Toronto is one of the top cities in Canada when it comes to multiculturalism, and Torontonians know it! You can find anything your heart desires, from unique cuisines to interesting shopping experiences and vibrant nightlife. It’s the home of the CN Tower, Drake, and TIFF, but there is much more to this big melting pot than what you see in the media. Even though it can be extremely touristy and expensive, there are ways to get a feel for the city while sticking to your budget.
In this article, I will go over 5 main points where people tend to go over their budget: accommodation, transportation, food and alcohol, and entertainment, with estimated price points. I will also highlight the cheapest possible way to travel and the mid-tier options.
Accommodation in Toronto can be a bit of a contrast with expensive hotels on one block and grimy hotels on the next. It can be hard to know which accommodation gets you the best value for your dollar. The cheapest way to stay in Toronto is to find a couch-surfing host.
Many people are willing to offer up their couch (or spare room) for free! Signing up is easy, and there are hundreds of available hosts in Toronto. There is a sign-up fee of 14.64$ per year, but you are free to stay wherever and whenever you would like.
I’m a big advocate for couch surfing, and I frequently attend meetings where I meet travelers and locals alike. Although couch surfing has many benefits, it can also have its downsides. I’ve written this handy guide if you want to learn more about the do’s and don’t’s of couch surfing.
Alternatively, there are clean and decently priced hostels that range from 30-55$ per night.
If you are not interested in sharing a space with someone but are still looking for more budget-friendly accommodation, Airbnb would be a great option. You can find rentals starting at 60$ per night, and they become more affordable the further away from the downtown center that you look.
Another option would be making a profile through trusted house sitters. If you love pets and don’t mind taking care of a furry friend for a while, trusted house sitters is a great option. This site pairs up travelers and pet owners, allowing pet owners free pet care while they are away in exchange for accommodation. The sign-up fee is 169$ for a year of free sitting gigs. If you are a frequent traveler, this could work out to be way cheaper than a hotel.
The TTC is the main artery of the city and the cheapest way to get around. Among Torontonians, there is a serious love-hate relationship with the transit system. We love to hate it, and we hate that we love it.
Subways run until 2 am, and night buses run on all major streets overnight ( with reduced service). Streetcars and busses serve regular routes on a frequent 3-5 minute intervals during the day. You can buy a day pass for 13.50 or a single ride card for 3.25
The best way to save money and still eat well while traveling is to eat from the local grocery stores. Canada has many grocery store chains, and they all vary in quality and price.
The cheapest option is No Frills, easily found by their yellow and black logo. They have decent quality produce and groceries but do not have prepared foods of any kind (maybe a hummus and cracker set if you’re lucky. This store is best if your accommodation allows you access to a kitchen. Metro is your best bet for great cheap prepared foods, along with many individually owned grocery stores and bulk barns for snacks.
If grocery shopping is not part of your itinerary, don’t fret! It is still entirely possible to find budget food options in Toronto if you know where to look. Here are some of my favorite restaurants with cheap meals!
Randy’s Roti, Yonge, and Bloor, Type of Cuisine: Caribbean
The Bagel House, multiple locations, Type of Cuisine: Breakfast
Mean Bao, 511 Queen west, Type of Cuisine: Chinese
El Furniture Warehouse, multiple locations, Type of Cuisine: Bar Food
Smokes Poutinerie, various locations (traditional poutine 7$), Type of Cuisine: Canadian
Java House, 537 Queen W, Type of Cuisine: Bar Food
The Rhino, 1249 Queen W, Type of Cuisine: Bar Food
Wilbur Mexicana, 552 King W, Type of Cuisine: Mexican
The Golden Turtle, 125 Ossington Ave, Vietnamese
The after-work drink scene in Toronto is huge. No matter in the city you are in, you will likely see corporate employees enjoying happy hour or picnickers in the park desperately trying to hide their cans. Don’t worry if you’re traveling on a budget. Some fantastic drink options won’t break the bank.
Wide Open – “Dive Bar” – 139a Spadina Ave
This little hole in the wall off Spadina, south of Richmond, tends to fill up fast! Come early to get a seat!
The Green Room – “College Bar” – 414 College St
A university student’s staple, this bar recently had a makeover and moved to a new location! Worth staying and having a drink or two.
The Madison – “College Bar” – 14 Madison Ave
Check out the multiple levels at this staple University bar. Keep an eye out for the piano, man, and enjoy a good selection of cheap beer!
