How to spend 20 hours in Toronto

Actually, despite the title, in this post I am going to tell you how I’ve spent an afternoon in Toronto, in a stopover on my way to Cuba. The total time of the stopover was 20 hours, but that also included the night.

The easiest way to fly to Cuba, from Europe, is via Toronto/Montreal or via Madrid. I chose the first option because the price was much cheaper and because I was happy to know that this flight will give me 20 hours to spend in Toronto. I’ve booked a hotel for the night, bought the Lonely Planet, sorted my visa and happily waited for the departure date. Due to the fact that my luggage was lost, it took me less than 15 minutes since I got off the plane until I cleared immigration and found myself in the arrivals hall from Pearson International Airport.


The hotel shuttle showed up in half an hour and by 1PM I was in my room, at the Star Express Inn, in Mississauga. I’ve staid in many, many hotels and hostels during my trips around the world but none was dirtier than this one. The sheets were stained, the floor was dirty, the shower curtain was stinking, there was no drinking water at all… but I was so tired that nothing mattered at this point. I took a shower, changed my clothes and then headed back to the airport to take the express train into the city.

The fast train UP Express takes less than 30 minutes from the airport into town, has free WiFi and the price of the ticket is $44 for a return. The ticket machines won’t sell return tickets, for this you have to speak with a member of the staff. Otherwise you will pay more if you buy two one way tickets.


I arrived in Toronto right before the sun was preparing to set. I got out of the train and I couldn’t believe my eyes what I was seeing. I felt like I was in one of those American movies where a country girl all of a sudden founds herself in the center of New York. I was standing in the middle of the sidewalk, in front of the train station, looking up at the skyscrapers, with a dumb smile on my face, while hundreds of people were rushing by me, into their daily routine. But for me, time stood still. I was astonished by the size of the buildings surrounding me.


I didn’t have all day to stare, so I looked on the map and decided to go towards the harbor and see Lake Ontario. I knew I wouldn’t have time to go to the island and back but I still wanted to see the waterfront. I’ve made my way down Bay street, through the crowds of people heading for the station, passed underneath a bridge and got stuck at a traffic light behind a bunch of Canadians wearing business suits. I listed to their conversation for a few seconds and found their accent being so different, me being used to the British one. They were also very tall and I felt a bit like a midget behind them (and I am not short).

The waterfront, near the ferry terminal, was beautiful. The sun was setting down and the sky was colored in different shades of red and orange. The lake is also on the flight path of the small city airport of Toronto and I was lucky to see a few planes landing, and even luckier to catch one in a picture. Besides me, a child was pointing them out to her parents… in Romanian. “What a small world!”, I thought to myself.


Slowly, slowly, the night has took over the town and the lights turn on, while I went back exploring the streets guarded by the tall skyscrapers. I was searching for the Eaton Centre, a mall, to buy some clothes and some toiletries for the next few days until my luggage was supposed to be delivered (or so I thought, as it never did). But I would stop at every corner to look up again, take some more pictures and think again how amazing this was. Soon, I arrived at the Old City Hall, which I first thought it was a vintage fire station, but I can’t explain what gave me that impression. I could see it’s clock tower from far away, as I was walking on Bay Street and I was intrigued because it’s architecture was so different than everything surrounding it.


Read more about the best things to do in Toronto.



I crossed the street and my intuition told me to go left. And all of a sudden I was in this beautiful square, all decorated for Christmas, with an ice skating ring and the name “Toronto” spelled in large colored letters behind it. I would have loved to spend some more time there but I had to go, I only had half an hour until I was meeting Sam, the Couchsurfer whom I was having dinner with. Luckily the mall was just two blocks away.


