Driving in Toronto: All You Need to Know & Helpful Tips (2022)
If you’re planning on driving in Toronto, you’ve come to the right place!
As a driver in Canada’s biggest city, there are some definite things you should know in advance to make your driving experience as smooth as possible.
In this article, we’ll provide an overview of what to expect when driving in Toronto, including information on highways and expressways in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA), downtown driving, parking, and more.
We’ll also share some helpful tips for making your trip a success.
So whether you’re renting a car in Toronto or driving your own, read on for everything you need to know about driving in Toronto.
- Driving in Toronto: What to Expect
- Driving in Downtown Toronto
- Tips for Driving in Toronto
- Highways & Expressways Through Toronto
- Driving Rules in Ontario
- Parking in Toronto
- Renting a Car in Toronto
- Car Sharing in Toronto
- Driving to Toronto from Other Major Cities
- Driving in Toronto FAQs
- Conclusion: All You Need to Know About Driving in Toronto & Helpful Tips
Driving in Toronto: What to Expect
As the most populous city in Canada, Toronto is a bustling metropolis with a lot to see and do.
It’s also one of the most multicultural cities in the world, so you’ll find a wide variety of people and cultures there.
And with a big city comes big traffic.
Expect to encounter some congestion when driving in Toronto, especially during rush hour. But don’t worry, with a little planning and patience you’ll be navigating Toronto’s streets like a pro in no time.
Driving in Downtown Toronto
One of the most challenging (and frustrating) parts of driving in Toronto is dealing with downtown traffic.
Downtown Toronto is home to some of the city’s most popular attractions and a bustling commercial area, so it’s no surprise that it’s also one of the most congested areas.
Downtown Toronto is considered the area Bathurst Street in the west, Don Valley Parkway in the east, Bloor Street in the north, and the waterfront as the southern border. Of course, traffic can be difficult to contend with even outside of the downtown core!
If you’re driving into downtown, be prepared for stop-and-go traffic and lots of construction, especially during summer months. Front Street can be particularly frustrating to drive, especially if you have to contend with a huge volume of pedestrian and vehicle traffic from attractions like the Rogers Centre, CN Tower, Union Station and Metro Toronto Convention Centre.
Bicycle traffic downtown is also a challenge to driving in Toronto, as bicycle lanes are not always present. With so many stimuli vying for your attention while driving, it’s crucial to be very alert to your surroundings.
To avoid major frustrations, try to plan your route in advance (scouting out a few options) and allow lots of extra time for your trip. If your destination is downtown Toronto, plan out where to park in advance. We recommend this tool for finding parking in downtown Toronto.
If possible, avoid driving during rush hour (roughly 6-9 am and 3-7 pm, though rush hour is ever-expanding).
Instead of driving, consider taking public transit, biking, or walking, as Toronto is a very walkable and public transit-friendly city.
Tips for Driving in Toronto
Here are a few top tips for driving in Toronto:
1) Downtown Toronto is a bustling area with a lot of activity, so it’s important to be aware of your surroundings when driving. Remember that driving while using your phone is dangerous and illegal.
2) Pay attention to pedestrians, cyclists, streetcars, buses and other cars, and be prepared to stop or yield as necessary.
3) There are a number of one-way streets in downtown Toronto, so be sure to pay attention to road signs at stoplights.
4) If you’re not familiar with the area, it’s a good idea to map out your route in advance so you know where you’re going. Tack on at least 15 minutes for every hour to your estimated travel time to account for traffic.
5) Parking can be tricky in downtown Toronto, so it’s worth it to spend a few extra minutes looking for a spot. Be sure to read all parking signs carefully so you don’t end up with a ticket!
6) While most metered street parking is automated, bringing cash could open up some additional parking options.
7) If at all possible, avoid driving during rush hour. Traffic can be absolutely insane, and it’s not worth the stress if it can be avoided. Consider taking public transit if possible.
8) Sometimes driving city streets can be faster than taking the expressways if you can tell that the traffic is stalled due to a collision or during rush hour.
