Today, with close to three million residents, Toronto is North America’s fourth largest city. It is also one of the most multicultural cities in the world. You have to stop and wonder why so many people come here every year. There are several great reasons that will tempt you to travel to Toronto, and if you haven’t made your way here yet, this post will help you make the best of your visit.
The name Toronto comes from the Mohawk phrase “tkaronto,” which means, “where trees grow in water.” While the city has many trees today, they no longer grow in water, but what a sight that must have been in those days.
Toronto’s many nicknames reflect the quirks of the city and are a reflection of its ever changing and growing nature. Some are still in use today; others were retired. You might notice some version of these names when you travel to Toronto as they have been widely adapted by various businesses, organizations names and slogans.
Toronto the Good
Coined in the late 1800s by then mayor William Howland (1886-87), who was staunchly against any type of vice, be that sex, gambling, liquor and anything in between. His intent was to clean up the city and everything that was wrong with it. Today, the name is not widely used, unless it’s in a sarcastic reference to anything scandalous.
Another Victorian era throwback, Queen City is name that definitely hasn’t been used in decades. The moniker Queen City referred to the largest city, although not a capital, in a country, state, province or territory. Now you know.
While it might still be in use among some niche crowds, Hogtown is a throwback to Toronto’s past. Once home to the largest meat packing company and British Empire’s renowned bacon and pork manufacturer, the William Davies Company, it’s easy to see how this name came about. Alternately, it was an insult directed at the city by smaller jurisdictions for a tendency to dominate political affairs at Queens Park.
The Big Smoke
Probably the least known in origin and perhaps in usage, The Big Smoke is a reference to the city being full of smoke and mirrors. Big reputation with little to show for it. Popularized by Canadian journalist Allan Fotheringham and borrowed from Australian writer Alan Rayburn. I think we have grown in this department with lots to show for today.
Least creative yet most practical of nicknames, T.O. and T-Dot play on the name Toronto and Ontario. It’s universally known and accepted by all Torontonians with little controversy around it. Many local publications and organizations use the variant on their own names or products, ex. BlogTo.
Toronto has long been a stand-in for many American cities. With plenty of locations, talent and incentives, the local film industry is a major player in Hollywood’s movie productions. Also, Toronto is home to the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), one of the biggest international film festivals in the world. A major star fest for obsessed fans and why many travel to Toronto in September.
The area code 416, introduced in 1947, became one of Toronto’s popular nicknames. Straightforward and accepted by all.
Another nickname derived from a pre-assigned airport area code. All major Canadian airports start with the letter Y followed by two others that identify the city. It’s unclear how the YZ come to represent Toronto. The most common answer is that the code YZ was first assigned to a train station in what was known as Malton. Today, Malton is part of the city of Mississauga, where the airport is actually located. To differentiate it as an airport the Y was added, as was the practice with other Canadian airports.
Love it or hate it, the Six/6/6ix is the newest kid on the block of nicknames. Toronto’s rapper Drake first used it in his album Views from the 6, and it’s become a popular if not contentious name for Toronto. It’s a play on the original six cities that formed Toronto (North York, Scarborough, York, Etobicoke and East York) as well as Toronto’s area codes 416 and 647.
While not officially adopted as a nickname, the reference to Condo City has been popping up among the locals like the condominiums themselves. With the massive number of high rises that have appeared in the city over the years, it’s easy to see how this moniker came to be.
Torontonians: Where are you from?
With half of the population being born outside Canada, the residents of Toronto speak approximately 180 different languages and represent over 200 ethnic groups. Don’t be surprised when you hear various languages spoken around you, that’s normal here.
Toronto has been attracting immigrants from all over the world for a long time. Different waves of ethnic groups came to call this place home and even more arrive every day. This has made Toronto a very multicultural and diverse city. Many pockets around the city reflect particular cultures and are easy to see why. Looking at you Chinatown.
As with Toronto’s nicknames, Torontonians also can’t seem to agree on their neighbourhoods. As there are 140 neighbourhoods officially recognized by the City of Toronto, there are upwards of 240 official and unofficial ones within the city’s boundaries. It’s easy to see how easily those who travel to Toronto can become confused. Heck, even the locals get confused sometimes.
Until the amalgamation in 1998, six municipalities formed what was known as Metropolitan Toronto. These were the municipalities of Toronto and York, East York, North York, Etobicoke and Scarborough. References to these areas are still common and you will likely encounter them when you travel to Toronto.
So where do the others come from? A number of small villages that existed before Toronto was the city it is today eventually became part of it. Those villages gave names to the neighbourhoods, like Agincourt, Davisville or Leslieville. Other neighbourhoods like Greektown, Little Italy, Chinatown, etc. got their names from the various ethnic groups that lived there.
