Get a local guide: an insider's perspective of what to expect in Toronto
Hear from two locals to find out what they think about Toronto.
· 7 min read
- What to know about Toronto before you visit - let's hear from two locals
- Why you might want a local guide or local contact in Toronto?
- Are local tours a good way to learn about Toronto?
- How you can get in touch with a local guide BEFORE your trip to Toronto?
- A Local Answers: Get a local perspective before your trip to Toronto
- Also in our series of blogs from a local perspective…
Located on the northern shore of Lake Ontario, Toronto is a city of neighborhoods, each with its own distinct character, and is celebrated for its multiculturalism, offering a delightful array of international cuisine, festivals, and arts. From the charming historic districts like Old Town Toronto to the bustling streets of Kensington Market and its iconic skylines marked by the CN Tower, this city has something to offer every visitor. If you are planning a visit to Toronto, why not get an insiders' perspective of the city so you know what to expect, and maybe, get some insider tips!
What to know about Toronto before you visit - let's hear from two locals
We speak to two locals from Toronto to find out more about what they think about their city, along with tips that they might have for visitors to Toronto.
Fair Warning: this represents just two highly unfiltered opinions of Toronto. Locals or other travelers may not agree with what’s said here, but you didn’t come here for a canned answer, did you?
What is something about Toronto that more people should know about?
Shuya: There are some parks here that are very beautiful and peaceful, such as Evergreen Brickworks and Port Union Waterfront Park.
Alafiya: “Toronto”, while definitely a great city in its own right, usually includes the GTA (Greater Toronto Area) in addition to the boroughs that are part of the city. The cities that comprise the GTA are all really close to each other (geographically, traffic can still be awful), and each have a unique vibe.
What is something in Toronto that you cannot get in other parts of Canada?
Shuya: CN Tower, the view up there is amazing and really worth the price, but the Skydeck is overrated.
Alafiya: It’s the biggest city in a country known for its multiculturalism - the foods, local/cultural festivals, the themed neighborhoods (little Italy, Chinatown, etc.) are one of the best mixes you’ll find anywhere!
What is the best way to get around Toronto?
Shuya: Walking in the summer, TTC (public transport)/Uber in the winter. Yes - we only have two seasons here.
Alafiya: Agreed with Shuya - but if you’re exploring near the financial district in the winter, we also have a full network of underground passages, shops, and food courts, so you can stay warm while still checking things out.
Where should tourists stay in Toronto?
Shuya: Downtown is surely the best neighborhood for tourists. It’s very lively and has lots of things to do.
Alafiya: Definitely depends on your vibe and budget. We’ve got luxury hotels in between all the highrises, of course, but the Annex, our Gay Village, and Waterfront community (and more!) also have their own charms. I cannot, in good conscience, say that any neighborhood in Toronto’s core will be kind to your wallet, though.
Any safety tips for visitors to Toronto?
Shuya: Be a bit more alert when you travel to the east of Toronto, for example at Cabbage Town and Scarborough.
Alafiya: In downtown, watch for pedestrians when you’re driving, cars when you’re walking, and cyclists at all times.
If you were a tourist in Toronto, you’d be spending money on…
Shuya: Food for sure! Toronto is a very diverse city and there are lots of authentic food options. Korean, Japanese, Mexican, Middle Eastern…I’m salivating now.
Alafiya: Seconding the food!! And event tickets.
And if you were a tourist in Toronto, we’ll probably never find you at…
Shuya: The Wonderland, because I can’t do roller coasters.
Alafiya: Chain restaurants. There are SO many cute local shops and food spots to explore.
An opinion about Toronto you have that is controversial?
Shuya: There is no such thing as bad traffic in Toronto - people here have no clue what it means.
Alafiya: As a person from here, I will defend the hill that traffic here is bad. The population of this country and the number of cars on the road at rush hour don’t seem to work out mathematically.
What is one thing you wished tourists to Toronto would stop doing?
Shuya: Buying condos in Toronto…the property price is already too high…jkjk
Alafiya: Don’t just stay in the city. If you have plans to see more of Ontario, or Canada, and you can fit it into your schedule, rent a car and drive a couple of hours away from the city. Especially in the fall, the scenery is amazing!
What are the most common stereotypes about Toronto, and are they true?
Shuya: Diversity, it is a melting pot for so many different cultures.
Alafiya: And that’s not wrong!
What is the best thing about Toronto?
Shuya: People, they are very nice and polite to each other.
Alafiya: There is something for everyone, in every walk of life. You can find your kind of people, whoever they may be!
What is the worst thing about living in Toronto?
Shuya: It can feel very dry if you stay indoors for too long in winter…consider getting some good moisturizers!
