Toronto is comprised of a patchwork of interesting neighborhoods: one minute you're immersed in the financial district's suit-clad crowd, but five minutes on a streetcar and you're in the funky, alternative West Queen West district. When it comes to choosing which to visit during your trip to the capital city of Ontario, the following are all centrally located and easily accessible on foot or by public transit.
Queen Street West / West Queen West
Especially famous for attracting shoppers, Queen Street West (University to Spadina) is edgy, hip, and trendy, boasting some of the best-known clubs and cafes in Toronto. While there, check out the Drake Hotel overnight or a cocktail in its bar.
Queen Street West, in fact, became so popular that the truly bohemian moved further west to what is now known as West Queen West (between Bathurst Avenue and Niagara Street). West Queen West is known both as an art and design district and as a lesbian/gay/bi/transgender community.
Boundaries: The edge of this neighborhood runs along Queen Street West from University to Niagara and is located about a 15-minute walk from Union Station or the Eaton Centre.
The Entertainment District is eight blocks of nightlife, from small nightclubs to bigger venues like Roy Thomson Hall and the Royal Alex. However, since the mid-2000s, this district has garnered a poor reputation due to late night debauchery and violence. Toronto is nevertheless a safe city overall, especially compared to larger cities in the U.S.
Highlights of the Entertainment District include the CN Tower, the Rogers Centre, and a wide selection of boutique shops and local restaurants.
Boundaries: The neighborhood is bordered by Spadina to the west, Queen Street to the north, University to the east, and Queens Quay to the south and is located just a few minutes walk from Union Centre or the Eaton Centre.
This pedestrian-only village known as the Distillery District is set amidst the best-preserved collection of Victorian Industrial Architecture in North America and is devoted to promoting arts, culture, and entertainment. You won't find a franchise or chain operation here, so all the stores and galleries are one of a kind.
The Distillery District hosts numerous interesting festivals and events and has the Soulpepper theatre where you can catch a play. There are also several restaurants and coffee shops.
Boundaries: The district can be found at Mill Street from Parliament to Cherry streets and is about a 15-minute walk from Union Station or half an hour from the Eaton Centre.
St. Lawrence District
St. Lawrence is a formerly industrial district that was revitalized in the 1970s. This neighborhood, which Jane Jacobs helped plan, is hailed as a successful blend of residential and commercial. Its focal point, St. Lawrence Market, is the city's biggest fresh-food market, which formerly served as a city hall and jail.
Boundaries: St. Lawrence is bordered by Yonge, Front, and Parliament streets and is not far from the Distillery District, though it's about a 20-minute walk from the Eaton Centre.
Bloor-Yorkville is an area of Toronto most famous for high-end shopping, restaurants, and art galleries. This neighborhood is also home to the Royal Ontario Museum and the Gardiner Museum of Ceramic Art.
Yorkville is a delightful anomaly in the midst of Toronto high rises and shopping malls. Many celebrities stroll the sidewalks of Yorkville, especially during the Toronto International Film Festival.
Boundaries: Yorkville can be found between Yonge and Avenue and Scollard and Bloor, about a 30-minute walk from Union Station and a 20-minute walk from the Eaton Centre.
Toronto's bustling Chinatown—the second-largest Chinatown in North America—offers up dozens, maybe hundreds, of restaurants serving not just authentic Chinese, but also Vietnamese and other Asian cuisines. In addition, shoppers will find bargains on trinkets, jewelry, clothing, and household items. Be sure to stop by the Art Gallery of Ontario nearby when you're done shopping.
Boundaries: Chinatown is located along Spadina from King Street to College, about a 15-minute walk from the Eaton Centre or Union Station.
Kensington Market offers hippie chic with an international flair and is a truly eclectic neighborhood. Browse the many retro furniture stores, vintage clothing boutiques, or international food shops, or spend some time sampling various cuisines ranging from a shwarma take-out to fine French delicacies. If you're looking for an escape from the usual downtown Gaps and Starbucks, Kensington Market is a great choice.
Boundaries: Kensington Market is bordered by Spadina Avenue, Dundas Street, Bathurst Street, and College Street and is located about a 40-minute walk from Union Station.
Little Italy, located along Toronto's College Street, has expanded to include newcomers from South America, Portugal, and Asia. This bustling neighborhood is popular for its many fine and affordable restaurants and lively patios in the summertime.
Boundaries: Little Italy is located along College Street west of Bathurst.
Toronto sits on Lake Ontario, and its downtown has easy access to the waterfront. Though the neighborhood does have a beach, it's more artistic than practical (Sugar Beach is man-made and does not permit swimming).
Nevertheless, the waterfront community has several interesting cultural centers, including the cutting edge Power Plant as well as the Harbourfront Centre, which offers many free, family-friendly (yet interesting) events. Another great destination in the Waterfront District is the Queen's Quay Terminal, a former shipping terminal that now features the Museum of Inuit Art.
Boundaries: The Waterfront District is located along Queens Quay between Spadina and Yonge.
Yonge-Dundas Square / Eaton Centre
Yonge-Dundas Square is a special event venue and urban plaza across from one of Toronto's top attractions, the Toronto Eaton Centre. Visitors to Yonge-Dundas Square will encounter concerts, places to enjoy lunch, and special events. Meanwhile, the Eaton Centre covers two downtown city blocks and features multiple levels of pedestrian and retail space for shopping, entertainment, and dining.
Boundaries: The Eaton Centre is located between Dundas and Queen streets on Yonge Street, adjacent to Yonge-Dundas Square.
The Beach (previously and still popularly known as "the Beaches") is an east-end Toronto neighborhood that boasts a long stretch of waterfront. Stroll the boardwalk, hang out on the beach, or shop or dine at one of the many fine, trendy establishments.
Boundaries: The heart of the Beach is between Queen Street and the water but officially runs north to Kingston Road.
Cabbagetown is a charming residential area in Toronto that boasts the largest continuous area of preserved Victorian housing in North America. Many homes have been restored to their earlier glory and others feature modern additions that contrast the decorative trim work, turrets, and other detailing typical of Victorian-era architecture.
Other highlights of Cabbagetown include the Riverdale Farm and the Necropolis Cemetery, which dates back to the 1850s.
Boundaries: Cabbagetown roughly covers the areas east and west of Parliament Street between Gerard and Wellesley and is located about a 40-minute walk from Union Station and a half-hour walk from the Toronto Eaton Centre.
Known also as Greektown, the Danforth has more to offer than just fine souvlaki. This cosmopolitan community provides many services to the gentrified yuppie Riverdale neighborhood and thus offers excellent restaurants, pubs, and organic and natural foods.
Boundaries: The heart of the Danforth is between Pape and Logan on Danforth Avenue. The Danforth is accessible by Queen streetcar followed by a 20-minute walk or subway to Woodbine or Main Street stations.
Surrounded by tall buildings and bustling with businessmen and women on their way to work, the Financial District is the financial center of Canada and has a rich history and architecture.
Highlights include the TD Tower by Mies van der Rohe and the Hockey Hall of Fame. In addition, the underground PATH is 27 kilometers (17 miles) of shops and services, which is especially useful when the city experiences inclement weather. Popular, high-end hotels like branches of the Hilton are located here and are generally less expensive on weekends.
Boundaries: The Financial District is bordered by Queen Street West to the north, Yonge Street to the east, Front Street to the south, and University Avenue to the west.