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Toronto is a mélange of distinctive communities. A beautiful mosaic of unique neighbourhoods (that's the Canadian English spelling) reflects the diversity of Toronto’s multicultural population. Strolling a few of Toronto's neighbourhoods is a great way to get to know the city, but you can also take a virtual tour courtesy of one couple's web site.
This page is divided by geographic area (central, west, east, north, and south). There's an overview of each neighbourhood; other Inside Toronto pages have details on some of the attractions and shopping you'll find there.
Yonge Street is the longest street in Canada. It is the main artery of Toronto, and the main line of the subway system runs up and down Yonge. Most east/west streets are numbered outward from Yonge -- e.g. 1 Bloor Street East is the address of a building on Bloor just east of Yonge. Yonge Street cuts a north-south swath through the entire city, so it encompasses every type of neighbourhood. The stretch from Bloor to Dundas is the part that most people think of as 'Yonge Street" in Toronto. This section is alive with low-rent shopping and restaurants, and you will find anything from bargain electronics to clothing (sorry, nothing 'haute' about the stores on Yonge St. (Public transit: Bloor, Wellesley, College, or Dundas subway station.). Recently, with the expansion of Ryerson University, Yonge Street is seeing a makeover from Yonge and Bloor down to Dundas Square. The area is much more welcoming and is always in a state of construction!
The area of Yonge St. at Dundas St. is the centre of the tourist mecca, as it is the home of Dundas Square, which features a stage and fountains, and plays host to some city events. Shopping malls anchor three of the corners: the Eaton Centre, the largest and a downtown landmark, sits on the southwest corner; 10 Dundas East, a new complex with a 24-screen movie theatre is north of the square, and The Atrium on Bay, which is home to the Tourism Ontario kiosk, is to the northwest. (Public transit: Dundas subway station.)
Just west of the Eaton Centre, on Queen St. West (but not as west as the 'Queen West' district), Toronto's twin City Hall buildings tower over Nathan Phillips Square. This is a lovely square which hosts many events, including the city's official New Year's Eve celebration as well as other festivals and art shows throughout the year. In the winter, the reflecting pool is turned into a large skating rink which draws many festive skaters, and Christmas lights are put up all around the surrounding trees. (Public transit: Queen or Osgoode subway station.)
Queen Street West, between University and Bathurst, is one of the most popular shopping districts for midmarket contemporary fashion. (Public transit: subway to Osgoode station. The shopping strip is about 5 km (3 miles) long but the 501 Queen streetcar runs the whole length. A TTC day pass is handy for hopping on and off streetcars.)
West Queen West / Ossington is a newly gentrified district of hip shops, art galleries and restaurants, with the hotspot Drake and Gladstone hotels anchoring the west end of the stretch. The Queen St. strip runs starts a little west of Bathurst, and runs to the railway bridge at Gladstone. And don't neglect the Ossington strip between Queen and Dundas. Some of the best places in the neighbourhood are there. (Public transit: 501 Queen streetcar westbound from Osgoode subway station, 63 Ossington bus south from Ossington subway, or 29 Dufferin bus south from Dufferin subway.)
Richmond St, Adelaide St. and King Street West between University and Spadina comprise the Entertainment District with two live theatres housing the big musicals and plays, as well as Roy Thomson Hall - home of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra - and the new opera house. This stretch of Richmond and Adelaide is also sometimes referred to as Clubland, as it houses the city's largest concentration of big-box, multi-level nightclubs, and on the weekends the area is crawling with clubgoers. Every kind of club from undergrad casual meat-markets, to bottle-service dress-coded snobbeterias, can be found here. (Public transit: westbound 504 King streetcar from St. Andrew or King subway station.)
Toronto has six Chinatowns, including several that have sprung up in the suburbs. The oldest and most accessible extends north, south and east from the corner of Spadina Avenue and Dundas Street, and is teeming with fruit markets and restaurants as well as specialty shops. (See reviews. Public transit: 510 Spadina streetcar, southbound from Spadina subway station or westbound from Union station; or westbound 505 Dundas streetcar from St. Patrick or Dundas station.)