Alafiya: Rent prices.
Any last tips for someone who hasn’t been to Toronto?
Shuya: Niagara Falls looks way better on our side than the US side!
Alafiya: If you can, come when it’s warm! We tend to hibernate in the winters, and you’d be better off going skiing/somewhere scenic instead.
Why you might want a local guide or local contact in Toronto?
In recent years, there's an increased emphasis on authentic and sustainable travel. More and more, we see travelers seeking unique and different experiences when they travel - it's no longer simply about 'ticking off' a checklist of attractions. Of course, it's not that we completely miss out on the 'must-see's, but the emphasis has shifted to being there and doing things, rather than simply just visiting and seeing. With the limited amount of time and money that we have, we also want to make sure that we make the most out of our travels.
Finding a local guide, or having a local friend, is a good way to learn about a place and gain insights to Toronto or whichever city you are visiting, so you can get the most out of your trip.
Get genuine, honest opinions about Toronto - even if it’s not something you wanted to hear
Although there's a lot of material out there in the internet that can help you plan your travels, a vast majority of the information are rather generic. More often than not, the materials include a laundry list of places you should visit - and it's hard to find actual unfiltered opinions about a place.
Speaking to a local helps in identifying tourist traps that you might possibly want to avoid, and also learn about alternatives that are available. You also get to learn about hidden gems that you might otherwise not know about.
Find out how not to be that annoying tourist
Since borders reopened post-pandemic, we are seeing an increasing amount of complaints about overtourism. Locals aren't happy at how tourists are behaving in their cities, or they are overcrowding the places in the city. To make sure you don't contribute to that problem and become that annoying tourist, perhaps one of the best ways that you can prepare for your travels would be to connect with a local at your destination. Instead of simply flocking to where everyone else is, speak to a local to learn more about off-the-beaten-path gems and small, local businesses that you could support.
In addition, you'll get to learn more about what to take note of, how to behave, and what to definitely not do. Remember, you'll be visiting their cities, so go by their rules.
Enhances your travel experience
It can be stressful planning for a trip, or even being on a trip itself. By connecting to a local that you can speak to and knowing there's someone who is ready to help, it could help to alleviate your stress.
And in case you have common interests and can get along really well, you've potentially got yourself a new friend!
Are local tours a good way to learn about Toronto?
One of the best ways to find a local guide will be to go on a local tour after arriving in Toronto. Local tours are a great way for you to orientate yourself around the city and gain some insights. However, local tours are definitely not for everyone, and definitely not for those who would prefer spending the time doing their own exploration.
There are apps and platforms that provide you with the option to have a local guide who can help to personalise your tour; and there are tour operators providing themed tours to cater to specific interests. These are also great alternatives to exploring Toronto from a different perspective.
How you can get in touch with a local guide BEFORE your trip to Toronto?
We get that some of you prefer spending time doing your own research and planning before your trip, and in fact, might actually really enjoy that part of going on a trip. In such cases, what would be really helpful for you is not so much a local tour, but rather, a local guide or contact that you can speak to before your trip This will be a useful resource in helping you prepare for your trip.
From speaking to hosts of your accommodation to participating in discussions in forums, there are a number of ways that you can actually connect with locals before your trip.
Reaching out to hosts on sites like Airbnb used to be a good way for you to get in touch with a local, but these days, the interactions are mostly transactional. (And Airbnb isn't legal in many places, like Singapore).
Alternatively, platforms like Couchsurfing also make for a good way for you to reach out to locals before your trip. In fact, such platforms provide a good avenue for you to really immerse in the local experience, since you'll actually be living with a local during your trip. But, couchsurfing could bring about a certain degree of anxiety, and it's understandably not for everyone.
Forums are also a great way for you to reach out to locals — from reddit subs to more local forums, there are a number of ways for you to get opinions from locals. Unfortunately, these connections are often a lot less personal; and your question(s) might not always be seen as the threads in forums are usually sorted by popularity.
A Local Answers: Get a local perspective before your trip to Toronto
With the aim of helping you travel better, we set out to build a way for locals and travelers to connect over a virtual cup of coffee. This is a service that we are running as an experiment, where we put ourselves out to be that local who can help you plan your trip. Not to worry, this is a free service - and there are no hidden agendas.
The service will be available from now till November, and we will have locals from Singapore, Toronto, and Xi'an. Simply hit us up on our WhatsApp business account and let us know where you want to go, or who you want to speak to.
Not sure what you need to know? Here are some useful questions:
- How is the weather like in Toronto?
- Do I need a lot of cash in Toronto? How much cash would I need in Toronto?
- Are there places I should avoid in Toronto?
- Are there apps I should download before visiting Toronto?