Image: CN tower, Toronto
Fred Thornhill  /  Reuters file
Americans headed to Toronto may find Canada's largest city refreshingly hip, diverse and utterly cosmopolitan — and being a good travel deal.
updated 11/26/2008 2:15:44 PM ET 2008-11-26T19:15:44

With the U.S. dollar surging against Canadian currency, a vacation north of the border is suddenly affordable again. The U.S. dollar was worth $1.23 Canadian in late November, a comeback from a one-to-one exchange rate last year.

In addition to being a good deal, Americans headed to Toronto may also find Canada's largest city refreshingly hip, diverse and utterly cosmopolitan.

Here are some tips to help you explore the city known as "Tronno" or "T-dot" while saving those loonies (the colloquial term for Canada's $1 coin).

Getting around: Travel to the city's colorful neighborhoods on the public transit system known as the "TTC." A fare of CA$2.75 (US$2.23) allows you transfer between subway, streetcar and bus if you get a transfer (a slip of paper) when you first pay. Exact fare is required on buses and streetcars. TTC day passes for CA$9 ($7.30) or weekly passes for CA$25 ($21) are also available for unlimited travel.

And, instead of taking a costly taxi from the airport, take a shuttle bus for CA$13 ($10.55) to Union Station, Toronto's transit hub, which offers travel within the city, as well as to Toronto's suburbs and outlying cities and towns via the Go Trains and Via Trains.

Getting around by foot: Grab an InfoTOgo visitor map from one of 23 stand-alone booths located around the city. The maps are CA$2 ($1.60) from the booths and point out more than 20 tourist sites including historic locations and transportation stops. It's relatively easy to spend the day walking from Toronto's trendy and urban-fashion-forward Queen Street West to peruse its shops and underground culture, to Chinatown to grab some cheap eats, and then on to Yorkville to check out how the city's rich and famous shop and live.

The waterfront: Toronto's Harbourfront is an easy walk south from Union Station. This pretty lakefront region offers events year-round, with lots of ethnic festivals, arts programs, music, inexpensive food and ice- and roller-skating.

Take the Queen Street streetcar, starting from Queen Street West (at Dufferin) to check out Toronto's, uber-cool, gritty hipster 'hoods all the way east to The Beach, a stretch of waterfront that's especially fun in the summer. In warm weather, take a dip in the tepid water, play pickup volleyball, stroll the boardwalk, or attend the free, annual jazz festival so big it shuts down the street each July.

View from the top: Although Toronto might be known for its view from the CN Tower (once the world's tallest building), it's an expensive view that'll put you back anywhere from CA$21-$40 ($17-32) depending on the tour package. There is an alternative. Head to the Panorama restaurant in the Manulife Centre located near the city's chic Yorkville neighborhood (Bay and Yonge Street). Grab the elevator to this romantic restaurant on the 51st floor and sip a Chardonnay as you take in the view.

Markets: From the Harbourfront, walk north to Front Street and east along Front to the St. Lawrence Market, comprised of three historic buildings that made up Toronto's first City Hall. Today it houses an antique market and food market, named among the world's top 25 markets by Food & Wine magazine. Grab Canadian bacon on a bun at Carousel Bakery for CA$3 ($2.45); a potato latke for CA$1.25 ($1) at European Delight; or organic, fresh fare at one of the several shops.

Kensington Market, the hip, activists-inhabited neighborhood adjacent to Chinatown, is funky, with organic, fair-trade coffee shops, vegetarian fare, and frequent environmental or social justice protests or activities to boot. Its history of poor immigrant families who set up shop here has left a legacy of budget-friendly, ethnic-inspired fare that tempts your tastebuds.

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Try a one-of-a-kind chicken and kimchee empanada, CA$3.75 ($3) at El Gordo Fine Foods; a pork or chicken tamale with mole or green salsa, wrapped in banana leaves, for CA$2 ($1.60) at Perola Supermarket; a Montreal smoked meat sandwich, CA$3.49 ($2.83); a 6-ounce all-beef Texas burger, CA$2.29 ($1.85) at European Quality Meat and Sausages; or a mini-roti to go, CA$3 ($2.43) at Shai's Cafe. The market's boutiques and vintage shops also offer great, unique grabs if you're willing to sift through the racks.

No food-on-a-budget mission can exclude Chinatown. Grab a Vietnamese sub for CA$1.50 ($1.20) at Banh Mi Nguyen Huong, 322 Spadina; a full meal for CA$8 ($6.50) at Buddha's Vegetarian Foods, 666 Dundas St. West; or nosh on steamed buns stuffed with pork for CA$5 ($4) at Chinese Traditional Buns, 536 Dundas St. West.