Highways & Expressways Through Toronto
Toronto is served by a network of highways and expressways that connect the city to the rest of the Greater Toronto Area (GTA), including Mississauga, Brampton, Etobicoke, Vaughn, Richmond Hill, Markham, Oshawa, and so on.
Some of the most important expressways through the GTA include the 400 series highways, the Queen Elizabeth Way (QEW), and the Gardiner Expressway.
Tackling the major highways is one of the most challenging aspects of driving in Toronto, so it’s important to be ready for the challenge.
401 & 400 Series Highways
The 400 series highways are a set of radial expressways that connect Toronto to the rest of Ontario.
The 401 (pronounced “four-oh-one”) is one of the longest, widest, and busiest of the 400 series highways. It runs for 828 km from Windsor, Ontario northeast to the Ontario-Quebec border.
Running east-west through Toronto, this section of Highway 401 is one of the busiest highways in North America.
To help control the flow of traffic, the 401 is divided into the Collectors and Express lanes.
The Collectors lanes have exits and onramps every few kilometers, while the Express lanes allow for traffic to enter and exit from the Collectors lanes.
If you’re just passing through the city, it might seem most logical to stick with the Express lanes.
Instead, we actually frequently check the live display signs along the highway or our GPS for live traffic updates to see which set of lanes is moving the fastest with the least delays.
For example, when there’s an accident or construction in the Express lanes, the Collectors can be a considerably faster route, or vice versa. We typically alternate between the Express and Collectors while driving through Toronto.
407 Express Toll Route
There is only one toll highway in Toronto, and that’s the 407 Express Toll Route (or simply the 407).
The 407 is a 110 km long expressway running east-west across the GTA, from Burlington in the west to Pickering in the east.
It’s a very convenient highway as it bypasses much of the traffic found on the 401.
If you don’t have a transponder you will still be billed for your mileage on the 407.
The Gardiner Expressway runs east-west along the shore of Lake Ontario, from the west end of Toronto (QEW & 427) to the east end (at the start of the DVP).
It’s an important highway for commuters as it provides access to downtown Toronto from the suburbs.
As one might expect, the Gardiner can be very congested during rush hour.
If you do need to take the Gardiner, be sure to give yourself extra time as it’s not uncommon for traffic to come to a standstill.
The Queen Elizabeth Way (QEW) is freeway that runs east-west from the Niagara Region to Toronto. It also merges with Highway 403 in Burlington and Oakville, making one common expressway before separating again into separate routes.
The QEW is an important highway for both tourists visiting Niagara Falls and commuters travelling to and from Toronto.
The QEW can also be very congested, especially during rush hour.
Don Valley Parkway
The Don Valley Parkway (DVP) is a north-south freeway that runs through the heart of Toronto, from the Gardiner Expressway in the south to Highway 401 in the north. North of the 401, the DVP becomes Highway 404.
It’s an important route for commuters as it provides access to downtown Toronto from the suburbs.
As with any major highway in Toronto, the DVP can be very slow moving during the morning and afternoon commutes. For this reason, it is even playfully known by Torontonians the Don Valley Parking Lot!
Driving Rules in Ontario
When driving in Toronto, it’s good to be aware of the rules and regulations that are specific to the province of Ontario.
For example, did you know that in Ontario, drivers must yield to pedestrians at crosswalks? Knowing the rules means you can avoid getting a ticket, and more importantly, keep yourself and others safe on the roads.
Speed Limits in Ontario
The speed limit on most freeways in Ontario is 100 km/h unless posted otherwise.
The speed limit on city and town streets and roads is 50 km/h unless posted otherwise.
The speed limit elsewhere is typically 80 km/h unless otherwise posted.
Right Turn Rules in Ontario
In Ontario, you are allowed to make a right turn on a red light only if there is no sign prohibiting it and you come to a complete stop first.
Pulling Over for Emergency Vehicles
In Ontario, drivers are required by law to pull over and stop for emergency vehicles that have their lights and sirens on.
