wealth of year-round outdoor activities amongst natural beauty. There are also several golden sand beaches along the clean fresh waters of the Great Lakes that are ideal for hot summer days. Popular destinations within 1.5 - 2.5 hours of Toronto include Wasaga Beach, Sauble Beach, Sandbanks, Grand Bend, Long Point, and Turkey Point.