There are MANY cheap food places here (if you know exactly where to look, eg: the street dogs (hot dog/sausage stands, mostly downtown but some in the inner suburbs like East York and North York)
The Metro grocery store chain’s Monday-Friday 11 am-2 pm $2 pizza slice and drink special, per person, usually the slices are still rather to very fresh, though occasionally that’s not the case, but if you go when the school kids are on their lunch break or just a short time after, they’ll be very fresh. And that INCLUDES a drink for that price. Otherwise it’s $3.49, still a great price though for a slice of pizza and a pop. (most places it’s around 6-7 bucks) They have veggie slices too.
There’s a few really good shwarma places too, 2 shwarmas and 2 bottle drinks (includes fancy healthier juices) for just over 7 bucks at a place near Pape station, Sultan King, which also is near a really cheap fruit and veggie place that the quality is really good.
For groceries (especially if you stay in a hotel that you get at least a mini fridge, coffee maker, and microwave), try to get a place that is either near a Metro (which has a lot of the special dietary foods like gluten free and kosher, unlike their lower end store line, Food Basics) or Loblaws (includes No Frills, Valu-mart, and Great Canadian Superstore) which has quite a bit of ethnic foods.
Don’t bother to bring a laptop unless you are on a business trip, there’s lots of library branches which have express and drop in terminals you can use for free, you don’t even need a library card. (express is 15 min and drop in is 30 min), and there’s printing at them for 15 cents a page. Hours vary by branch (about 100 branches), check the Toronto Public Library’s website (www.torontopubliclibrary.ca for details on your nearest branches and hours)
Your hotel or motel, or if you’re staying with a friend who lives here, may have free or low-cost internet access, either WIFI or a terminal or two you can use.
If the libraries are closed or the internet connection is not working there (it happens rarely, however), you may have the option of Internet cafes, which generally run between 1-3 bucks an hour, most are around 3 bucks an hour; however, there are not as many of these as there were 5 years ago due to WIFI becoming common in many eating establishments, especially major chains.
Kinkos/FedEx places have internet access, but it’s really expensive, runs to about $10 an hour.
Or you can borrow a friend’s laptop if you have friends who live here and use the WIFI on one of the places that have WIFI connections.
There are CityPass vouchers for Toronto which are good for 9 days from the first attraction you visit, 6 of them, and it’s already more than paid for even if you visit only 3 of them.
The CN Tower is DEFINITELY worth it, and if there’s only one attraction you visit in Toronto, and you can’t fit Canada’s Wonderland or it’s closed for the season, go here. Go early in the week, and almost as soon at it opens. Canadians who get Air Miles can also get passes to this place as a reward, which is normally over $30 for adults. It’s also included in the CityPass voucher.
If you have time, also visit the brand new Ripley’s Aquarium next door: reviewers and regular folk say it’s awesome! Each of these two can be done in less than a half day.
Canada’s Wonderland (late April/May-early October) is great for kids and adults, but go on an early day of the week (Monday to Wednesday and the lineups are short to non-existent on the rides, even the popular or new ones.) A great place if you have a fan of roller coasters, this is Canada’s Roller Coaster Capital. There are also two or three mini golf courses on the grounds, but they are really beautiful and well maintained.
Both the City Pass and Canada’s Wonderland have kids and adult prices (you save a bit by buying them online before you go http://www.citypass.com and Wonderland http://www.canadaswonderland.com
it’s something like $70 for the CityPass now for adults now but most of the attractions in Toronto’s CityPass included are between 20 and 30 bucks each (the Toronto Zoo’s one of them, and I think that’s over 30 for adults now), and there are senior’s prices for the zoo as well.
Wonderland is not included in that City Pass, but those tickets can be bought online and the savings is pretty significant, but it’s usually easy to find comparable prices if you or a friend that lives there can get coupons to save 10-15 bucks per person on admission, though the coupons are getting hard to find nowadays.
There are a few very cheap or free attractions in Toronto. If you were not able to pick up a CityPass which includes the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM), you can go to the ROM for $5 a person on Fridays after 4 PM if you’re willing to go only to the permanent exhibit.
A hidden gem about 10 min south of Castle Frank subway station, get off at Winchester, then walk east about 10 min is a free farm that runs by donations called Riverdale Farm, usually open April to early November but may have expanded to year round in recent years. There’s a fabulous little ice cream place near there on Winchester mainly known only to people who live in that area (I had a piano teacher who still lives in that area) and an awesome but somewhat pricey sandwich place that has the best grilled cheese on rye sandwiches called St. Jamestown Deli on Parliament St.
Another secret of Toronto generally known by locals but rarely by visitors is a short walk from High Park subway station (in fact, just across the street from it) is a large urban park of the same name that includes an outdoor pool with a waterslide in the summer, a petting zoo, a pony farm, walking/cycling/hiking paths, and in August, Shakespere in the Park (weather permitting), all for free. You need multiple visits to discover even half its secrets, there’s even a story about being a source of a plant known as reed rush that reed players use to adjust their reeds to make them play better in that park. (sorry, I don’t know where it is or what it looks like)
If you’re willing to travel to the suburb of Scarborough, often you can find rooms for $40-$60 a night for a motel for up to 4 people (most hotels are at least double or triple that) which have the amenities most people use in a hotel, most have WIFI too and satellite TV, many have a small kitchen too.