With over 8,000 bars and restaurants, you can say that we have an amazing culinary scene and a good reason to travel to Toronto. From vegan to carnivore-happy diets and everything in between it would take you 22 years to eat at them all. You will find everything from small mom-and-pop shops and high-end restaurants, to hipster joints and large international chains. There is an eclectic range of options for every budget.
Remember all those ethnic groups that live here? They all bring with them dishes that are as authentic as the countries they hail from. You can eat different cuisine every night of the week and not run out of options. You want Thai? Indian? Italian? Hungarian? Jamaican? You name it and you will find it here. Best of them all are the fusions between various cuisines that you will find in many restaurants.
In addition to a superb dining scene, there are numerous coffee shops, breweries and cideries to fill your heart’s content. Some even offer tours, which often come with ample samples. Win, win. Best part? Many of these culinary delights can be enjoyed at the numerous patios that keep popping up all over the city. We do love our patios here.
Arts and culture scene
There seems to be no shortage of festivals in Toronto throughout the year. There are about 80 of them, including more than 30 run by the city. From annual staples to seasonal specialties, there is something to celebrate almost every weekend. From things like jazz festivals, multi-cultural celebrations, drink and food festivals, marathons, concerts, parades and various block parties, the hardest part is deciding where to go.
Some of the largest include the Scotiabank Nuit Blanche, TIFF, Winterlicious and Summerlicious, and Doors Open Toronto. Toronto is also home to Carabana, a festival celebrating Caribbean culture, North America’s largest one-day parade, as well as Pride Parade, one of the largest Pride celebrations in the world. Each brings over a million visitors to the city.
If that’s not enough of why you should travel to Toronto, the city home to over 200 professional performing arts organizations, internationally recognized symphony, ballet and opera companies as well as numerous commercial and not-for-profit galleries, museums heritage sites, cultural centres and zoos.
As Canada’s only city with representation in seven major league sports, Toronto is a sports paradise. There are numerous team, professional and amateur, with various records of accomplishment behind them. No matter how good or bad the team is, the fan base behind it is almost fanatical. We take our sports seriously here. We celebrate the victories and losses deeply and usually through social media to let our collective feelings known.
Every four years, as the FIFA World Cup rolls around, this place goes nuts. If you are ever in Toronto during this time you will see flags representing participating countries everywhere. On cars, balconies, jerseys and anywhere, you can attach one. With each victory, there is a party. No matter who wins, there is always a place to celebrate and you can guarantee a street closure at some point. Definitely not to be missed.
Although trees no longer grow in water here, there are over 10 million of them in the city on streets, parks, ravines and other natural areas. There are over 1,600 parks, 200 km of trails and numerous ravines, valley, woodlots, parks and golf courses over 8,000 hectares. Torontonians take walking, biking, jogging and other outdoor activities to heart.
Here you will also find 52 outdoor skating rings, tennis, basketball and other courts, as well as public pools, beaches and skate parks. There are many options for keeping active in the city throughout the year.
Notable public spaces
Whatever the occasion, there are number of places in the city for crowds to gather and celebrate. They have become as iconic as the city itself and allow people to come together.
This is probably one of the most interesting places as it has experienced a dramatic change over the years. I must admit, I remember it as a sleepy spot that didn’t really offer any excitement or a reason for going there. Fast forward couple of decades and today’s Dundas Square looks more like a mini Times Square with flashy billboards, restaurants and crowds. Here you will find a place for concerts, festivals, celebrations and when the times call for it, a spot for watching major events (mostly sports related).
Nathan Phillips Square
Located in front of the city hall, Nathan Phillips Square is the home of the Toronto sign and features a pond in the summer and an ice rink in the winter. It is definitely a must stop when you travel to Toronto day or night. Summer offers concerts, festivals, fireworks and general good time. In winter, you can grab a pair of skates and circle around the frozen pond with others as you enjoy the city lights around you.
Toronto’s street art scene is one of the most influential and dynamic in North America. From small and artful pieces to blown out murals, street art is everywhere thanks to some of the best street and graffiti artists in the world. From Graffiti Alley to the Underpass Park and everything in between, there is plenty to see so bring your Instagram game. Thanks to the StreetARToronto project, there is now an app to help you explore the amazing street art located throughout the city.
Top sights in Toronto
There are many unique and wonderful places to discover around Toronto. Some hide in plain sight while others are very public and hard to miss. No matter what your taste, interest or budget, you will find it when you travel to Toronto. Here is a handy list of some of the most popular attractions.
Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO)
The AGO, one of the largest art museums in North America, is home to approximately 95,000 works of art. Collections range from cutting-edge contemporary art, European masterpieces to a vast collection by the Group of Seven and emerging Indigenous Canadian artists. The gallery also features special collections and exhibitions from other museums around the world.
You might not expect to find a castle in the middle of the city when you travel to Toronto, but Casa Loma is just that. Built in 1914 by Sir Henry Pellatt, a Canadian financier with imagination that matched his pockets, this is the only full sized castle in North America. Today, Casa Loma is a museum that offers a taste of Edwardian era splendor with secret passages, stables and a stunning conservatory. You can also stroll in the beautiful gardens for breathtaking views of the city. This is also a venue for special events like escape games and concerts in the garden.
For a truly unique experience when you travel to Toronto, make sure to visit the CN Tower, a quintessential Toronto icon. Build in the 1970s and standing at 1,815-ft tall, the tower was the tallest freestanding structure in the world until 2007. With 360-degree views of the city from four different observation areas, including the famous glass floor and the EdgeWalk you can see Toronto in a unique way. From a fine dining revolving restaurant, gift shop or a walk among sharks and other water creatures at Ripley’s Aquarium, there are plenty of options for the whole family.
Step back in time to what was once the largest spirit distillery in the world and is Toronto’s National Historic Site. The 40+ heritage buildings and brick-lined courtyards are home to numerous restaurants, art galleries, artisan boutiques, specialty retail stores and more. The Distillery is home to unique and interesting events throughout the year, with something to do in every season.
The Eaton Centre is one of Toronto’s most popular attractions in the heart of downtown. With over 250 retail shops, restaurants and installations, it’s a great spot for fashion hunters and people watchers.
Hockey Hall of Fame
For the hockey fan in you, the Hockey Hall of Fame is a must stop when you travel to Toronto. Dedicated to the love of the sport, it’s home to an elaborate hockey memorabilia and gear including the Stanley Cup, most coveted prizes in professional sports.
Test your skills with the many interactive games, visit, a replica of a real NHL dressing room or shop for hockey-related merchandise and memorabilia.
For a unique way to get around the downtown core, take a walk in North America’s largest continuous underground shopping mall. According to Guinness World Records, the Path is home to 29 km (18 miles) of retail space tunnels that connect 50 office towers, six hotels, five subway stations and Toronto’s main train terminal the Union Station.
Royal Ontario Museum (ROM)
The ROM is Canada’s largest museum of world cultures and natural history. It is home to six million objects, interactive exhibits and special exhibitions. From minerals and gems, to dinosaurs, Egyptian mummies and Roman busts you can spend a good part of the day exploring.
St. Lawrence Market
Visit the St. Lawrence Market for an adventure in food. Filled with specialty food vendors, fresh produce, and restaurants there is something for everyone. Numerous shops and artisan stalls offer a wide range of goodies including local souvenirs.
The Toronto Islands offer unbeatable views of the city. Bring your bike, rollerblades or a picnic basket or take advantage of various on-site sports facilities, kayak and canoe rentals as well as stand up paddle boarding. Kids will enjoy the Centerville Them Park with numerous rides, food and drink options for the whole family.
The Toronto Zoo is the largest one in Canada and the third largest in the world. It’s home to 16,000 animals of 491 different species.
Toronto has an extensive public transit system, the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC). You can easily navigate the city using buses, streetcars and subways. Check the official TTC site for fares and schedules.
Driving around the city is not difficult as most streets follow a grid pattern, but it might get confusing to those unfamiliar with the streets during rush hour and construction. The city also has numerous parking garages, lots and street parking. Fees and availability will vary depending on the time and day. Be sure to observe parking guidelines.
Toronto has numerous bike lanes along major routes. You can use your own or rent one from the many bike rental stations throughout the city.
If you’d rather leave the driving to someone else, you have a choice between different taxi companies or ride sharing services Lift and Uber. Taxi fares in Toronto are standard, metered and non-negotiable.
- Language – Canada has two official languages – English and French. In addition to these, the top five languages spoken in Toronto are Chinese, Italian, Tamil, Portuguese and Spanish.
- Currency: Canadian dollar, denominations under five dollars are coins. The bills are made of polymer so they might feel a bit unusual to the touch. ATMs and banks are easily available throughout the city.
- Tipping: A 15 to 20% tip on the pre-tax bill is a customary when dining out if you’re happy with your service. Restaurants might automatically add gratuity to large groups. Tipping is also customary for other services at a similar rate.
- Taxes: There is a 13% sales tax (HST) added to most purchases. Keep that in mind for any items you are considering.
Where to stay when you travel to Toronto
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