Toronto Introduction Walking Tour, Toronto

Toronto Introduction Walking Tour (Self Guided), Toronto

Sprawling on the northwestern shore of Lake Ontario, the capital of the Canadian province of Ontario, Toronto, is a major metropolis renowned for its dynamic pace and high-rising skyline, incorporating both ultra-modern skyscrapers and historic architecture.

The area of present-day Toronto has been inhabited for thousands of years. Its first known settlers – the Wyandot (or Huron) people – had occupied the region long before the 1500s, followed later by the Iroquois tribe. The name Toronto is likely derived from the Iroquoian word “tkaronto”, which means the place where trees stand in water. Another theory suggests that Toronto means "plenty" and was adopted by the French in the 1630s as part of their lexicon originating from the Huron and Iroquoian languages.

Following the so-called Toronto Purchase of 1787, the British took over the territory and established here a town called York. In 1834, the town was incorporated as a city and subsequently renamed Toronto. Thirty-three years later, the city became the capital of the Ontario province within the Canadian Confederation.

Around the same time, a thriving industrial area developed around Toronto Harbour and the lower Don River mouth, linked by rail and water to the rest of Canada and the United States. Traces of that period include the Gooderham Distillery, once the world's largest whisky manufacturer, which is now part of the historic "Distillery District".

Waves of immigration in the 19th and 20th centuries saw the arrival in Toronto of European settlers (Irish, German, French, Italian, Russian, Polish, and Jewish), as well as Chinese. Such ethnic diversity is presently reflected in local neighbourhoods, such as Chinatown, Kensington Market, and others.

The post-WWII boom resulted in a rapid expansion of Toronto, largely contributing to its cultural and urban development, resulting in a wealth of entertainment and recreational facilities. Shopping areas like St. Lawrence Market and Toronto Eaton Centre are recognized as the city's most popular attractions, drawing annually millions of visitors.

Torontonians take their sport seriously, especially when it comes to their much-loved ice hockey. No visit to the city is complete without getting a glimpse of this fascinating game – best done at the Hockey Hall of Fame!

Traveling on foot is advantageous in Toronto, as it comes to life with its blend of quirky sights, sounds, and unique architecture. For a more detailed acquaintance with the historical and modern capital of Ontario and a chance to explore some of its prominent landmarks, embark on this self-guided introductory walk.
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Toronto Introduction Walking Tour Map

Guide Name: Toronto Introduction Walking Tour
Guide Location: Canada » Toronto (See other walking tours in Toronto)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 12
Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 4.1 Km or 2.5 Miles
Author: alice
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • St. Lawrence Market
  • Gooderham Building
  • Hockey Hall of Fame
  • Yonge Street
  • Old City Hall
  • Toronto New City Hall
  • Trinity Square
  • Eaton Centre
  • Yonge-Dundas Square
  • Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO)
  • Chinatown
  • Kensington Market
St. Lawrence Market

1) St. Lawrence Market (must see)

Established in 1803, St. Lawrence Market is the nerve centre of Toronto's commercial activity. Located in the former industrial area (between Jarvis, Front, King, and Church streets), this is the city's largest and perhaps most famous market. The bulk of its crowd are locals doing regular grocery shopping or simply popping in for a cup of coffee or chit-chat with neighbors. Tourists are also seen here rather often, lured by the bustling atmosphere and tasty foods.

Undoubtedly, food is the main draw at St. Lawrence. Here, you can find everything: from beef to kangaroo meat, plus hundreds of kinds of cheeses, gourmet dog treats, local wines, French baked goods, Greek olive oil, and even New Zealand honey. There is also plenty of prepared food, such as the famous peameal bacon sandwich, that you can eat right on site.

The South Market section houses daily sales of fresh produce, dairy, and meats. Freshly-baked goods are also available here all day, much as some non-food items. There is a number of artisan shops selling jewelry and other crafts. Also, the Market Gallery, on the second floor, has an area for cultural events.

The North Market section traditionally houses a Saturday farmer’s market (featuring producers from southern Ontario) and a Sunday antiques sale. Both ventures start at 5 o'clock in the morning and run until 5 o'clock in the evening.