If you’re driving and see an emergency vehicle approaching, pull over to the right side of the road as soon as it’s safe to do so and stop.
Parking in Toronto
Parking in Toronto can be a challenge, especially downtown. Many streets have metered parking, and there are many private parking lots that charge by the hour or day.
If you’re planning on parking downtown, chances are you will be parking in one of the Green P Parking lots. Green P Parking is operated by the City of Toronto.
Most lots take cash, credit, debit or payment by phone app.
If you’re visiting mid-town Toronto, many residential streets have free parking for a set amount of time. Though you may need to walk a few minutes to get to your destination, you will save a bit of cash along the way!
Check out this awesome map of where to park in Toronto for paid and free parking spots!
Renting a Car in Toronto
Renting a car in Toronto is easy. Some of the most popular car rental companies in the Toronto area are:
There are many car rental locations throughout the city and at the Toronto Airport. To rent a car at most places in Ontario, you must be 20 or 21 years old and have a valid driver’s license. If you’re under 25 years old, you may be charged extra.
When renting a car, you will usually be asked to provide a valid credit card. The rental company will place a hold on your credit card for the estimated amount of the rental plus a deposit in case of damages.
Be sure to ask about additional charges such as taxes, fees for additional drivers, fuel charges, etc. before renting.
Car Sharing in Toronto
Looking to save some money on transportation costs in Toronto? Car sharing might be the answer!
Car sharing is a service that allows members to have access to vehicles for short periods of time, typically by the hour or day. You can use a car share car for errands, commuting, or even just to get around town for a day.
There are many car share companies in Toronto, and most have their own membership requirements and rates.
Zipcar, Communauto and Enterprise Car Share are some of the most popular car share companies in Toronto.
To use any of these car share services, you must purchase a membership plan, and can then rent a car by the minute, hour or day use (options vary depending on the company).
Another popular option for car sharing in Toronto is Turo. Turo is a peer-to-peer car sharing service, which means that you can rent cars from private individuals rather than from a company.
Turo has a wide selection of vehicles to choose from, and rates are typically very reasonable with no membership fee required.
Driving to Toronto from Other Major Cities
Toronto is a popular destination for visitors from all over the world. If you’re planning on driving into Toronto from other major cities, here’s a breakdown of what to expect from some of the most popular road trips to Toronto.
Montreal to Toronto
The drive from Montreal to Toronto is about 5.5 hours. The route takes you along the St. Lawrence River and through the Thousand Islands region. This is a beautiful drive, but can be very busy during peak tourist season.
Be sure to plan ahead and allow plenty of time for traffic.
Ottawa to Toronto
The drive from Ottawa to Toronto is about 4.5 hours. The most direct route is along Highway 416 and Highway 401. The scenic route to Toronto from Ottawa takes you through Eastern Ontario cottage country (along Highway 7), and while it may add some time to the drive, it is well worth it if you have time.
We’ve stopped in many places along the way between these two cities, including Campbellford and Sharbot Lake, which both have great options for scenic rest breaks or an overnight stay to break up the drive.
✔️Check out our post on getting from Ottawa to Toronto by car, bus, train or plane.
Niagara Falls to Toronto
The drive from Niagara Falls to Toronto is about 1.5 hours. The most direct route is along the Queen Elizabeth Way (QEW). This is a busy highway, but the drive is relatively short. If you have time, consider taking the Niagara Parkway along the Niagara River instead.
This scenic route takes you past the wine region of Niagara-on-the-Lake and offers many places to stop and enjoy the views. If you have additional time, you might also want to visit some of Hamilton’s incredible waterfalls, such as Tew Falls and Webster Falls.
If you’re flying into Toronto, it’s also worth noting that there are multiple ways to travel between Toronto International Airport and Niagara Falls that don’t require self-driving.
Driving to Toronto from the USA
Driving to Toronto through the USA is a popular option for many visitors. There are numerous land border crossings between the USA and Canada from various directions. We’ve listed a few of the most common routes when driving into Toronto from the USA.