Particularly when travelling as a family or group, between late May and mid-August, check into college/university campus residences for a rental that’s affordable, all three of the University of Toronto campuses have student accomodations and York University’s Glendon Campus (Bayview/Lawrence) is about 25 min by transit from downtown. Ryerson University may have some places, and most community college campuses do too, the main ones are Centennial College, Humber College, and Seneca College. Centennial College has several campuses, however, not all of them have residences.
If you are really on a budget, see if you have a friend that would let you stay at their place, or if they know someone that might want to rent out their place for a short term stay.
Unless you are travelling outside of Toronto proper, and are by yourself or with only one other person, consider forgoing the car and using the public transit system. Toronto’s main transit system, the TTC, or Toronto Transit Commission, stretches for approximately 66 KM from its easternmost to westernmost point, the trains generally run every 3-5 min, and the major bus routes run at least every 10-12 min, more frequently during rush hours, though some limited-run routes run only every 30 minutes, and sometimes not on weekends or holidays.
If you are planning to stay in Toronto for at least a week, and are alone or with only one other person,
try to arrive on a Friday, Saturday or Sunday to take advantage of the special weekend day pass deal and one person weekly passes, which are a significant savings over cash fares or tokens. There are senior and high school student prices on weekly transit passes as well. (and monthly too)
For families with children and teens travelling to Toronto, on weekends, statutory holidays, Christmas Holidays, and often the main Canadian March Break (varies each year), Day passes are good for 6 people, maximum 2 adults, and the rest have to be kids or teens 19 and under, and weekly passes are useful if you are staying for at least 5 days starting on a Sunday (when you arrive) which you buy the weekly pass that starts Monday and is valid until midnight the next Sunday.
If you do rent a car, find out how far the destinations that you are heading to by car are from your accomodations from Toronto, and don’t forget to account for a two way trip, and get the next higher mileage amount, unless it’s within 20 KM, and then get the mileage allotment 2 higher from the one you think you’ll need. Use transit whenever possible as well to cut your mileage use on the car.
Another reason to have a friend who lives here if you are travelling from outside Canada: at least two car rental places take the Canadian Air Miles program, you can have the car rental and they can have the miles from your car rental.
If you’re driving around in the downtown core and short distances away from them (which I like to discourage), watch out for the one way streets, there are a LOT of them in Toronto, so get a mapbook for Toronto and area and perhaps a friend who knows the areas you are travelling to watch for them. One way streets are rare to non-existent in North York and Scarborough, and generally non-existent in the Greater Toronto area outside of the city proper. (Obviously this is not a problem if you forgo the car) I don’t think the online maps indicate one-way streets, but I could be wrong.
Despite what other guides to Toronto might tell you, SKIP The Eaton Centre, especially if you are on a budget.
However, if you love music and movies, head to Canada’s largest HMV store about 1/2 block north of Dundas/Yonge which is near the Eaton Centre. Huge selection, including many hard to find items. Large classical selection, which is extremely rare in Toronto or most shops that sell CDs and DVDs.
If you play from written music, or have kids who study musical instruments, especially piano, make a trip to Remenyi House of Music (210 Bloor St West), which is one of Canada’s biggest sheet music stores, a great selection of music reference and story books for all ages, a great selection of music toys and games, and has a good selection of a range of high quality string instruments, mostly violins, violas, and guitars from student to professional grade.
Across the street from Remenyis is the Royal Conservatory of Music, which was the original site of McMaster University, which is now in Hamilton. (the university that is) The old section of it is also one of the oldest buildings in Canada, you can tour it yourself for free. And next door to that is…the ROM, mentioned in an earlier section.
Canada’s oldest single location department store is closing soon in 2015 or 2016, Honest Ed’s, but there are still some great bargains at this place just south of Bathurst subway station. It looks cool at night too, almost like Las Vegas in Toronto.
For super cheap souvenirs and inexpensive snack food and drinks, head to the Dollarama chain (lots of locations, new ones pop up several times a year), which most items are 69 cents-$3, nothing more than $3 an item, and some items are 2 or 3 for $1. Warning: it’s easy to spend $40-$50 in one shot there. Cash and debit only. Many brand name items at much better prices than grocery and department stores. You can often find Canada or even Toronto shirts for kids and adults for 2 to 3 bucks in Dollarama that you would pay 15-25 dollars for in the touristy areas! Dollarama also has a lot of useful travel items if you’ve forgotten or lost something, and the seasonal selection for most holidays is very good, especially at some of the larger locations.
If you absoutely must head to a large mall, try Scarborough Town Centre, which is right on the Scarborough RT line on the TTC. If you need a small mall that’s pretty good that can be done in two hours, try the East York Town Centre, 50 Overlea Blvd, about 15 min north of Pape station on either the 25 Don Mills or 81 Thorncliffe Park buses. One of the first Target stores that opened in Canada is in that mall, and generally I’ve found that location to be a very good one. Avoid late Friday afternoons and weekends at this mall, it’s usually PACKED with the local residents of the area on those days, particularly close to holidays, because it’s in and near the highest density neighbourhoods of Toronto, Thorncliffe Park and Flemingdon Park, which is almost completely low and high rise buildings, and very few single family homes or townhouses.
If you or someone you’re travelling with get a minor cold or other bug here and it’s the middle of the night when everything else is closed, know that there are some Shopper’s Drug Mart stores that are open 24/7/365, yes, even on Christmas Day or any other holiday. If you get a major food craving and there’s little or no food, there are 24/7 stores of the Metro chain and I think one or two others have them, though they are usually closed on statutory holidays. Shopper’s Drug Mart also has a good variety of food items, though very little to none in the produce and no deli except prepackaged stuff.