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Toronto on a budget: See more for less

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.
Image: Toronto
Americans headed to Toronto may find Canada's largest city refreshingly hip, diverse and utterly cosmopolitan — and being a good travel deal.Fred Thornhill / Reuters file
/ Source: The Associated Press

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.

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 or

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.