On a trip to Europe, I had a 5-hour layover in Toronto, which happened to be one of the cities I was most eager to visit. I decided to take advantage of this and leave the airport for a quick walk through Downtown Toronto.

Photo: Nathan Phillips Square & Toronto City Hall

Getting To Downtown Toronto

The UP train connects Toronto Pearson Airport to Downtown Toronto in 25 minutes. I didn’t figure this out until too late, but you can get a half-price ticket for a quick round-trip layover journey (under 7 hours). The normal price is $12 one way, but this ticket allows you to go for $12 round trip – much more reasonable! Take the UP train to Union Station, which is conveniently located just below Downtown and just above the city’s popular waterfront area.

Downtown Toronto from Union Station

The Toronto Waterfront

I walked South from Union Station down Simcoe Street for about 10 minutes toward the Waterfront. On the way, I walked right by Toronto’s most iconic building: CN Tower, the tallest free-standing building in North America. Depending on the number of observation towers, you’d like to visit, you can go up the tower for $36 or $48. I didn’t have enough time, so I continued walking.

Toronto Waterfront

Just a few minutes after I passed CN Tower, I arrived at Ontario Square, a modern park along the waterfront. On the right side of the park was a distinctive-looking old building with a spire extending upward into the sky called the Power Plant, which I figured out was a contemporary art museum. Admission is free!

I then arrived at the water and walked for a few minutes along the Waterfront Trail, from which I could see great views of Lake Ontario, the Toronto Islands, and some cool old ships. I passed Natrel Pond, a tiny pond on which you can rent paddleboats – I personally would prefer to paddleboat somewhere a bit less tiny haha.

Downtown Toronto

From the waterfront, I walked up York Street toward Downtown. Immediately I began noticing some very impressive and distinctive architecture – twin buildings that brilliantly reflected the blue sky and clouds, circular residential buildings, tall, thin skyscrapers. It reminded me a lot of Chicago, which I (and many others) consider to be the most architecturally advanced city in the U.S.

Nathan Phillips Square

I stopped at Kiva’s Bagel Bakery and Restaurant, a cute small eatery where I enjoyed a quite filling and savory breakfast sandwich for only $4. I then continued onward and was overjoyed to discover the gorgeous Nathan Phillips Square, which I hadn’t heard of but is surely one of Toronto’s iconic spots as it features a colorful sign with city’s name, a large fountain, and a spot-on view of Toronto’s modern twin City Hall buildings.

After taking some obligatory photos and savoring the epicness of this area for a few minutes, I continued walking north on Bay Street when I noticed some black squirrels playing next to the sidewalk. I hardly ever see black squirrels and I think they’re just the cutest so I stopped to observe them for a few.

Momofuku Restaurant

I made a left on Elm Street and then another left on University Avenue to complete my loop back to Union Station. On the right side, I passed the stunning Momofuku Japanese restaurant that looked like an ultra-modern treehouse. I saw an old church (St. Andrew’s Presbyterian) so I just had to step inside. I was the only person there and it was a beautiful cathedral so it was a great moment of peace to walk through the church with all of my luggage in tow haha.

St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church

I then finished the final 10 minutes of my walk to Union Station and headed back to the airport to continue my journey, feeling extremely accomplished and glad that I had taken advantage of my layover to explore a city with such great architecture, historic landmarks, and tons of character.


For an overview of the top 10 things to do in Toronto, click here!