There's something to keep you occupied in every corner of Toronto.
Many refer to Toronto as “a city of neighborhoods”—travel just a few blocks, and you’ll be faced with a totally new facet of the city. To get the most out of your visit, here’s what to do in each little pocket of town.
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Head out to the Island
One of downtown Toronto’s best experiences isn’t in the downtown core at all, but a short, skyline-filled ferry ride away. The Toronto Islands are a conveniently-located getaway just off the shore of Lake Ontario, offering peaceful beaches (including the notorious clothing-optional section of Hanlan’s Point) and beautiful parks. Families will enjoy the Centreville amusement park; if you’re hungry, stop on the giant patio at Island Cafe or grab a pint at Toronto Island BBQ and Beer.
Take in a Show
WHERE: Entertainment District
This downtown district’s biggest draw is its collection of theaters. The Royal Alexandra, built in 1907, has played host to major touring musicals like Kinky Boots; down the street is sister theater, the Princess of Wales, a modern glass-walled space that’s hosted Mamma Mia and Book of Mormon. Across the street is Roy Thomson Hall, home to the Toronto Symphony Orchestra. If film is more your speed, check out what’s screening at the TIFF Bell Lightbox, which serves as the main hub for the Toronto International Film Festival in September but spotlights both classics and indie flicks year-round.
Dine Like the 1%
WHERE: Financial District
Unsurprisingly, Toronto’s main office district is home to a lot of top-shelf restaurants ready to give those expense accounts a hearty workout. Canoe, one of the city’s best-known fine dining destinations, could coast on the views from its 54th-floor perch—but instead, it offers a vibrant menu that highlights Canada’s seasonal bounty. Down at street level in the same building, Bymark specializes in luxe comfort foods like lobster grilled cheese sandwiches. Richmond Station and Drake One Fifty are slightly more laid-back, but no less impressive.
Hit up St. Lawrence Market
WHERE: Old Town
A must-visit for history buffs and foodies alike, the St. Lawrence Market started its storied life as Toronto’s first city hall, then as a prison. Now, the sprawling space is jammed with vendors offering all manner of meats, cheeses, breads, produce, and artisanal foods. Be sure to pick up a peameal (a.k.a. Canadian) bacon sandwich at Carousel Bakery, and check out the farmers market on Saturdays and flea market on Sundays.
Stroll the Cobblestones
WHERE: The Distillery District
Once the site of the biggest distillery in the world, this historic neighborhood’s industrial Victorian architecture has been carefully preserved; instead of pumps and stills, the rows of rough-hewn brick buildings now hold cute boutiques and cafés. Be sure to stop at Balzac’s for a coffee or Mill Street for a pint; pick up chocolates at Soma and scout for fashions at Gotstyle or John Fluevog.
INSIDER TIPThe Distillery is home to some decent restaurants, like eye-popping Mexican spot El Catrin, but a couple of real gems are hidden in the residential area of condos to the west: A location of Sukhothai, arguably Toronto’s best all-around Thai spot, and Middle Eastern all-day brunch and mezze spot Souk Tabule.
Take in the Sights and Sounds
WHERE: Yonge-Dundas Square Area
Referred to (accurately, if somewhat quaintly) as Toronto’s answer to Times Square, Dundas Square is best known as a busy shopping area, flanked by the Eaton Centre—but its array of stores, with few exceptions, can be found in most big U.S. cities. Be sure to take a little time to check out the square itself, which frequently plays host to outdoor shows (including bigger names during Canadian Music Week in May and Pride in June), cultural events, food festivals and more. Even if nothing’s going on, it’s a good place to take a breather and people-watch.
Sample Toronto’s Best Chinese Food
Toronto’s largest Chinatown has been going strong since a wave of Chinese immigration in the 1960s, and though rents are rising and hip cafés and streetwear boutiques have been creeping into the area, this stretch of Spadina Avenue is still home to some of the city’s best Chinese food. Among your options: dumplings at Mother’s and Dumpling House, frills-free dim sum at Rol San, seafood specialties at Taste of China and late-night eats at New Ho King. If you’re craving something else, there’s all-night Vietnamese at Pho Pasteur and modernized bar snacks at R&D.