It was getting cold so I was happy to get inside. Eaton Centre is a large shopping center and this time of the year it was nicely decorated with huge pink reindeer. The atmosphere was very Christmasy and most of the shops had sales. But at that moment, all I wished for was a lipbalm and a bottle of water. Just a tip, when flying long haul always protect your lips with a good lipbalm. The air conditioned from the plane is your enemy and it will get your lips very sore and painful. But back to my shopping, I have to say, it was really difficult to find summer clothes in the middle of December, in Toronto. I managed however to buy a flowery skirt from H&M and a couple of Tshirts from Forever 21. I was tempted to buy some real maple syrup too, but I gave up the idea thinking that I’ll have to carry it for 2 weeks around Cuba.


Β With my new clothes and my precious toiletries in my backpack, I happily headed towards Dundas Square, where I met Sam. When I travel I like to meet locals to see the city from their perspective and for that I am using Couchsurfing. I also sometimes surf but I mostly host when I’m at home. Anyway, Sam is a Couchsurfer from Toronto who invited me for dinner at an Ethiopian Restaurant, Ethiopiques. The restaurant was small and cosy, tastefully decorated. It was my first time having Ethiopian food and I was pretty eager to try it. Sam said it’s an experience rather than a normal dinner, and he was right. We ordered the meat and veggie sharing platter, which consists of 6 vegetable and 2 chicken dishes served on injera, a national Ethiopian sourdough-risen flatbread with a unique, slightly spongy texture. It was delicious!

Β After dinner we headed over to the LCBO to taste some Canadian wine. I had no idea that Canada was a wine producer. There are 23 wineries in Niagara region, one of the biggest wine producing areas of Canada. Here it’s produced the ice wine, a Canadian dessert wine made out of grapes that have been frozen while still on the vine. Unfortunately I am not a fan of sweet wines but if you are I recommend you to try the Canadian ice wine. It is very sweet and flavorsome. I have also tasted the Chardonnay, which was more to my liking.

In Canada alcohol is sold only in provincially-owned liquor-store outlets and in Ontario especially, at the LCBO shops – The Liquor Control Board of Ontario. Even restaurants and bars have to buy their alcohol at the LCBO or directly at the wineries and breweries from Ontario.

The temperature was dropping fast and it was getting really cold, even if during the day there were 14 degrees, by this time it went down to 0. That’s when Sam told me about the secret of Toronto: The Path – Toronto’s Downtown Underground Pedestrian Walkway. This path connects the skyscrapers through the underground on a distance of over 19 miles! There are over 1200 shops inside the path and it’s a great way of walking through the center of the city without going out in the cold. Because it was pretty late, we were among the last people walking on the Path and it felt pretty cool to be almost alone in there.


Unfortunately we were both tired and my long haul flight and the jet lag were starting to tell me it’s time to go to bed. So we headed back towards the train station. I’ve looked up again at the skyscrapers and at the CN Tower, with the rotating restaurant on top, but I didn’t have any energy left to go there too. Inside the train station a piano appeared out of nowhere, for anyone to play it for free.


If you have 48 hours to spend in Toronto I recommend this guide on how to see the city’s top attractions.


Here it was, the time to say goodbye to Sam and to Toronto, say thank you for a great afternoon and head back to the hotel before falling asleep. But it doesn’t always work as planned, right? The shuttle back to the hotel was late and then the driver got lost on the way. So instead of a 10 minutes journey, it took us over 40 minutes to arrive. I can’t even remember when I told the receptionist to schedule me a wake up call and when I got into my room.


Toronto is a beautiful city that has much, much more to see and do and I hope I will go back at some point to discover it all. It’s also a great city for shopping, especially because the Canadian dollar is less than 50p at the moment.

Did you visit Toronto? What is your “do not miss in Toronto” tip?

*Photos taken with Samsung Galaxy S4

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Traveler. Dreamer. Cat lover. Wondering around the world with my backpack and my camera. Contributing to make the world a better place.


  1. Glad to you enjoyed your visit to Toronto. Great photos. If you get another chance, the restaurant atop the CN Tower is wonderful. I live a half hour away Toronto and rarely get the opportunity to see the City through the eyes of a tourist. Great post!