From an architectural standpoint, St. Lawrence is just as attractive. Its massive main brick building, with a cast-iron ceiling inspired by London’s St. Pancras train station, was constructed in 1902. Part of the Old City Hall, which dates from 1845, was incorporated into the building, and you can still see part of the original jail on the lower level of the market.

Operating Hours:
Tue-Thu: 8 am - 6 pm; Fri: 8 am - 7 pm; Sat: 5 am - 5 pm
Gooderham Building

2) Gooderham Building

Among the many places worth visiting in the St. Lawrence neighborhood, especially for an architecture buff, is the Gooderham Building. Hardly five stories tall, wedged in a triangular intersection between Front and Wellington streets, this structure is one of the most photographed sights in the city. The house was built in 1892, ten years before its famous kin, the Fuller Building in New York City, and as such, represents an early example of the flatiron form of architecture.

The previous building on this site was shorter but of the same shape and was called the Coffin Block. The current vermilion red-brick edifice, with tinges of Romanesque styling, was constructed for distiller George Gooderham and served as the office of the Gooderham & Worts distillery until 1952. The Gooderham family sold the property in 1957, following which it changed hands several times. In 1975, the building was designated a historic site under the Ontario Heritage Act.

Besides its shape, the Gooderham Building is well-known for the mural on its back wall. The Flatiron Mural – created by renowned Canadian artist Derek Michael Besant – uses a trompe-l'œil effect to make the wall appear to have more windows than it does, as well as to give it a more mobile effect with the help of a picture of the Perkins Building, which is located directly across the street, depicted as if loosely 'tacked' down to the wall, with some of its edges 'fluttering' away.

Right behind the Gooderham Building is a tree-lined spot called Berczy Park. This park, housing a sizeable three-tier fountain fitted with 27 cast-iron dogs spouting water, a cast-iron cat, and crowned with a bone, was completed in 2017. The drinking trough for dogs has made this fountain a popular destination, particularly for dog lovers.
Hockey Hall of Fame

3) Hockey Hall of Fame (must see)

The Toronto-based Hockey Hall of Fame is a museum dedicated to the history of ice hockey. The museum was established in 1943, owing to the tireless efforts of James Thomas Sutherland, a national ice hockey player, coach, and an ardent developer and supporter of this sport, fondly remembered as the “Father of Hockey.”

Spread over an area of 57,000 square feet, the venue is divided into 15 sections, displaying the achievements and accolades won by both NHL and international teams and their players, including cups, trophies, memorabilia, as well as the equipment and jerseys worn by famous hockey personalities. There are also some fun interactive exhibits where you can try your hand at tackling real pucks playing a goaltender – a real hit with kids. Also, the on-site shop is a great place to get team apparel.

The Hockey Hall of Fame is housed in a former Bank of Montreal office building, once Canada's largest bank branch, which is an attraction in its own right. This 1885 Beaux-Arts-style architectural marvel, ornately extravagant with ostentatious stonework on the facades (an attempt to project the image of prosperity and security), is recognized as one of the most impressive bank structures ever built in the city.

For a few extra bucks, you can get a photo taken with the Stanley Cup – three printed copies and one digital.

Opening Hours:
Mon-Fri: 10 am - 5 pm; Sat: 9:30 am - 6 pm; Sun: 10:30 am - 5 pm
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Yonge Street

4) Yonge Street

Yonge Street lends its name to the eponymous shopping and entertainment district and is a major commercial thoroughfare in Toronto with landmarks such as Eaton Center, Yonge-Dundas Square, and the Hockey Hall of Fame located along its length. The street is also a major arterial route in the Ontario province which links the shores of Lake Ontario to Lake Simcoe, a gateway to the Upper Great Lakes.

Yonge Street was integral to the original planning and settlement of western Upper Canada in the 1790s; its construction was designated as an Event of National Historic Significance in the country. The street was named by Ontario's first colonial administrator, John Graves Simcoe, for his friend, Sir George Yonge, who was an expert on ancient Roman roads.

