Toronto Unlocked: An Explorer’s Playbook for the 6ix


Okay, first things first, Toronto isn’t just “that place Drake’s from.” Nope, it’s way cooler than that. Perched by Lake Ontario, this Canadian hotspot is like that cool cousin who’s a mix of old school charm and hipster vibes. From the towering CN Tower – because who doesn’t want a selfie from up there? – to its mishmash of quirky neighborhoods, Toronto is the place to be.

Whether you’re down for some good food (and I mean really good),  art that’s more colorful than your grandma’s wardrobe, or just want to vibe in a city that never runs out of coffee shops, Toronto’s got your back. In the first part of this article we’re going to be exploring the basics of Toronto and your essentials and checklists.

Ready to dive into the real 6ix experience? 


How to Get to Toronto

Tips on Securing The Flight

Start by scoping out airlines that have straight shots to Toronto Pearson International Airport. You’ll find plenty that offer solid schedules and won’t make your wallet cry. If you’re counting pennies and coming from the US, think about flying into Buffalo and hopping on a bus to cross into Canada. 

Once you’ve got a couple of airlines in mind, stack up their prices and what they offer. My fav airline for booking is Air Canada but any reputable site works !

CrossBorder Options from the States

If you’re in the United States, there are convenient options for traveling to Toronto

Road Trip 

If you’re in the States, driving across the border to Toronto is a viable option.

Bus Services

Companies like Greyhound and Megabus offer crossborder bus services from various U.S. cities to Toronto, providing a comfortable and cost effective travel option.

VIA Rail

VIA Rail offers a leisurely and scenic journey to Toronto, particularly from cities like New York and Chicago. You’ll experience a smooth ride replete with gorgeous landscapes and the allure of oldschool travel

Travel Tips to Toronto for International Travelers

Toronto CityPASS 

Consider purchasing a Toronto CityPASS if you plan to visit multiple attractions (there’s quite a few). It offers discounted admission to popular attractions and helps you save money during your stay. It usually costs about $170 CAD for adults and $117 CAD for children, but there’s always some kind of promo going on for cheaper tickets. I’d say this is definitely worth it, since it allows you admission into some of the most highly rated attractions in Toronto including:

  1. CN Tower
  2. Royal Ontario Museum (ROM)
  3. Casa Loma
  4. Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada
  5. Toronto Zoo OR Ontario Science Centre

Visa Requirements for Entering Canada

Before traveling to Toronto, it’s essential to familiarize yourself with the visa requirements for entering Canada. Here’s an overview of visa requirements

Visa Exempt Countries

Citizens of visa exempt countries, such as the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, Germany, and many others, don’t require a visa for tourist visits to Canada. However, you do need an Electronic Travel Authorization (eTA) before their trip.

Visa Required Countries

If you’re from a country that needs a visa to shimmy into Canada, you’ll need to swing by your closest Canadian embassy or consulate and snag a Temporary Resident Visa (TRV). Don’t forget to pack your valid passport, show off your money stash, lay out your epic travel plans, and doodle all over that application form.

A pro tip from the travel gods: get that visa sorted sooner rather than later. You don’t want to be stuck waiting! And hey, if you’re feeling a tad lost, the official Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) website is your treasure map for all things visa-related for your homeland.

Make sure to get travel insurance if you’re setting out as a digital nomad. For more information on this you can check out our SafetyWing Nomads Insurance Review!

Getting Around

Toronto’s vibrant streets are complemented by its diverse transit options. Here’s a quick guide, rooted in my experiences, to help you move with ease.


Toronto Transit Options:

  • Subway (TTC):
    The city’s veins. For $3.25 CAD, zip across Toronto. It’s efficient, economical, and takes you close to major hotspots.
  • Buses (TTC):
    For the same fare, buses will get you from A to B, covering those nooks the subway misses.
  • Streetcars:
    Toronto’s red charmers! A $3.25 CAD ride offers not just transit but a touch of the city’s charm.
  • Bike Sharing:
    Fancy a two-wheel tour? Opt for Bike Share Toronto. With passes starting at $7.50 CAD for 24 hours, it’s both pocket-friendly and eco-friendly.
  • Walking:
    Sometimes, the best views are at a pedestrian’s pace. It’s cost-effective (free!) and lets you stumble upon the city’s hidden gems.
  • GO Transit:
    If your adventures beckon beyond Toronto, GO Transit’s regional connectivity is golden. Grab a PRESTO card and set off!
  • Ride-Sharing & Taxis:
    For more tailored movement, Uber and Lyft are always a tap away. And of course, the city’s taxis are ready to whisk you away.

