Story by Vacay.ca Staff
TORONTO – Although it’s the one of the five most visited cities in the U.S. or Canada, first-time travellers to Toronto can find a lack of tourist-focused infrastructure to help them get around this metropolis of 2.5 million residents. The people of Canada’s most populous city complain often about the absence of adequate public transit options and the difficulty of driving in a region that last year was named home to the worst commuter traffic in North America. So, if the citizens are frustrated, visitors are likely to be even more perturbed.
Here are some tips to help you during your stay in Toronto:
Pearson International: Toronto’s major airport, named after Canada’s 14th prime minister, saw 31.9 million passengers venture through it in 2010, according to Air Traffic Reports, making it the 20th busiest airport in the world. It has been criticized for slow wait times at the baggage carousel and for a bizarre queue system for the passport control/immigration check. At busy times, visitors must zig-zag through one long row after another until they reach the front, at which point they are directed to a more conventional line in front of a specific immigration officer. Canadian immigration and customs officials are generally fair and professional. Once your passport has been stamped or you have been cleared for entry, your Customs Declaration Card will be handed back to you with remarks from the officer. You will need to show your card to a customs officer prior to retrieving your checked baggage. If there are no issues regarding goods you are bringing into the country, the customs officer will wave you on once he or she has seen your Declaration Card. You will need to show the card again, this time to another customs official, before you exit the baggage claim area.
Pearson International is notorious for long baggage carousel delays, so be prepared for what could be an aggravating wait before you actually exit the airport.
Once you’re ready to make your way from Pearson to your final destination in Toronto, you’ll have a choice of transportation options:
Public Transit: For one $3 token from the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC), you can take a public bus and transfer without additional cost to the city’s subway system. The bus is No. 192 (nicknamed “The Rocket”) and is available outside of the airport, across the road where taxis and private vehicles pick up passengers. There’s a glass-covered booth for passengers and a pole with a bus icon and schedule information. The Rocket arrives roughly every 15 minutes during peak periods and runs 24 hours a day. It is an express bus that can get you to Kipling Station, the Toronto subway system’s westernmost stop, in as little as 15 minutes. From Kipling, you’ll board one of Toronto’s clean subway trains and take it to the station closest to your final destination. Reaching downtown Toronto can take up to 45 minutes on the subway. (Tip: You’ll need exact change when you board the bus at Pearson airport.)
Private Shuttle Bus: For $23.95, you can board the Toronto Airport Express coach-style bus, which has comfortable leather seats, plug-ins for laptops, washrooms and WiFi connectivity. The bus can reach downtown Toronto in 25 minutes when there is no traffic. It makes stops at several hotels downtown, including the Sheraton Centre, Westin Harbour Castle and Royal York. (Tip: Save 5 percent by booking online.)
Taxi/Limo: Toronto has arguably the most reputable taxi drivers among large cities in North America. You are highly unlikely to run into any drivers who will rip you off. One reason is because they don’t need to. The fare is already extremely high, with a one-way ride to downtown costing roughly $55, depending on the destination and price of gas. Taxi drivers are readily available as soon as you exit the airport.
Toronto City Centre Airport: The small downtown airport is growing fast and is the absolute easiest way to come and go from the city by plane. The airport’s major client is Porter Airlines, which flies to cities in Eastern Canada and the United States, including New York, Boston and Chicago. The Porter lounge is like a VIP area in other airports. It features complimentary snacks and beverages, as well as WiFi access and a business centre. Porter has a shuttle bus that drops passengers off at nearby hotels, such as the Westin Harbour Castle and Royal York. Located at the end of Bathurst Street, you can also take a short taxi ride to your destination or possibly even walk to it. For public transportation, streetcar stops are close by on the city’s southernmost street called Queen’s Quay.
Air Canada also flies out of the City Centre Airport, but only to Canadian destinations at the moment.
The Toronto subway system is disappointing in how basic it is for a city with a metropolitan population of nearly 10 million people. The system does have one great benefit that visitors should take advantage of: A $10 Family Weekend Day Pass that allows unlimited travel on subways, buses and streetcars for 2 adults and up to 4 children/youths 19 years old or under (also good for 1 adult and up to 5 children, or just 2 adults). The pass runs for one calendar day, not a 24-hour period, so you will want to get moving early to take full advantage of it. With a single fare costing $3, the savings are immense. On weekdays, the day pass is for individuals only and is still a bargain if you’re sightseeing.
Subways run from 6 a.m. to 1:30 a.m. from Monday to Saturday and from 9 a.m. to 1:30 a.m. on Sundays. Buses and streetcars run on similar schedules, but some provide 24-hour service. Check the TTC schedule when planning your outing.
On weekends, subway trains arrive approximately every four minutes or less. On weekdays, trains arrive about every two minutes. Streetcars and buses are often delayed because of traffic issues in the city’s crowded downtown core.
Sights: Toronto doesn’t have a major attraction such as the Eiffel Tower or White House, but it does have lots to see, including plenty of wonderful and diverse neighbourhoods that occupy one of the safest big cities in the world. On a clear day, visit the CN Tower for an outstanding view of Lake Ontario and the downtown skyline. You’ll also get a thrill looking straight down through a glass floor in what for many years was the tallest free-standing structure in the world.
Buy the Toronto CityPASS and for $58.40 ($34.50) you’ll receive entry into the CN Tower, Casa Loma, Ontario Science Centre, Royal Ontario Museum and Toronto Zoo.
Note: Prices listed may change without notice.