Toronto is one of the most ethnically diverse cities on the planet – a creative and harmonious convergence of histories and cultures. The jubilant locals, united by love for their city, defy harsh winters, an aging transit system and traffic chaos, and they all get along pretty well. Grab a page from their book and arrive ready to explore the flavors and aromas of Toronto’s myriad of friendly neighborhoods. It’s Toronto, where everyone is welcome and supply meets demand – no matter what floats on your boat, you’re bound to find it here.
Toronto’s size and habit of constantly reinventing yourself make it hard to get to know Big Smoke in a short period of time, but we’re going to give you a tip: take a neighborhood as its own mini-adventure and meet up. what really motivates Torontonians.
Yonge and Dundas
Start by getting your bearings at Yonge-Dundas Square, the unofficial downtown hub, just south of the Bloor / Yonge subway interchange. Revitalized in the late 1990s, the square has become Canada’s busiest intersection and is often referred to as “Toronto’s Times Square”. There’s usually something free here, and the massive Eaton Center mall at the top of Dundas and Queen subway stations is a shoppers’ paradise, especially in winter. The Mall’s Urban Eatery food court has something for everyone, but also try Senato Restaurant for some retro, family-friendly charm. Further south on Yonge, it’s worth visiting the Elgin & Winter Garden Theater, the only surviving two-story theater in the world.
West on Bloor Street from the Bloor / Yorkville subway interchange, lies Toronto’s “Mink Mile”, where the rich and famous shopping and dining. Further west you’ll also find one of Toronto’s top attractions, the Royal Ontario Museum. Take your time here: the ROM is the largest natural history museum in Canada, and you can spend an entire day wandering through its exhibits. The museum also offers walking tours which provide a wonderful glimpse into city life. Hungry after all this learning? The Annexe Food Hall is ideal for quick and tasty meals in an industrial-chic setting.
Harbourfront and Corktown
The mainstays of Toronto’s theaters, nightclubs and a handful of exceptional restaurants and bars can be found in the Entertainment District, located on King and Adelaide streets, west of Yonge. The Bell Lightbox cinema, proud home of Toronto International Film Festival, can be found here. And some great places to eat reside here: a sample of the best restaurants should include at least one from Lee, Wvrst, Khao San Road, Patria, or Terroni. For modern and neat accommodation, stay at Thompson Toronto, where the rooftop pool bar is one of the city’s best-kept secrets.
Queen West, Chinatown and Kensington Market
These adjacent districts appeal to an international and bohemian clientele. Heading west on Queen between University and Ossington avenues, a concentration of eclectic merchants and boutiques sell just about everything. Head north on Spadina Ave through Toronto’s Chinatown to find Mother’s Dumplings, perfect for a big, inexpensive meal. Visit the Art Gallery of Ontario, which has an extensive collection of Inuit and First Nations art. South of College St, dirty but trendy Kensington Market awaits. One of Toronto’s most photographed neighborhoods, Kensington Market was designated a national historic site of Canada in 2006, and it has everything a good neighborhood needs: grocery stores, festivals, the arts, restaurants and bars. Stop for a coldie at Sneaky Dee’s, the original dive bar institution.
The Annex, Koreatown and Little Italy
As you head north to Bloor St, you will find the Annex with its increasingly small conglomeration of bookstores and cafes. He is beloved by intellectuals and students at nearby University of Toronto, but he is best known for an unexpected spectacle: Casa Loma, Toronto’s only castle. Built between 1911-1913, the 98-room mansion was the residence of Sir Henry Mill Pellatt, who made his fortune in the electricity and rail industries, but lost it to ill-fated real estate speculation (such as the management of a castle), and the estate had to be auctioned. The building is now a museum with guided tours. In this neighborhood you’ll also find Planet Traveller’s Hostel, one of Toronto’s best budget options, as well as Country Style, a Hungarian eatery that serves gargantuan breaded schnitzels – incongruous with the plethora of Korean restaurants on this strip of Bloor.
Church and Wellesley
Toronto is one of the most LGBTIQ-friendly cities in the world, with most of the action happening in the Church & Wellesley area, east of Yonge on Church Street between College Street and Bloor Street. On a sunny day, cruise from cheerful patio to cheerful patio, making friends along the way. We recommend that you start with Hair of the Dog, but you could end up doing it all day. Party goers won’t want to miss the huge Toronto Pride, one of the biggest gay pride festivals in the world.
This article was originally published in September 2014. It was updated in June 2021.