The Neighbourhoods of Greater TorontoToronto is a vibrant urban centre made up of eclectic, lively neighbourhoods. Few cities in the world bring so many diverse cultures, festivals and businesses together in a single place. Walking through the city and surrounding regions, it feels small. Yet Toronto is the fifth-largest city in North America and the largest in Canada, and it continues to grow by leaps and bounds. And at the centre of it all are some of Toronto’s best stories — its neighbourhoods.
In the 1960s, Yorkville was the locus of hippie culture in Toronto. Now, Yorkville is more “hip haute” with its designer boutiques and fine dining. See cobblestone courtyards, laneways and an award-winning park. Alongside the five-star hotels are charming Victorian restorations housing galleries, fashion and décor boutiques, and chic cafés and bars. At its southern edge, high fashion retail reigns supreme, as the “Mink Mile” of Bloor Street features international retailers like Gucci and Hermès alongside Toronto’s own Harry Rosen and William Ashley.
The Entertainment Districttorontoed.com
Centred around the landmark theatres of King Street West, the Entertainment District is densely packed with trendy restaurants and one of North America’s liveliest nightclub scenes. Walking along King Street means walking on Canada’s most famous icons whose names line the sidewalk forming Canada’s Walk of Fame. Find top attractions here, including the CN Tower and Rogers Centre, as well as Bell Lightbox, opening in 2010 as the new year-round home of the Toronto International Film Festival.
A trip to Toronto wouldn’t be complete without visiting Yonge Street, Toronto’s iconic thoroughfare and the longest street in the world. Yonge is an ever-evolving combination of addresses that reflect the latest in urban trends. The heart is Yonge-Dundas Square with its industrial urban aesthetic, a dynamic venue for community celebrations, theatrical events and concerts. Among the area’s top attractions are the Elgin & Winter Garden Theatre, the last operating “double-decker” theatre complex in the world, and the 230-store Toronto Eaton Centre.
Stretching across the southern edge of the city, Toronto’s waterfront area has a nautical nature that pervades its plentiful parks and shops. Queen’s Quay Terminal historic building marks the strip’s centre point along the harbour, with shopping, restaurants and an Inuit art gallery. Alongside, the expansive Harbourfront Centre is an arts hub with free festivals every weekend throughout the summer. HTO Park (a sandy strip complete with umbrellas and lounge chairs), Ireland Park and the Music Garden (designed by Yo-Yo Ma) all offer serene escape. Eat some seafood, grab a coffee and go for a stroll, enjoying the breezes blowing in from the lake and the view of sails bobbing on the water.
Old Town Torontooldtowntoronto.biz
Old Town Toronto is home to St. Lawrence Market, Corktown and the Historic Distillery District, as well as a plethora of boutiques, theatres, galleries and restaurants. Its well-preserved Victorian architecture houses distinct neighbourhoods where local arts and stylish restaurants are heartily celebrated by visitors and residents alike. The St. Lawrence Market, a lively farmers market, sits where the city originated in 1793 in what is now referred to as the Old Town of York. Formerly the Gooderham and Worts Distillery, the Historic Distillery District has evolved into a centre for arts, culture and entertainment, embracing a rich historical and architectural legacy. The pedestrian-only village houses art galleries, museums, boutiques, artist studios, bistros and cafés.
Queen Westwestqueenwest.ca; queenstwestbia.ca
Over the past decade, trendy restaurants, clothing chains and purveyors of art and chic house décor have descended on Queen West, but they haven’t diluted this colourful strip’s street-cool factor. The strip is lined with tenacious textile stores, antiques shops, tattoo parlours and stores selling “real vintage.” Sleek loft condos and a flurry of new dining spots, fashion boutiques and start-up art galleries, combined with bustling watering holes, restaurants and grab-and-go ethnic eateries make Queen West a virtual carnival of culture, creativity and attitude.
Experience first-hand Toronto’s rich cultural mix at Kensington Market, a dense labyrinth of narrow streets where the shops are stacked with produce and gift items from Asia, the Caribbean, Latin America, Europe and the Middle East. The streets where cars struggle to pass offer a virtual trip around the world, with global finds in the vintage and second-hand-clothing stores tucked in amid eclectic restaurants and cafés. Every day is busy here, with fishmongers, shoppers, street musicians and impromptu speechmakers crowding the laneways. Kensington is ranked among the best street markets in North America.
Church-Wellesley/The Gay Villagechurchwellesleyvillage.ca
Home to Canada’s largest gay community, Toronto welcomes gay and lesbian visitors with a full slate of things to see and do all year-round. The Village is nestled in the downtown core, centred on the intersection of Church Street and Wellesley Street. Packed with cafés, restaurants, shops and clubs, this neighbourhood proves it’s fabulous to be gay in Toronto. Real pride in the Village is grandly proclaimed with the joyous extravaganza that is the Pride Parade that caps a week of citywide celebrations. Create your own party scene — take your pick from the multitude of bars, saunas, casual coffee spots, upscale restaurants and great street corners to strut your stuff.