    1. Thank you Mike! I definitely want to return to Toronto, there are so many things that I want to see and to explore. I also want to go to Niagara falls and on the island from Ontario Lake. This was just a stopover that showed me just tiny bit of Toronto πŸ™‚

  2. I was so jealous of you from reading this post. I’ve always wanted to visit Canada. And it’s really not that far from me in New York. Great writing and keep it up!!

    1. You should go and visit Canada! I would love to go back and explore some more of Toronto. I went there with no expectations and ended up loving it! πŸ™‚

  3. Fantastic pictures, sounds like you could have spent a lot longer in Toronto. My Nan used to live there so its nice to see and hear a different point of view.

    1. I would have loved to go to Niagara too but I didn’t have enough time. I only had one afternoon and one night in Toronto.

    1. Yes, Toronto is the best choice if you are going to Cuba from Europe, and that is because there are no commercial flights to Cuba from America due to the embargo, so you can’t have an American layover.

  4. It looks like you had a great time in Toronto. You had me at the sweet Canadian wine :)) That something I would like to try. Great pictures post! I felt like I was traveling with you .xoxo

  5. Awww , these photos are amazing !!! I wish , I could turn back time 25 years , I would so love to discover all that myself ! Great post, thank you for that ! Good luck with your upcoming adventures πŸ™‚

  6. Great post! I have a friend who lives in Toronto so it’s interesting to hear about it (or, you know, read about it). I’m also visiting Montreal the coming summer so this is interesting in that aspect as well!

  7. Awesome photos Joanna! I’ve been to Toronto twice and agree that the city has a lot to see and do. The struggles are real when it comes to dehydration in the plane. Thanks for sharing your experience. xo

  8. I have never visited Toronto so I can’t tell you but you’re post makes me want to go! I have never even been in America. I’m grateful for these posts so that I can go there through your eyes :)) nice the selfie as well! Makes it personal

    1. Thank you Sabine! πŸ™‚ I haven’t been to America either and I don’t plan on going soon. The American government makes it very hard for me to get the visa so I’m waiting until the EU will oblige them to or until I get British citizenship. πŸ™‚

  9. Joanna,

    So the hotel was a bummer but that was alright. I could just imagine the look on your face when you were like in awe of the buildings. πŸ™‚

    I am glad you had a good time there even if it was only for 20 hours. Of course that is not enough time to see what the city has to offer.

    What the heck is coachsurfing?

  10. Oh my goodness! I can vividly imagine how filthy the room was based on your description. The worst accommodation I experienced was a room with a colony of ants and no lights from midnight until 5am. BTW, the piano is really beautiful.

  11. I absolutely adored reading about your time in Toronto! I shuddered in the inn and became curious reading out your ethiopian food experience.

    We live in France and have considered living in Montreal, one of our reservations was that we would miss the wine! It’s great to know they have options and so unique ones like the winter wines! Keep up the amazing work! πŸ™‚

  12. Well I felt I had visited Toronto for straight 20 hours through your article. And yes the room sounded so filthy, that I am never going near an airport hotel again.

    1. I am sure there are better hotels around, I guess I was just unlucky. I never had a bad experience with an airport hotel before, usually they are superb – at least in the UK.

  13. Hey great description….sorry to hear about your lost baggage and the dirty hotel room!! But the pics look excellent…and the underground walkway connecting the skyscrapers sounds really awesome and is thoughtful!!

  14. That’s unfortunate that the first hotel room was so decrepit, but it looks as though you saw some beautiful landscapes and architecture.
    For the record, I’ve been that girl from the small town who suddenly found herself in the middle of a big city on several occasions. I know just how you felt.

  15. Toronto seems amazing, i’ve always wanted to visit it! Sorry to hear you had some bad experiences, i guess that’s the risk of travelling :/

  16. I’ve only been to Toronto during the summer time, so obviously this is a completely “other Toronto”. I’d say that when it’s summer there’s Toronto island which is fantastic!!

