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Toronto. A constantly changing metropolis checkered with recent history and populated with people from all walks of life. If you’re taking your cue from the rapper Drake, you probably know it as “the 6”, though for years it was affectionately dubbed the ‘T-Dot’. Whatever you choose to call it, Toronto is for any traveller and, as Canada’s largest city, a destination that offers some of the most multicultural and dynamic experiences in the world.
If you’re headed to Toronto, the sprawling cityscape, vast network of roads and unending number of neighbourhoods, blending from one into the other, may leave you wondering exactly where you should be going to optimize your time in the city. Even to those of us from Toronto and the surrounding area, the districts tend to blur, though each one is unique in its own way.
Exploring Some of the Best Neighbourhoods in Toronto
To help you narrow down the areas and explore the city even better than a local, we’ve teamed up with Expedia.ca to put together some of the best neighbourhoods in Toronto to visit! In case you want to know more about the city or need even more Toronto inspiration, check out their Toronto Travel Guide!
Looking for gourmet restaurants and designer shopping? Elegance and fine dining combine in one of Toronto’s most fashionable neighbourhoods. This area is a huge shopping district boasting haute couture while also offering visitors a taste of Toronto’s theatre and fine art scene.
Each year, the restaurants, shopping and art of this chic neighbourhood draw stars and film buffs alike who have come to the city for the Toronto International Film Festival. Take a stroll in this area at the right time of year and you may find yourself bumping into Ryan Reynolds, Christopher Plummer or Drew Barrymore.
You’ll also find city parks like the Village of Yorkville Park, which continues the neighbourhood theme of art and design, or Ramsden Park, which offers a taste of nature and outdoor sport in the middle of a commercial hub.
Not enough culture and art for you in Yorkville? Just a short walk away gets you to the Royal Ontario Museum and the Planetarium.
**Bloor-Yorkville is approximately within the boundaries of Bloor St West, Avenue Road, Davenport Rd and Yonge Street. Closest subway stations for this area include Museum, Bay and the Yonge/Bloor Interchange.**
If you head to the Harbourfront in the summertime, you’ll find yourself in a lakefront playground with a whole host of daily activities. It’s one of the most popular areas for tourists and with good reason.
A wave of events and festivals are ushered in with the warm weather offering music, dancing, food, film and theatre often incorporating the international flare so integral to the whole of the city. The Harboufront Centre is the main hub of activity where you’ll find most of the events of the area and is also a place we love to frequent to see what new festival or event happens to be going on.
Prefer to get on the water rather than enjoy the view from the shore or boardwalk? Boat rentals are available if you’re looking to cruise the lake and see the city line from the waters. If you’d rather be a spectator, you can hit up a baseball game at the SkyDome (true Torontonians will rarely call it The Roger’s Centre!), an event at the Air Canada Centre or observe an underwater world at Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada.
Of course, no visit to Toronto, or the Harbourfront, would be complete without a closer look at the CN Tower, probably the most well-known and visited attraction in the neighbourhood.
**Harbourfront is approximately within the boundaries of Bathurst Street and Yonge Street on the North shore of Lake Ontario below Queens Quay. Closest subway station for this area is Union Station.**
Just a short distance away from the Harbourfront is Toronto’s Entertainment District. It’s here that you’ll find the most activity during the Toronto International Film Festival. Fans and celebrities flock to the area to walk the red carpet and watch those films that have yet to make it to the big screen. It is such a huge event, it’s often been considered second only to the Cannes Film festival.
If you’re more partial to live theatre, the famous Roy Thomson Hall and the Princess of Wales Theatre can also be found here. Walking just outside these buildings will have celebrities like Jim Carrey and Rachel McAdams literally underfoot… on the stars of Canada’s Walk of Fame that is!
As day turns to night, no matter the season, the entertainment district becomes party central with nightclubs and lounges drawing in crowds looking to dance, enjoy a variety of music and experience the nightlife in Toronto.
**The Entertainment District is approximately within the boundaries of University Ave and Spadina Ave around King Street West. Closest subway stations for this area are Union, St. Andrew and Osgoode.**
Though the greater Toronto area has seven Chinatowns, the most well-known is located on Spadina and is often referred to as Old Chinatown. As one of the largest in North America, we are often in awe at the atmosphere and look of the area. It is completely reminiscent of the streets we walked in Beijing with colourful authentic signage and decorations gracing the many storefronts and restaurants. For us, dim sum is our first stop but you’ll also find many Chinese, Vietnamese and Thai restaurants.
With fresh markets and many places to find a cheap but delicious meal, Chinatown is a great place to visit to experience some of the cultural diversity of the city. If you’re visiting Toronto in the beginning of the year, this is the place you’ll want to be to celebrate Chinese New Year.
