The Greater Toronto Area (GTA) is centred on the city of Toronto, in Ontario's Golden Horseshoe. It is not legally defined but is used as a catch-all reference, and extends west to include Mississauga and Oakville, and east to include Ajax, Pickering, and Whitby.
|City of Toronto (the six former boroughs of Toronto, York, North York, East York, Scarborough and Etobicoke in area code +1 416)|
|Halton (previously Halton County)|
- 1 Ajax
- 2 Brampton — local government seat of Regional Municipality of Peel
- 3 Burlington
- 4 Markham
- 5 Mississauga
- 6 Newmarket — local government seat of Regional Municipality of York
- 7 Oakville — local government seat of Regional Municipality of Halton
- 8 Oshawa
- 9 Pickering
- 10 Richmond Hill
- 11 Vaughan
- 12 Whitby — local government seat of Regional Municipality of Durham
Greater Toronto is by far Canada's most populous urban area, with 6.4 million inhabitants; nearly half of Ontario's population.
By public transportation
GO Transit runs commuter trains and buses between Toronto and its suburbs. Most train routes only operate during rush hour and are replaced by coach services at other times. The exceptions are the Lakeshore East and West rail lines, which run all day and on weekends from Aldershot to Oshawa. GO Trains as well as a few GO bus routes run to Union Station in downtown Toronto, which is connected to a subway station with the same name. Most GO buses run to Yokdale or York Mills stations on the Yonge-University-Spadina subway line or Scarborough Centre on the Scarborough RT line.
VIA rail operates intercity trains Toronto-Windsor, Toronto-Kingston-Ottawa and Toronto-Kingston-Montréal as part of its coverage of the beaten-path Windsor-Quebec corridor. There are onward connections in Montréal for Québec City. A trip across Canada by train requires three legs, Halifax-Montréal, Montréal-Toronto and Toronto-Sudbury-Vancouver. Ontario Northland used to run trains north from Toronto's Union Station, but this has been discontinued and replaced with intercity bus.
Grey Line, an intercity bus operator, is based in Toronto; there are also Megabus (Coach Canada) running eastward to Cornwall or Montréal, Greyhound to Ottawa-Gatineau and intercity buses to North Bay and to Buffalo-Niagara.
By public transit
GO Transit operates the commuter transit services serving municipalities within and near the GTA. It operates 7 commuter rail lines, radiating from Union Station at the base of Toronto's financial district. The Lakeshore West and Lakeshore East lines operate every day from 6AM to 1AM between Burlington and Pickering. Three other lines have limited mid-day service to Unionville (Markham), Aurora and Brampton. Otherwise, all other GO rail destinations are commuter-oriented, inbound to Union Station during morning rush hour and outbound during evening rush hour. GO buses often complement GO Transit rail service for destinations or time periods not covered by GO trains. Many GO bus route originate at four stations along subway Line 1 Yonge–University; they are Union Station, Yorkdale, York Mills and Highway 407.
There are various local transit operators to serve the different municipalities within the GTA. The TTC is the largest, running all the buses, streetcars and subways within Toronto. York Region Transit operates buses in York Region, to the north of Toronto. YRT also runs 6 bus rapid transit lines, known as VIVA; most connect to a TTC subway station. Durham Region Transit operates local bus service in Durham Region, east of Toronto, serving cities and towns between Toronto and Oshawa. MiWay operates bus service in Mississauga to the west of Toronto. Most of its services are centred on the Square One shopping centre and many of its routes connect to ubway Line 2 Bloor–Danforth at Islington station. Also, to the west of Toronto, there are three small cities (Brampton, Oakville and Burlington) that have there own local bus systems.
Toronto International airport (YYZ IATA) in Mississauga is served by GO commuter buses (to Yorkdale/York Mills), Mississauga, Brampton and Toronto local buses and a TTC bus (at regular fare, $3.25) directly to TTC's Kipling subway station in Toronto/Etobicoke. There's also the UP-Express, a train direct to Union Station in Toronto/Downtown with on-board wi-fi ($12, $9 with a Presto card).