  17. You got to do and see a lot for just a layover! Definitely makes me want to visit Toronto. I want to do a Canada road-trip soon and will be adding Toronto to the list. Thanks for sharing!

  18. Wow! Really lovely place! My father-in-law lives in Toronto for so many years and yet, this is the first time I’ve seen photos of it really. πŸ˜€ I’d love to visit Toronto someday!

  19. I’ve always been curious about Toronto, thanks for posting. Wow it does look like New York, I didn’t expect it to have such a “big city” feel. How nice also that when you want to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city, you can go to peaceful Lake Ontario. I love how there was also an ice skating rink in the middle of town. Even its cold, there is still an outdoor activity where people can converge. The idea of “the path” is also so cool!

  20. Thanks for sharing! I’m thinking of going there maybe next year for summer school programme. I will use your tips πŸ™‚
    sorry for late response!

  21. Wow, great photos. Never been there but after reading this post I think Toronto is amazing I need to go there.

  22. Never been to Toronto, it looks like it was a lot of fun, since you’ve been shopping and visiting fun places around Toronto. Even though that’s for short time period. Also, you tried Ethiopian which is a whole new experience. But the important thing is that you went there and see few new things.

  23. I don’t have a great tip about Toronto but I loved living through you as you saw Toronto! It is so beautiful! I loved the Path and how it was decorated for Christmas! Just a beautiful city. What a fun idea to meet up with a local so they can show you the best local places around. I have never done that before.

  24. Such an adventurous trip you had! Sorry to hear about your lost luggage and dirty hotel room. I’ve never been to Toronto but your post is so inspiring! I’d love to explore the city and check out its hidden gems! I’ve never used Couchsurfing, sounds like a great option! What can be better than meeting local people when you travel! πŸ˜‰ I had no idea Canada is a wine producer too! I’d love to try the Canadian ice wine!

  25. Seems like you made the most of your 20 hours in Toronto. I am actually from Toronto πŸ™‚ glad you enjoyed the waterfront!

  26. It was totally worth it right? Going through all of that. One good thing you did good was to get a couchsurfer. It’s fun when you do that. You get to meet a lot different new people. And good photos

  27. I love that you seized the time and went exploring. I would chicken out and hide at the airport for my next flight. It’s so freeing to conquer somewhere on your own. I’ve never been but Toronto looks like a fab place! Maybe one day I’ll have a layover there πŸ˜‰

  28. I don’t know if it’s meant, but my wife and I have been talking about Toronto Canada as our next travel destination. I just showed your post to my wife and she’s leaning towards going to Toronto now. I guess that’s where we are going. I still have a couple of days before the final decision is made. lol

  29. Thanks for the tips. Seeing what you experience like the dirty hotel room show us what to look out for. You definitely made the most out of your 20 hours.

  30. That inn sounds absolutely disgusting I can’t believe they would let it run to filth like that. Still when your exhausted it is true you just don’t care anymore. Toronto is somewhere I would like to visit too and your blog actually further reinforces how much I would like to travel right now.

  31. Your pictures are amazing! I have not been to Canada since I was about 7/8 years old, so its definitely been a while. I do have an aunt that lives there and it is a beautiful place to travel to.

  32. I never imagined Toronto to be so beautiful! I’d love to tour both America and Canada one day πŸ™‚ I like the sound of that Ethiopian restaurant – I’ve never tried this cuisine before!

  33. Ugh … Thanks for the share. I’ve come across several bad hotels. Now I have a handy OCD kit to make all my stays more comfy

  34. I only spent about 8 hours in Toronto. Definitely not much time. Took a tour of the Rogers Centre. Visited the Hockey Hall of Fame. walked around some parks and downtown. The drive through the ethnic neighborhoods on the way out made me want to return.

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