Buffalo to Toronto
The drive from Buffalo, NY to Toronto is about 2 hours. After driving through the international border crossing into Canada, the route is direct along the Queen Elizabeth Way (QEW) and the Gardiner Expressway.
This route offers scenic views of Lake Ontario. A stop at Niagara Falls is a must-do along the drive from Buffalo to Toronto.
New York City to Toronto
The drive from New York City to Toronto is about 8 hours or more, depending on traffic and route taken. The route takes you through the scenic Finger Lakes region of upstate New York before crossing into Canada at Buffalo, Niagara Falls or Lewiston.
Detroit to Toronto
The drive from Detroit to Toronto is about 4 hours without traffic. The route takes you through the scenic countryside of Southwestern Ontario before arriving in Toronto.
✔️Looking for a midway point between Detroit and Toronto? Check out the best hotels in London Ontario, your best half-way point.
Driving in Toronto FAQs
Preparing to drive in Toronto can bring up a lot of questions. Here’s some common ones we’ve come across in hopes that these might help you out.
What is the Best Time to Drive Through Toronto on the 401?
The best time for driving through Toronto on the 401 is during off-peak hours, such as very early morning or late evening. Traffic can be very heavy during peak times, such as weekday rush hour or on weekends.
If you can avoid driving during these times, it will make for a much more pleasant experience.
What Time is Rush Hour in Toronto?
The morning rush hour in Toronto typically runs from 6-9 am, while the evening rush hour is from 3-7 pm. That said, traffic congestion can happen at any time of day, so it’s always best to plan and check your GPS ahead and allow extra time for your journey.
Is Driving on the 401 Hard?
The 401 is a busy highway and can be challenging, especially when driving in Toronto during peak times (rush hour and at the start and end of holidays weekends). However, if you’re patient and careful, it’s not overly difficult.
Just be sure to give yourself plenty of time to get where you’re going and remember to leave lots of space between you and other cars. Remember that the righthand lane is for the slowest moving traffic.
Is Driving in Toronto Hard?
Driving in Toronto can be challenging, but it’s not overly difficult if you’re patient and careful. The biggest challenges are the traffic and responding carefully and quickly if you find yourself off course from your GPS or at an unexpected roadblock.
Is There an Alternate Route Through Toronto to Avoid the 401?
The 407 is an alternate east-west route through Toronto that can help you avoid the traffic on the 401. The 407 is a tolled highway, so expect a bill to be sent after you drive on the highway. The 407 is generally quicker and easier than the 401 when driving through Toronto, but it can still be congested during peak times.
Do You Need a Car in Downtown Toronto?
Downtown Toronto is very walkable and many people do not use a car to get around. Toronto has an excellent subway system connecting a great amount of the city. That said, if you’re planning to explore beyond the downtown core, a car can be helpful.
What are Some Best Scenic Drives in Toronto?
If you’re looking for a scenic drive in Toronto, you can consider taking the Lake Shore Boulevard along the city’s waterfront. The drive offers stunning views of Lake Ontario and the city skyline.
Another nearby scenic drive is Scarborough Bluffs. The route takes you along the bluffs, which offer stunning views of the lake and the city.
Taking a scenic drive in Toronto is one of the best things to do in the city at night. For more great ideas, check out our post on Things to Do in Toronto at Night.
Conclusion: All You Need to Know About Driving in Toronto & Helpful Tips
Driving in Toronto can be a challenge, but with careful planning you can make the journey much easier. The biggest challenges are the heavy traffic and busy highways.
If you’re patient and take the time to plan your route, you’ll be able to get where you’re going without any problems. Consider adding some scenic drives into your trip for a more pleasant experience!
Erie is the owner and author of Everywhere Ontario. She’s lived and traveled around Ontario for over 30 years, visiting small towns and big cities from the shores of Lake Erie to the crisp northern air of Hearst along the Trans-Canada Highway. She is passionate about maximizing fun and supporting local tourist businesses and is always looking to provide the best recommendations to her fellow Ontario travelers. Read more about Erie here.