As the city's main street, Yonge regularly hosts parades, street performances, and protests (whenever they occur). Also, after major sporting victories, thousands of people traditionally gather on the downtown portions of this street, particularly near Dundas Square, to celebrate. On such occasions, Yonge Street gets closed to vehicular traffic and streetcars often have to cease operations a few hundred metres east or west of Yonge Street because of the crowds.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Old City Hall

5) Old City Hall

Sitting on the corner of Queen and Bay streets in Downtown Toronto is an imposing Romanesque-style building. Between 1899 and 1966, this architectural marvel was home to the Toronto City Council, the third city hall built for the burgeoning city. Upon its completion, what is now known as the Old City Hall was one of the largest buildings in Toronto and the largest civic structure in North America.

Charged with the task of creating it was the prominent local architect, Edward James Lennox. It took Lennox altogether three years to come up with an acceptable design plus another decade or so to have it materialized in stone.

The end result was surely well worth the wait, though. Grand in its demeanor and elegant in its stance, the magnificent City Hall became a heritage landmark, whose distinctive 103.6 metre-tall (340 ft) clock tower was the crowning jewel of the city, well seen from far and wide.

The clock mechanism for it was made in Croydon, England. The clock room was also fitted with three bells: two smaller ones, striking every quarter of an hour, and a bourdon bell which strikes every hour and weighs 5443 kilograms.

Matching the magnificent exterior of the building, its interior is just as charming with intricate details such as the grand staircase with stained glass windows depicting Canadian history, various murals, statues, and other elements.

The overall cost of the project came to more than $2.5 million (which is close to $53 million in today's money). Angered by the cost overruns and construction delays, the city councillors refused Lennox a plaque proclaiming him as the architect for the completed building. Not to be denied his well-deserved glory, however, Lennox had stonemasons "sign" his name in corbels beneath the upper floor eaves around the entire building, reading: "EJ LENNOX ARCHITECT AD 1898".

Despite its size, the Old City Hall proved inadequate to Toronto's growing municipal government within a couple of decades of its completion. In the 1960s, the building was slated for demolition to clear space for a retail complex (Eaton Centre), but fortunately was saved by public outcry and turned into a courthouse. In 1984, the Old City Hall was designated a National Historic Site.

Make sure to visit the small "lake" close by, as many of the pictures from Toronto you might know are taken from this place while facing the "TORONTO" sign.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Toronto New City Hall

6) Toronto New City Hall

Another architectural landmark of Ontario's capital is the New City Hall. Photographed by many, this symbol of Toronto stands out as a unique structure accentuating the originality and sophistication in the city’s scape.

The New City Hall was designed by Finnish architect Viljo Revell, who was commissioned to the job following an international competition that drew in over 500 designs from 42 countries. The competition initially underwent grave criticism and ran into controversy as some felt the work should be done by a Canadian. Still, the end result gifted Toronto with one of its finest structures to date, a much-loved symbol of the state.

The construction began in 1961 and lasted four years. The project was run in collaboration with Heikki Castren, Bengt Lundsten, and Seppo Valjus, who, according to Revell himself, were not credited enough for their contribution. The Toronto New City Hall was Revell’s only design outside Finland and is the one for which he is most fondly remembered. Unfortunately, the mastermind behind the spectacular structure did not live to see his magnum opus completed, as he died earlier in 1964.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Trinity Square

7) Trinity Square

Curbed by the Eaton Center on the east, Bell Trinity Square on the south and west, and the Marriott Downtown Eaton Center Hotel on the north, lies Toronto's Trinity Square.

Back in the 19th century, this area was known as the Terauley Estate (occupied by Terauley Cottage) of one John Simcoe Macaulay, who sold the property in 1845 to make way for the construction of the Church of the Holy Trinity. This Anglican church dominates the square to this day. Found nearby are the Holy Trinity Rectory and Henry Scadding House, both heritage buildings. Other notable features within the square include a fountain (a tall outlet of water falling from a wall) with an ornamental pond, an artificial stream beside the walkway to Bay Street, and a labyrinth path.

The three large colonnade-like structures seen here serve as an entrance to the Toronto Public Labyrinth. As many labyrinths are found near the water, this labyrinth is also located on the former course of Taddle Creek which has been buried for more than 150 years now. The granite blocks used for paving the labyrinth entrance and the nearby water feature serve as reminders of this buried creek. The labyrinth is oriented in the direction of true north, as indicated by the directional lines created with the granite blocks.

