Making the Most of My Layover: 6 Hours in Toronto

I’m still not entirely sure why my flight from San Jose, Costa Rica to Chicago involved a layover in Toronto, but when I found an AirCanada ticket for $200 less than all the other flight options, I booked it without a second thought. The original flight I chose had a six-hour overnight layover, but I realized that I could extend the layover for no additional cost. I had never visited Canada before, so nineteen hours in Toronto instantly appealed to me.

In reality, nineteen hours turned into six hours of actual city exploration after accounting for time at the airport, transportation to and from the airport, and sleep. AirCanada offers discounted hotels for overnight layovers, but I found a room on Airbnb located near the airport for a better price. I arrived too late at night to motivate myself to do anything, so I set off early the next morning without a map or a real plan.  Here is the sliver of the city I saw and the tips I picked up during my day of solo travel.

Public Transportation

Toronto’s intercity transportation consisted of subways and buses, and I used both to get downtown from my Airbnb. While entering the subway from a station, I had to buy a Presto card (similar to the Oyster cards in London) and load rides onto it. The buses took either Presto cards or cash, but I found it easier to use the card. Google Maps has extensive schedules of the routes based on your destination, or you can find them online.

I found that I could save a good amount of money by staying further from the city center, and only spent a couple dollars on the subway to get downtown. The airport had many transportation options, and a bus ran from the airport to a stop near my Airbnb.

Walking Districts

A friend of mine recommended that I check out the Kensington Market area, so I went there first. The name is a bit deceiving as it’s less of a market and more of a collection of small, one-of-a-kind shops, but it’s a good place to look for local food and get gifts. The area around the market also features various graffiti and street art worth photographing.

"Love" sign made out of locks
A sign made out of locks

After Kensington Market, I got back on the bus to go to the Distillery District, one of Toronto’s historic districts. The center of this collection of shops only allows for foot traffic, and I found several cute boutiques and stores. Works of street art, including sculptures and signs, populate the cobblestone streets.

Eating

I stumbled upon a restaurant called Cacao 70 while walking through the Distillery District, and it absolutely made my day. Practically every menu item includes chocolate, from drinks to fondue to waffles. I ordered one of several fondue pot options, which included a mix of white and milk chocolate fondue (I still have no idea how they got the chocolate to separate so cleanly) and a variety of fruits and sweets to dip in and enjoy.

Fondue pot and dippings at Cacao 70
My meal at Cacao 70

Toronto is also home to a Harry Potter-themed pub, The Lockhart, which unfortunately is closed on Mondays—the one day I was in the city. However, I heard from friends that it lives up to the hype.

While I didn’t spend as much time in Toronto as I would have liked to, the combination of booking a cheap flight home, breaking up a long day of travel with a layover, and getting to see Toronto at minimal cost worked out well for me. And thanks to The Lockhart, I now have a compelling reason to return.

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