One of the best things about flying to Canada is that there is just so much to see. From the vibrant metropolises of Ontario to the wilderness of British Columbia, this is a truly diverse country that would take years to explore in its entirety. However, many savvy travellers can incorporate a stopover into their travel plans, allowing for an extra bit of adventure.
If you are going on holiday to Canada from the UK, it’s easy to arrange a stopover in Toronto. You might find you’re on a connecting flight which stops there anyway, which is the perfect opportunity for a quick trip into town. This dynamic city is definitely worth a flying visit. So, if you’re taking a connecting flight to Toronto, make sure you get out and see the city! There are plenty of things to see and do near the airport. Leave your heavy hold luggage with the airport’s Secure Wrap facilities and explore with some of our top ideas on how to spend a stopover in Toronto.
The surrounding neighbourhoods
For those with a few more hours to spare, there are plenty of things to do and see in the area surrounding the airport. The airport is based in the Mississauga neighbourhood and, beyond it, Etobicoke is also close-by. Whilst this is not the Toronto city centre you will have famously seen, there are some great spots and attractions for those who don’t want to venture too far from the airport during their stopover.
Eating and drinking
While Mississauga and Etobicoke are thought of as relatively quiet areas of Greater Toronto, they are also known for having a fantastic food offering that is ever-changing and exciting. Why not visit Watan Kabob, Land of Afghan Grill, for a taste of the finest Afghani food in Toronto? From beef kabobs to tandoori chicken and fresh fish dishes, all infused with delicious spices, this 100% Halal restaurant is a culinary adventure in itself.
For a lunch on the go, Burrito Boyz is ever-popular with locals. For a high-end evening meal, restaurants such as Piatto Bistro – for authentic Italian dishes – and La Castille steak house – for mouth-watering steaks and seafood – are among Mississauga’s many options.
The Art Gallery of Mississauga
Travel time: 15 minutes
How to get there: Get a taxi or Uber from the airport to 300 City Centre Drive via the ON-403 West.
Looking around the Art Gallery of Mississauga is sure to keep you entertained on any stopover in Toronto. Located in the Mississauga Civic Centre, the AGM presents a calendar of contemporary art exhibitions featuring regional, national and international artists. Here, you can enjoy tours, talks and workshops, or simply enjoy the displays. Current exhibits include “The Family Camera: Missing Chapters”, in which acclaimed Vietnam-born artist Dinh Q. Lê explores his family journey immigrating to the U.S. to escape the Khmer Rouge, and the lost photos from a time of political unrest that highlights traces of familial intimacy and history.
Travel time: 15 minutes
How to get there: Get a taxi or Uber from the airport to Kariya Drive via the ON-403 West.
For those who like the idea of spending the day in a secluded spot free of crowds, Kariya Park is a great choice. Located in Mississauga, 10 miles from the airport, these Japanese-style gardens are something of a hidden gem in Toronto. Open seven days a week, this park was opened in 1992 to celebrate the town’s partnership with Kariya, Japan. It encompasses meandering walkways, ponds, a hill garden and various other enchanting landscapes, all perfect to unwind in. Reviewers describe the garden as an “unexpected little haven of peace in downtown Mississauga.”
Travel time: 20 minutes
How to get there: Get a taxi or Uber from the airport to Streetsville via the ON-401 West.
Looking for a unique neighbourhood to explore? Want to uncover Canadian history and enjoy some great food and shopping all at once? Then head to Streetsville, the ‘village in the city’. This historic old village in Mississauga was created after Timothy Street, a resident of the Niagara Township, was tasked with surveying the area as the final acquisition of the Credit River lands by the British Government. Granted 1,000 acres of land in return, he created Streetsville in 1824, a village full of major mill sites, which quickly became known as the ‘Queen of the County.” Visiting today, you can learn about the historical relevance of the village. With period buildings and plenty of events, there is lots to enjoy. We recommend a coffee or sit-down meal in the popular Streetsville Square.
Port Credit Lighthouse
Travel time: 20 minutes
How to get there: Get a taxi or Uber from the airport to Port Credit via the ON-427 and Queen Elizabeth Way.
Nestled at the mouth of the Credit River, the Port Credit Lighthouse has become iconic for its red and white design. However, it also has an important history – the river was used during the fur trade and for the exchange of goods by the Ojibwa people, who are now known as the Mississaugas of the New Credit First Nation. It is visible from 15 miles out on Lake Ontario! Head to Port Credit Memorial Park for breath-taking waterfront vistas, and visit the lighthouse for panoramic views of the Credit River.
Travel time: 10 minutes
How to get there: Get a taxi or Uber from the airport to Centennial Park via Renforth Drive.
One of the top attractions in Toronto is Centennial Park, and this beautiful urban garden is just a few miles from the Toronto Pearson International Airport. Simply hop on a train or in a taxi and head to this Etobicoke-based park. Among the luscious greenery of one of the city’s busiest parks, you’ll find the Etobicoke Olympium, Centennial park Ski Hill, the Park Conservatory, a new BMX bike park, playgrounds, picnic areas, wading pools and much more! Go for a stroll around the ponds and through the beautiful trees, challenge your family to some go-karting, or try your hand at the popular sport, ‘frolf’ – or Frisbee golf. This is the perfect way to stretch your legs before the next leg of your journey!