Adjacent to the church is a clock tower similar in scale and construction to the columns at Bay Street.

During the 1970s, Trinity Square was on the brink of demolition amid plans to build the massive Toronto Eaton Centre. Successful protests from Toronto citizens eventually forced the mall design to be changed, preserving the square, the church, as well as the nearby Old City Hall.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Eaton Centre

8) Eaton Centre (must see)

Toronto caters to any visitor's idea of the "best shopping day ever" as its shopping destinations are perfectly compatible with all budgets, however diverse. Still, no shopping experience in Toronto is complete without visiting the Eaton Centre.

Quite literally "shop-till-you-drop", this Downtown location – anchored between Queen, Dundas, and Yonge streets – is the largest shopping mall in Eastern Canada. The colossal – 160,000 square meters – shopping complex contains more than 230 retail outlets, restaurants, and services under one roof and has definitely something for everyone.

The place is named for Timothy Eaton, owner of a dry goods store on Yonge Street, who in the 19th century revolutionized retailing in Canada. By the 20th century, Eaton's chain of department stores was the largest in the country and owned most of the land in the neighbourhood.

In the mid-1960s, the chain announced plans to build a massive shopping mall that would occupy several city blocks. This implied the demolition of the Old City Hall and the Church of the Holy Trinity. Although the plans were eventually revised, to make way for the new complex, several streets ultimately disappeared from the city street grid.

The Eaton Centre's first phase opened in 1977, featuring ultra-modern, for that time, exterior design as a token of dominance and aspirations. Originally marketed as "Eaton Centre", the complex was renamed "Toronto Eaton Centre" in the early 1990s to disambiguate from other Eaton Centres spawned across Canada.

Today, apart from the high-end boutiques and exclusive stores, inside this premier shopping venue you will find popular universal brands and even bargain marts. With a massive visitor count of over one million a year, the Toronto Eaton Centre has become a regular entry on every tourist’s list.

Opening Hours:
Mon-Fri: 10 am - 9:30 pm; Sat: 9:30 am - 9:30 pm; Sun: 10 am - 7 pm
Yonge-Dundas Square

9) Yonge-Dundas Square (must see)

No place can possibly get you any closer to the spirit of Toronto than Yonge-Dundas Square.

The site was conceived in 1997 as part of revitalizing the Downtown intersection of Yonge and Dundas streets. Technically speaking, though, the area – bordered by bending Dundas Street East on the north, Victoria Street on the east, Yonge Street on the west, and Dundas Square on the south – is not a square at all, but an irregular pentagon.

Still, this square, as they call it, stands at a slight incline that was made on purpose, so as to facilitate a theatrical feel to it. Since its completion in 2002, Yonge-Dundas has been at the heart of the city’s cultural scene, central to the Yonge entertainment and shopping district, perpetually brimming with life.

The square is continuously illuminated by large billboard screens and corporate logos, which often leads to its comparison with New York City's Times Square, Tokyo's Shibuya district, and London's Piccadilly Circus. To manage the volume of pedestrians passing through here every day – over 100,000!!! – a pedestrian scramble was installed in 2008, being the first of its kind in the city.

Surrounding the square are major landmarks, such as Toronto Eaton Centre, Ed Mirvish Theatre, and the Citytv building. The centrepiece of Yonge-Dundas is an array of fountains: two rows of ten fountains spread out across the main walkway allowing visitors to walk through or around them.

Bringing together people from all walks of life, this public square is a prominent landmark of Toronto in its own right, regularly hosting public events, celebrations, performances, and art displays.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO)

10) Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) (must see)

One of the most spectacular pieces of architecture found in Toronto is the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO), home to the world’s largest collection of Canadian art. This museum complex takes up 45,000 square metres (480,000 sq ft) of physical space, which makes it one of the largest art venues in North America.

