TWG’s guide to making the most of Toronto
An efficient tip-sheet for the curious business traveller
Welcome to Toronto: Officially the best city in the world, according to The Economist.
Visit this city and you’ll meet one of the most diverse groups of people on the planet. Toronto has been called out by Vogue for its effortless street style, and picked by NYT as one of the top cities to visit in 2016. Drake is from here, and it’s a great place to build a startup. It’s a place we’re proud to call home.
This guide is a tool to help visitors unlock what’s truly loveable about Toronto. It’s not an exhaustive list of things to do. It’s a greatest hits, a problem solving tool, a cheatsheet for unlocking our city in just a few days (whilst also getting things done).
The framework we used to put this guide together:
First things first. Where’s the Wi-Fi?
Finding Wi-Fi access is hands-down the most pressing problem for travellers arriving from abroad. Luckily, there’s a Toronto startup called Similicious that will send an activated, prepaid Canadian SIM card to your door before you travel.
Getting Here, Around and Away
Toronto has two airports, YYZ (Pearson) and YTZ (Billy Bishop). If you have the option to fly into Billy Bishop, take it. Not only will you land right downtown, Porter is also a great airline who really delivers on customer experience.
For getting around the city, Toronto has Uber.
(Of course, this isn’t the only way to experience the city. Toronto is also an easy to navigate both on foot and by bike.)
If you’re looking to extend your adventure through Canada, Montreal should be your next stop. StartupFest is a great jumping-off point for getting to know the tech community there. Take the train (and enjoy the complimentary Wi-Fi).
Top Tip: Sign up for the Porter email list and get the jump on their flight sales.
Where To Stay
Toronto is very much a city of neighbourhoods. On The Grid is doing a really great job of publishing thoughtful guides to some of our favourites to help guide your AirBNB selection.
Most of Toronto’s technology, startup and digital agency activity is concentrated to the West of the financial district. If you’re looking to stay within walking distance of the action, somewhere in this zone is a safe bet.
If you’re looking for a hotel, The Drake is our top pick. Founded in 1890, it reopened in 2004 and kickstarted the regeneration of Toronto’s West Queen West neighbourhood. The Drake is a key cultural hub, offering a solid program of events as well and tasty food options. It’s a 30 minute walk, or a 12 minute Uber, from The Drake to downtown.
Top Tip: If you’re a foodie, the Drake’s 86’d food night is a must. Hosted by Toronto writer and food critic Ivy Knight, it’s a chance to see and sample demos from the city’s top up-and-coming chefs and bartenders.
Pocket These Handy Planning Resources
- BlogTO is Toronto’s go-to city guide. Their currency is a robust array of Top Ten and Best Of lists, which will help you satisfy your most specific food craving or city-tourist bucket list item.
- For startup and tech innovation news & events: BetaKit, the Startup North Facebook group, the Startup Digest Toronto newsletter and print newcomers TheSheet.
- Spacing offers a delightful urbanist perspective on Toronto that will help you get under the skin of the city. Spacing’s Editor, Shawn Micallef, also published our favourite book for getting to know Toronto.
- Need talking points on Canada’s key issues? Our national newspaper, The Globe & Mail, has you covered. (Full disclosure: The Globe is a client of TWG)
Problem Solving: Where To Go When You Need….
1. A place to meet over coffee, lunch or dinner
Gusto 101 is a perfect spot for a business meeting any time of day. It’s relaxed without being too casual, and has a flexible menu that wins for coffees, cocktails, small plates or full meals.
3. A distraction-free space to work
There’s a vetted list of Toronto cafes with free Wi-Fi here. But if you’re an art lover, know this: A day pass to the Art Gallery of Ontario will also get you access to their Espresso Bar, situated in Frank Gehry’s incredible Galleria Italia. There’s free Wi-Fi throughout the gallery.
The Toronto Reference Library is also a great place to work, and is one of our city’s most interesting spaces. The interior feels like a 1970s sci-fi vision of the future.
Breather, the company which allows you to book peaceful, private meeting spaces on demand, also launched recently in Toronto.
Tips, tricks and hacks for navigating Toronto
- Pearson Airport has US customs before the gate, so allow more time than usual at the airport if you’re heading to the states.
- Feeling disorientated? Downhill (towards the lake) is pretty much always due South. Use the CN Tower as a landmark for getting your bearings.