Just west of Chinatown, between College and Dundas streets and just west of Spadina, is Kensington Market, home to many vintage clothing stores and diverse ethnic food shops, as well as a few trendy pubs and bars. It is a truly bohemian neighbourhood, and is gloriously scruffy, with a variety of sights and smells that some will find charming and others off-putting. (Public transit: 510 Spadina streetcar, southbound from Spadina subway station or westbound from Union station; or westbound 506 College streetcar from Queen's Park or College station.)
Over on College Street between Bathurst and Ossington, you will find Little Italy (reviews) with its many cafés and trattorias, as well as one of the city's most vibrant summer nightlife scenes, with many bars (many not Italian at all) opening their windows and patios into the night. (Public transit: westbound 506 College streetcar from Queen's Park or College subway station.)
Liberty Village is located south of King St. and East of Dufferin, around Liberty St. and Atlantic Ave. Once one of Toronto's industrial hubs, more recently a place for artist lofts and dot.com start-ups, Liberty Village has now been thoroughly condo-ized. On the positive side, some excellent restaurants have moved in, as well as furniture stores, boutiques, etc. On the negative side, SUVs take up a lot more parking space than old Volvos and bicycles. (Public transit: 504 King streetcar -- westbound from King St. downtown to Jefferson Ave. or southbound from Dundas West subway station to Atlantic Ave.)
Northwest of Liberty Villiage, and further west on Queen Street West, is Parkdale. Once it was one of Toronto's most fashionable neighbourhoods, with access to the lake and impressively large Victorian brick houses. Then the Gardiner Expressway killed access to the lake, and two local psychiatric hospitals were shut down, with thousands of patients hitting the streets. Parkdale became known for its rooming houses and poverty. But more recently, the neighbourhood has turned the corner. Now, artists, fashion designers, and furniture and curio dealers are taking advantage of the cheap rent, and there is a lot more for visitors to do and see. (Public transit: 501 Queen streetcar westbound from Osgoode or Queen subway station.)
Off in the city's west end, Roncesvalles Village is home to a large Polish community, with traditional bakeries, delis and restaurants where you can get borscht, homemade pierogies and kielbasa. It is a bustling residential neighbourhood, but not really worth a trip all the way out there, unless in conjunction with a visit to the nearby High Park -- which is a ten minute walk west along High Park Blvd. (Public transit: 504 King streetcar -- southbound from Dundas West subway station, or westbound from King St. downtown.)
High Park is Toronto's largest greenspace and a beautiful park, with a pond (Grenadier Pond), a small zoo, and an outdoor stage which houses an annual summer Shakespeare production called "Dream in High Park." Direction signs can be sparse in the park, so you may want to print a park map (483 KB PDF) to take with you. (Public transit: the subway is the fastest but least scenic way to get there, with the High Park subway station located at the north end of the park. The wooded east side of the park is the end of the line for westbound 506 College streetcars from downtown. 501 Queen streetcars have a stop at the south end of the park, by Grenadier Pond; from downtown make sure you board a westbound streetcar with a destination sign of "Long Branch" or "Humber" and get off at Colborne Lodge Drive.)
Just one block east of Yonge, Church St. is the gay street in Toronto, with the intersection of Church and Wellesley streets forming the heart of the city’s Gay Village. There are many gay clubs and restaurants on Church. The largest gay and lesbian pride festival in Canada is held here, and the area also boasts some of the locations where the Showtime series Queer as Folk was filmed. (Public transit: Wellesley subway station.)
St. Lawrence Market is the oldest market in Toronto and on weekends becomes overfilled with artists and farmers selling their wares. The surrounding area is one of the prettiest in Toronto, as it is one of the few areas to have preserved the architecture of 'Old Toronto'. There are many beautiful Victorian-era buildings which house many charming stores and restaurants. If you walk north from St. Lawrence Market to King St. East, and walk east, you will find yourself on a stretch of many, many, many upscale furniture/design stores. (Public transit: Eastbound 504 King streetcar from King or St. Andrew station to Jarvis Street. Or, a ten minute walk east from Union Station along Front Street.)