Great Lakes Brewery
Travel time: 15 minutes
How to get there: Get a taxi or Uber from the airport to Centennial Park via the ON-427 South.
If you’ve got a day to spend on a stopover and are looking for an immersive experience in the airport vicinity, a tour of one of Toronto’s most famous breweries is a great option. Troy Burtch is from the Great Lakes Brewery, which is very close to the Pearson International Airport and welcomes a lot of visitors throughout the year. He says:
“Whether you’re on the way to the airport for some exotic trip or visiting Toronto from some faraway land, Great Lakes Brewery, only a 10-minute drive from the airport, is a welcoming stop with lots of fresh local beer. We have a fun and exciting tap room and brewery front patio where we offer $5 glasses (12 oz.) of GLB beer, but we have a fully stocked fridge of craft beer that ranges in styles from light lagers to pale ales, IPAs and barrel-aged treats. Come visit the brewery and make a new friend.”
Humber Bay Park East
Travel time: 1 hour
How to get there: Take the UP Express to Weston Station. Then take the UP Express to Bloor station. Then get a taxi to Humber Bay Park East Trail via Parkside Drive and Lake Shore Blvd West.
Whether you’re into hiking, kayaking or simply lazing by crystal-clear waters, Humber Bay Park East is the perfect outing in the Etobicoke area. This beautiful waterfront park was created in the 1970s and ’80s, and provides the perfect setting to walk, bike, picnic or chill out by the water. Here, you can also gain amazing views of the city skyline and Lake Ontario, which is ideal for those who want a proper glimpse of Toronto without the hustle and bustle of downtown itself. Nature lovers will enjoy the Humber Bay Butterfly Habitat within the park, along with many birds and other wildlife to spot. Activities such as stand-up paddle-boarding and kayaking are ideal for the more active traveller.
Travel time: 20 minutes via transit, 6 minutes via Uber
How to get there: Take the 7 bus northbound from Toronto Airport Terminal 1 to Airport Road at Hull Street. Walk about 1 minute to Hull Street Station at Derry Road and take the 30 eastbound to Woodbine Centre Bus Terminal. Alternatively, take an Uber via the ON-427 North.
Located at Woodbine Shopping Centre, Fantasy Fair is actually the largest indoor amusement park in the whole of Ontario. If you’re travelling with restless kids, this is the perfect way to spend a day on a stopover in Toronto, with plenty of exhilarating rides and attractions to enjoy. Little ones will love a ride on the Fantasy Fair Express, whereas older children will enjoy the Crystal Kaleidoscope Ferris Wheel and the Rock ‘n’ Climb wall. Even adults will love the nostalgia of classic rides such as the antique carousel and the spinning cups, or even a Fantasy Flight balloon ride! All of this and more is available in a sub-10-minute drive from the airport.
Venture into the city
If you have a slightly longer stopover in Toronto, and are determined to see the city’s most famous landmarks, there are a few places to put to the top of your itinerary. As Donna McSherry from Sleeping in Airports explains, it is possible to explore the city centre on a stopover. She advises:
“People can take the UPTrain to Union Station and be within a short walking distance of the CN Tower, Ripley’s Aquarium, Harbour front and City Hall to get a photo of the popular Toronto sign that the tourists and locals seem to love. A hop-on hop-off bus has a stop near Union Station, the total circuit is 2 hours.”
Check out the local transport links in advance, plan your top must-see attractions, and get exploring these top sites in the city!
Travel time: 50 minutes
How to get there: The UP Express to the UP Express Union Station, walk five minutes to Union Station and then take the 509 tram to Fleet Street at Fork York Blvd.
Fort York National Historic Site is on many people’s bucket lists for a holiday in Toronto. If you’re just in the city on a stopover, you’re perfectly positioned to explore this important attraction as Fort York is within easy reach for a quick visit. This fascinating site is Canada’s largest collection of original buildings from the War of 1812, and also encompasses the 1813 battle site. Built by the British Army and Canadian Militia, it was built to defend the city from attack as the new capital of then-Upper Canada. Barracks, officer’s quarters, blockhouses and more await your discovery. With tours in a period setting and seasonal demonstrations, this is an educating and entertaining way to spend a few hours in Toronto, learning about local history.
Travel time: 25 minutes
How to get there: Take the Union Pearson Express (UP Express) to Union Station in downtown Toronto’s SkyWalk. Trains depart every 15 minutes from 5:30am to 1am daily.
The famous CN Tower is an icon of Toronto, and at under 15 miles from the airport, is pretty easy to reach during a connection. Sarah Schlichter, Senior Editor of Smarter Travel suggests visitors on a stopover in the city should “take in the views from the top of the CN Tower, one of Toronto’s most famous landmarks. Consider purchasing a Toronto CityPASS to skip the lines.” Donna agrees, “The CNTower is usually on the first-timer’s list of things to see and do, but I’d recommend buying a ticket in advance to avoid delays, as they will be long, especially during the summer months.”