Always bustling with crowds of shoppers and vendors, Toronto’s Old Chinatown is home to some of Canada’s best Asian restaurants and best-stocked Asian stores. Besides Chinese imports, this ever-busy area sells Vietnamese, Thai and Japanese products, with shops and sidewalks alike crammed full of food items, clothing, jewellery, home décor, electronics and toys. The range of culinary offerings is bountiful — Chinese (Szechwan, Hunan, Mandarin and Cantonese) regional dishes, traditional Vietnamese sandwiches and phô (soup) and Thai specialties.
Financial District & PATH/The Underground Citytoronto.ca/path
Among the spectacular glass and steel architectural monoliths beats the financial heart of the country. This skyscraper jungle benefits from artful parks, green spaces and whimsical artistry. Toronto’s Financial District is compact — and walkable, even in inclement weather. Beneath its sidewalks lies PATH, the Underground City, with 27 kilometres (16 miles) of interconnecting passageways leading to 50 office towers, 1,200-plus stores, hotels, restaurants and visitor attractions, as well as access to 5 subway stations and the Union Station train/bus terminal.
The community surrounding the University of Toronto is among the most diverse in the city. This is where bohemia and academe meet, with art houses, theatres, beatnik coffee shops, budgetwise stores and well-stocked bookstores peppering a dense kilometre of restaurants and bars. Anchored in the southwest corner by Honest Ed’s — the eclectic landmark discount store of the late philanthropist Ed Mirvish — the neighbourhood is also home to Koreatown. Ever lively, this area reflects the liberal ambience of university life, with kitsch meeting nerd-chic head-on. The myriad restaurants and shops make the Annex ideal for dining, shopping or simply lounging around.
La dolce vita thrives year round in this stylish yet warm neighbourhood, where restaurants and bars serve up well-executed traditional Italian dishes, lattes and espressos complemented by lively banter. Here, the streets are lined with upscale Italian clothing shops, gelaterias and cappuccino houses. Whether daytime or evening, this is the perfect setting for people-watching. Nowadays, Little Italy is home to an influx of immigrant families from Asia, Latin America and other Mediterranean countries, but it remains the city’s cultural core for Italians. It is also one of Toronto’s best nightspots.
Walking on Danforth Avenue reveals Toronto’s rich Greek heritage. This neighbourhood is constantly abuzz with crowded sidewalks and street-front patios. There is also strong contrast here, with traditional Greek grocers and classical architecture alongside trendy nightclubs and cafés that stay open late into the night. Weekends are particularly lively as the many excellent Greek restaurants offer up authentic saganaki and spanakopita with music and revelry.
Take in the lake breeze. Enjoy the relaxed pace of pedestrians and the Queen Street’s eclectic mix of chic clothing boutiques, antiques shops, quirky stores, coffee houses and restaurant bars. Head south to the lake, past refurbished cottage-style homes, then hit the sand and stroll the impressive boardwalk. The coast evokes quaint Atlantic towns of the northeastern United States. The boardwalk and beach is a favourite destination for the sunbathing crowds.
Formerly a working-class enclave, Cabbagetown is now a gracious cluster of lovely parks and renovated Victorian homes with iron fences and manicured gardens. Parliament, the main street, is not so much quaint as it is eclectic — a hodgepodge of restaurants, cafés and boutiques. In one of Toronto’s oldest neighbourhoods, stories of the city’s evolution lurk around every corner.
Gerrard East/Little Indiagerrardindiabazaar.com
Hailed as the largest South Asian marketplace in North America, Gerrard India Bazaar — aka Little India — is where Toronto’s Indian, Pakistani, Sri Lankan and Bangladeshi communities congregate. Restaurants and greengrocers offer regional dishes and local ingredients, and the myriad shops sell tunics, saris, scarves and jewellery. Dining options abound, especially for vegetarians, as many dishes are meatless. For carnivores, tandoori chicken entices, while intrepid diners can sample crepe-like masala dosa at chaat (snack) houses.
Roncesvalles Village/Little Polandroncesvallesvillage.ca
A community of Eastern European and Russian immigrants, this area is a mix of residential and small family-owned retail and food shops specializing in sausages, handmade perogies, sauerkraut, cabbage rolls and hearty soups.
Bloor West Village & High Parkbloorwestvillage.ca
One of the city’s greenest neighbourhoods, Bloor West Village, on the north end of High Park, offers a leisurely adventure in Eastern European pastry, coffee and culture. Delicatessens brim over with sausage, perogie, paska (a traditional Easter bread), borscht and other mouth-watering European goodies. High Park’s expansive terrain is varied — manicured gardens in the western side, an open prairie in the centre, and unkempt forest in the east. In between are sports fields, playgrounds, a swimming pool, a nature school, sculpture and vegetable gardens, a greenhouse, a small zoo and restaurants.