No matter the time of year though, a walk through Chinatown will have you enjoying the cuisine, style and traditions of a culture half the world away.
**Chinatown is approximately within the boundaries of Phoebe St and Oxford St along Spadina Ave. Closest subway stations for Chinatown are Queen’s Park, St. Patrick or Osgoode.**
While you’ll want to visit Yorkville to find all the designer shops you need, if you’re looking for some of the most trendy shopping in the city, Queen West is where you should head. Also known as the Art and Design District, Queen West is a 2km (1.2 mile) strip lined with over 300 businesses including vintage clothing stores, shoe stores, arts and craft shops, restaurants and boutique hotels. It’s in this area that creativity abounds.
Extending further, West Queen Street West is considered a separate area though the vibe and creative bent continues from the Art and Design District. If you’re looking to discover some hidden gems, chances are you’ll have good luck in this neighbourhood.
Funky, original styles, boutique shops, many art galleries and small cafes are hallmarks of this area that is quite possibly one of the most artistic neighbourhoods in Toronto.
**Queen West is approximately within the boundaries of the King St, Queensway & Roncesvalles Ave intersection and Yonge Street along Queen Street. West Queen Street West lies on Queen Street between Bathurst St and Gladstone Ave. Closest subway stations for this area are Queen or Osgoode. The Queen St streetcar, Route 501, services the entirety of Queen St.**
An original neighbourhood in Toronto, and the first to have an official nickname, Old Town is where you’ll find loads of history. Exploring this area offers a glimpse of the past when horse-drawn carriages clip-clopped their way down cobble stone streets, warehouses and factory buildings pumped out cast iron products and metalwork and distilleries poured with local brew.
Whether you’re a history buff looking to scope out the Victorian-era architecture that abounds in the area or are more interested in experiencing the revitalization of Old Town with its shops, restaurants and galleries, you’ll find this area provides a unique glimpse into Toronto’s heritage and local culture.
One of the must-see spots within Old Town is the St. Lawrence Market. It has been considered one of the world’s best food markets and is an integral part of Toronto’s history and current culture. You’ll also find some great deals and fresh local products from the 120 vendors that open shop 5 days a week.
For those of us who grew up in the area, regular visits as children to the market to pick up meats from the butchers, fresh produce from local farmers and straight-out-of-the-oven bread was commonplace. It’s an institution in the city that’s rooted in the history of Toronto and the memory of residents and visitors alike.
Every Sunday, when the St. Lawrence food market is closed, an antiques market is opened in the north building. Here you’ll find collectibles, antique books, vintage jewellery and a host of rare and unique items.
**Old Town is approximately within the boundaries of Queen St E and Front St E, and between Parliament St and Church St. Closest Subway Station to the Old Town is King Station.**
Think you can’t find sun and sand in Toronto? Think again! While not the white sand of some southern destinations, The Beaches is as close to a tropical oasis as you’ll find in Toronto with four beaches and, even though many people aren’t aware, waters that are safe to swim in.
The area is reminiscent of any other beachside town with a boardwalk for a leisurely stroll, some jogging or rollerblading, areas for beach volleyball and numerous cafes and clothing shops off the water.
Perhaps one of the biggest annual draws to the neighbourhood is the Beaches International Jazz Festival. One of Canada’s largest free jazz festivals, it spans over 10 days and draws international performers and local talent in addition to the hundreds of thousands of attendees yearly.
It’s probably not what you would expect to find in a large metropolis like Toronto but then, visitors will soon realize there’s a bit of something for everyone if you delve under the surface of the city.
**The Beaches is approximately within the boundaries of Coxwell Ave and Victoria Park Ave below Kingston Road. Take the Queen Street East, Route 501, streetcar to the Beaches.**
Distillery Historic District
Though technically part of the Old Town, the Distillery Historic District could probably be considered an area to itself. If the Old Town as a whole offers you a glimpse of the past, the Distillery District transports you there. Abandoned Victorian buildings have been restored and turned into restaurants and storefronts to create a small village-like area open year-round to visitors.
During the holiday season, the Distillery District is transformed into a Christmas market that reminds one of those found in Europe and is a definite must see local attraction in Toronto. The cobblestone streets are lined with wood cabins selling a variety of holiday goods, food and handmade items. A festive, and enchanting, atmosphere is created by the lights and holiday decorations while people stroll the area grabbing some hot chocolate or mulled wine to warm up from the cold, before enjoying some of the delicious food offered by the many vendors. It’s a festival we attend every year, if we are in the area!