At the lower end of Parliament Street, is the Distillery District, a must-see redevelopment of gorgeous historic distillery buildings transformed into a pedestrian-only area of art galleries, unique shops and eateries. This is one of the most-used backdrop areas for film crews in Canada. Eating at a patio on the cobblestone streets here is one of the best al fresco dining experiences Toronto has to offer. (Public transit: eastbound 504 King streetcar from King or St. Andrew subway station; get off at Parliament and walk south to Mill Street. On foot: there's a pleasant, tree-lined walk from St. Lawrence Market along The Esplanade, one block south of Front.)
North of the Distillery District, there are some quiet neighbourhoods that are pretty. Lined with historic Victorian houses, Cabbagetown is a quiet neighborhood offering unique attractions such as Riverdale Farm, a turn-of-the-century farm within the city, and Allen Gardens, a free, volunteer-maintained botanical gardens. (Public transit: eastbound 506 Carlton streetcar from College or Queen's Park subway station. When the streetcar turns right, you're in Cabbagetown.)
Greektown is located along the Danforth between Broadview and Pape. Along with a couple of dozen Greek restaurants, the area offers a multitude of home-design stores, clothing boutiques, and fine-food shops. And there's no shortage of other cuisines, from Italian, to sushi, to Indian to Irish pubs. (Public transit: Broadview, Chester, or Pape subway station.)
On Gerrard Street near Coxwell Avenue, Gerrard India Bazaar has a festive atmosphere with its many Indian and Pakistani restaurants and grocers, stores offering colourful saris and scarves, and strings of lights lining the streets at night. Here you can find a truly authentic Indian dining experience (the restaurants vary in quality, but to find the best ones just watch where the Indian families go), get roasted corn from a street vendor, and pick up a box of colourful Indian sweets (watch out -- they are more filling than they look, and a little goes a long way). (Public transit: eastbound 506 Carlton streetcar from College or Queen's Park subway station, and get off anywhere between Woodfield Rd. and Coxwell Ave.)
Just before the Beach, you have Leslieville from Logan Avenue to Leslie Street. It used to be a working class neighborhood with lots of factories and plants such as Colgate Palmolive. Along Queen Street East, you can see little boutiques, bakeries,cafes and restaurants that have sprung out in the last five years. The crowd is changing, you can see a lot of gay couples, young families, and yuppies who want to live in an affordable part of the city sharing renos, lofts and townhouses which are freshly built or converted. It is close to the waterfront cycle path from downtown. (Public transit: eastbound 501 Queen streetcar from Queen or Osgoode subway station.)
Along Lake Ontario on Queen Street East, The Beach neighborhood offers a variety of shops, eclectic dining and pubs. Paths along the beach are great for cycling or strolling. The boardwalk right next to the beach is a great walk in the summer. Ashbridges Bay Park is also beautiful. (Public transit: eastbound 501 Queen streetcar from Queen or Osgoode subway station; the "Lee Avenue" stop is in the heart of the neighbourhood. or take the subway to Woodbine station and the Woodbine South 92 bus).
Long time residents call it "The Beaches" because there are four separate beaches extending from Coxwell Avenue on the west to Victoria Park Avenue on the east. Woodbine beach has a large volleyball court right on the beach and huge stretches of sand for sunbathing. There are change rooms and toilets as well as a restaurant. Kew beach boasts a lawn bowling club and a park called Kew Gardens with a fine architectural example of a gardener's cottage. Balmy beach is home to the Balmy Beach Club (BBC to locals) and finally there is a more secluded and pebbly Scarborough beach extends to the Neville loop where the streetcars turn. Woodbine, Kew and Balmy beaches are all blue flag beaches and have lifeguards on duty in season. Cyclists and walkers can connect with the Waterfront Trail. Don't miss the R.C. Harris water filtration plant. This famous movie set has been used as everything from a castle to a prison. In fact it supplies much of east Toronto with their water. For security reasons tours of the facility are limited.