Pro Tip: Keep the TTC website or its apps handy for live updates and schedules. Dive into Toronto’s pulse, and let its diverse transit options be your compass.

Toronto Backpacking Essentials

It’s all about packing smart. From city strolls to nature getaways, here’s a quick seasonal guide:

Toronto Wardrobe Guide by Season:

  • Spring (Mar – May):
    Toronto springs are a wild card. Go for layers. Think light and warm clothing. Grab a waterproof jacket and comfy shoes for city or nature walks.
  • Summer (Jun – Aug):
    It’s hot and sticky! Lightweight clothing – shorts, tees, sundresses, and sandals – should dominate your bag. Remember your hat, shades, and sunscreen. And if you fancy a swim at Toronto Islands or city pools, pack that swimsuit.
  • Fall (Sep – Nov):
    The city’s in full color, and it’s my favorite! Layer up with long sleeves, sweaters, jeans, and a light jacket. Don those comfy shoes to enjoy the parks and trails.
  • Winter (Dec – Feb):
    It’s chilly! Think heavy coat, hat, gloves, scarves, and insulated boots. Thermals are your best friend. Hitting the slopes? Pack or rent your ski gear locally.

Your Toronto Adventure Checklist:

  • Backpack: Your trusty sidekick. Go for the supportive and durable type. It’ll be your buddy in both urban adventures and nature jaunts.
  • Solid Footwear: Ready those feet for Toronto’s walk-friendly streets. Comfy sneakers for city strolls, and hiking boots for the trails if you’re feeling adventurous.
  • Daypack: The daily essentials container. Think water, snacks, and your camera. Bonus if it’s compact!
  • Binoculars: Not just for the birds! Perfect for city vistas or spotting nature up close.
  • Cash & Card: Carry a mix. Safeguard them in a chic money belt or a reliable wallet.
  • Guidebook/Map: Analog-style. Handy for navigation and a cool keepsake for later.
  • Water Purifier: Stay quenched. Convert any tap into your personal drink dispenser. Plus, Toronto’s water quality? Chef’s kiss.
  • Adapter: Power up! Remember, it’s Type A/B outlets in this neck of the woods. If you’re flying in from Europe or Asia, pack that adapter.
  • Travel Insurance: You never know! Keep those important documents in a safe spot.

Distinct Districts

Toronto isn’t just one city – it’s a mashup of incredibly diverse neighborhoods. Buckle up; we’re going on an unfiltered tour of Toronto’s standout areas.

Distillery District


You’re not just stepping into a district; you’re stepping back in time. Think cobblestone paths, Victorian flair, and that edgy industrial touch. The arts scene? Top tier. One of my favorite things to do during winter is visit this district for the Toronto Christmas Market. It’s filled with twinkling lights and artisan stalls making the whole neighborhood smell like hot chocolate and seasonal treats! 

Kensington Market

An electrifying whirlwind of cultures. For the adventurous at heart, this place is a riot of vibrant street art and a culinary world tour in a single district. Kensington isn’t just a visit; it’s an experience. This place is full of vintage  boutiques and wineries, and endless food options, starting from cheese shops to full blown restaurants. 


Pro tip: Do as many food tours as you can! They’re so worth it.



For those with upscale tastes, picture high end boutiques, luxury lodgings, and gourmet dining. Plus, with the Toronto International Film Festival in its backyard, you might just spot some A-list celebs. Not just that, it’s the neighborhood with all the galleries and museums! One of my favorites is Gallery Gevik, showcasing  Inuit art, a big part of our national culture. 

Pro Tip: I’d say maybe skip Mira Godard Gallery unless you’re an absolute art buff since it was a little underwhelming and a tad bit overpriced for my liking.

Queen West


When you come to Toronto, this is one of the most well known areas where innovation meets style. Dive into avant-garde galleries, uncover unique shops, and relax in the trendiest cafes. And if you’re into thrift shopping, Queen West won’t disappoint. For some cool pictures make sure you visit Graffiti Alley, it’s filled with some of the best graffiti artwork right around the corner.