- Ritual is our go-to skip the line app for ordering food and coffee downtown
- If you really want to see Toronto at its best, early summer is the best time to visit. If your trip falls during the winter months, don’t underestimate the Canadian cold. Pack your warmest coat and base layers. Avoid February completely, if you can.
- Public transit costs $3.25/ride, and you’ll need exact change. $1 is called a “loonie,” and $2 is a “toonie.”
- Buying alcohol in Toronto is…. different. It’s only very recently that a small selection of grocery stores began carrying beer. To stock up, you’ll need to find an LCBO, Beer Store or Wine Rack (Wine Rack stays open the latest, and has the friendliest staff).
- Last Call in Toronto is usually 2am. But during major cultural events like TIFF, Nuit Blanche and Pride Festival the city issues extended permits until 4am.
- Toronto has an underground pedestrian network called Path that can take you from Union Station all the way up to the Eaton Centre. (This is one way Torontonians avoid the snow during those cold, cold winter months.)
Final Chapter: Falling in love with Toronto (Our team’s favourite things to see and do)
“For a no-fail city day in any season, check out the newest exhibit at the Royal Ontario Museum — don’t miss snapping a picture of the glass crystal facade. Round your day off with dinner downtown at Momofuku.” — Adrienne
Go check out Cincecyle: One of those bizarre little spaces that can only thrive in a city like Toronto. Tucked in an alleyway off Spadina, just north of Adelaide West, CineCycle is a bike repair shop, coffee shop and underground cinema that caters primarily to the experimental. Go for a coffee, stay for some weird-ass Super 8 expressionist piece.” — Peter
“Toronto’s ravine corridors are to this city what canals are to Venice. These historical trails lead from the waterfront into major city parks, like Riverdale, High Park and Sunnyside. Rent a Bixi for the day and explore the waterfront trails from Cherry Beach to Sunnyside Pavilon. Head north from Sunnyside into High Park and get a view of the city from one of the high points along Centre Road. Then ride back down through Roncesvalles and buy an amazing Kwartha ice cream cone from one of the shops along the way back into the city centre.” — Eric
“Get a day pass for 12 dollars, and jump on the 501 Streetcar, the longest route in North America. A one way ride is about 90 minutes long, you will see many different cultures and communities within Toronto. Jump off at any time to visit unique eateries and pubs along Queen St. Experience the city’s vibe, culture, food, craft beer and people.” — Bob
“When the weather is sunny and warm, borrow a picnic blanket (the comforter from your hotel room) bring a book, and head to Trinity Bellwoods park, on Queen St. W. There’s a giant gully where people let their dogs play off leash, there’s baseball, soccer and frisbee happening, as well as plenty of people watching to be had. Great coffee across the street from the park at the White Squirrel.” — Dom
“For a tour of the east end of the city, check out the Corktown Commons, a nice & modern park with a cool kids playground and a slick layout. You can then walk through the Pan-Am Games former athletes village to the Distillery where you can shop in the cobblestone markets and grab a Soma hot chocolate.” — Rob
“Contrasts are why I fell in love with Toronto, and seeing the old, the young, the tall, the short, the shiny, the dull buildings sharing the downtown spaces around the city provides a good reason for taking a walk and checking some of them out.
Stroll through the atrium of the CBC building on Front Street and get a feel for where the Canadian public radio and television giant lives. A little known fact is that the building sits on over 3,000 rubber pads to absorb the vibrations travelling through the ground.
Another gem is Brookfield Place where the sparkling glass atrium is adjoined by 19th century buildings, including the Hockey Hall of Fame. As you continue west you’ll get to the historical and fun St. Lawrence Market where I go right to the back of the main building for the best fish and chips on a Saturday morning. It seems their secret lies in the fresh fryer oil used. But if FnC is not your thing, close by on the west side of the building is the booth with the best peameal bacon kaiser sandwiches on earth.” — Patricia
Visiting from out of town? Let’s hang!
This article was inspired by: Lonely Planet, Lisa Madokoro’s epic food spreadsheet, Giles Coren, Toronto Public Library’s free wi-fi initiative, this Kaffee und Wifi guide to Berlin, Drake, #WeTheNorth, Bieber’s return to form, Toronto’s software community and Toronto as a place to live in general. It was created collaboratively by TWG.
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