While Toronto may not be as exotic as southeast Asia or some Eastern European countries, the GTA (Greater Toronto Area) has plenty of reasons to check it out. Here’s what I wish I knew before arriving.

We spent about 2 1/2 months in the Toronto area – a bit of a break from the road trip across Canada. I’ve already written the 3 Days in Toronto itinerary, but if you’ll be there for awhile, read on.

On a budget? Scope out the Dollarama, Value Village, No Frills, and Talize…

Food, clothes, toiletries, and electronics – it may not be everything, but it’s a good chunk of your expenses. Dollarama is your classic ‘most stuff’s a dollar’ store (up to $4), Value Village is a great second-hand store, No Frills is a no-frills type of grocery store, and Talize is another second-hand store that seems like it has a more quality selection.

…and Kijiji for almost everything else.

8 Things I Wish I Knew About Toronto Before Arriving ()

Craigslist rocks in the US, but here in Canada, Kijiji.ca is your best friend. Much like Craigslist, the design is a bit bare-bones, but has plenty of filters based around location, categories, prices, and more. We bought our car on Kijiji, sold a fair bit of tech, and so on – as with Craigslist, the key is to respond to recent posts, ignore lowballers, reply quickly, and make the transaction happen in-person and with cash.

Summers can get HOT!

High 20’s and low-to-mid 30’s are not uncommon in the summer months (Americans, that’s about 77-89 degrees Fahrenheit)

Pick up the alternative papers for info on all the festivals.

During the summer you can easily attend multiple festivals / fun events every weekend. Among others, the Weird Toronto Facebook group is a good place to start.

Unless you’re commuting or traveling across the GTA region extensively, skip the Presto card.

8 Things I Wish I Knew About Toronto Before Arriving ()

Photo credit: https://www.prestocard.ca/en/.

In principle, the Presto cards are a great idea – a simple card you touch to a pad that pays for your fare. It’s already on most – but not all – of the city’s systems (subway, streetcars, and buses), and a total of 11 systems from Hamilton to Ottawa to Toronto. The value isn’t really there until everything and everyone’s on board, and Toronto is the last one to get everything on board. Their official website looks impressive, but the card isn’t yet accepted across all of Toronto’s buses and streetcars. If you’re commuting or living in one of the GTA areas not named ‘Toronto’, know that the Presto card seemed to be active everywhere else (including on the Go trains).

The alternative? Most subway stations have a machine (or counter) to pick up three or six tokens and your change for a $10 or $20 bill (at $2.90 CAD, this is the same price as the Presto card charges). Each token is good for one ride and a transfer, but…

Go bus (or streetcar)-to-subway-to-bus (or streetcar) to get the most possible transfer time.

8 Things I Wish I Knew About Toronto Before Arriving ()

Officially, one dime-sized token is supposed to equal a single one one-way ride, using the most direct path. If you’ll be using more than one form of transportation, you’ll request a transfer (a small slip of paper) upon boarding a bus or entering a streetcar or subway station. That transfer has a timestamp on it (left is what you’d get on entering a bus, right is what you’d get once past the turnstile at a subway station).

Unofficially, I was never asked where I was going or where I was coming from, and there are plenty of reasons for your route to be slightly more circuitous (think running a quick errand, making a transaction, or the like)…or if you’re using the streetcars to catch Pokemon and are trying to make one ride last as long as possible…

Seriously, though – start on a bus (or streetcar) to get a transfer and ride to the subway station. Once at the subway station, show the bus-style transfer to get past the turnstiles, then take a subway-style transfer before walking to the platform. Once off the subway, use the subway-style transfer as you board the bus.

Save your loonies and toonies…

8 Things I Wish I Knew About Toronto Before Arriving ()

When it comes to parking in Toronto, you’ll be faced with the need for those loonies and toonies to pay for parking. Don’t forget about snacks and drinks as well.

Speaking of money, remember the Canadian dollar ≠ the American dollar.

8 Things I Wish I Knew About Toronto Before Arriving ()

The two currencies haven’t been at parity since January 2013 – to say it another way, the Canadian dollar has been weaker than the US dollar since January 2013. You’ll likely see Canadian shops accepting American dollars at parity (a great deal for them, and a terrible one for you)

The Harbourfront – what’s the question?

8 Things I Wish I Knew About Toronto Before Arriving ()

I spent many an hour playing Pokemon Go here… but it’s also a happening hotspot for festivals, food trucks, fun, fashion, and lots of other stuff. Most weekends during the summer had plenty going on here, so if you’ve ever in doubt on where to go or what to do, the Harbourfront is the starting point.

Only in Toronto for a few days? Check out my guide, 3 Days in Toronto, to make them awesome.

Just in Canada on a stopover? A fellow travel blogger has a great guide on a Toronto stopover.

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Also published on Medium.