Toronto is a city that never stops evolving. With a population of 2.7 million people, it’s the largest city in Canada. As its population continues to expand, so too does its ever-changing identity. Toronto is one of the most multicultural cities in the world. With over 140 languages spoken, Toronto is a cultural mosaic. And you can see this evidenced in the city everywhere you wander.
Whether it be art installations, street music, independent brands and labels, or the flavours brought to Toronto from every corner of the world, this is the city that has it all. Cozied up to the shoreline of sprawling Lake Ontario, Toronto has much to offer a curious traveller. From food and shopping, to entertainment and nightlife, you will find much to delight the senses here. The city is a fusion of diversity and community. The result? A jumbled medley of neighbourhoods and districts, each with their own exclusive flavour and style. But we’re not here to tell you about tourist hotspots. CN Tower, Eaton Centre and Royal Ontario Museum, move over.
Here are some of the best hidden treasures that Toronto has to offer:
Near to the lake is the high-end neighbourhood King East. Brimming with up and coming chefs on the rise and designer furniture stores, King East is hard to overlook. Nestled into the corner of Front and James is the renowned St. Lawrence Market. The National Geographic hails this historic spot as one of the best food markets in the world. You’ll find enough fresh produce to make your senses boggle, and the smoked meat sandwiches are a must. St. Lawrence Market is an experience all its own, so if you’re planning to hit this food haven, give yourself a good cushion of time to soak in the sights and smells. A few blocks west of the market is one of the best Thai food joints in town: Sukhothai. The pad thai is downright delectable, and the curry dishes cannot be passed up.
West of here, you’ll find yourself stepping into Toronto’s Financial District. Law firms, big banks and sharp suits dominate this district, but don’t be intimidated. Situated across from Nathan Phillips Square is Bannock, a restaurant that has branded itself as “Canadian comfort food.” Sample the duck poutine pizza along with a Bannock caesar.
Just north of the historic University of Toronto, you’ll find yourself in Yorkville: a neighbourhood known for its designer boutiques and chic cafes. Try the raw food cafe experience at Rawlicious, or indulge in high tea and tableside s’mores at MoRoCo Chocolat.
If you’re looking for an indulgent evening out, make your way over to King West. An entertainment hub, this nightlife hotspot is filled with luxurious clubs, stylish stores and high-rise loft condominiums. Rodney’s Oyster House is one of the best places in the city for seafood. The servers are down to earth, personable, and intent on making your food experience one to remember.
Done with dinner and ready for entertainment? The Second City comedy club just off King Street is where improv and sketch comedy is served with panache. At Spadina and Dundas, you’ll run smack dab into one of the oldest and largest Chinatowns in Toronto. Take a peek at some of the exotic produce for sale, or wind your way through the crowded storefronts. There will be no shortage of new sights to see, as this area of the city never stops bustling. Make for Swatow at 309 Spadina — i t’s traditional and authentic Chinese style cuisine at its best. A good bowl of ramen isn’t far off either. Kinton Ramen off Baldwin serves up some of the best soup in the city.
If you’re feeling adventurous, wander over to Kensington Market. A neighbourhood nestled into the west side of Chinatown, Kensington is eclectic, unique, and notoriously challenging to define. It’s a mishmash of vintage clothing shops, grocers, bars, foodie hotspots, and charming cafes. There’s always something to be seen in Kensington. No agenda needed here. Just wander to the glee of your senses. If you’re really hankering for a heading, try Rasta Pasta, a Jamaican Italian fusion joint that will both surprise and satiate.
Next is Queen West, which sports a variety of patios, music venues, shopping areas, and historic buildings. The Rex Hotel, Jazz and Blues Bar is a watering hole for jazz aficionados. The bar doubles as a hotel, and there isn’t a time of the day or night when live jazz isn’t streaming out of its doors and into the streets. The Art Gallery of Ontario is around the corner, and if you’ve got a hankering for midnight crepes, visit Cafe Crepe for sweet and savory delights.
Head west of Queen West and you’ll be in (you guessed it): West Queen West! Touting itself as the creative pulse of the city, West Queen West is the artistic, indie hub of the town. You’ll find slews of independent cafes, clothing stores and labels. Not to mention hidden galleries and unique installments around every corner. Be sure to visit the Drake Hotel while you’re in the area. A restaurant, hotel, music venue, bar, and rooftop patio all in one, the Drake never fails to hit its mark.
Looking to dance? The Lula Lounge on Dundas West hosts live music performances and salsa lessons each weekend. And if you want a truly one of a kind food experience, head next door to the Atlantic. Don’t ask for a menu — there isn’t one. The dishes change daily dependent upon chef Nathan’s mood and what’s available at the market that morning. But one thing’s for certain: you won’t leave disappointed.
If you want to enjoy Toronto’s sultry summer weather, be sure to check out the Beaches district in the southeast end of the city. The Beaches are filled with boardwalks, ice cream parlours, lush, leafy parks, and restaurants galore. A great burger can be snagged at the Burger’s Priest, but be sure to read up on their secret menu before placing an order. And Ed’s Real Scoop serves up some of the sweetest ice cream to be found.
Toronto has something new to be discovered around every corner. Inside its ceaseless growth and evolution is a city that Torontonians treasure, and that newcomers find themselves dazzled and delighted by. Toronto is a place anyone can call home, and it’s this energy of encompassing inclusion that makes this not just a good city, but a great one.
"Shannon Terrell is a freelance writer based in Toronto, Canada. You can usually find her exploring with little to no sleep and an excess of curiosity. She loves words. Especially when she gets to put them together herself."
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