All the above services use the Presto card, which is particularly useful if you plan to use more than one of the above transit services. The Presto card entitles the user to various discounts and privileges. It also eliminates the hassle to carry exact change for each trip and it simplifies transfers, as fare rates and transfer rules vary for each local transit operator. Note: Using the Presto card twice on the UP-Express will pay for the $6 up-front cost of the card. The Presto card is also valid in Ottawa and Hamilton. If you are a senior, be sure to have your card set up for senior fares.
The regional transportation agency, Metrolinx, operates the Presto farecard system which allow users to pay transit fares throughout the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area as well as in Ottawa. Using the card always provides a discount from the cash fare. Presto will simplify transfers between GTA transit systems, and provide discounts when transferring between GO Transit and another GTA system using Presto. Presto saves the hassle of carrying exact cash coin fare, or finding a vendor selling strips of tickets for each operator. Tickets/tokens for one operator are not valid for another; however, Presto is valid for all operators supporting Presto. Some transit systems have phased out tickets forcing the use of exact cash, passes or Presto.
Important distinction: The Presto card is different from the Presto ticket being introduced by the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) for its public transit services. The Presto card has a stored balance and can be used multiple times on any of the public transit operators listed below. A Presto ticket has no stored value, and can only be used for one two-hour period on TTC vehicles; it cannot be used on non-TTC vehicles. The rest of this section describes just the Presto card; with a Presto card, you do not need Presto tickets.
Here are the transit operators using Presto:
- Brampton Transit and Zum buses
- Burlington Transit
- Durham Region Transit (east of Toronto)
- GO Transit commuter trains and buses
- Hamilton Street Railway buses
- MiWay (Mississauga)
- Oakville Transit
- OC Transpo (buses and O-Train in Ottawa)
- Toronto Transit Commission (TTC buses, streetcars and subway)
- UP Express (trains between Pearson International Airport and Union Station)
- York Region York Region Transit north of Toronto (YRT and Viva buses)
Presto is not valid for Via Rail trains nor for intercity bus routes not operated by GO Transit.
You can buy a Presto card for $6 (non-refundable) plus a minimum $10 balance. Cards can be ordered by phone (+1 877-378-6123) or online for mailing within 10 business days but only within Canada. Presto cards can also be purchased from the following vendors:
- UP Express service counter at Pearson International Airport sells Presto cards for adults and seniors.
- The GO Transit service counter at Union Station and the TTC Customer Service Centre at Davisville subway station.
- Shoppers Drug Mart stores within the GTA, Hamilton and Ottawa.
- Fare Vending Machines at TTC subway stations sell Presto cards for adult fares only.
- Hamilton GO Centre in downtown Hamilton
Senior citizens (65+): when or after you buy a Presto card, have the card set up for senior fare discounts. The GO Transit service counter at Union Station can do this, as can Shoppers Drug Mart stores and the TTC Customer Service Centre at Davisville subway station. You may be required to show a government-issued document (e.g. passport) to prove you are not as young as you look.
At subway and GO stations, there are Presto machines to display the card balance and to load more money onto your Presto card.
GO Transit operates a system of regional trains and buses within and near the Greater Toronto Area. Many of these services, especially trains, are oriented to weekday commuters travelling to and from downtown Toronto.
