Why Women Should Travel to Toronto, Canada (From a Local)

by | Apr 29, 2024

sunrise in toronto ontario canada
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Last updated on May 14th, 2024

Featured image: On the shore of Lake Ontario, Toronto is a world-class city with much to offer women / Photo from wirestock via Envato

First-hand advice from a local in Toronto

by Carolyn Ray

If you’re looking for a happening, vibrant city, Toronto is definitely it! The museums, restaurants, shopping and theatre are world-class. The public transit system is relatively efficient and doesn’t cost a fortune to ride, especially when compared to taxis.

Toronto is not only a great getaway for those living in Canada, it’s an absolute steal for women coming from countries whose currency is worth a whole lot more. Stay for a weekend and get a tiny taste of the city. Stay for a week and you’ll still leave Toronto wanting more. As for the best time to come to Toronto, it depends. I enjoy summer the most because I love being outdoors and walking, hiking and biking. Fall can be beautiful with the changing of the colours and celebrity-watching during the Toronto International Film Festival in September. In the spring, the cherry blossom trees in High Park attract people from around the city.  Winter is my least favourite season, except when there’s fresh snowfall.

I’m a sixth-generation Canadian, with strong roots in the city dating back to the 1800s. In fact, I have photographs of my great-grandparents on horse-drawn sleighs in High Park, when the trees were only a few feet high. My great-grandfather, Enoch Blundall, made upright pianos in Toronto, which he sold at the Canadian National Exhibition in the 1900s. And of course, my daughter Alyx was born here. No matter where I travel to in the world, Toronto will always be my home.

What makes Toronto unique? It’s the most diverse city in the world

You might be surprised to learn that Toronto is one of the most diverse cities in the world. More than half our population of 3 million was born outside of Canada, and upward of 180 languages are spoken here. As a former board member of the Museum of Toronto alongside former Mayor David Crombie, I had the honour of helping to build Toronto’s first-ever city museum and share the diverse histories of the city. Our identity has been strengthened with the 2023 mayoral election of Olivia Chow, the first woman of colour, and the first woman of Asian descent to be elected as mayor. 

Things to know about Toronto

  • Toronto is the 4th largest city in North America, after Mexico City, New York City and Los Angeles.  One-quarter of Canada’s population is located within 160 km (100 mi.) of the city and more than 60 per cent of the population of the USA is within a 90-minute flight. 
  • Toronto uses Canadian currency, which can be obtained at any ATM. Use a credit card or a Wise card to avoid credit card currency exchange fees. 
  • If you are travelling out of the country or province, you will need travel insurance to visit Ontario. Check insurance here
  • You need a valid passport to visit. Toronto, but usually not a visa. Learn more here. 
  • There are no travel advisories for Canada. However, if you’re coming from the US, make sure you enroll in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) to receive alerts and make it easier to locate you should an emergency occur.
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Woman in period costume talking about Women of the Ward to onlooking crowd, Toronto

Museum of Toronto hosts walking tours to share Toronto’s less-known historical narratives, such as Jean Lumb, the first Chinese-Canadian to be awarded the Order of Canada. Learn more here / Photo by Museum of Toronto

 How to get to Toronto

You can drive, fly, take the train or even walk across the US border to get to Toronto.  Toronto has two airports: Toronto Pearson International Airport, located in Mississauga, and Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport, located in the downtown core, which provides short-haul regional or international flights with Air Canada and Porter Airlines.  Check for flights to Toronto here!

If you’re arriving by air at Pearson Airport, you can easily get on the UP Express and be downtown in about 25 minutes. You can tap on with a credit card or purchase a ticket when you arrive. There are three stops: Weston, Bloor Street West and Union Station. If you get off before Union Station (the final stop), make sure you ‘tap off’ again so that the rate is reduced. With a PRESTO card, it’s $24 for a round trip, which is reduced to $12.40 for seniors. The UP is much cheaper to take than an Uber, a taxi or limo from the airport. Taxis are almost double in price.

