A Local’s Guide to TIFF:
Tickets, Red Carpets and Special Events

Take it from a local who knows - the Toronto International Film Festival is a spectacular time to be in the city, especially if you know your way through the films, events and nightlife scene. Toronto native, Solmaz, gives you the inside scoop on TIFF, which overtakes the city from September 5 to 15.

A large crowd gathers after dark on the TIFF Festival Street, and gets pictures near the large, brightly-lit TIFF logo. Photo courtesy of TIFF

Having attended The Toronto International Film Festival for more than fifteen years, I consider myself a veteran festivalgoer. 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 film festival we can call our own here 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 5-15, 2019 this year. 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 A-List celebs, 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!

Insider Tip: One of the biggest perks of attending a screening at TIFF are the Q&As that follow most screenings. Make sure to stick around for these 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! taking advantage of special pricing for weekday daytime screenings (starting at $19 for adults and $11 for anyone under 25) and buying your tickets early to save cash — prices can increase by $2-$7 from the base price as demand for a film goes up.

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 Ritz-Carlton, Shangri-La Toronto, The St. Regis 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 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, The Hazelton Hotel and the Broadview Hotel are all great options.

Where To Eat And Drink Before/After Screenings

A bowl of khao yum is prepared using colourful ingredients in a golden bowl at Kiin Restaurant Toronto.
Khao Yum /
Kiin Restaurant
Photo courtesy of Jesse Milns

Great Eats Around the Festival Hub

Toronto has one of the most diverse food scenes in the world so I encourage you to celebrate our international film festival with some international flavours. 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 Baro for South American flavours 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, Momofuku Noodle Bar, La Carnita or Porchetta & Co.

The rooftop pool and patio at Bisha Toronto, with the CN Tower prominently in view.
Photo courtesy of The Bisha Hotel Toronto

Drinks With a View

This year, as a nod to TIFF, The Thompson Hotel Toronto has created signature cocktails inspired by some of the most buzzworthy films. Their rooftop is the perfect spot to lounge pre or post screenings and raise a glass to the festival of festivals. The Thomson has been a TIFF go-to hotspot for years (past celebrity guests include Ryan Gosling, Natalie Portman, Bradley Cooper, George Clooney, Nicole Kidman and Lady Gaga) so you may even spot your favourite star while you’re there.

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 admiring the sparkling skyline. Tip: These venues host private functions during TIFF so be sure to give them a ring before arriving.

The Thompson Hotel signature coctails with a view of torontos skyline featuring the CN Tower
Signature TIFF cocktails at The Thompson Hotel Toronto. Left to right: Red Cardigan, Perfect Lap, Ruby Slipper.
Photo courtesy of The Curious Creature

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. Marbl Restaurant on King West will host a Nordstrom Supper Suite VIP Pop-Up during opening weekend of TIFF and will be filled with buzz as A-list celebrities roll in for interviews and red carpet premiere parties.

The LA Times will set up shop at Baro again this year so you can expect stars to pass through for interviews. Notable celebrities from last year include Natalie Portman and Salma Hayek.

TIFF Bell Lightbox and The St. Regis Toronto are also celebrity hot spots as the former hosts daily press conferences and the latter is HQ for The Hollywood Reporter.

Where to Eat & Drink Outside the Festival Hub

If you’re willing to trek outside of the festival hub, zip over to Sofia Yorkville, 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

This year, TIFF welcomes a new generation of film experts and curators, bringing their fresh voices and perspectives. The programming team features sought after voices in the industry and is comprised of 50% women.

To celebrate the 44th edition of the festival, the Ritz-Carlton Toronto has curated 10 days of experiences from wellness treatments at Spa My Blend by Clarins to exclusive culinary offerings (like a pop-up seafood bar at TOCA and a Film Festival Chef’s Tasting Menu).

Many restaurants and bars celebrate TIFF by concocting signature cocktails and dreaming up special events. This year, the lead mixologist at celeb hotspot d|bar has crafted creative and whimsical cocktails inspired by some of the most anticipated movies being screened at the film festival’s gala presentations.

Want to grace the cover of The Hollywood Reporter? Head over to The St. Regis Toronto to snap a photo in the hotel lobby September 5-9 from 6-9 pm daily. While you’re there, sip bubbly like a star at the Moët & Chandon Champagne Lounge at The St. Regis Toronto. The pop-up runs September 5-15 and will feature a custom champagne menu to celebrate the 150th Anniversary of Moët Impérial and The St. Regis Toronto’s first ever TIFF. Make sure you’re there at 6 pm for their iconic champagne sabering ritual and bring those cameras!

If you’re looking for a relaxing and refined way to celebrate TIFF 2019, you’ll want to mark September 14 and 15 in your calendar. The newly-transformed Fairmont Royal York will host a Downton Abbey themed Afternoon Tea in Library Bar featuring specialty menu items. There will be exciting giveaways (including tickets to the film’s premier!) and guests are all encouraged to dress up!

TIFF Festival Street seen with daytime crowds.
TIFF Festival Street
Photo courtesy of TIFF

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 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 3 to 5), Kensington Market Jazz Festival (September 13 to 15 at Kensington Market), Veg Food Fest (September 6 to 8 at Harbourfront Centre) and the Cabbagetown Festival (September 8 & 9 at Parliament Street and Carlton Street, free admission).

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.

See it. Snap it. Share it. In every neighbourhood, around every corner, through every door there's something that begs to be discovered in Toronto.


More Insights & Ideas from Locals

Food & Drink

See & Do

Holidays, Christmas & Winter