Toronto was once described to me as “a city full of people who love Drake -- that’s all you need to know about Toronto.” Granted, this person was a Canadian from another province, so that sentiment was to be taken with a large dose of Nova Scotia sea salt. Toronto’s the largest city in our neighbor to the north -- it’s bigger than Chicago, even -- and one of the most global and multicultural cities on the planet. I knew there had to be more to it than just some hotline bling.
What do Americans know about the fourth-largest city in North America? There’s the CN Tower. And the Rogers Centre, nee SkyDome. And that video with Drake and Rihanna in a Jamaican restaurant. Beyond that? Not much. So I set out to learn why Toronto is such a unique place to visit. By chatting with locals and exploring extensively on my own, I found a place full of generous people from literally all over the world -- imagine a Miami without the attitude, or a New York without the grime, or just a city that raccoons seem to run. Here’s what you need to know before venturing to Canada’s global metropolis.
Toronto is bigger than you expect...
As Americans we tend to think of Canada as America Lite. But unless you’re from New York or LA, Toronto is a bigger city than you’re from. The city was a drab lakeside-second-fiddle to cultural metropolis Montreal until the 1970s, when fears of separationists moved much of Canada’s financial institutions to Toronto. Since then it’s seen explosive growth, where the metro area’s population more than doubled, from 2.8 million in 1976 to nearly 6 million today. (Though that’s not why it’s called “The Six.” The origin of that term stems from the city area code -- 416. Or from the six boroughs that merged to form what is now the city of Toronto in 1998. It’s debatable.)
It's packed with shiny new glass towers, throngs of immigrants, and avalanches of traffic. So understand that getting places takes time, and you’ll have to share space with a lot of strangers. The good news is, they’re friendly, and often will be the first person you’ve ever met from their home country.
… but the best time to visit is exactly when you'd expect
Not that Toronto isn’t a lovely place to be year ’round, but... well, it isn’t. The winters are savagely cold, windy, and bleak. Dat summertime, tho. The first week of May is generally when you’ll stop running the risk of ice storms, and with the nicer weather, rooftop bars, the waterfront, and public parks come alive. August can get brutally humid. Come September, it’s pleasant fall weather until winter arrives again from October until April. It may be further south than Portland, Oregon, but it’s still Canada.