With a raucous sports culture, a thumping music scene, and a mind-boggling array of culinary diversity, Toronto has recently been nudging its way towards the top of everyone’s “to do” list. It’s a world-class city, that just so happens to come equipped with a world-class price tag. Whether you’re a hockey fan, an outdoor enthusiast, a brunch enthusiast, or just wholeheartedly convinced that “Drake” and “good rapper” belong in the same sentence, you ought to head north. But wait up — as enticing as it is to blow money á la 6 God, nobody likes waking up to a drained bank account. Check out our suggestions below for the best ways to experience Toronto on a budget.
When to Go
Visiting Toronto during the winter months is brave. Very brave. It’s a time when the journey between the hotel and car door requires serious mental and physical preparation. On the other hand, everyone visits during the summer months, so prices fluctuate accordingly. If you can, try to plan your trip for the spring or fall. Toronto in May or late September can be beautiful, less crowded, and everything from airfare to accommodations and excursions are noticeably cheaper.
Things to Do
Check out the Green Spaces
Even in the spring or fall, visiting one of the many public parks in Toronto is a super cheap and fun way to spend an afternoon. High Park is the largest park in the city featuring hiking trails, sports facilities, a lakefront, a dog park, gardens, greenhouses, a zoo — the list goes on. And, if you heed our advice on visiting in the spring, you’ll catch the beautiful white and pink cherry blossoms that usually bloom in April or May.
For romantics, botanical enthusiasts, or people just looking to wake up and smell some fresh flowers, check out the Allan Gardens Conservatory. Get lost in the labyrinth of hyacinths, orchids, and early 20th-century architecture. After, consider hopping on the $5.30 ferry and head over to Toronto Island. Stroll along the beaches, rent a bike, or have a picnic to unwind for a bit.
Stroll the Markets
Torontonians are known to take pride in their city’s eclectic food culture, and touring the city’s markets certainly won’t break the bank. Consider heading over to St. Lawrence Market and grazing through the colorful aisles of fresh fruits and veggies. There’s an outdoor patio with an antique feel, and on Sundays, the art gallery upstairs puts on free exhibitions celebrating the city’s history and culture. St. Lawrence was recently rated one of the top 25 markets in the world according to Food & Wine magazine, and even Pope Francis stopped by to see if the produce lived up to standards.
Kensington, as another option, isn’t so much a market in the traditional sense, but rather a funky neighborhood offering everything from coffee to chic discounted furniture and retro vinyl records. It’s also located near Chinatown, so if there’s $10 in your pocket, feel free to splurge on a full body massage.
Art on a Budget
All over Toronto, various museums offer hours where entrance is either free or donation-based. For example, the Art Gallery of Ontario is free from 6:00 pm to 8:30 pm on Wednesdays, the Bata Shoe Museum is “pay what you wish” between 5:00 pm and 8:00 pm on Thursdays, and the Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art is pay-what-you-can at all times.
Between Queen and Richmond street, at just over a kilometer in length, is Graffiti Alley, one of the most beautiful collections of spray art in the world. Here you’ll find everything from cartoonish comic series to political satire and Pollack-esque abstract madness.
If you’re in the market for some live music, head over to the neighborhoods of Bloor West and Queen West. Here you’ll find a number of divey live music venues offering cheap beer and good local talent.
Soak in the Squares
With the prevalence of squares in North America fairly scant, Toronto lays claim to two impressive squares that serve as excellent locations for community gathering and people-watching. Yonge-Dundas is colloquially referred to as the Times Square of Canada, and here you’ll find free events such as movies, concerts, and street performances. The Nathan Phillips Square is another spot that’s great for budget travelers. It hosts an ice skating rink during the winter and is known to be extremely beautiful throughout the holidays.
What to Eat
Toronto is notorious for having some of the most mouth-watering cuisines in the entire world. While it certainly has its fair share of high-end gastro experiences that will set you back about a month’s salary, there’s a huge culture around street food, food trucks, and quick eats. Here are a few standouts.
Fat Lamb Kouzina – Authentic Greek food. Delicious, home-cooked ingredients served elegantly in a styrofoam container.
P.G. Clucks – Cayenne-infused spicy chicken sandwiches that drip in fermented chili sauce. $5.30.
The Bagel House – Smoked salmon and cream cheese bagels with capers, onions, and tomatoes for $4.50. Open 24/7.
Sichuan Gardens – Dive into a fiery bowl of tofu, pork, and tons of veggies. Not entirely sure if this signature dish is technically a soup or just very saucy, but at $5 it doesn’t really matter.
Where to Stay
As a travel destination recently popping up on everyone’s radar, Toronto has plenty of options for budget-friendly accommodations. Here are some of the best gems.
This calm and charming spot in downtown is for tourists and business travelers alike.
Super friendly spot within walking distance of Union Station, CN Tower, and the Entertainment District.
Don’t let the word “hostel” throw you off here — Locarno offers loads of amenities and feels much more like a plush hotel experience.