A lively dive into Asian culture. As neon signs light your way, scents of authentic dishes waft by. More than a visit, it’s a deep dive into a bustling cultural hub. One of the best places to visit in this area is a small mom and pop shop called Dumpling House. When I tell you it’s some of the best dumplings I’ve ever put in my mouth, I’m not kidding! They’re to die for. You can even join a dumpling crawl that lasts about 3 hours taking you to some of the best spots in Toronto! 

The Annex


A perfect blend of intellect and charm. Picture Victorian houses, quaint bookshops, and intimate cafes. The Annex is like stepping into a storybook. This is the place where you can use your CITYPass and see the Royal Ontario Museum, one of the oldest castles, Casa Loma and if you come during Fall, you can see it turn into one of the biggest haunted houses! I go every single year and it never disappoints. 

Little Italy

Ever wandered into a spot in the city that feels like it’s had an identity swap with Europe? Dive into mouthwatering meals, snag a scoop of gelato, and get lost in street festivals that make you question your GPS. Did I just teleport to Europe? Nope, still Toronto. There’s yearly food festivals like The Taste of Italy that happen in this area to give you the authenticity of the real deal. 

Entertainment District


Now this is the pulse of Toronto. Theaters, live shows, and the towering CN Tower stand tall here. Whether it’s an enthralling show, late night escapades, or major sports events, there’s never a dull moment. Catch a Blue Jays game or head over down the street to check out some of the coolest escape rooms. 

My favorite place down here is Escape Manor where you get to experience some thrilling crime themed escape rooms in a transformed castle, definitely my birthday hit!

Retail Therapy

In Toronto, shopping is not just an activity, it’s an exploration of culture, fashion, and local craftsmanship. So, buckle up shopaholics, here are the top shopping locales in this cosmopolitan city


Toronto Shopping Gems:

  • Black Market Vintage Clothing: Located on Queen Street West, it’s been a staple for vintage clothing since the 1980s. This is one of my favorite places to thrift, the prices are great and the styles are awesome. Be wary during weekends though, it can get really busy!
  • Queen Street West: This hip and trendy shopping street is home to an array of boutiques, edgy brands, and concept stores. It’s the perfect spot to hunt for some street style essentials. Don’t miss the flagship store of Canada’s own Hudson’s Bay, it’s kind of like Holt Renfrew!
  • Kensington Market: Not your conventional shopping locale, but Kensington Market, with its eclectic vintage stores and quirky boutiques, offers a unique shopping experience. Don’t forget to check out Bungalow, a haven for ’60s and ’70s fashion aficionados.
  • Distillery District: For artisan crafts and one-of-a-kind goods, head to the Distillery District. This historic area is replete with art galleries, local craft stores, and boutiques like Bergo Designs, a unique spot for modern design items.
  • Eaton Centre:This multilevel shopping center in downtown Toronto is home to more than 250 retailers from Apple to Zara. A reliable destination for all your shopping needs, come rain or shine.
  • Sherway Gardens:Located in Etobicoke, this upscale shopping mall is worth the trip. Luxury brands mix with popular retail stores, and there are plenty of dining options to fuel your shopping spree. Any time I go with friends we always hit up Cactus Club in the same building right after, full of good food, drinks and vibes.
  • Yorkdale Shopping Centre: Shop till you drop at this massive mall that boasts a stellar lineup of high end stores and popular brands. With over 270 retailers Yorkdale is one of those places where all the bougie people go, but the price tags are sometimes worth it. My favorite place there is Konjiki Ramen, that place was to die for! Order their Tonkotsu Ramen and you’ll be pleasantly surprised.
  • Scarborough Town Centre: On the east side of the city, this mall caters to a wide range of shoppers, with stores ranging from Walmart to Michael Kors. During the fall, I love going to their Pumpkinville lights show With over 2 million lights, 40,000 authentic pumpkins and sculptures, and activities including pumpkin carving, axe throwing, and so much more!
  • Square One Shopping Centre: One of the most popular shopping malls in the GTA, the newly opened Food District is sure to have your mouth watering with diverse cuisines right at one stop shop. This is the place i go whenever I need something, and the food district has amazing cooking classes which you can check out on their website. This is something I’ve yet to do!