A district with charm: Many of Toronto's coolest neighborhoods are recently gentrified, once- industrial districts. The Distillery is one such neighborhood. Formerly known as the Gooderham and Worts distillery, producing whiskey and spirits and housing flour mills, the area was one of Toronto's historical manufacturing centers. Today, the preserved Victorian industrial architecture and cobblestone streets have a European feel, further enhanced by art galleries, one-of-a-kind boutiques and myriad arts and culture festivals, from wine tastings to artisan and fashion events.

Arts: Last year, the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) reopened after years of renovations to reveal a massive and obtrusive crystal addition. The dramatic aluminum and glass-clad addition juts and soars from the original Italianate Neo-Romanesque building. The family-friendly museum specializes in world culture and natural history. Check out the dinosaurs, Chinese temple art, the current diamonds exhibition and more. Admission is free Wednesdays, 4:30 p.m.-5:30 p.m., and half-price, CA$11 ($8.95) on Fridays, 4:30 p.m.-9:30 p.m.

The Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) opened its doors this month after a major renovation designed by star-chitect Frank Gehry, who grew up in the neighborhood. Its new billowing glass facade wraps the building and beckons passers-by to explore both the architecture and the art. Free admission Wednesdays, 6 p.m.-8:30 p.m.

Long Yonge Street: Once noted in Guinness World Records as the longest street in the world, Yonge Street is Toronto's major arterial thoroughfare, but it actually stretches 1,178 miles from the lakeshore here beyond the city to the Minnesota border. Wander from the heart of the Toronto's mini-"Times Square" at Yonge and Dundas up to the shopping district at Yonge and Bloor. In the winter, check out nearby Yorkville, which transforms into a winter wonderland; click on "holiday magic" here.

Festivals: The city has free events, concerts and festivals almost every weekend, especially in summer. More details at http://www.nowtoronto.com/ or http://www.eyeweekly.com/.

Lodging: Stay in the clean and safe Hi Toronto Youth Hostel, 76 Church St., in downtown Toronto for as little as CA$26 ($21) a night. The hostel also offers discount tickets to shows, sporting events and more.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Photos: Toronto: An urban gem

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  1. Casa Loma Garden

    The former home of Canadian financier Sir Henry Pellatt, Canada's foremost castle is complete with decorated suites, secret passages, an 800-foot tunnel, towers, stables and beautiful 5-acre estate gardens (open May-Oct.). (Tourism Toronto) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Nathan Phillips Square

    Nathan Phillips Square is a city square that forms the front (south) entrance to Toronto City Hall or 'New City Hall', and features an ice rink/reflecting pool, a peace garden, and the 'Three-Way Piece No. 2' ('The Archer') by Henry Moore at the north end in front of City Hall. (Tourism Toronto) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. The Rexall Centre

    The Rexall Centre is an international tennis center built with the local community in mind. The park-like setting provides dining, shopping and interactive activities to add to the tennis experience. (Matthew Stockman / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. The Toronto Zoo

    Sumatran tiger cubs play in their pen at the Toronto Zoo. (Adrian Wyld / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Royal Ontario Museum

    A totem pole extends towards the skylight in the main stairwell of the Royal Ontario Museum. (Tourism Toronto) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Air Canada Centre

    The Air Canada Centre, often referred to simply as The ACC, is a multi-purpose arena located on Bay Street in downtown Toronto, Ontario. It is the home of the Toronto Raptors of the NBA, the Toronto Maple Leafs of the NHL, and the Toronto Rock of the NLL. It was also home to the Toronto Phantoms of the AFL during their brief existence. (Robert Laberge / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Chinatown

    Toronto has the second largest Chinatown in North America and the largest when all six Chinatowns are grouped as one. It has grown significantly over the years and has come to reflect a diverse set of Asian cultures through its shops and restaurants, including Chinese, Vietnamese and Thai. (Tourism Toronto) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Rogers Centre

    The Rogers Centre is home to Major League Baseball's Toronto Blue Jays and the Canadian Football League's Toronto Argonauts. While it is primarily a sports venue, Rogers Centre also hosts other large-scale events such as conventions, trade fairs and concerts. (Harry How / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Hockey Hall of Fame

    The Hockey Hall of Fame which celebrates the history of ice hockey with exhibits featuring memorabilia and NHL trophies (including the Stanley Cup). (Tourism Toronto) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Eaton Centre

    The Toronto Eaton Centre is a large shopping mall and office complex in downtown Toronto, and is a top tourist attraction. One of the most prominent sights in the shopping mall is the group of fibre glass Canada Geese hanging from the ceiling. This sculpture, named Flight Stop, is the work of artist Michael Snow. (Tourism Toronto) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Toronto skyline

    The Toronto skyline with a view of the CN Tower, at 1,815 feet, 5 inches tall, is the world's tallest freestanding structure on land. It is considered the signature icon of the city; more than two million international visitors are attracted annually to the tower. Guinness World Records has listed the CN Tower as the world's tallest 'building' for 30 years. (Corbis) Back to slideshow navigation
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