Toronto is one of the world’s most cosmopolitan cities. Steeped in history and culture, it also bursts with joyous, offbeat energy and resolutely inclusive attitudes. I've learned that Toronto has its challenges and unspoken rules too; planning ahead and knowing what to expect go a long way in making a trip here unforgettable.

Add 13% to almost everything you buy (and then some)

Toronto is expensive, there are no two ways about it. It doesn’t help that a 13% tax is tagged onto all goods and services. Add to that a 17% tax for hotel stays. And, of course, 15% to 20% tips for meals are expected.

In general, travelers on a mid-range budget should plan on spending CA$100-250 per day to cover typical expenses. To save a bit, consider staying in a hostel (most have private rooms), buy self-catered meals in markets and take public transportation. CityPASS helps save on some major attractions too. And there are plenty of free things to do as well if all those taxes feel overwhelming. 

Pay with Loonies

Yes, most places accept US dollars but use Canadian dollars instead – you are in Canada after all (plus you’ll save cash on lousy on-the-spot exchange rates).

Reserve your stay

While Toronto has no shortage of accommodations, smaller places like inns and B&Bs can sell out, especially during the summer months. Book early!

Sports fan cheering at hockey game
Professional sports teams are beloved in Toronto, buy tickets in advance © Grant Faint / Getty Images

Buy pro sports tickets well in advance 

Torontonians are diehard sports fans, no matter how poorly their teams are playing. If you want to join the madness, book tickets as soon as you know you’re headed to town – Maple Leafs and Raptors games go especially fast.

Purchase seats for big-ticket shows early too

While you can typically score last-minute tickets for smaller theaters, Broadway shows pack houses months ahead. Buy tickets in advance. Otherwise, rush tickets are occasionally sold on performance day, starting at 9am.

Explore Toronto (mostly) on foot

Though Toronto is Canada’s largest city – over 6 million people – most sights are concentrated in downtown Toronto and the bohemian, ethnic, historic and waterfront neighborhoods that surround it.

Laid out in a grid, navigating Toronto is easiest on foot – you'll see more, learn how the city works, and have the freedom to pop in and out of places. If the weather is cruddy, follow the signs to PATH, a 17-mile network (30km) of tunnels that connects over 70 buildings and shopping centers. For the waterfront, change things up and rent a bike.

To get across town, use Toronto’s public transportation system (TTC). True, the streetcars and buses are often delayed and the subway only has four lines, but it’ll get you where you’re going. At all costs, avoid driving; the bumper-to-bumper traffic can be soul-crushing. If you must, bring your defensive-driving “A” game.

People meetup in downtown going to work in the morning
Folks in Toronto are exceedingly polite, remember your manners © Leonardo Patrizi / Getty Images

Mind your Ps and Qs

Though Torontonians are generally laid-back, “please,” “thank you” and “sorry” are highly valued words. Use them. Bumping into someone without apologizing or not thanking someone for holding the door is considered rude.

Likewise, cutting a line can prompt full-on shouts. And whatever you do, don’t say Canadians and Americans are the same – this oft-heard comment abroad is considered offensive at home.

Hear beaucoup languages

Toronto is a cultural phenomenon, where 51% of the population was born outside of Canada. You see it in the races and ethnicities of the people (over 250 nationalities), you hear it in the languages spoken (over 170) and you taste it in the food (almost 7,500 eateries).

Likewise, the celebrations and festivals, advertising and even the lineup of comedians and musical acts look and sound like nowhere else on earth. The city’s multiculturalism is refreshing and embracing…it’s what makes Toronto great. 

Notice the Land Acknowledgements

“Land Acknowledgement” proclamations are posted all around Toronto and are read aloud at public events. The exact text varies, but at heart, they’re reminders that you’re on the ancestral lands of several First Nations’ communities, that it was taken by force or by broken treaty and that generations of Indigenous people have suffered all manner of atrocities at the hands of colonizers. It’s a small but significant recognition of Toronto’s First Nations’ people, their history and present-day struggles. 

Drag queens posing on rainbow pavement on city street, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
You do you in Toronto © Larry Williams & Associates / Getty Images

Display your rainbow colors proudly

Toronto is one of the LGBTIQ+ friendliest cities in the world, the first in North America to legalize same-sex marriage. The Church-Wellesley Village neighborhood is ground zero for the LGBTIQ+ community, a welcoming place where pretty much anything goes and everyone belongs. If you’re here in June, don’t miss the month-long Pride Toronto festivities – the parade alone brings over one million revelers to the streets!

Wear jeans and pack a warm hat

A decent pair of jeans is a standard go-to in Toronto, day or night. The exception is at upscale restaurants, clubs and theaters: where you should bring out your trendy threads instead. In the colder months, carry a warm hat and a jacket too – temperatures can drop quickly, and nothing says tourist more than wearing a ‘Toronto’ sweatshirt around town.

Friends enjoying barbecue on urban rooftop
Buy boozy picnic supplies at government-sanctioned stores © Dann Tardif / Getty Images

Have a government-sanctioned drink

Thanks to Ontario’s antiquated laws, hard alcohol can only be purchased from the government-run LCBO (Liquor Control Board of Ontario).

Beer and Ontario-produced wine can be found at some grocery stores and the aptly named Beer Store. If you’re looking to picnic with a bottle, be discreet – public drinking is tolerated but not legal.

Don’t count on Universal Health Care

While Canada offers some of the finest health care in the world, it’s only free for Canadians. In fact, if you land in the ER, care can be prohibitively expensive. Before arriving, check if your healthcare policy covers you in Toronto; if it doesn’t, consider purchasing travel health insurance.   

Be aware of your surroundings 

Toronto is an extraordinarily safe place, consistently ranking as one of the safest cities in the world. But, like any major metropolis, it has some sketchy areas. Near the city’s attractions, Allan Gardens is known as a place you might encounter pickpockets; best to take a cab or ride-share around there after dark. And regardless of where you are, it’s always good practice to be aware of your surroundings and avoid flashing your cash. If you encounter any problems, call 911.

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