Toronto Neighbourhoods are diverse and exciting. Yonge Street, Harbourfront Centre Toronto, the Entertainment District... and that's just a start. Come and explore these and all the other exciting little communities for yourself!
One of the things I enjoy best about visiting a city for the first time is exploring its neighbourhoods. I lived in Toronto for 6 years and still visit frequently, and I never get tired of discovering its nooks and crannies.
Photo Credit: Toronto Convention & Visitors Association
On this page, I'll give you an overview of some of the neighbourhoods that are popular destinations for tourists, and then for those of you who wish to delve deeper, I'm adding some of the lesser-known neighbourhoods that are worth the trip!
Harbourfront Centre Toronto – The number one tourist district in Toronto. This area of the waterfront is popular for boat rides, concerts, shopping, ice skating and just general play-in-the-sun. The site of many summer-time festivals and the International Festival of Authors.
Yonge Street – Yonge is the longest street in the world, but when Torontonians say "Yonge Street", they're usually referring to the part in downtown Toronto, which is the main shopping street in the city. Here you'll find the Toronto Eaton Centre and College Park (both are malls) and major stores, bars and restaurants, chains and independents. Yonge-Dundas Square is just across from the Eatons Centre; this is where you can buy discount theatre tickets and see free outdoor concerts during the summer on some weekends.
Toronto Entertainment District – A.K.A. the Theatre District. Here you'll find great Toronto theatres, sports and concert stadiums, the CN Tower, bars, restaurants, an antique centre, and one of my favourite places: TIFF (headquarters of the Toronto International Film Festival, which runs wonderful local and international film year-round). Much of it is along King Street West and the side streets leading off it. Stretches from Queen Street West in the north to the waterfront in the south, and from Yonge Street in the east to Spadina Avenue in the west.
St. Lawrence Market area/Olde Town - The St. Lawrence Market is a big tourist draw, and it's just a short walk from Union Station, the transportation hub of Toronto. Nearby is the iconic Flatiron Building. This is the oldest part of Toronto, and you can take a walking tour that will introduce you to some of the most historic buildings.
Kensington Market Toronto- Despite its name, this isn't an enclosed market, but a neighbourhood of narrow streets. With its specialty food stores, vintage clothing stores and laidback restaurants and cafes, the Market makes for a great mini-day trip for the avid shopper and the curious cultural explorer.
Queen St. West Toronto & West Queen West – The strip between University Avenue and Bathurst Street used to be the "cool" shopping district in Toronto, where artists and artisans sold their wares. Here you will find art galleries, funky up-and-coming fashion designers, textile stores, antique stores, pawn shops, chic furniture, second-hand bookshops, cool bars, cafes, diners and restaurants. The textile stores are still there, but the high rents have forced almost every one else out. Now it's mostly chain stores (yawn). However, if you go west of Bathurst, you'll enter the district known as "West Queen West" where the "creative class" hang their shingles these days.
Chinatown Toronto – Toronto boasts several Chinatowns, but the largest and oldest district is "Chinatown Downtown", around Dundas and Spadina. My favourite place for a dish of delicious shark fin dumplings or an egg tart is the Kim Moon Bakery (438 Dundas St. W.). Chinatown is also a great place to shop for inexpensive household furnishings. There's another smaller "Chinatown East" on Gerrard Street East between Broadview Avenue and Carlaw Avenue, and a few in the suburbs as well.
Little India - Gerrard Street East from Greenwood Avenue to Coxwell Avenue. This is the place to enjoy authentic curries and tandooris, and buy tinned pappadum, gold-threaded saris and colorful Mughal-style miniature paintings on silk.
Greektown/The Danforth – Danforth Avenue between Broadview Avenue and Pape. This used to be mainly Greek restaurants, taverns, and fruit and vegetable markets, but you can also find Indian food, Japanese restaurants, an Irish pub and other cuisines as well. Trendy boutiques and cafes abound.
Church Wellesley Village – Buzzing with cafes,
restaurants, bars and boutiques catering to gay and gay-positive
clientele. Around the corner of Church and Wellesley Streets (hence the
name), east of Yonge Street and north of Gerrard.
Riverdale & Leslieville
These are two separate neighbourhoods but they are right smack up against each other, so I lump them together. You can visit both on the same day. I'd start in Riverdale, and visit the wonderful Riverdale Farm (go by 11:30 and watch them feed the animals). Then I'd scoot down to Queen St E -- the stretch that is called Leslieville is full of great little vintage shops, design/decor stores, bakeries, cool cafes and pubs, etc. Perfect place to browse an afternoon away. The Arts Market at 1114 Queen St E is a multi-vendor market with one-of-kind art, craft and vintage goods from dozens of artists -- a great place to explore.
Bloor West/Yorkville - Around Bloor Street and Yonge. This area is home to some big cultural jewels: The Royal Ontario Museum, The Gardiner Museum (ceramic art), University of Toronto, Bata Shoe Museum. Yorkville has boutiques and great little art galleries, including some fantastic places to see and buy Aboriginal art and handmade Canadian crafts (at the Guild Shop of the Ontario Craft Council).
Distillery District Toronto - Trinity and Mill Street. Toronto’s “newest old” neighborhood is a vintage Victorian brick and cobblestone treasure, frequently used as a backdrop for Hollywood films. It has just been converted into a home for art galleries, restaurants, coffeehouses, and the Mill Street Brewery, which makes certified organic beer. I like the old-Paris look of Balzac's Café (not bad for a chain café). This district is fun when there's something going on, like a jazz festival or fashion show, but rather quiet when there's nothing happening, so check ahead if your time is limited.
Beach – A.K.A. The Beaches. In the east end. Toronto's former "cottage" district.
Walk along the boardwalk or dip your toes into Lake Ontario. Shop at the
boutiques along Queen Street East. Enjoy a concert at the free Beaches
International Jazz Festival.