- GO trains
The following table summarizes service levels on all seven GO Transit train lines. There may be seasonal variations; riders should check the GO Transit website for precise train times. In the following table: "rush-hour, peak direction" means inbound to Toronto during the morning rush hours, and outbound in the evening; "mid-day bidirectional" means two-way service between the morning and evening rush hours; "limited bi-directional service" means inbound service runs roughly from late morning to mid afternoon and outbound from about noon to early evening; "weekdays" excludes holidays.
|Train line||Toronto to/from||Service|
|Lakeshore East||Oshawa||7 days per week, early morning to midnight, every 15-30 minutes|
|Lakeshore West||Burlington (Aldershot)||7 days per week, early morning to midnight, every 15-30 minutes|
|Hamilton||Rush-hour, peak direction only|
|Niagara Falls (Ontario)||Rush-hour, peak direction only|
|Barrie||Aurora||Weekdays: Rush-hour, peak direction plus mid-day bi-directional service|
Weekends: Limited bi-directional service
|Barrie||Weekdays: Rush-hour, peak direction only|
Weekends: Limited bi-directional service
|Stouffville||Markham (Unionville)||Rush-hour, peak direction plus weekday, mid-day bi-directional service|
|Stouffville||Rush-hour, peak direction only|
|Kitchener||Brampton||Rush-hour, peak direction plus weekday, mid-day bi-directional service|
|Kitchener||Rush-hour, peak direction only|
|Richmond Hill||Richmond Hill||Rush-hour, peak direction only|
|Milton||Milton||Rush-hour, peak direction only|
GO trains operate in long trains of 10-12 double-decker passenger coaches. Each GO train has a Customer Service Ambassador, who is responsible for making station announcements, answering questions, and dealing with emergencies. The CSA is stationed in the Accessibility car (the 5th car behind the locomotive).
The GO bus network is much more extensive than the GO train network serving areas or time periods without GO train service. Most GO bus routes operate out of bus terminals at various locations within and near the Greater Toronto Area.
In many cases, a GO bus will not stop unless you indicate you want to be picked up, even if you are standing at a bus stop. You must flag the bus down by raising their hand or ticket in the air as the bus approaches.
GO bus drivers accept cash to pay the fare when boarding a GO bus at a stop away from a ticket office or ticket vending machine. However, bus drivers do not accept debit/credit cards, nor bills over $20 in denomination, and smaller bills are preferred. At bus terminals and GO train stations, GO fare vending machines accept debit/credit cards; however, some might not accept cash.
GO fares are the same on buses and trains, and are distance-based. Fares for seniors (65+) cost 50% of regular fares. Children 12 & under can ride for free on all GO Trains and buses. Presto card users get a discount of about 10% for using Presto instead of one-trip tickets. When transferring between GO Transit and a local transit operator to complete a trip, you may be eligible for a fare discount called the GO co-fare. For Presto users, the discount is automatic after completing the transfer between GO Transit and any local operator using Presto. Co-fare conditions vary by local transit operator.
If you use the Presto card for fare payment, you must tap the card in at the start of the trip, and tap out at the end. If you transfer between a GO train and a GO bus, or between two GO buses, you must tap off the first vehicle before tapping onto the next. For GO trains, customers tap in and out at the station entrance/exit. For GO buses, you must tap both on and off inside the bus door. Remember to tap off when you disembark in order to avoid paying an excessive fare. For GO Transit, the Presto card must have a minimum balance of $5.30 (as of 2018). To cancel a trip after tapping in but before departing, press the "correction" button on the reader, then tap again.
GO trains operate on the Proof-of-Payment system; passengers must possess a valid ticket or a tapped-in Presto card for the entire length of their journey before boarding a train. Tickets cannot be purchased on board, and there are no gates or staff before boarding to ensure you have a fare for a particular train. GO Transit enforcement officers conduct random inspections of tickets, issuing expensive fines to anyone without the correct fare.
- GO trip planner
Here are a few tips for using the GO Transit trip planner. If you are departing or arriving at Toronto (downtown), enter "Union Station" rather than "Toronto". "Union Station GO" is the railway station, "Union Station Bus Terminal" is for GO buses, "UP Express Union Station" is for the airport train and "UNION STATION TTC" is the TTC subway station, all four of which are in close proximity. For downtown Hamilton, select "Hamilton GO Centre". Most GO train stations are identified by station name followed by the acronym "GO". Thus, "Newmarket GO" is the GO train station in Newmarket while "Newmarket GO Bus Terminal" is 2KM east of the railway station.
