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Many visitors to Toronto have questions about whether to rent a car, how easy it is to get around, and what they need to know before driving in the Toronto area. This article covers:
If you don't find the answer to your question below, feel free to ask in the TripAdvisor Toronto forum.
Whether or not you need a car depends mostly on where you plan to go. Also, if you're visiting in winter but don't have winter driving experience, it may be a better idea to leave the driving to trained professionals.
Traffic in Toronto can be heavy and parking is expensive. You can walk between many of the major attractions downtown, and most others are reachable by public transit. (While the Toronto Zoo can be reached by transit, it is far from downtown and easier to get to with a car.)
If you plan on staying mostly in the downtown core or near the major subway lines, then you can skip the car rental and buy a daily TTC pass or a bunch of tokens. Otherwise, if any part of your trip involves travelling outside of the major TTC areas, then rent a car.
You can get to the falls without driving, though having a car does give you the most flexibility especially if your plans include the wineries of the Niagara region. See Niagara Falls – A Side Trip from Toronto for all your options.
The major cities of Ottawa, Montreal, and Quebec City are some distance away. Renting a car is one way to explore them, and allows you to stop at smaller towns in between. Other options include VIA Rail train service; intercity bus services from Greyhound, Coach Canada, or Megabus; or flights on Air Canada, WestJet, or Porter Airlines. Which option is best depends on the length of your trip, the number of people, and the time of year.
See the TripAdvisor article Canada: Rental Cars for tips on rental car costs, surcharges, and insurance. One extra charge in the Toronto area that may catch you by surprise is a surcharge for driving on Highway 407; GPS users may want to set their GPS to avoid toll roads.
Most visitors to the Toronto area renting a car do so either at the airport or at a downtown location.
Both Avis & Budget are now stocking Ford Mustang convertibles at their airport location. (spring 2012) Other outlets around the Greater Toronto Area (GTA), may have these cars available as well.
If you're arriving at Toronto Pearson International Airport, you'll find most of the major rental car companies. On-site agencies are located in the parking garage of each terminal, while off-airport agencies use shuttle vans.
You may want to compare rental car rates between the airport and downtown locations, as renting at the airport is sometimes more expensive. Plus, if you're staying in Toronto for a few days before driving out of the city, it may make sense to pick up your car at the end of your stay, saving both rental and parking charges.
You don't need a car to get downtown from the airport.
If you're arriving by VIA Rail, GO Transit, Porter Airlines, or picking up a car after staying downtown, Union Station is the easiest place to go. There are a number of rental car places on-site and within as a short walking distance. National and Hertz are on-site, while Avis/Budget are located in Brookfield Place, across the street. (Note that you can only enter the Brookfield Place garage from the westbound lanes of Front Street.)
Or, if arriving by intercity bus or staying a little further north, there are Discount and Enterprise locations on Bay Street within walking distance of the Toronto Coach Terminal (610 Bay St., at Dundas St. West).
Parking prices can be exorbitant in downtown Toronto, especially if you're not used to big city rates.
Most of the downtown hotels have valet parking which includes in and out privileges all day. This is particularly useful if you have a number of events and destinations to get to throughout any one single day of your stay. Usually, non-valet, self-parking will require only two trips outside of the hotel using the car before you would have been better off going with valet parking.
Street parking is subject to many restrictions found on street-side signs. Where no sign appears, free parking is allowed for up to three hours – but this is hardly ever seen downtown. In many residential areas, a permit is required to park on the street, especially overnight, so check the signs beforehand.
Parking meters in Toronto operate differently than in some other North American cities. Look for a dark grey machine on the sidewalk that prints a ticket to be placed on your dashboard.