If you’re looking to tap into the history of Toronto – Spring, Summer, Fall or Winter – the distillery district is one place you shouldn’t miss.
**The Distillery District is approximately within the boundaries of Mill St and the Gardiner Expressway and between Parliament St and Cherry St. The closest subway station to the area is King Station though the King St East Streetcar has closer stops.**
One of the areas where everyone in Toronto wants to be is Downtown Yonge. With The Eaton’s Centre, downtown Toronto’s largest mall, and a seemingly unending number of restaurants, bars, cafes and shopping options, it’s a popular stop for residents of the city and those just passing through.
At the heart of Downtown Yonge is Yonge-Dundas Square, an outdoor space that hosts events, concerts and other live music showcases in the summer. If the outdoors isn’t where you’ll be entertained there’s a movie theatre across the street and Massey Hall is close by!
**Downtown Yonge is approximately within the boundaries of Richmond St and Grosvenor St and between Bay St and Church St. The closest subway station is Dundas Station.**
Bloor West Village/High Park
Perhaps one of our favourite neighbourhoods to visit, Bloor West Village is located in the outskirts of the downtown core and has such a relaxed vibe you really do feel like you’re in a village rather than the busy city that is Toronto.
Though largely residential, the shopping district offers trendy restaurants and cafes, small markets with fresh produce and a variety of specialty shops selling clothing, food and household goods. We love walking down the street, taking in the people passing by and window shopping as we go.
What may be the highlight of this area however, is Toronto’s biggest park – High Park – though whether it is actually a part of Bloor West Village is debated. Walking trails, playgrounds, dog parks, cafes, a nature centre, a pool, a winter ice rink, and a zoo are just some of the activities and features of High Park. In the warmer months, it is a popular place for all manner of people looking to get active, relax in the shade of a tree, or just enjoy being in the outdoors.
Our favourite reason to visit High Park? The Sakura, or cherry blossoms, that bloom sometime at the end of April or beginning of May, if the weather is right. With a full bloom, the park is transformed into a magical, light-pink wonderland.
**Bloor West Village is approximately within the boundaries of Jane St and Olympus Ave along Bloor Street West. The closest subway stations are Runnymede Station or Jane Station for Bloor West Village, and High Park Station for High Park.**
Church-Wellesley Village is an LGBT community that is inclusive of all people and is located right in the downtown core. Heading here you’ll find an eclectic variety of restaurants, cafes and shops.
Two larger events occur in this area annually. The first event, Halloween on Church, is a massive street party on October 31 where thousands of people dress in costume and head out to the streets to enjoy the festivities including live music, food and mass amounts of celebrating!
The second event is Pride Week which is centred around this neighbourhood and is one of the largest pride festivals in the world. Ten days of parades, concerts, events and parties celebrate the diversity of the city and the pride taken in Toronto’s acceptance of all people.
**Church-Wellesley Village is approximately within the boundaries of Yonge St and Jarvis St and between Charles St E and Gould St. The closest subway stations are College and Wellesley.**
If you’ve ever wanted to experience a round-the-world trip, you’ll not need to go any further than Kensington Market. It is a diverse neighbourhood of narrow streets lined with colourful Victorian houses and all manner of shops and restaurants.
Here you’ll experience the very definition of multiculturalism and take that trip around the world as you find shops and goods from the Middle East, South America, Asia, Europe and the Caribbean.
If you’re around in the summer, head down on the last Sunday of each month when the streets become pedestrian-only and street performers emerge to entertain shoppers as they browse the goods available!
**Kensington Market is approximately within the boundaries of College St and Dundas St W and between Bathurst St and Spadina Ave. The closest subway stations are Queen’s Park or St. Patrick station though the College St or Dundas St West streetcars have closer stops.**
Since it is bordered by water, we consider Centre Island a type of neighbourhood or district in itself. Located a short ferry ride from Toronto’s downtown, it is one of the chain of islands off Toronto Harbour. Though it may not be what you typically think of as an island getaway, it has many components of that ideal image: beaches, canoe and kayak rentals to take out onto the water, outdoor sports areas and restaurants. The only thing missing is accommodation which can easily be found back in the city by Toronto Harbour or on one of the neighbouring islands, Algonquin Island, which has a bed-and-breakfast.
Centre Island is also home to Centreville Amusement Park, popular with families for its rides, bumper boats, water slides, miniature golf and animal farm. For those looking for more adult entertainment, music festivals are held on the island in the summer including Electric Island, a concert held at least once a month from May to September.
**Centre Island can only be accessed by ferry. See: currentCentre Island. The closest subway station is Union and the Spadina streetcar has a closer stop.**
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