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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!