Once you reach the tower, you can experience the views in a number of ways. Get a thrill as you reach the top of the world in just 58 seconds on the glass-fronted high-speed elevators with an amazing view. Be intrepid with an EdgeWalk experience as you walk hands-free around the main pot at 116 storeys high. Or take in the epic views across Toronto in the SkyPod – one of the highest observation platforms in the world, or enjoy fine dining at the 360 Restaurant.
Galleries and Museums
Travel time: 35 minutes
How to get there: Take the UP Express to Dundas West Station, and then get a connection eastbound to St George Station and from there both the ROM and the AGO are minutes away.
Sarah continues to say, “If your layover is long, you might have time for one of the city’s excellent museums such as the Hockey Hall of Fame”. Museums and galleries are a great way to spend an afternoon if you’re interested in history and culture, and Toronto is home to some of the best in Canada. The Royal Ontario Museum will take you on an interactive journey of science and civilisation with exhibitions on everything from whale biology to local First Nations art.
Just a few minutes away is the Art Gallery of Ontario. Here you can see modern artworks such as the “As If Sand Were Stone” contemporary Latin American Art exhibit, which is centred around a mysterious pile of sand, a rollercoaster-style bed and many other curious installations to learn about. Another highlight is “Free Black North”, an exhibition featuring photographs of men, women and children living in Ontario in the mid-to-late 1800s, descendants of Black refugees who escaped enslavement in the Southern United States. Many of these photos are being displayed for the first time here, so it’s a great opportunity to get an insight into previously-unseen history.
Shop at St. Lawrence Market
Travel time: 40 minutes
How to get there: Take the UP Express to UP Express Union Station, and then walk for 15 minutes via Front Street West (passing the Hockey Hall of Fame).
One way to really immerse yourself in local Toronto life is to visit St. Lawrence Market. Sarah says, “One fun option is to grab breakfast or lunch at the St. Lawrence Market, which dates back to the early 19th century and features more than 100 specialty food vendors.” As long as you’re not down on Sunday or Monday, when the market is closed, this is a brilliant way to get a feel for the city.
Just 15 miles from the airport, St. Lawrence Market is famous worldwide for being one of the largest and most exciting markets around. In fact, it was named the world’s best food market by National Geographic in 2012. Established in 1803, this market contains over 120 speciality vendors in historic local buildings. Here you can buy and sample famous Canadian foods such as peameal bacon sandwiches from the renowned Carousel Bakery. A true Canadian experience in a moment of culinary bliss!
At the airport
If you’ve only got an hour or so on your stopover and can’t quite get out of the airport, don’t worry – Toronto Pearson International Airport is actually a very interesting place to while away the time! With countless shops, restaurants and things to do, you’ll never be bored with these top picks of the airport’s facilities.
Dine on delicious food
After a long flight, one of the first things on your mind will be finding something to eat. Here, you are spoilt for choice, with meals for any time of the day and cuisines from all over the world within the airport itself. Whether you’re looking to grab a coffee and some Timbits from Tim Hortons, a classic Canadian lunch from Smoke’s Burritorie or a sit-down dinner with far-flung influences at Marathi ‘street food’ restaurant, the airport has it covered.
One of the perks of having time to spend in airports is the many shops and duty-free outlets to peruse. Whether you’re on your way home from a holiday in Vancouver and need to pick up some last-minute gifts, are looking for something for your Canadian adventure or simply want to treat yourself, there are many shops here to look around. From the Canadian shopping experience of the Hudson’s Bay Company Trading Post -selling souvenirs such as artisanal candles and the iconic HBC Point Blanket – to designer brands and convenience stores, you’ll find whatever you’re looking for here.
Those who like to stay fit and active even when travelling will be relieved to hear that Toronto Pearson Airport has several fitness facilities. Good Life Fitness gym is waiting for those who want to re-energise before the next stint of their flight, and offers its facilities for $15 per person, per day. Make the most of the state-of-the-art cardiovascular equipment with personal viewing monitors, weights, stretching area, express workout programmes, many machines and equipment rental. Of course, there are also wash and changing rooms to get you feeling fresh before your flight.
Get a manicure
If you just want to put your feet up and relax before your connecting flight, head over to 10 Minute Manicure for a quick pamper session before you fly. Whether you’re looking for an express or full-length treatment, here you can unwind for a moment to yourself before boarding your next flight. Get holiday-ready or just enjoy some relaxation with anything from a 10 minute manicure to a 45 minute spa pedicure, hand massages, gel nails and much more.
Enjoy an art exhibit
Got a little longer to look around? Take a walk around the airport and enjoy the many art exhibitions on display. Toronto Pearson’s Permanent Collection showcases work by artists from around the world who the airport asked to “create pieces that represent Toronto’s role as a gateway to North American air travel, while capturing the essence of flight”. This, the Transport Canada Collection, includes a sculpture of local artist Harold Town made of 60 individual panels of brass, and the prehistoric installation featuring two dinosaurs from the Royal Ontario Museum. There really is so much to see!
Image credits: Jeff Hitchcock (Flickr) / The Zender Agenda (Flickr) / Harvey K (Flickr)