The museum was founded in 1900, as the Art Museum of Toronto, by a group of private citizens and members of the Toronto Society of Arts; its first home, the historic Georgian manor called The Grange, was acquired in 1911. The present name – the Art Gallery of Ontario – was adopted in 1966. Over the years, the museum undertook several expansions to the north and west of the Grange, the most recent of which occurred in the early 2000s and 2010s.

AGO's permanent collection totals over 120,000 items. The exhibits, representing many artistic movements and eras of art history, are organized into several "collection areas," which typically encompass works from a specific art form, artist, benefactor, chronological era, or geographic locale.

Here, alongside an extensive collection of Canadian art (including First Nations and Inuit artists), exhibited on the second floor, you will find over 80,000 pieces of European art, ranging from 1000 CE to 1900 CE, exhibited in several viewing halls throughout the museum. Among the key European artworks displayed are the ones by Gian Lorenzo Bernini, Edgar Degas, Thomas Gainsborough, Paul Gauguin, Claude Monet, Rembrandt, Auguste Rodin, and James Tissot. Paintings and sculptures are found on the ground floor, while the ship models, mostly British, are featured in the museum's concourse.

Admirers of modern and contemporary art won't be disappointed either amid the works by Andy Warhol, Claes Oldenburg, and Jenny Holzer. The collection of modern sculptures is just as impressive and includes, among others, the creations of Henry Moore, who took the world by storm with his semi-abstract pieces.

The gallery's architecture alone is well worth coming for, but coupled with the wealth of artworks found within, it is a sure guarantee of a most enjoyable experience. You can also stop by the museum's shop and check out the fun and interesting items they have on offer.

The museum policy allows for exiting and re-entering on your ticket within the day.

Opening Hours:
Tue, Thu: 10:30 am–5 pm; Wed, Fri: 10:30 am–9 pm; Sat, Sun: 10:30 am–5:30 pm
Sight description based on Wikipedia.

11) Chinatown (must see)

Toronto's Chinatown, also known as Downtown Chinatown or West Chinatown, is one of the largest ethnic Chinese enclaves in North America. Centered at the intersections of Spadina Avenue and Dundas Street West, this neighbourhood evolved from a small Chinese community in the 1950s-1960s in what was then a predominantly Jewish district.

Originally, the area was inhabited by the natives of southern China and Hong Kong. However, starting from the late 1990s, following the transfer of Hong Kong to the People's Republic of China, the number of migrants from mainland China have prevailed. In recent decades, Chinatown has redefined itself in the face of changing demographics and gentrification, prompted, among other factors, by the increased interest from urban professionals and the young folk working in the Financial District.

Most of the once-famed restaurants and barbecue shops on Dundas Street West have closed down as a result, but the majority of grocery stores remained. Among them are major Chinese malls like Dragon City and Chinatown Centre. Nowadays, alongside Chinese establishments, you will find a diverse set of shops and restaurants from other East Asian cultures, such as Vietnamese, Thai, and Japanese.

Amid all these changes, however, there are some establishments still in place that have been operational since before the neighbourhood became known as Chinatown. One such is the El Mocambo live music spot, which opened in the 1940s. Other “evergreens” include the animated open-air markets and shops lining Spadina Avenue, offering fresh fruits and vegetables as well as herbal medicine and souvenirs.

Chinese New Year celebrations – traditionally accompanied by live stage shows, martial arts demonstrations, and lion dances – are yet another local attraction, drawing tourists and locals in their numbers.

The overload of Chinese signs makes this exotic neighborhood an interesting place for a stroll. Also, adding to its appeal, especially late at night, is the plethora of inexpensive eateries with menus ranging from dim sum to pho to modern fusion. And if you're looking for a gift to take home, the available options at Chinatown are diverse and sufficiently cheaper than elsewhere in the city centre.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Kensington Market

12) Kensington Market (must see)

Kensington Market is a multicultural, bohemian neighbourhood, one of the oldest and best-known in Toronto. A bit of a legend as such – replete with indie shops, vintage boutiques, and arts spaces – this district has been photographed more often than any other place in the city.

Nowadays, the area is more and more seen as home to artists, students, and families who populate the local Victorian houses. This, in turn, sparkles speculation that Kensington's long history as an immigrant working-class neighbourhood is nearly over.

