'Kind of a hangout.' Greeters give visitors an insider's look at Toronto

With a record number of tourists expected to visit Toronto this year, residents can expect to see full double-decker buses cruising the streets and find the city’s main attractions a little more crowded.

PATH system particularly appealing to tourists, greeter says. ‘They want to spend all day down there.’

Toronto Greeters will take visitors beyond the city's main hotspots, such as the CN Tower and the Rogers Centre. (CBC)

With a record number of tourists expected to visit Toronto this year, residents can expect to see full double-decker buses cruising the streets and find the city's main attractions a little more crowded.

Some visitors, however, will want to get off the beaten path and check out the hotspots that don't get mentioned in guidebooks. For those tourists, there's the Toronto Greeters program, wherein volunteer residents introduce a group to some of the places that only a local would know.

Sean Hertel has been a greeter for seven years. He joined the program after he moved back to Toronto and felt disconnected from the city.

"The greeter program was an opportunity to not only get someone else to know the city but to know the city a little bit more myself," Hertel told CBC Radio's Metro Morning on Tuesday. "Learn through others a new perspective, look through other people's eyes."

Toronto's Greeter program lets tourists see an insider's view of Toronto that they may not get merely following guidebook recommendations. (CBC)

There are 60 volunteers in the program, which is offered for free. Tourists sign up via the city's website, or at torontogreeters.com. They can either choose a neighbourhood to explore, or can select "greeter's choice" and be taken on a tour designed by their assigned greeter.

Greeters and their groups can correspond via email or social media prior to the tour to get to know each other and to discuss what the charges might want to see.

"It's not so much a tour as it is a visit," Hertel says. "Kind of a hangout."

All tours begin at the security desk at city hall, Hertel says, and he uses the opportunity to tell visitors about Nathan Phillips Square. Given full control of a tour, Hertel takes tourists to the Grange neighbourhood to look at the AGO and the OCAD University building.

"And it really tells a story of where Toronto's been, where it is currently and where it might be going," he says.

Asked what visitors remark on most about the city, Hertel says they tend to notice youngsters on the TTC or walking along the streets unaccompanied by an adult.

"So as a resident you start to reawaken to your city that too often we take for granted," he says.

Visitors also can't get enough of the underground PATH system.

"I can't get people out of there," he says. "They want to spend all day down there. It's unbelievable."

Toronto is one of only two cities in Canada to offer a greeter program, according to Hertel, the second being Calgary, and is among 100 cities around the world to offer it.

"We go down the rabbit hole and enjoy Toronto from a different perspective," he says.