If you’re arriving at Billy Bishop Toronto Island Airport, there is a free shuttle bus that will take you right to downtown Toronto. There are also taxis and Ubers available. The benefit of flying to the Island Airport is that it’s less crowded and flights can be less expensive. While I always enjoyed taking the ferry to the island, the underground tunnel 100 feet below the lake is even better, and it’s fully accessible. There are two other airports near Toronto; Hamilton International Airport and London International Airport (both 60- 90 minutes away), which offer charter or connecting flights to Toronto on budget airlines like AirTransat, Westjet and Sunwing.

If you’re arriving at Union Station via train, you can hop right on Toronto’s subway system, which is called the “TTC“.  It’s a fairly small metro, with a U-shaped route that loops to go north (Yonge-University). There is an east-west route that cuts across the north-south line (Bloor -Danforth) at Bloor Street.  There is another east-west line at Sheppard Avenue, and a fourth line is being built along Eglinton, or so we’re told. In the downtown core, a new subway station is being built at Yonge and Queen, which is estimated to take five years, effectively shutting down Queen Street in this area.

As a former Toronto road warrior who commuted four hours a day, I encourage you NOT to drive in Toronto. As any local will tell you, the traffic can be absolutely brutal. It may look faster on a map but believe me, you will want to take public transit as much as possible, particularly in the downtown area (and never mind the cost of parking). Many areas near Toronto, including Barrie, Orillia and even the Muskokas are now accessible by Via Rail or GoTransit (or the Go Train) from Union Station. Check public transit maps before you rent a car.

women together in Distillery District Toronto Ontario Canada

A JourneyWoman photography meetup at the Distillery District in 2022 / Photo by Carolyn Ray

Safety in Toronto

It’s very important to be careful and stay aware, particularly on public transit. When on the subway, don’t get lost in your phone, stay alert to what’s happening around you.

Toronto is a large city and unfortunately, there are an increasing number of violent attacks, particularly on the subways. The Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) says there is a decrease from last year, but I witness all kinds of disturbing behaviour on the TTC, much of it related to mental health issues. Just this past year, the TTC finally made cellular service available underground. Although there are signs saying that Wifi is available, it’s only at stations.

To use the subway system, you can either buy a Presto card for $6 and load it at machines placed at every subway or use a Wise or credit card to tap on and off. (There is a senior’s rate for Presto card holders).

Going in and out of the subway stations, there are security mirrors placed at corners to ensure that a female can always be aware of people around the other side. Every subway stop has a well-lit designated waiting area (DWA) where women can wait for the train. This DWA is monitored from the ticket collector’s booth by a closed-circuit TV and a voice intercom system. The guard’s car on each train stops right at the DWA so that female passengers can always have a TTC employee riding with them and keeping an eye on things. There are cameras and intercoms at all unattended, automatic entrances.  There are easily identifiable Passenger Assistance Alarm strips above the windows in all subway cars.

Taking a city bus solo after dark? The Request Stop Program allows women travelling alone to get off buses at locations on the route rather than regular TTC stops. It’s in effect seven days a week from 9 p.m. (or when the streetlights come on, whichever is later) until 5 a.m. All you need to do is let the driver know one stop ahead of where you want to get off. P.S. To be extra sure, women are asked to leave the bus by the front doors. The rear doors remain closed so that no one can follow you from the bus.  For more information, call the Toronto Transit Commission 416.393.4636 or visit their website here.

toronto mimico bridge

Riding along Lake Ontario at the Mimico Bridge on the western side of Toronto / Photo credit Carolyn Ray

Where to stay in Toronto

Toronto is a very big city with many choices. You’ll want to choose a neighbourhood that suits your style – for example, edgy Queen West, hip King West or the downtown core. On the West End, you’ll find High Park, but the hotel choices are limited. There are many hotel chains in the oldest part of Toronto, around St. Lawrence Market and the Distillery District, and the city is fairly walkable and connected through public transit.

