Itinerant Fan

Air Canada Centre

Toronto is considered the epicenter of professional hockey in North America, and it’s a well-deserved title. After all, the Hockey Hall of Fame is located there and the NHL has offices in the city (remember that whenever there’s a video review in an NHL game these days, it’s said that “Toronto is looking at it”). And, of course, the Maple Leafs are one of the league’s Original Six franchises.

With the presence of the Raptors, you can also say that Toronto is the epicenter of Canadian professional sports, since the Raptors are currently Canada’s only NBA franchise (the same is true of the Blue Jays and MLB). So with all that said, it stands to reason that Air Canada Centre, home of the Maple Leafs and Raptors, is one of the more important buildings in the North American pro sports landscape. That in itself makes it a more than worthy venue to visit.

Beyond that, though, it’s an anchor building in one of the more fascinating cities to visit in North America, if not the whole world. It’s smack dab in the middle of downtown Toronto, right in the shadow of the CN Tower and on top of the always-busy Union Station. It often hosts major international events, such as the inaugural World Cup of Hockey. And these days, with both the Maple Leafs and Raptors making noise in their respective leagues, games are typically boisterous and full of energy.

Really, with all those qualities to it, it’s tough to turn down an opportunity to visit Air Canada Centre. Here’s a guide to making the most of the experience.

  •   The Approach

    Because of its downtown location, Air Canada Centre (note: the venue is due for a name change in the summer of 2018) is easy to access for any visitor to the city — and for many residents as well, thanks to numerous high-rise apartment buildings nearby and sprinkled throughout the central city. 

    Walking is fairly simple thanks to Toronto’s street grid pattern. Look for either Yonge (pronounced young) Street, which runs north-south, or Front Street, which runs east-west — both are major streets which meet about two blocks away from the arena, right where the Hockey Hall of Fame is located. From there, find signs for the arena, or failing that, for Union Station — if you’re on the north side of the station, you just have to pass through it to get to the venue on the other side.

    Even if you find yourself in the throes of a harsh Canadian winter, Toronto has you covered. Use the city’s PATH walkway system to keep yourself underground and, more importantly, sheltered as you make your way down to the arena.

    Toronto’s subway system is fairly simple to use for tourists and has a stop at Union Station, at the bottom of the “U” on the Yonge-University line, aka Line 1. Union Station is also a major stop for a number of regional train lines that can be used to reach the game from the city’s outskirts and beyond.

    If you must drive, there are numerous parking garages and lots within easy walking distance of the arena. Air Canada Centre has partnered with Parking Panda, an online parking reservation service, to make your trip to downtown Toronto as smooth as possible. Hop on their website and you can view all of the available parking options in the area, and how much they cost. Pick a spot that works for you, pay ahead of time, and they’ll email you the parking pass.

  •   The Build-Up

    Unsurprisingly, the blocks surrounding the arena are dotted with restaurants, bars and restaurant-slash-bars that will happily cater to the sports fan. In general, the closer to the arena the establishment is, the more crowded it will be prior to the game (and, likely, the pricier it will be as well). But even up to several blocks away, you can find good eating and drinking spots. Restaurant guides can be found here and here.

    If it’s your first time visiting Toronto, be sure to budget some time to see some of the sights near the arena. The CN Tower is just two blocks away, for example — while tickets to ascend the tower can be pricey depending on your budget, the views you can get from the observation deck are worth the trip. 

    And of course, if you’re in town to see hockey, you MUST go visit the Hockey Hall of Fame, where you’re sure to see something pertaining to your favorite team. At the very least, go to get your photo taken with the Stanley Cup, a copy of which is usually on display during museum opening hours.

  •   The Ambiance

    Despite the history of the Maple Leafs and the downtown location, Air Canada Centre is really a run-of-the-mill arena in terms of layout and features. However, steps have been taken to improve the fan experience in recent years, and there’s plenty worth exploring.

    First, it’s hard NOT to find something good to eat or drink at the arena. Many Canadian standards are there, such as Tim Hortons, Mr. Sub and Pizza Pizza — all three have stands in one food court on the 100-level concourse. In addition, you can find items such as poutine, shwarma and grilled cheese sandwiches. Check out your options in this concessions guide.

    There’s also a brewpub, called the Real Sports Bar & Grill, within the arena, and another beer garden called the Draught Deck in between the 100 and 300 levels. In fact, if you’re ascending between the two main seating bowls, you must pass through the Draught Deck in order to get from escalator to escalator. Just try to resist stopping and getting a cold one while you’re there.

    The arena seating bowl is pretty standard as arenas go, with the exception of the ends, where several levels of suites are stacked on top of each other in place of what would normally be the cheap seats. The lower rows of the 300 level don’t feel high up at all, so if you can stomach what would likely be high prices for a Maple Leafs game, splurge if you can. Be mindful, though, that some spots close to the suite areas at each end could come with obstructed views.

Center map

The Particulars

Home Teams
Toronto Maple Leafs
Toronto Raptors

40 Bay St.
Toronto, ON M5J 2X2

Year Opened

18,819 (hockey)
19,300 (basketball)

Upcoming Events
All times local
Rod Stewart
Thursday, March 22, 2018
7:30 pm
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Brooklyn Nets at Toronto Raptors
Friday, March 23, 2018
7:30 pm
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Detroit Red Wings at Toronto Maple Leafs
Saturday, March 24, 2018
7:00 pm
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Los Angeles Clippers at Toronto Raptors
Sunday, March 25, 2018
6:00 pm
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Buffalo Sabres at Toronto Maple Leafs
Monday, March 26, 2018
7:00 pm
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View Seating Chart »