Are you thinking about moving to Ontario and wavering between Ottawa and Toronto? They are both great cities and have a lot to offer current and prospective residents. While Ottawa is the capital of Canada, Toronto is the capital of the province.
Despite Ottawa being the capital of the country, Toronto is the better known of the two cities and is often mistaken for the capital of Canada. But is one city better to live in than the other?
Well, it depends on your circumstances and what you look for in life. In this article, we compare the two cities to help you decide which city is better suited for you.
Toronto is the bigger city of the two. The population of Toronto is 2,731,571 and the population of the Greater Toronto Area is 6.4 million. There are 934,243 residents in Ottawa and 1,323,783 in the Ottawa–Gatineau metro area.
Toronto is also the more multicultural of the two cities. In fact, it is the most multicultural city in the world with almost half of its population having been born in a country other than Canada. 45% of its residents say their first language is other than English or French.
In Ottawa, the percentage of people who were born outside Canada is 23.4% and 21.3% of the residents report they speak a language other than English or French at home.
The population density in Ottawa is 334 people per square kilometre compared to 4,334 people per square kilometre in Toronto. This is partly because of the number of people living in each city, but also because of the area of the cities. Ottawa’s land area is 2,778 km² and Toronto’s only 630.21 km².
The median age of the population is very similar in both cities, 36.9 in Toronto and 36.7 in Ottawa. The percentages of male and female residents are very close, too. 51.2% women and 48.8% men in Toronto and 52% women, 28% men in Ottawa.
The cost of buying and renting
The average home in Toronto cost $1,118,374 in July 2023. In Ottawa, an average house cost just $682,436 in the same month. Therefore, there is a difference of almost half a million between average homes in Toronto and Ottawa.
If you are looking to rent, then Ottawa is cheaper again. A one-bedroom apartment in the city centre will cost £1,702.50 per month on average in Ottawa compared to 2,109.07 in Toronto. A three-bedroom apartment outside of the city centre is $2,187.50 in Ottawa and $2,929.31 in Toronto.
Cost of utilities, transport and groceries
How do the cities compare when looking at the cost of monthly utility bills, travel, and food shopping?
Interestingly, the cost of utilities, including electricity, heating, water and garbage collection is very similar. In Toronto, they will cost you on average $163.11 per month and in Ottawa $164.77 per month for an 85 m² apartment. The average cost of monthly internet is also a little cheaper in Toronto at $75.85 compared to Ottawa’s $77.81 per month.
Travel using public transport will cost you more in Toronto where a single one-way journey costs $3.25 and a monthly pass without concessions costs $156. In Ottawa, these prices are $3.70 and $122.50.
The cost of common food items is often more expensive in Toronto. However, as you can see from the table below, some items cost more in Ottawa.
1 litre of milk
500g loaf of fresh white bread
1 kg chicken fillets
1 kg beef
1 kg apples
1 kg bamana
1 kg of tomatoes
Mid-range bottle of wine
½ litre bottle of domestic beer
Employment opportunities and wages
Both cities have good employment opportunities. However, Toronto has a higher unemployment rate. In July 2023, the percentage of unemployed was 6.8% in Toronto, which is higher than the 5.5% for Canada as a whole. Ottawa’s rate is below that at 4.6%.
In Ottawa, the federal government is the biggest employer with over 110,000 employees. This includes the people working for the National Defence Headquarters. Other than government positions, there are opportunities within the high-tech industry, tourism, and healthcare.
There are over 70,000 high-tech jobs in Ottawa. Most of the companies hiring people specialize in telecommunications, developing software and environmental technology. Ottawa also has a large agricultural sector, the biggest among the major cities in Canada. The sector employs about 10,000 people.
Toronto is an international center of finance, business, arts, and culture and is visited by millions of tourists every year. It has one of the highest concentrations of financial services and company headquarters in the Americas, including the headquarters of five of Canada’s largest banks.
Outside the financial sector, there are also good employment opportunities in technology, life sciences, fashion and design, tourism, and the film and TV industries.
The table below shows the average salaries for ten different job titles. As the table shows, the average salaries are better in Toronto.
You would be hard-pressed to find a Canadian city that doesn’t offer a plethora of outdoor activities. There is so much to choose from in both Ottawa and Toronto that most people will easily find an activity they will enjoy. There are plenty of opportunities for running, walking and cycling in each city.
In the winter, you will also find the usual options such as ice skating or skiing in both cities. But what outdoor activities are unique to Toronto and Ottawa?
Some of the best outdoor things you can only do in Toronto include kayaking or canoeing around the Centre Island, visiting the Riverdale Park East and Riverdale Farm, visiting Rouge National Urban Park and cycling the Toronto Islands.
In Ottawa you can, for example, go wildlife spotting in Parc Omega, whitewater rafting on the Ottawa River, bike, walk or run down the Rideau Canal and visit Éco-Odyssée.