From the most posh to the more modest, there are hotels, bed & breakfasts, and hostels to suit your needs and budget. It’s worth noting that Toronto is expensive, and you’ll want to plan ahead and look for cost-effective accommodations. Food is expensive too. Hospitality groups like 5W can be an option here if you want to find a less-expensive way to visit, or Trusted Housesitters if you don’t mind looking after a pet.

If money is no object, you’ll enjoy luxuriating at the Four Seasons Hotel or the Kimpton St. George located in the chic Bloor-Yorkville area. Want to rub shoulders with guests in the entertainment industry? Try the sophisticated Shangri-La on King West. Want to stay where “English Royalty” stays? Then be queen-for-a-day at the Fairmont Royal York, 100 Front Street West, which has recently been renovated and in my view has the best cocktail bars in the city (the Clockworks Bar and the Library, both of which you should make a reservation for, even as a guest). Some of my other favourites include the iconic Windsor Arms Hotel (especially for its High Tea), the woman and Quebec-owned Le Germain Hotels (there are two now, one near the Skydome), the Ritz-Carlton (with its stunning cocktail bar), the posh Hazelton Hotel in Yorkville (where the celebs hang out during the Toronto International Film Festival in September). Hotel X is a newer hotel near the lake with some of the best views in Toronto on its rooftop patio.

For boutique hotels, and something a little edgier, try the Gladstone Hotel on Queen West. Not only is it Toronto’s oldest hotel, but there’s also an art gallery and all the rooms are unique and different. The Drake Hotel is another creative hub on Queen West with a wonderful outdoor patio and lots of small boutique shops within walking distance. The Broadview Hotel on Toronto’s East side was built in 1891 and was recently refurbished. Downstairs, there is a charming bistro and bar, and the rooftop offers one of the most stunning views of the Toronto skyline and the Don River, with a 360° glass facade, pyramidal skylight, and expansive terrace.

A very clean, practical, and beautifully located place to stay is the Chelsea Hotel in midtown Toronto. One of the things I love about the Chelsea is that they host their own beehive on the roof. The Chelsea just went through a $25 million dollar refurbishment to upgrade their rooms, restaurants (including Market Square, which I enjoyed recently), and enhancements to its full-service restaurant, Elm Street Bar & Lounge.

Do you have a Toronto hotel to suggest? Share it in our Women’s Travel Directory here.

The Toronto Islands are frequented by sailors  / Photo by Carolyn Ray

young woman and older woman smiling in the park esplanade Toronto

With my daughter Alyx at the Flatiron Building near St. Lawrence Market / Photo by Carolyn Ray

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As the CEO and Editor of JourneyWoman, Carolyn is a passionate advocate for women's travel and living the life of your dreams. She leads JourneyWoman's team of writers and chairs the JourneyWoman Women's Advisory Council and Women's Speaker's Bureau. She has been featured in the New York Times, Toronto Star and Zoomer as a solo travel expert, and speaks at women's travel conferences around the world. In March 2023, she was named one of the most influential women in travel by TravelPulse and was the recipient of a SATW travel writing award in September 2023. She is the chair of the Canadian chapter of the Society of American Travel Writers (SATW), a member Women's Travel Leaders and a Herald for the Transformational Travel Council (TTC). Sometimes she sleeps. A bit.

1 Comment

  1. Eleanor Kendall

    Very interesting.

    I was born in Toronto and spent my first 25 years there as well.

    Have returned frequently to visit family as well as checking out the work locations and the memories from each. Lots of different people and stories to remember.

    Toronto has always been a big friendly city to me.

    My grandparents met and married in Toronto in the early 19 hundreds. My grandfather came from London, England and my grandmother came from Kilkenny, South Ireland. My mother and her brothers and sisters were born in Toronto as well. Mom had lots of family stories to tell.

    As most of my family have passed on or moved out of Toronto now I don’t get home as frequently.

    Thanks for reminding me where I come from.

    Eleanor Kendall


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