Soak in the Atmosphere
WHERE: Kensington Market
Kensington Market is an oasis of bohemian weirdness in the heart of downtown, a neighborhood of colorful homes, ramshackle shops, and often-inexpensive (and delicious) multicultural eats. Vintage hounds should stop into the shops that line Kensington Avenue for all manner of leather jackets and vintage Levi’s, while foodies can dig into Indigenous cuisine (Pow Wow Cafe), jerk chicken (Rasta Pasta), amazing Baja-style fish tacos (Seven Lives), and even artistic small plates and natural wines (Grey Gardens).
Stroll Around Graffiti Alley
WHERE: Queen West
Queen West has become increasingly corporate as the years pass and rents rise, but this mazelike array of back alleys is a homegrown outdoor shrine to street art. The result of a city revitalization project launched in 2011, Graffiti Alley (sometimes referred to as Rush Lane) serves as an ever-changing museum of work by some of the city’s foremost street artists, and is a perennially popular setting for music videos and photo shoots. Once you’ve walked up an appetite, head around the corner to Queen and grab some great cheap eats at Banh Mi Boys, Saffron Spice Kitchen or Burger’s Priest.
Shop Indie Toronto
WHERE: West Queen West
This hip district is home to a wealth of boutiques that walk the line between quirky artfulness and practical wearability. Hunt for locally made leather bags at Zane, browse the Canadiana-themed gifts at Drake General Store, invest in a special piece at Horses Atelier, or give your wardrobe a burst of pattern at Coal Miner’s Daughter, Hayley Elsaesser or Birds Of North America. If you’ve got time to spare, head up to Dundas West for more indie boutiques, including Easy Tiger and Comrags.
Check out Some Local Galleries
Queen West used to be Toronto’s gallery central, but rising rents have pushed many west and north into further reaches of the city. A number have settled in Parkdale, a gradually-gentrifying neighborhood with a large immigrant population. You’ll find Margin of Eras, a gallery dedicated to marginalized artists; contemporary-focused Elaine Fleck Gallery, and the wide-ranging Northern Contemporary, which doubles as an art studio. Pop up to Dundas West to find the photography-focused Stephen Bulger Gallery and Hashtag, a space focused on emerging artists.
Hit a Bar
If your Toronto travel plans include a bar crawl, odds are you’ll end up on the Ossington strip, which has become one of the city’s hottest nightlife destinations in recent years. Bellwoods is a low-key brewery that does the most sought-after beers in town, while Reposado is a candlelit shrine to tequila and mescal. Where Ossington meets Dundas, you’ll find the Dakota Tavern, a bar that hosts folk, country, and bluegrass shows, while the Communist’s Daughter is a tiny booze-can stuffed with locals. Veer just off Ossington to find neon-lit club and restaurant SoSo Food Club and Mahjong Bar, a gorgeous secret club hidden behind a bodega.
Grab a Gyro
WHERE: The Danforth
This east-end neighborhood is more broadly known by its other name, Greektown, and the area is filled with no shortage of places—from hole-in-the-wall bakeries to sit-down spots with live entertainment—to get your feta fix. On the take-out side, there’s quick and reliable spots like Messini or the slightly-grungy Alexandros (which stays open until 4 am). For something more elaborate, there’s Christina’s, home to some great Greek dips, plus belly dancers and a Greek band on weekends, and Mezes, a lively spot with a heated patio. Summer festivals like Thrill of the Grill and Taste of the Danforth bring the party outdoors.
Check out a Microbrewery
This low-key neighborhood has plenty of hidden-gem restaurants, stores, and cafés, but it’s also become an epicenter of the city’s recent brewery boom. Eastbound and Radical Road are low-key brewpubs with some unusual specialties, while Avling is a gorgeous, pastel-washed new space with a rooftop garden that fuels the kitchen. Veer north to Gerrard for Left Field, a baseball-themed brewery that turns out some of the city’s finest sours and IPAs, and Godspeed, which offers a novel mash-up of Japanese and German styles.
Dig Into Indian and Pakistani Cuisine
WHERE: Little India
Largely off the tourist beaten path, this east-end neighborhood is still lined with mom and pop businesses selling saris, bangles, and delicious eats. Lahore Tikka House, which splits its menu between North Indian and Pakistani, is the undisputed go-to for tandoori, kebabs, and biryani, while Udupi Palace has the market cornered on vegetarian eats, and Bombay Chowpatty offers fresh Indian snacks alongside an impressive selection of Bollywood DVDs. If you’re not in the mood for Indian, pop by watering hole Eulalie’s Corner Store or Lake Inez, a modern pan-Asian snack bar with a mosaic mural of Kate Bush and Virginia Woolf.
