Toronto's lodging landscape offers plenty of choice, from idiosyncratic inns to island B&Bs, conventional hotels to deluxe palaces. A recent boom in boutique properties has brought darling hotels such as the Kimpton St. George, the Broadview, and the Anndore House into the mix. On top of Toronto’s 43,000 hotel rooms, the city's thousands of Airbnb rentals may offer a more authentic Torontonian experience for visitors. Whether you’re a CEO who considers anything sub-penthouse to be slumming or you’re on a student budget, Toronto is sure to have the right option to suit.
Getting the Best Deal
Want the secret for getting the hottest hotel deals in Toronto? Visit during the chillier months. Hotel prices here tend to rise in lockstep with the temperatures. Most of Toronto’s big events (Pride, Caribana) also take place during the summer months, further pushing up the rates. The one exception is the town’s eponymous film festival, TIFF, which draws star power from around the globe every autumn, filling up just about every hotel room in town. Do not try to negotiate a good deal around then (early Sept); hotel reservationists will laugh at you. I’ve heard them.
But do consider these other money-saving tips:
- Check out hotels that are located away from big events while you are visiting the capital. For instance, during TIFF, look at properties in Riverdale and Midtown. When the Leafs are playing home games at the Scotiabank Arena, consider hotels north of College Street, or west of Bathurst Street. In general, hotels outside the downtown core have lower rates.
- Visit on a weekend. Even popular hotels in the downtown core may be looking to fill rooms vacated by weekday business travelers. Ask about lower rates for weekend arrivals.
- Check out money-saving package deals. The website for the Toronto Convention & Visitors Association showcases packages with partnering hotels that include discounts on room rates, attractions, parking, and more. Plus, many online travel booking sites (Orbitz, Travelocity) offer air/lodging packages that feature competitive room rates.
- Ask about special rates or other discounts. You may qualify for substantial corporate, government, student, military, senior, trade union, or other discounts.
- Book directly through the hotel. You often get the best rate quoted. Also ask whether a room less expensive than the first one quoted is available.
- Enroll in hotel loyalty programs. It truly pays to enroll in the frequent-stay loyalty programs of big hotel chains. Members get perks like discounted rates, complimentary Wi-Fi, and early check-in and late check-out. You can also build points toward bonuses like a free night's stay or suite upgrades. And joining is free!
- Subscribe to e-mail alerts. Alerts from your favorite hotels or booking sites keep you informed of special deals.
- Price match. Many hotels will price-match deals you find online. Some will even give you extra bonuses like a free Wi-Fi upgrade.
- Look into long-stay discounts. If you’re planning a long stay (at least 5 days), you might qualify for a discount. As a general rule, expect 1 night free after a 7-night stay. Likewise, if you come as part of a large group, you should be able to negotiate a bargain rate.
- Even if you haven't gotten the best deal possible on your room rate, you can still save money on incidental costs. Toronto hotels charge unbelievable rates for overnight parking—more than $45 a night at some hotels!—so leave the car at home or find a parking lot. Generally speaking, the city-owned lots, marked with a big green “p,” are the most affordable, but parking fines are a big money-maker for the city, so don't expect any handouts. More fees to avoid: Resist the pricey minibar offerings, and always ask if the hotel charges for local calls. Ask if the hotel charges a resort fee, and if so, what that covers.
Note: Ontario’s hotel tax is a 4 percent on top of the 13 percent tax that people already pay for all goods and services.
For Travelers in Need
If you should suddenly find yourself without a place to stay in Toronto, call the Travellers' Aid Society of Toronto (www.travellersaid.ca; tel. 416/366-7788). The organization can help you book last-minute accommodations, and can also assist in crisis situations. Travellers' Aid maintains a booth at Union Station.