Canada has one of the best education systems in the world, so whichever city you choose, you will find great schools. Primary and secondary education is free for all in Canada and the country always scores well in international comparisons.
As well as free primary and secondary schools, there are also a range of private schools in both cities.
Because Toronto is the bigger city, there are more post-secondary options available. There are 22 colleges and universities in Toronto compared to Ottawa’s 13. With more higher education institutes, Toronto has more diverse learning opportunities.
Some universities and colleges in Toronto include The University of Toronto, York University and Centennial College. In Ottawa, you will find The University of Ottawa, Carleton University and La Cité College of Applied Arts and Technology.
Because Toronto is bigger, there are more restaurants, more cinemas, more museums and more bars and clubs than in Ottawa. There are also many more theatres because Toronto has the biggest English language theatre scene after London and New York.
However, that doesn’t mean there are no going-out options in Ottawa. It might not be as lively as Toronto and have as much choice, but it is still possible to find plenty to do whether it is eating out, seeing a film, going to a museum or meeting friends for a drink.
In Ottawa, you can visit the National Gallery, the Notre Dame Cathedral Basilica and the Canada Aviation and Space Museum. You can grab a drink in the Heart and Crown, the Rabbit Hole, or one of the other great bars before going for dinner in one of the city’s 2,100 restaurants.
In Toronto, you can go to Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada, visit the Hockey Hall of Fame and see the only real castle in Canada, Casa Loma. Afterwards, you can rest your feet with a drink and dinner in one of Toronto’s approximately 8,100 bars and restaurants.
Its location on Lake Ontario affects Toronto’s weather. It makes its winters warmer and the summers cooler than they would be otherwise. The lakeside location also means the summers are humid, which people can find uncomfortable.
Despite being one of Canada’s warmer winter cities, there is still snow on the ground most days between mid-December and mid-March. Sometimes in the summer, Toronto suffers from fog which is caused by factories and industrial plants located on the Great Lakes.
July is the warmest month in Toronto with an average maximum temperature of 26°C and January is the coldest with an average minimum temperature of -7°C.
Two factors make the weather in Ottawa different from Toronto. First, it is further north, and second, it is not a lakeside city. This results in higher summer temperatures and colder winters.
In the winter, Ottawa has snow on the ground for about 120 days per year. The snow is also deeper than in Toronto. Ottawa also records its highest temperatures in July and has the same average maximum temperature for the month.
January is again the coldest month. The minimum temperature is more than twice as cold as in Toronto at -15°C. February is still cold with the average minimum temperature of -13°C and the temperature rarely climbs above zero from December until the end of February.
So which is the better city, Toronto or Ottawa?
To decide, it is best to look at the different categories individually.
- Population: For people who prefer a city with more space, Ottawa is the better choice as the population density is about 1/13 of the population density in Toronto. However, if you like the idea of living in the most multicultural city in the world and being among many people, then Toronto will suit you better.
- Cost of buying and renting: Ottawa is definitely the more affordable city of the two, especially if you are just entering the job market or working in a profession with lower average salaries.
- Cost of Utilities, transport and groceries: With so little difference in the prices, there is no clear winner in this category.
- Employment opportunities and wages: Toronto has higher average wages in each profession looked at. However, Toronto has a more expensive property market, so that evens out what you have left in your pocket at the end of the month.
- Outdoor activities: There are plenty of outdoor activities to choose from in each city. However, Ottawa has more parks within the city, which slightly tips the scale in its favour.
- Education: People living in Canada are very lucky because it doesn’t matter where you are in the country, you are always likely to get a good education. However, for people looking to enter higher education, Toronto offers more options than Ottawa.
- Going out: For the sheer volume of options from theatre to drinking and dancing, Toronto is the better city for nightlife.
- Weather: This is a matter of preference. If you prefer milder winter temperatures, Toronto is better, but if you like the idea of a ”proper” winter, then choose Ottawa.
Looking at the different categories overall, the two cities are neck and neck. While Toronto might have the better going out and higher education options, it is the more expensive of the two cities.
At the end of the day, the best thing to do is to spend some time in both places and get to know them. You can always chat with some locals and get a feel for the place that way. Although, they might have their own bias.
If you are not looking to live in one of the cities, but only debating which one to visit on your vacation, then Toronto is the better choice. After all, it is the most vibrant of the two.
Frequently Asked Questions
Both cities have a wide range of job opportunities. In Ottawa, the government is the biggest employer, but there are also plenty of opportunities in, for example, tourism and technology. In Toronto, there are jobs in a range of fields including business, technology, tourism, and the arts.
Your daily expenses such as groceries and travel and household bills are very similar in both cities. However, Ottawa is cheaper for renting or buying a property.
Toronto is bigger than Ottawa. In fact, Toronto is the largest city in Canada. It is also the most multicultural city.
If you are looking for a city with a lively nightlife, lots of culture, arts, theatre, bars, and restaurants, then Toronto is definitely the better choice.