Triple-A Bar – “Bar/Restaurant” – 138 Adelaide St East
This bar is where you’ll find all the industry staff (cooks, waiters/waitresses) after hours, and for a good reason!
Java House – “Bar/ Restaurant” – 537 Queen St West
This bar/restaurant is famous for its cheap food, cheap beer, and fantastic patio! Go see for yourself!
The Rhino – “Bar/Restaurant” – 1249 Queen St st West
This Parkdale hot spot is a staple for tasty dishes and its extensive beer menu!
There are plenty of entertainment options in Toronto that are free or nearly free to keep you on your toes! Going up the CN tower is overrated anyway. Check out this list of awesome must-see things to do around Toronto (all under 10$).
- Wander around the St Lawrence market, try some food in the market kitchen, or peruse the unique meats, cheeses, veggies, and wares sold here!
- Hop the ferry over to Center island for a great day exploring, and check out the beautiful Toronto skyline, nude beach, or free zoo!. The Island is a great spot to get some night shots of our iconic skyline, but don’t miss the last ferry back to the mainland at 11:15 pm, or you might be in for a night of camping under the stars!
- Explore some of Toronto’s most famous neighborhoods! Kensington Market, Yorkville, Distillery District, and Queen West. Make sure to take your camera and pop into some of the unique shops and restaurants you’ll find along the way.
- Pack a picnic to take to High Park! Try your hand at Geocaching or watch people fish in Grenadier Pond. Plenty of famous movies have scenes that were filmed in this park! See if you can spot some of the locations! They also have many trails to hike and a train tour to take you around!
- See some beautiful works of art at the AGO on Wednesdays! (free from 6-9 pm)
- Visit the Allan Gardens Conservatory, one of the oldest parks in Toronto. It’s a great place to see if you love plants or you want a break from the city for a while
- Walkthrough the Eaton Center (just to say that you did) to Yonge and Dundas square! They have events going on yearly in the square (more so in the summer). You can watch a live performance, art exhibit, or an outdoor movie, but even when something isn’t scheduled, the vibes alone are an excellent reason to put it on the list.
- Take a walking tour of the Harborfront! This area of Toronto between Bathurst and Yonge on Queens Quay has recently been revamped to be more transit and bike-friendly. The Harborfront plays hosts many multicultural festivals and events year-round. On any night of the week, you can find people paddle boating, dancing salsa, or enjoying a cool drink in the Muskoka chairs at HTO beach.
- Go for a hike and learn a thing or two from Evergreen Brickworks. You get some great #views from the top of the hill.
- Speaking of #views, Riverdale Park East is a great place to sit with a warm coffee and enjoy one of the most dazzling views at night or during the day. Riverdale Farm (the west side of the park) also has a free farm!
- Have a mini photoshoot day in the city! Grab your selfie stick or tripod and check out some of these locations: Graffiti Alley, Nathan Phillips Square (free skating in the winter), The CN Tower, Humber River bridge, Scarborough Bluffs (more of a day trip)
- Hang with the locals under the big trees and day drink in Trinity Bellwoods Park! Keep an eye out for a famous little Torontonian- The white squirrel.
- Venture out East to check out the most stunning view from Scarborough Bluffs!
- Saving my best and my most prized spot for last is Secret Beach. This is the calmest and quietest place in the city, the best spot if you need an escape. This rocky beach has been known to host the occasional rave, picnic, dog walker, or nudist (not all at the same time). You should be aware that you will have to climb down the side of a steep hill to get there. Negatives aside, this place is worth it.
Some good things to know about Canada and Toronto before your trip:
- We don’t include tax in our prices. All prices include a harmonized sales tax of 13% on pretty much anything you buy from a store. Taxis and hotels all include the tax (usually)
- Please tip your server, taxi/Uber driver, or delivery person at least 15% of the total of your bill.
- Most people on the streets may look unapproachable, but if you are lost and need direction or assistance, most people are willing to help if asked nicely.
- Many people in Toronto use the North/South/East/West system when giving directions. The street names change from West to East at Yonge Street. If you are ever confused by this or lost downtown, look for the CN Tower, that direction is south.
- Tim Hortons, Starbucks, McDonald’s, Large shopping malls, and most cafes offer free wifi that you can use.
Hope you enjoyed learning how to travel in Toronto on a budget! Check out some other money-saving tips for notoriously expensive cities:
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