Having attended The Toronto International Film Festival for more than a decade, I consider myself a veteran festivalgoer. Over the years I’ve watched hundreds of films, been dazzled by countless special events and witnessed the world’s biggest and brightest public film festival blossom right in front of my eyes.
It’s truly special to have a festival we can call our own in Toronto — one that visitors from around the globe eagerly flock to. But navigating TIFF can be a tad overwhelming so here’s a mini local’s guide to help you enjoy the Festival of Festivals.
Make Your List and Check It Twice
Decisions, decisions. With hundreds of films to choose from, the most challenging task will likely be narrowing down your wish list for the 11-day festival, which runs from September 6-16, 2018. The TIFF website or the festival Programme Book (available at the Festival Box Office) are great resources with programmers’ notes about each film along with the list of cast members, length, country and language.
If you’re looking for red-carpet premieres and movie stars, head to the Gala Presentations. But if you want to support films that may not be distributed widely, I highly recommend the Contemporary World Cinema program where global perspectives are showcased. This may be the only chance you have to catch these international films on the big screen!
Bonus: there’s almost always a Q&A after these screenings so you can ask the directors, filmmakers and cast members your burning questions.
Tickets, Tickets: Where And How To Get Them
You can purchase tickets both online and offline, but given the range of options and packages available, it can be a confusing process. See this guide to buying TIFF tickets for a detailed look at how and where to buy.
I recommend opting for mobile and print-at-home tickets to skip the box office line! You can save some cash by purchasing weekday daytime tickets (starting at $18 or $10 if you’re 25 or under). New this year: There will be tiered pricing for venues with assigned seating (Roy Thomson Hall, Visa Screening Room at the Princess of Wales, Elgin, Winter Garden).
Insider Tip: Given TIFF’s popularity, your film may be “off-sale” (especially high-profile screenings). Don’t fret, not all is lost. They release extra tickets throughout the festival so check their website daily at 8 am and you may just snag a ticket.
You can also “rush” films – festival lingo which essentially means lining up at the venue until all ticket-holders are inside and empty seats are counted. Typically (although not always), the first dozen-or-so in the rush line get ushered in just before the screening starts. I’ve rushed many films throughout the years and have gotten into all of them: the earlier you arrive, the greater the chances, but it is a gamble!
The rush line is cash-only, you can only purchase one ticket and you can only hold space for one other person in line.
Rest Up And Refresh: Where To Stay
Want to be in the heart of all the action? The The Ritz-Carlton, Shangri-La Toronto and The Delta Toronto are all great options. These hotels are minutes away from festival venues and host numerous TIFF events so they’re always filled with buzz.
But if you’re like me and need to recharge after your film marathon, I recommend heading north of the festival hub to Yorkville for a relaxing stay at the Four Seasons Hotel Toronto or west to Exhibition Place for unparalleled, panoramic views at the brand new Hotel X Toronto.
Just remember that TIFF attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors so the earlier you book, the better your chances of scoring a room! This is particularly important if you’d like to stay at one of the city’s smaller boutique hotels; The Drake Hotel, Templar Hotel, The Hazelton Hotel and the Broadview Hotel are all great options.
Where To Eat And Drink Before/After Screenings
Great Eats Around the Festival Hub
Toronto has one of the most diverse food scenes in the world so there’s no shortage of restaurants to choose from. Walking distance from the theatres, I highly recommend PAI or Kiin for the best Thai food in the city, Bar Buca for incredible Italian fare, Chubby's Jamaican Kitchen for a taste of the island and Alo Restaurant for one of the best overall dining experiences in Toronto (if it’s fully-booked, try your luck and walk-in: it’s worth it). For a quick bite, stroll over to Campechano, Carver, Momofuku Noodle Bar, La Carnita or Porchetta & Co.
Drinks With a View
Head to the rooftop at Thompson Hotel Toronto, Hotel X Toronto, Bisha Hotel Toronto, Lavelle or The Rooftop at Broadview Hotel to sip cocktails while staring out at the sparkling skyline. Tip: These venues host private functions during TIFF so be sure to give them a ring before arriving.
For a Glimpse of the Stars
Besides the red carpets that dot the city, there’s no better place to get a glimpse of celebrities than at the Ritz Bar (I’ve personally spotted dozens – from Al Pacino and George Clooney to Penelope Cruz and Ryan Gosling). That’s because the bar is conveniently located just south of Roy Thomson Hall where many TIFF Galas are screened. That means you’re almost guaranteed to see stars coming and going from their countless festival engagements.
Where to Eat & Drink Outside the Festival Hub
If you’re willing to trek outside of the festival hub, zip over to Sofia Yorkville, Don Alfonso 1890, Buca Yorkville, Brothers Food & Wine, Bar Isabel or La Banane for a feast – they’re all culinary gems. Looking for the best cocktails in the city? I suggest heading to BarChef, Bar Raval or Hoof Cocktail Bar.
New This Year
Festival Street reaches new heights this year with the brand new Refinery29 Festival Rooftop on the top floor of TIFF Bell Lightbox. The interactive space will be filled with exciting festival experiences and is where the official after-party lounge will be hosted by nightlife legends 1 OAK.
Many restaurants and bars celebrate TIFF by concocting signature cocktails and dreaming up special events. This year, just in time for the festival, celebrity hotspot d|bar at Four Seasons Hotel Toronto introduces a new look and presents two specially curated art exhibits: a larger-than-life photography display that honours women in film and television and a mirrored installation that invites guests to capture their own story.
In the mood to try something different? Ritz-Carlton Toronto will be serving up the world’s rarest java, Black Ivory Coffee, at Ritz Café. Make sure to swing by for a tasting ($50 for 2-3 guests). The hotel will also have special Hollywood-themed treatment packages during TIFF, including an ultra-luxe Star For A Day experience.
Not Just Films: What To Do During TIFF
It’s a film festival so you should watch as many films as possible, but during TIFF there is a wide range of other public events and special activities around our city.
I suggest taking a stroll on Festival Street, which runs from September 6 to 9 on King St. between Peter St. and University Ave. There will be live music, free screenings and food trucks.
And if you’re looking to immerse yourself in the city’s culture, take the time to check out: Toronto Fashion Week (September 4 to 6), Kensington Market Jazz Festival (September 14 to 16 at Kensington Market), Veg Food Fest (September 7 to 9 at Harbourfront Centre) and the Cabbagetown Festival (September 8 & 9 at Parliament Street and Carlton Street, free admission).
And make sure you stop by Union Station to experience #LVTimecapsule, a FREE exhibit (Sept 7 to 30) that takes you on a visual journey of landmark moments from Louis Vuitton’s beginnings in 1854 to the present day.
About the Author
Solmaz, also known as The Curious Creature, is a full-time food and travel blogger based in Toronto. She has travelled to more than 35 countries and is a firm believer that food plays an essential role in exploring a new destination. Follow her adventures at The Curious Creature.