Hit the Beach
WHERE: The Beaches
The sandy shores that lend this largely-residential east-end neighborhood its name are without a doubt its top selling point for visitors. The beach, which is quite clean and certified safe for swimming, is divided into two main chunks. Woodbine, a long, sandy stretch that plays host to volleyball courts, paddleboards, and canoe rentals, is popular with families and beach partiers alike. Meanwhile, a ten-minute boardwalk stroll to the east, Kew-Balmy is rockier and less-crowded, the perfect spot for a quiet beach read or a dip in the lake.
Explore Some Historic Buildings
WHERE: Queen's Park
To locals, Queen’s Park refers to not only the neighborhood, but the historic Ontario Legislative Building that serves as the seat of the provincial government. Built in 1893, the pink sandstone building takes its cues from British architecture, with a hefty collection of artwork from Canada and abroad. Just a few blocks west, you’ll hit the edge of the University of Toronto’s sprawling campus, which is packed with stately buildings, including the neo-Gothic Hart House. Bibliophiles won’t want to miss the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library, which is home to a Babylonian cuneiform tablet and one of the few surviving copies of Shakespeare’s First Folio.
Visit Casa Loma
WHERE: The Annex
Tucked north of the student strip on Bloor West is the sprawling Casa Loma, a Gothic Revival-style mansion built in the 1910s as the home of ultra-wealthy financier Henry Pellatt, at a cost of $3.5 million (yep, that’s in 1913 dollars). The lushly-decorated 98-room estate now serves as a museum and event venue, complete with stables, 60-foot-tall ballroom, pipe organ, collection of vintage cars, and five-acre gardens.
Grab a Bite or a Drink
WHERE: Little Italy
Little Italy has had its share of identities—first a stronghold for Portuguese and Italian families, then a burgeoning nightclub district—and now, finally, it seems to have found a way to balance the two. There are plenty of classic dining destinations like Cafe Diplomatico, an Italian spot known for its popular side patio. But a new generation of Italian restaurants like the imaginative, fine dining-influenced Il Covo and sleekly modern Giulietta have also settled in. Of course, it’s not all checkered tablecloths: you can also get a serious fried chicken sandwich at P.G. Clucks, hunker down with some Vietnamese-inspired snacks at Pinky’s Ca Phe, or try some Belgian brews at Birreria Volo.
Take in Local Queer Culture
The Village, as the locals call it, is the epicenter of gay life in Toronto. Glad Day, the world’s oldest LGBTQ bookstore, is a must-visit; you can check out the latest voices in queer lit while sipping on a coffee or digging into brunch at the onsite café. Crews & Tangos hosts dancing and drag shows, while Woody’s is home to some very fun events (the weekly “Best Butt” contest is a favorite) and nightly DJs. If you’re around in June, the Pride festivities are among some of the biggest in the world; don’t miss the Pride parade at the end of the month.
Browse Some Boutiques
Though it’s no less moneyed, Rosedale is a lot less splashy than Yorkville, and the shopping is a lot more subdued. Stock up on skincare products at Gee Beauty; pick up sleek, sumptuous leather goods at WANT Les Essentiels De La Vie; grab a cute, homespun-looking beanie or throw pillow at Tuck Shop Trading Co.; or stock up on fancy condiments at Summerhill Market. If your souvenir-shopping tastes run toward hard-to-find wines and spirits, the Summerhill location of the provincially-run LCBO liquor store—located inside a historic train station—is a must-visit; things appear on the shelves here that you just can’t find anywhere else.
Shop Like a Celeb
Toronto’s “mink mile” is home to some excellent cultural institutions (the Royal Ontario Museum and the Bata Shoe Museum, to name a couple) — but what the area is really known for is its shopping. Hermès, Prada, Gucci, and many, many other boldface names maintain storefronts along Bloor Street; you can find even more at Holt Renfrew, Canada’s fanciest department store, which packs in bags, clothing, shoes, and beauty products and has a separate men’s store down the block. Head north into the heart of the neighborhood to find the Yorkville Village mall and a number of independent boutiques catering to the well-heeled.