Outdoor Adventures Guide to Toronto

Toronto Island

Catch a ferry from downtown Toronto and whoosh – you’re in an island escape that feels miles away from the city hustle. Forget cars, it’s all about two feet or two wheels here. Nab a rental bike, follow a trail, or just chill with a sandwich while gawking at the skyline. Feeling the water vibe? Grab a kayak or paddle-board and make some waves! This place is a hotspot for finding the right vibe, wether its relaxing or adventure.


Alright, here’s the lowdown on getting to the Toronto Islands. Hop on the ferry at the Jack Layton Ferry Terminal, located at 9 Queens Quay West. Checking your wallet? As of 2023, adults are looking at $8.19 CAD for a round trip, while seniors and students pay $5.37 CAD and it’s $4.14 CAD for kids. If you’ve got a little one under two, they ride on the house.

A quick tip: the ferry runs on a schedule, so give it a peek before you head out.

High Park


High Park is Toronto’s green gem, our own version of Central Park. With a whopping 400 acres, it’s packed with everything from hiking trails and sports spots to a lakefront view and pretty gardens. And talk about a spring spectacle: the place turns all shades of pink with cherry blossoms. Don’t skip the High Park Zoo, where you can meet everyone from cool bison to flashy peacocks. Whether you’re picnicking, playing, or just strolling, High Park has got a slice of fun for every soul. 


High Park is open 24/7 and free to access. The park is located at 1873 Bloor Street West. There are a few small parking lots in the park itself, but parking can fill up quickly, especially during peak times like weekends or during the cherry blossom season. Parking is around $2.25 CAD per hour

Scarborough Bluffs


The Scarborough Bluffs, rising tall over Lake Ontario, are a mustsee right in Toronto. Stretching 15 kilometers, they pack in 11 parks and stand as high as a 30 story skyscraper! If you’re chasing those perfect shots, this is the place. And if you’re looking to chill, hit Bluffer’s Park at the base—it’s got a sandy beach, picnic spots, and a marina. Stick around for the sunset glow on the cliffs—it’s unreal! 

Just a heads up: keep it safe and enjoy the view from marked spots since these sandy giants can be a bit crumbly. 


Access to the Bluffs won’t cost you a dime – they’re right there on Kingston Road and Brimley Road South in Scarborough. But if you’re bringing your ride, parking at Bluffer’s Park (just at the end of Brimley Road) will set you back about $3 CAD an hour or $12 CAD for a fullday spot.

Note: during the summer months, the parking lot can fill up fast, and the road down to the park is occasionally closed when this happens.

Canada’s Wonderland 


For thrill seekers and families alike, this amusement park is a one stop fun hub. Dive into roller coasters that’ll mess with your mind, or take it easy with some watery fun. And between the rides? Grab some tasty treats and catch a live show. If you’re into seasonal vibes, don’t miss their Halloween Haunt or WinterFest! My partner and I had an amazing time walking around the beautifully lit up park!


Entry is about $90 CAD a pop. That’s without even considering those speedy fast passes. Honestly, dishing out over $100 for just a couple of hours? Feels a tad steep to me, so I usually skip it.

Toronto’s Trails


Toronto isn’t just about its lively urban scene. The city also offers beautiful hiking trails suitable for all, from avid hikers to casual walkers. Here are some of my favorite trails to hike with my family!

My Favorite Trails in Ontario:

  1. Bruce Trail:
  • Ontario’s famed long-distance hike.
  • Scenic views along the Niagara Escarpment.
  1. Terra Cotta Conservation Area: (my aunt’s favourite as you can see)
  • Perfect for hikers of all levels.
  • Showcases lake views and striking cliffs.
  1. Kelso Conservation Area:
  • Trails overlooking the Niagara Escarpment and a recreational lake.
  • It’s a hit with many, so pick your times wisely.
  1. Caledon Rail Trail:
  • An old rail trail reimagined.
  • Ideal for biking, strolling, or horseback riding.
  • Expect some stunning vistas.

Quick tip: Summer brings out the mosquitoes, so come prepared!

Wrapping Up Part 1

Alright, people! We’ve waded through the introductory lanes of Toronto, got our basic bearings down, and maybe even befriended a squirrel or two. But now, it’s time to kick things up a notch. Part 2? Oh, it’s where the real excitement brews. Expect outdoor escapades that’ll get your heart racing and culinary adventures that might just make you do a happy dance on the streets. Hope you’re wearing some comfy shoes, because there’s way more ground (and food) to cover in the next chapter. Let’s step into the zesty side of Toronto, shall we?

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