Toronto Layover Sightseeing

Toronto Pearson (YYZ) is the main hub for Air Canada and the largest and busiest airport in the country. Situated just 16 miles from downtown Toronto, it’s easy to make the most of your layover by heading off into the city.

Given that the lines at security can be long, it makes sense to have at least five hours downtime if you want to see some of Toronto. Thanks to a fast rail connection to the center of town, you can get from the airport to Union Station in just 25 minutes. The station is bang in the middle of Toronto’s downtown area, and just a short walk from the shore of Lake Ontario. Read on to find out which of the city’s attractions you can see on your layover.

Airport Overview

For those who don’t have time to go into town, Toronto Pearson can be a decent place to spend a few hours if you can find an empty gate or pay to use one of the lounges. With WiFi throughout the terminals and comfortable seating in a few areas, there are opportunities to relax or get some work done. The airport is also home to both permanent and temporary art exhibitions, and there are two dinosaur skeletons on display in Terminal 1. Take a look at our Toronto Pearson Airport Guide for more information on the airport.

Sightseeing Options

A few essential sights:

Hop-on Hop-off Sightseeing Bus

CitySightseeing Toronto operates a 21 stop sightseeing hop-on hop-off tour of Toronto. The route takes you to the St. Lawrence Market, Distillery District, Eaton Centre, Casa Loma, Yorkville, Royal Ontario Museum, Art Gallery of Ontario, Chinatown, Kensington Market, CN Tower, Ripley's Aquarium, Waterfront and Hockey Hall of Fame. Add the harbour cruise extension for awesome views of the city skyline. Time Required: The full bus route takes two hours without stops. The harbour cruise takes an additional 45 minutes, but waiting times may occur. Getting There: You can take the UP Train from Pearson Airport to Union Station. There is bus stop a short walk from the train station (see Google Map). Another (cheaper) option is to take the TTC from Pearson to Bay Street (Cumberland exit) or St. George Station to board at the Yorkville/ROM pick-up point at Avenue Road & Bloor Street (see Google Map).

CN Tower

This 553.3-meter high tower was the tallest in the world when it was completed in 1976 as a communications hub. These days the CN Tower is a tourist attraction, offering views over Lake Ontario from the SkyPod at 446.5 meters above the ground. Time Required: Book in advance so you can get up the tower as soon as you arrive. If you don’t, you could get stuck in long lines at the bottom, and they’re especially long during summer months. Once you’re inside the tower the average visit takes 90 minutes. How to get there: The CN Tower is a ten-minute walk from Union Station, and there is a walkway between the two so visitors can find their way easily. Toronto tour buses also have a stop at the foot of the tower. Check out this Google Map.

Ripley’s Aquarium

With over 13,500 sea and freshwater specimens representing more than 450 species, Ripley’s Aquarium is an awe-inspiring layover activity. The walk-through tank is especially fun, and makes visitors feel as if they are underwater. Time required: Put aside at least two hours to make the most of a visit to the aquarium. Any less and you’ll be rushing through. How to get there: Take the UP Express to Union Station and take a short walk to the Aquarium, which is signposted for ease of access. If you are coming by taxi, Ripley’s is found close to the CN Tower.

Hockey Hall of Fame

Ice hockey is the biggest sport in Canada, and the Hockey Hall of Fame is home to a massive collection of memorabilia. The Stanley Cup, which is the most important prize in the sport, is kept here, and there is plenty to keep even non-hockey fans entertained. Time required: Visitors take an average of 3 hours to visit the Hockey Hall of Fame, but you can take an hour and a half to see the main attractions. How to get there: The Hockey Hall of Fame is located on the corner of Yonge and Front Streets, a short walk from Union Station.

Transportation

Toronto Pearson is 16 miles from the center of the city, and there are plenty of transportation options. The best choice depends on how much time you have to spare and how much money you are willing to pay. Public transit options include:

Train: The UP Express leaves the airport every 15 minutes and takes 25 minutes to reach Union Station in downtown Toronto. A single fare costs $12 CAD, but there is also a special long layover ticket that will get you to and from the airport for the same price as long as you return within 7 hours.

Bus: You can get into town using the TTC public transit system but you will need to take a 25-minute bus ride and then two subway connections.

Private transit options include:

Taxi: Toronto taxis charge a flat rate based on the distance to your destination. A ride to downtown will cost around $50 CAD. A limousine service is also available for a slightly higher price.

Car Rentals: YYZ is home to offices of many car rental companies, including Avis, Budget, Dollar/Thrifty, Enterprise, Hertz, and National/Alamo.

Before You Go: Layover Tips

Now that you are motivated and excited for your mini layover vacation, just make sure to check a few final logistical concerns off your list before you fully commit.

  • Do you need to organize a visa to leave the airport? Requirements change frequently and for each nationality, so be sure to seek out current details on the availability, cost and procedures of obtaining a transit visa.
  • When is your next flight’s check-in time? Make sure you double check with your airline exactly when you need to be at the airport – and plan your layover accordingly.
  • What are security wait times like at the airport? Some airports are notorious for long security wait-times, so be sure to do a bit of research in advance and factor that into your overall time-budget.
  • What’s happening with your luggage? When you check in to your first flight, be sure to confirm whether your luggage is checked through or needs to be picked up between your connecting flights. Visit our Toronto Airport Guide to find out more.