Making the Most of an Overnight Layover in Toronto

Last updated on March 25, 2024

After the most wonderful day in the birthplace of hygge, it was time to head to the other side of the pond for the first leg of our North American adventure. Canada is a place I’ve been dying to visit for the longest time and, although we only had less than 24 hours in that beautiful country, I was determined to make the most of every single minute in Toronto (which included finally having my very first Tim Hortons and proper poutine…).

A girl in a maxi dress standing next to a huge Canada sign outside the CN Tower in Toronto
A girl holding a cup of Tim Hortons coffee

Where we stayed

As we were leaving early the next morning and knew we weren’t going to be spending a lot of time inside, we decided to book a room in a lovely Airbnb close to the airport. It was located in a quiet neighbourhood with good transportation links, was very affordable (it only cost us around CA$52/£30), and the best part? It had its very own walk-in closet, which has been my dream for as long as I can remember and made it that much harder to leave…

Something that had our scratching our heads was the fact that apart from the odd sofa, there was no furniture in the living room whatsoever. We found it a bit strange considering that an entire family lived there, but maybe they were all about minimalism? Still, the hosts were super friendly and accommodating, offered some tourist advice, and answered any questions we had. So, if you’re going to be in the city for a layover, it’s definitely something worth looking into!

Getting around Toronto

As a person who’s done a fair share of travelling, I have to admit Toronto has one of the most confusing transportation systems I’ve ever encountered. Our journey from the airport was smooth sailing, as we took a bus to Kipling Station and then another one to our Airbnb. On our way to the city centre, however, we found ourselves in a rather odd situation.

As we entered Kipling Station, we couldn’t figure out how to purchase subway tickets without a prepaid Presto card. After walking around the station for a good 5 minutes, we walked downstairs towards the platform and finally managed to find a collector booth where we thought we could ask for directions. We explained our issue to the guy behind the counter and that’s when things started to get awkward. He looked us in the eye and said: “How’d you get to the station? By bus, right? I saw you.” We nodded, completely dumbfounded, as he went on to add we didn’t need to purchase a subway ticket and could do it once we’ve reached our destination. At that point, our confusion reached a whole new level, but we decided to go along with it and boarded the next train.

A subway train standing on a platform in Toronto, Canada

As we later found out, if you’re connecting onto subway, you need to get a paper transfer from the bus driver to avoid paying the fare again. We weren’t sure if it worked the other way round too, so on our way back from the city centre, we decided to purchase both a subway and a bus ticket to be on the safe side.

Public transportation in Toronto- quick facts

Here are some more transport observations from our short time in Toronto:

  • A single fare is CA$3.25 (valid at the time of writing) and bus drivers do not carry change, so you need to have the exact amount ready before you board the bus.
  • Once we arrived at our bus stop, we couldn’t find a timetable. Instead, there was a phone number you could text to receive the information about vehicle arrival times.
  • The bus wouldn’t stop unless we pressed the Stop Request button. On our way back from the city centre, our stress levels went through the roof when the bus driver drove past two stops despite us pressing the button repeatedly. He only stopped when a man got up and started shouting slurs down the bus. Once the three of us got off, he did a total 180 and apologised to us for the bus driver’s behaviour in the nicest way possible. How can you not love Canadians?
A post at a bus stop in Toronto, Canada

If any Toronto residents are somehow reading this, I would love if you could shed some light on how your transportation system works. I shared my observations and lessons learned, but I throw my hands up and admit it confuses me to this day!

A public bus in Toronto with bike racks in the front

Queen St. Warehouse

In preparation for our short visit in the city, I watched a couple of Toronto vlogs by my favourite vlogger couple, Stephen and Jess from Flying the Nest. It was through one of these vlogs that I learned about an absolute gem that is Queen St. Warehouse, a restaurant where all food items cost only CA$5.95!

Queen St. Warehouse restaurant in Toronto

It prompted us to have a feast and we ordered two lunch items and dessert each. We both had Warehouse Poutine and a Works Burger with premium Alberta beef, maple bacon, cheddar, crispy onions, macho sauce, shredded lettuce, and tomato. For dessert, I had fried apple pie, while my boyfriend went for a chocolate brownie. To top it all off, my boyfriend had a beer and I washed down my meal with their flagship Warehouse Margarita – a margarita spiked with an upside down bottle of Corona.