Some favourite shopping areas can be found throughout the city. Located on the northern edge of downtown, the premier area for upscale shopping is Yorkville. It stretches along Bloor between Yonge Street and Avenue Road, and also fills two smaller streets north of and parallel to Bloor, Cumberland Avenue and Yorkville Avenue — here is where you'll find Chanel, Vuitton, Hermes, and Prada, as well as many private art galleries, artisan shops and Canada's flagship luxury department store, Holt Renfrew. The area is also home to many trendy cafes (with some of the best patios in the city) and has a beautiful small city park with sections which represent the various Canadian landscapes. You can sit on a big piece of the Canadian Shield and watch the beautiful people cruise by in their Lamborghinis and Mercedes. It's a good place for stargazing - Yorkville is a very hot spot for stars to hang out, especially during September’s Toronto International Film Festival. Be sure also to stroll down Hazelton Avenue, which has some nice boutiques and then turns into a quaint residential street. (Public transit: Bay or Bloor-Yonge subway station.)
A little further west (and running south towards Kensington Market) is the Annex, an eclectic and historic neighbourhood of Victorian houses lining leafy streets. The commercial part of the Annex is on Bloor St. starting on the western fringe of the University of Toronto, around Spadina, and running west to Bathurst Street. It is home to many inexpensive places to eat -- cafes/brunch spots, cheap sushi, and pubs -- lots of used CD stores, and one of Toronto's best independent bookstores. (Public transit: Spadina or Bathurst subway station.)
Another quaint neighbourhood in Toronto is the Mount Pleasant area. It is the region between Davisville and Eglinton. It is a lovely street lined with unique shops, a few cafes and the largest model railroad store in Canada. The street is charming and very relaxing for an afternoon stroll, even if you do not like shopping. If you like shopping there are many little shops to pick up some home decor items as well as stationery, books and gift ware. There are also a handful of antique stores and one in particular has some amazing antiquarian maps and prints. It is a great area to do Christmas shopping in as there is something there for everyone, making it pretty easy. This street is actually enjoyable to visit at any time of the year. (Public transit: the 74 Mt. Pleasant bus from St. Clair subway station only runs every half hour. For more frequent service, go to Davisville subway station and take an 11 Bayview or 28 Davisville bus to Mt. Pleasant Road. Once you've walked up to Eglinton, you can catch any westbound bus back to Eglinton subway station.)
For a more contemporary Chinese experience than provided by Chinatown, head to Pacific Mall, at Steeles and Kennedy, in the suburb of Markham. It's the largest Asian mall in Canada, and one of the best places to shop for everything from discount electronics to women's fashions in petite sizes. You will find that Pacific Mall is open 365 days a year, including all statutory holidays. (Public transit: 53A or 53B Steeles East bus from Finch subway station. Total time from downtown is about an hour.)
For a relaxing experience, you can head back down to the central waterfront area and enjoy Toronto’s Harbourfront: a complex of unique shops and restaurants right on beautiful Lake Ontario. If you’re all shopped out, you can just enjoy a nice stroll on the boardwalk and take in the great views of the city skyline. This is one of the city's newest neighbourhoods, once home to railway yards and industrial docks. Second-guessing waterfront development may be one of Toronto's favourite armchair sports; there's even an intergovernmental agency responsible for making things more organized. This neighbourhood is home to the Harbourfront Centre and the Music Garden. (Public transit: 509 Harbourfront streetcar from Union Station.)
Next to Harbourfront Centre you'll find the Toronto Island ferry docks, where you can hop on a ferry to the Toronto Islands to escape the hustle and bustle of the city, have a picnic, or enjoy some outdoor recreation. (Public transit: 509 Harbourfront streetcar from Union Station to the first stop, "Queens Quay - Ferry Docks".)