The Skinny on Short-Term Rentals
Taking the lodging world by storm, short-term vacation rentals—Airbnb, Flip Key, HomeAway, and VRBO—offer thousands of unique options in Toronto for travelers looking to experience living like a local. It's particularly valuable for visitors interested in immersing themselves in neighborhoods outside the downtown core, like the Danforth, Roncesvalles, Leslieville, or Parkdale. Options range from renting a room in someone’s apartment to letting out entire Victorian homes. Airbnb even has the option to book with a "Superhost"—hosts who are recognized for the extraordinary experiences they provide for their guests—which can be like having your own personal tour guide.
These short-term rentals are great for visitors who want a more intimate and authentic Toronto experience—and can also be a great way to save money, especially if your rental has self-catering facilities. On the down side, the boom of platforms such as Airbnb has placed a great strain on Toronto’s long-term rental stock (rents are at an all-time high, with vacancies hovering below 1 percent). As a result, Toronto’s city council has sought to put restrictions on short-term rentals. The measures would limit how many days a year a home can be listed for rent and would also limit what types of domiciles can be rented out. Currently, these reforms are working their way through the courts, with a verdict expected by late summer 2019.
Note: Many condo boards have moved to ban Airbnb and its ilk. This can cause some awkwardness for vacationers should they find themselves renting in a building with tensions brewing between vacationers and residents. If you’re looking to stay in a condo building, ask upfront if short-term stays are allowed—you don’t want to feel as if you’re being forced to tiptoe around.
Tip: Airbnb sets itself apart from the short-term-rental herd by offering "Experiences" as well as rentals. Experiences offer unique, one-of-a-kind outings that include everything from photography lessons to dive-bar crawls.
Bed & Breakfasts in Toronto
A B&B can be an excellent alternative to standard hotel accommodations. The Downtown Toronto Association of Bed and Breakfast Guest Houses (www.bnbinfo.com; tel 647/654-2959) has listings for most of metro Toronto, not just downtown.
Budget-Friendly Summer Options
From September to early May, the dorms at the University of Toronto and at Ryerson University are full of students. But in summer, many of these rooms are rented out to budget-minded travelers. If you don’t mind your in-room amenities on the spartan side, you can save a lot of money this way—and get a great downtown location, too.
- Massey College: Tucked away on a quiet street on the University of Toronto downtown campus sits the very attractive Massey College, designed by renowned architect Ron Thom. It’s a small, exclusive graduate college, and the summer residence program offers a handful of tasteful, sparse rooms—all set around a beautiful courtyard. Personal touches are a bonus: The porter greets you upon arrival with your own key to the gate as well as a welcome package. You can use the public rooms, such as the library, and breakfast is included with the rate (lunch vouchers can also be purchased). Book a double suite, and you’ll have a sitting area, private bathroom, and wood-burning fireplace. Rooms are available from May through late August. Not suitable for children under 6 years of age (4 Devonshire Place; www.masseycollege.ca; tel 416/946-7843; rooms from $87; rates include breakfast).
- Neill-Wycik Backpackers Hotel: During the school year, this is a student residence. Some young academics stay through the summer, when the place morphs into a guesthouse. Rooms have beds, chairs, desks, but no air-conditioning or TVs (although there is a TV lounge). Housekeeping offers towel and linen changes. Groups of five bedrooms share two bathrooms and one kitchen with a refrigerator and stove. The hotel has three patios with BBQs, on the fourth, fifth, and 23rd floors. It’s less than a 5-minute walk to the Eaton Centre (96 Gerrard St. E.; www.torontobackpackershotel.com; tel 800/268-4358 or 416/977-2320; $35 dorm bed, $55 single; $80 double; $120 quad; rates include breakfast).
- Victoria University at the University of Toronto: A steal for this very expensive neighborhood (just a 2-minute walk from tony Yorkville). Victoria University offers simple rooms with plain furnishings (a bed, desk, and chair are standard), but the surroundings are splendid. Many of the rooms are in Burwash Hall, a 19th-century building that overlooks a peaceful, leafy quad. Guests are provided with linens and towels but must provide their own toiletries (140 Charles St. W.; www.vicu.utoronto.ca; tel 416/585-4524; $77 single, $103 double [2 twin beds]; rates include breakfast).
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.