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Canada’s largest and most cosmopolitan city is Toronto, an eclectic and vibrant metropolis that lies just across the border from America. It’s a fantastic place to kick back, poke around and mingle with the 200 or so ethnic groups that call Toronto home. Eating out is major highlight here, but so are the surrounding attractions like Niagara Falls and the villages of Ontario’s cottage country. With a car rental, visitors will find there are some classic Canadian experiences waiting just an hour or two from the city.
Who to Book With
Most of the world’s big name rental outfits, including Avis, Hertz and Enterprise, can be found at Toronto’s bustling Pearson International Airport. These same firms have many offices scattered around the city, with Enterprise boasting 25 branches alone. Despite all the outlets, Toronto is one of North America’s busiest cities all year round, so it’s advised to make car hire bookings online as early as possible to get the vehicle of your choice and lock down the best rates.
Best Time to go
Toronto enjoys four distinct seasons, and only winter really qualifies as unpleasant due to the cold temperatures and frequent snow. Summers are nice, but tend to be a bit humid due to frequent thunderstorms. Still, this is the busiest and most festive season, followed by the beautiful autumn that kicks off around late September. Spring starts in May and is also very pleasant, as the city bursts into greenery.
Need to Know Essentials
Have the following documents ready when you go to the rental office:
- A valid driving license or International Driving Permit
- A second form of photo ID
- The credit card used with the online booking
- A printed copy of your rental confirmation
Toronto is a huge city, so a car can be useful, even to move around the centre of town. But be aware that traffic tends to get congested every day during the rush hours (07:00 to 10:00 and 16:00 to 19:00), even on the outer highways. There are plenty of parking garages in the city centre marked by the Green P sign, but they are expensive. Rates start at CD$2.25 for 30 minutes, CD$14 per day (Monday to Friday) and CD$6 per day (weekends). There is also ample street-side parking downtown in the form of pay-for parking meters, and Toronto’s meter maids are notorious for their vigilance.
Highways are an essential facet of driving in Toronto. There is a series of 400 highways that run around and away from the city, including the vital artery Highway 401, the busiest in Canada. Most of these highways are free, except for special sections like the Highway 407 Expressway Toll Route. Within the city itself, the streets are laid out in a logical grid system.
All of the city’s public transport is managed by the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC), an integrated network of buses, streetcars, subways and light rapid transit (LRT) trains. Overall, it’s an efficient and affordable transport system that can usually handle the needs of most visitors who travel around the city centre. Fleets of expensive taxis also ply the streets of Toronto.
The TTC uses an integrated ticketing system for all four forms of public transport. A token, ticket or pass, which must be used to board any of the lines, can be bought at subway stations and any convenience store that has the TTC tickets sign posted. Bus drivers will not sell tickets or give change.
A single-fare ride on any of the lines, including transfers, costs CD$3. You can also buy a pack of five or ten tokens for CD$2.50 each or an unlimited Day Pass for CD$10. Be sure and get a transfer slip when disembarking if you plan to continue your trip on another form of transport.
Toronto has three subway lines: two major lines and one short line. Compared to travelling on the streets, the subway is extremely fast, clean and easy to figure out. There is also a light rail line that connects the downtown core to the Harbour front. The subway runs from 06:00 to 01:30 Monday to Saturday and from 09:00 to 01:30 on Sundays.
Taxis in Toronto are among the most expensive in North America. They can be hailed easily on the downtown streets, found waiting in front of major hotels or called for a quick pick-up 24 hours a day. There are plenty of reputable companies in the city, including Diamond and Crown. Rates begin at CD$4 when you get in, plus CD$0.25 for each 500ft travelled. Fares quickly mount up.
Buses and Streetcars
Where the subway ends, the city’s buses and streetcars take over. Toronto is the only city in Canada with streetcars, and while these street-level modes of transport tend to get bogged down in rush hour traffic, they are very convenient the rest of the time. Transfers are free from the subway, so be sure and grab a transfer ticket when you exit.
The greater Toronto area itself is full of places to explore by car, including ethnic neighbourhoods, sprawling public parks and historic sites like Casa Loma. There are beaches to visit along Lake Ontario and an endless land of lakes and rivers just to the north in Ontario’s cottage country. Of course, Niagara Falls and all its wonder is a quick drive west. To access any of these sites, you really need to have a car of your own.
Niagara Falls - This is one of the world’s most awe-inspiring natural wonders. The Niagara Escarpment is just 90 minutes from Toronto along the swift Queen’s Expressway. Besides marvelling at the falls and enjoying the activities on hand, there are wineries and quaint towns in the area to drive to.
Cottage Country - This is what the locals call the region north of Toronto, where thousands of little lakes, lake towns and summer cottages are located. Driving around Muskoka and the Kawarthas is an absolute joy, especially during the colourful autumn, with plenty of quaint towns to stop off at for breaks.
Lake Ontario beaches - These provide the perfect escape during summer, and there are dozens to choose from within an hour or two of Toronto. The sands are golden, the water clear and the facilities well-organised. Take your pick from perennial favourites like Wasaga, Sauble Beach or Grand Bend.