- Black Creek Pioneer Village, a living museum in Toronto/North York near York University.
- Casa Loma in Toronto, an impressive castle once owned by the proprietor of a local electric company in the early days of electrification of the city, now restored to that historical time period and opened for tours and events.
- The CN Tower in Toronto/Downtown near the Skydome, as North America's tallest free-standing structure.
- Old Oakville has a few small buildings restored to the pioneer era, with costumed interpreters.
- Ontario Science Centre, in Toronto/North York, is an extensive hands-on educational museum.
- Parkwood Estate Gardens in Oshawa, a grand private estate featuring architectural, landscape and interior designs of the early twentieth century English Arts and Crafts period. Now operates as a museum.
- Toronto Zoo, a tautology, occupies a huge area in the east end of Toronto/Scarborough with many exotic animals.
- Unionville Main Street historic village, first developed in the 1840s in what was then Markham Township. As typical of a small village, it boasts numerous quaint period buildings in an idyllic surrounding.
- Canada's Wonderland, a Cedar Fair theme park in Vaughan
- Watch live theatre in Toronto/Downtown or sports teams such as the Toronto Blue Jays or (just for laughs) the Toronto Maple Leafs
- Ontario Place and the Canadian National Exhibition as amusement park and fairgrounds on the west side of downtown Toronto
- Public beaches in the Toronto Islands and east of the city
- Woodbine Raceway, a major horse racing venue in Toronto/Etobicoke
- Caravan, an extensive Folklore festival in which various pavilions scattered across the city represent individual countries
- Caribana, a black Caribbean festival
- A huge gay Pride Festival and parade, usually near the end of June, brings several hundred thousand people
- Santa Claus Parade, Yonge Street, late November
The busy main street of Toronto, Yonge Street, draws a more diverse collection of merchants with more independents than the malls.
Toronto was once headquarters for two rival national department store chains, Eaton's and Simpsons, which both have either closed or been merged into other chains. The largest malls are the Toronto Eaton Centre and Hudson's Bay Centre in Toronto/Downtown, Yorkdale Mall at 401 and Allen Road in Toronto/North York, the Scarborough Town Centre in Toronto/Scarborough, Sherway Gardens in Toronto/Etobicoke and Square One in Mississauga.
Pickering (Ontario) operates an extensive indoor flea market on weekends.
A few national chains claim Toronto or its suburbs as home base; the Swiss Chalet roast chicken restaurants originated in Toronto and the Pizza Pizza delivery chain has strong enough ties to the city to have registered as a trademark the last seven digits of their heavily-advertised Toronto number, +1 416-967-1111. The Harvey's flame-broiled hamburger was first served in York Region.
Because of strong and growing immigrant communities, ethnic foods in Toronto are of good quality and comparable to those of the respective home countries. Greek food on Danforth Avenue or Chinese foods in the various Chinatown districts, among others, are prepared by cooks and chefs from those countries and entice expatriates to visit the city for a "taste of home".
Entire books have been written as collections of reviews of Toronto-area restaurants, which span every segment from takeaway foods to the most expensive of haute cuisine. Within the City of Toronto, very high standards protect food safety and restaurateurs are legally required to post the results of regular inspections.
Toronto is home base to the Loblaw supermarket chain, one of the big three nationally (its rivals Métro from Montreal and Sobey's from Nova Scotia are also widely present). Loblaws city markets tend to be large stores with an assortment of sidelines, ranging from clothing to housewares.
Toronto never sleeps.
Some options for further travel include:
- The Niagara Region - home to the Falls, the Shaw Theatre, a multitude of wineries, and many other tourist attractions.
- Prince Edward County and Eastern Ontario - an opportunity to get out of the city, even pick your own apples and strawberries in season.
- North of Barrie, the Georgian Bay area is cottage country for many Torontonians