Back in the early 20th century, the area was populated mostly by eastern European Jewish immigrants, prompting a nickname "the Jewish Market". With most of the Jews moving out north to the more prosperous uptown and suburbs after WWII, the arrival of new waves of migrants from the Caribbean and East Asia, in the 1950s, made the community more ethnically diverse. The Vietnam War brought in a number of American political refugees, adding further a unique utopian flavour. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, substantial groups of settlers also came from Central America, Somalia, Ethiopia, Sudan, Iran, Vietnam, Chile, and other global trouble spots. However, the closeness of Chinatown still makes the Chinese the largest ethnic group here.

Kensington Market continues to hold a wide array of bakeries and specialty grocers selling merchandise from all over the world. In recent years, many of the older ethnic establishments have been replaced by an explosion of trendy bars, upscale cafés, and international clubs and restaurants frequented by hipsters and other colorful lot. Most of these are found along Augusta Avenue and the neighbouring Nassau Street, Baldwin Street, and Kensington Avenue.

Another unique – architectural – feature of the neighbourhood is the extensions built onto the front of many buildings. The annual "Kensington Market Festival of Lights", now known as the Kensington Market Winter Solstice Festival, is celebrated as a street parade during the Winter Solstice in December.

Over the years, Kensington Market has been a filming location for a number of TV series, such as King of Kensington, Twitch City, and Katts and Dog, as well as the street riot scenes of the 1984 comedy Police Academy. It was also the primary setting for Cory Doctorow's novel “Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town.”

In November 2006, Kensington Market was designated a National Historic Site of Canada.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.

Walking Tours in Toronto, Canada

Create Your Own Walk in Toronto

Create Your Own Walk in Toronto

Creating your own self-guided walk in Toronto is easy and fun. Choose the city attractions that you want to see and a walk route map will be created just for you. You can even set your hotel as the start point of the walk.
Historical Buildings Walking Tour

Historical Buildings Walking Tour

Once an Anglo backwater, today's Toronto is the cultural and economic hub of English-speaking Canada. The city's architectural beauty is supplemented by its historical richness, with some of the buildings dating back as far as the late 18th century. This self-guided tour invites you to explore the most prominent of them, such as Gooderham, Daniel Brook Building, Massey Hall and others,...  view more

Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 2.6 Km or 1.6 Miles
Cabbagetown Walking Tour

Cabbagetown Walking Tour

Once a small community of Irish immigrants and one of the poorest neighborhoods in Toronto, Cabbagetown is also one of the city's oldest districts, established in 1840, east of downtown. In 2004, it was declared a historic district and presently claims to be "the largest continuous area of preserved Victorian housing in North America". Attesting to this claim is Amelia Street...  view more

Tour Duration: 1 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 1.8 Km or 1.1 Miles
Toronto Islands Walking Tour

Toronto Islands Walking Tour

The Toronto Islands is a chain of islands located in Lake Ontario, comprising three major islands (namely: Center Island, Algonquin or Sunfish Island, and Olympic Island) and several smaller ones, which collectively represent a great recreation destination set in a peaceful and joyful environment. Other than a great panoramic view of Toronto, the islands offer a wealth of attractions. To acquaint...  view more

Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 3.3 Km or 2.1 Miles
Distillery District Walking Tour

Distillery District Walking Tour

The architectural treasure of Toronto's Distillery District dates back to 1859 as the site of the largest distillery in the British Empire. This former industrial complex is now a National Historic Site of Canada and represents a unique pocket of Victorian-era architecture, featuring the continent's best-preserved collection of cobblestone pathways and historic buildings housing...  view more

Tour Duration: 1 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 0.8 Km or 0.5 Miles
Toronto's Waterfront Walking Tour

Toronto's Waterfront Walking Tour

Toronto is located on the shore of Lake Ontario and it is more than obvious that the locals, as well as visitors to the city, cherish and admire the alluring views of the lake. Toronto's waterfront is one of the most picturesque places for walking, but it is also a great destination for those in search of entertainment. This self-guided walking tour will reveal all the pearls strewn along the...  view more

Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 3.7 Km or 2.3 Miles

Useful Travel Guides for Planning Your Trip

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