Toronto is a great city to explore on foot. The sidewalks are wide. Most intersections bear traffic lights, or at least stop signs, and pedestrians have right of way. And, unlike other great walkable cities like San Francisco, Toronto is pancake-flat. Late spring is also the perfect time to walk around, before the sweltering days of summer and the crowds they bring with them.
With a good map, a guidebook (or guidebook app), and comfortable walking shoes, pretty much anybody can go exploring on their own. However, if you would like company, commentary, and perhaps even a theme for your exploration (food, ghost, etc.) check out the many options for walking tours offered in Toronto. Some are even free!
(You’ll notice that I didn’t include prices in my descriptions, since those are subject to change. I’ve included links to the providers’ sites so you can check the latest details.)
Free walking tours
The Toronto Greeter Program matches you, your family or group (up to six people) with a local volunteer who leads you around one of their favourite neighbourhoods, showing you their favourite hang-outs, food places, and hidden gems. These tours are offered year round. You fill out an online form a couple of weeks in advance, and a greeter is assigned to you, taking into account your interests, areas you want to visit, even preferred language if possible.
I haven’t used the Greeter Program in Toronto, but I did a walking tour with a greeter in Brussels last year and had a very good experience.
As well, the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) organizes ROMwalks during the summer months (Wednesdays and Sundays) to areas of architectural and historical interest. Walks last two hours. Some are also offered in French. You don’t need to book in advance. Just show up at the starting point!
Now in its 21st season, Heritage Toronto leads a wide variety of free walking tours from late April until late October. Tours are researched, designed, and led by volunteers, whether local historians, community groups, or professionals, and last around two hours.
Other walking tours
Lokafy is a new company that also relies on locals (not professional guides) to show you the hidden spots of Toronto that most tourists don’t get to see. Unlike Toronto Greeters, Lokafy lets you pick your “local” from over 30 people with pictures and descriptions. Most lokafyers are under 35, although a few (including your truly) are older.
The cost is per hour (minimum of two hours), with the cost per person decreasing as the number of people in your party increases (maximum of six). Lokafy can be quite a good deal if you’re travelling as a couple, or a small group of friends. Read about my experience last year.
Toronto Urban Adventures, a division of Intrepid Travel, currently offers three walking tours in the city, including a pork tour, and a beer tour. The third tour explores Kensington Market and Chinatown, two of the most intriguing and culturally diverse neighbourhoods in Toronto. With group sizes capped at 12, enthusiastic and knowledgeable young guides, and a length of two to four hours, these tours are fun and good value. (I’ve already done two out of three!)
Taste of the World has been around for a long time. Launched in 1993 by Shirley Lum, a fourth-generation Canadian-Chinese and self-declared foodie, the tours originally focused on Chinatown and its food, but soon broadened to encompass many more food walks, literary walks, and even ghost walks. The well-priced tours last from 2.5 to 3.5 hours, with the food tours being the longest. Way back in 2002, I led a foodie tour through Kensington Market for Shirley, and we ate a lot. (See their Facebook page for the latest information.)
Bruce Bell is a local historian who lives in Old Town Toronto and offers scheduled tours of St-Lawrence Market (and surrounding landmarks) as well as the Distillery District, which you must reserve in advance. He’s also available for private tours. Bruce has been writing a column about Toronto’s history in the community newspaper The Bulletin since 1999. The man knows his stuff. And although I have yet to take one of his tours, I have read that he is highly entertaining (probably due to his background as an actor and stand-up comic)!
Segway of Ontario leads Distillery District walking tours centered on – what else – whisky and beer, in addition to its segway tours (including a segway ghost tour by night).
As well, The Haunted Walk of Toronto conducts two ghost walks (one going year-round) and a “Time Travel Trail Adventure”. Hummm…..
ChowBella specializes in customized culinary tours in Toronto and other areas of Southern Ontario such as Niagara and Prince Edwards County. However, they also offer a scheduled group food tour in Toronto which visits Queen St. West and King St. West on Saturdays and Sundays. This food tour is not for the timid as it includes seven stops and nine tastings over a period of three hours! The maximum group size is 14 people.
So there you have it: 10 options to get walking and learn new things about Toronto next time you’re in town (or even if you live here). If you prefer cycling to walking, several of the companies above also offer bike tours, including Heritage Toronto and Taste of the World.
If you know of other companies offering walking tours in Toronto, whether free/tips only or for a fee, please let me know in the comments.