Fried apple pie with ice cream and a brownie with ice cream at Queen St. Warehouse in Toronto

It was every bit as scrumptious as it sounds – the fact that I found most of the menu items appetising speaks volumes about this place because that rarely happens to me. The best part is that Warehouse restaurants can be found all across the country, so I will definitely make sure to scope one out next time I’m in Canada! As is the case with many restaurants after lockdown, the prices have since slightly increased, with all food items currently ranging between CA$5.95-$7.95. It’s still an absolute bargain though!

A bit of a back story…

When we were at Queen St. Warehouse, we saw this guy dressed up as Spider-Man approach a group of women dining a few tables away from us. I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to capture this moment and we laughed about it trying to make out what they could possibly be talking about. Then, as we were leaving the restaurant, I heard someone behind me yell “Nice dress!” – I immediately turned around, and… as you might have already guessed, it was this guy perched on a bulletin board! Who said superheroes can’t take interest in fashion? Apparently he’s well-known to Toronto residents. Earlier that year, he was spotted throwing rope over streetcar wires, prompting Toronto Police to issue this funny Twitter warning when he resurfaced in October!

CN Tower

One of my first impressions of Toronto was getting off the subway and feeling awestruck by this iconic landmark towering over the city. A little fun fact is that CN Tower used to be world’s tallest building until it was surpassed by Burj Khalifa in 2007.

The CN Tower in Toronto seen from the ground

I recognise its concrete structure may not be to everyone’s taste, but there’s something about massive constructions that stand out against the city skyline that truly fascinates and appeals to me. Granted, it’s as touristy as it gets, but I’ve made it well-known that I can never turn down an opportunity to see the city from above, so it immediately earned the #1 spot on my to-do list.

The entrance to the CN Tower observation deck

Sadly, once we arrived at the ticket desk, we were informed that half of the tower was closed off for a private party. As we only had one night in the city, it was now or never (okay, I’m being a little dramatic here, but you get the gist) so we chose to do it anyway. When I was in Oslo six months prior, the Munch Museum didn’t charge us admission fee because a significant part of their collection, including the world-famous Scream, was not on display. I expected CN Tower to cut their admission fee in half, so I found it hugely disappointing that they still charged us full price and we paid CA$42.94 (£25) each including tax.

The view of Toronto and Lake Ontario seen from the top of the CN Tower
The view of Toronto and Lake Ontario seen from the top of the CN Tower

So… Is the CN Tower worth visiting?

As much as I would like to say the views from above more than made up for it, sadly that wasn’t the case for me. As we suspected, it was the better half of the observation deck that was closed off for a private event, and we were mostly left with the views of Lake Ontario and surrounding buildings. It was virtually impossible to get a half-decent photo because we kept getting reflections from the glass and there was sun glare in majority of them. One thing that did catch our attention was the bird’s eye view of planes departing from the Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport located on Toronto Islands. Up until that moment, we didn’t even know about its existence, and as we later found out, it’s actually Canada’s ninth-busiest airport!

If you’re planning to go to the CN Tower observation deck, don’t let my review discourage you – just make sure to time your visit carefully. I would gladly come back for a chance to see it in full glory. I would even consider doing the EdgeWalk if I was feeling particularly adventurous that day… Talk about a unique way to experience the city view!

Harbourfront Centre

By the time we left the CN Tower, it was already nearing 7 PM, so we decided to go for a walk along the waterfront, get some Canadian snacks to take home, and call it a day.

CN Tower and the Toronto skyline at sunset seen from the harbour
A girl standing by the waterfront looking at the CN Tower and skyscrapers in Toronto
A duck walking in the Toronto harbour

It provided the perfect viewpoint to admire Toronto’s magnificent skyline and if we had more time in the city, I would love to go on a Lake Ontario cruise as it’s one of my favourite ways to explore new places.

A boat in the Toronto harbour

As our time in Canada was nearing to an end, I was certain that booking our flights with a layover in Toronto was the best decision we could’ve made. I only managed to scratch the surface of my Toronto bucket list, but 20 hours in the city was enough to spark my interest and want to plan a longer visit in the future.

Cars outside a red brick building in downtown Toronto, Canada
A Michaels Arts and Crafts Store in Toronto, Canada
Rogers Centre Pedestrian Bridge in Toronto
"The Audience" sculpture at Rogers Centre in Toronto
The CN Tower in Toronto seen from the plane

If you’re heading to Toronto soon and are looking for more inspiration, other items on my bucket list include Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada, Kensington Market and, of course, a day trip to Niagara Falls! The latter is one of my mum’s top bucket list items too, so I hope I can make it happen sooner than later!

Have you ever booked a multi-day layover just to see another place for free?

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