At the intersection of Yonge and Bloor in downtown Toronto you’ll find Yorkville, an upscale neighborhood home to art galleries, museums, high end shops, restaurants and more. The area was once an enclave for musicians and hippies in the 1960s, but eventually transformed into a mecca for retail therapy. That being said, Yorkville is about a lot more than shopping.
If you’re curious about the area or just want to get a better idea of what it offers both locals and visitors, here are eight of the best things to do in Toronto’s Yorkville neighborhood.
Visit the Bata Shoe Museum
If you’ve never thought about shoes as anything other than something to put on your feet for either fashion or function, the Bata Shoe Museum offers a fascinating look at the history of footwear. Home to the world’s largest, most comprehensive collection of shoes and footwear-related objects, the museum’s international collection contains over 13,000 artifacts spanning 4,500 years of history.
The semi-permanent exhibition, All About Shoes, focuses on the extensive history of footwear through the ages, including the evolution and symbolism of what we put on our feet and why. Three other galleries feature changing exhibitions covering various aspects of footwear. One of the museum’s many highlights includes the extensive array of celebrity footwear, including Terry Fox’s running shoe, Queen Victoria’s ballroom slippers, Robert Redford’s cowboy boots, Elton John’s monogrammed silver platform boots, and Elvis Presley’s blue patent loafers.
Check Out the Gardiner Museum
Located steps from Yorkville, the Gardiner Museum is Canada’s national museum of ceramics and one of only a small number of specialized museums of ceramics in the world. Established in 1984 by George and Helen Gardiner, the unique museum offers visitors a detailed look at the ceramic process and it’s role in various civilizations throughout history. The museum’s vast collection includes everything from the ceramics of ancient America to Chinese and Japanese ceramics to European earthenware. Not only that, the museum also offers classes for adults and children, including Family Sundays wherein the whole family can try their hands at clay making or tile painting workshops.
Do Some Gallery Hopping
Spend an afternoon in Yorkville exploring some of the area’s many art galleries. Some of your best bets include the Canadian Fine Arts Gallery specializing in contemporary as well as historical Canadian art, Loch Gallery specializing in 19th and 20th century Canadian art, Mayberry Fine Art specializing in paintings by the Group of Seven as well as Canada's post-war artists and leading contemporary artists from across the country, Mira Godard Gallery showcasing contemporary Canadian and international art, and Miriam Shiell Fine Art specializing in 20th century modern and contemporary art since 1978.
Explore the Royal Ontario Museum
You don’t want to visit Yorkville (or even Toronto for that matter) without taking some time to check out the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM). Founded in 1914, the museum showcases art, culture and nature from around the world and throughout history, and is home to a collection of 13 million artworks, cultural objects and natural history specimens, showcased in 40 gallery and exhibition spaces. Whether you’re interested in dinosaurs, South Asian art, Chinese temple art, art of the Middle East, or artifacts from ancient Egypt—you’ll find at the ROM. In addition, the museum houses a gift shop, an area just for kids, and a café.
Shop Until You Drop
Whether you just want to window shop or you’re ready to dip into your wallet, Yorkville is home to a wide array of designer boutiques, upscale department stores and independent shops covering everything from men’s and women’s fashion and footwear, to accessories, skin care and home décor. Shop skin care and makeup at Sephora, stock up on healthy and gourmet groceries at Whole Foods, browse high fashion and accessories as well as beauty and skin care at Holt Renfrew, nab some designer goods courtesy of Chanel, Gucci, Hermès and Louis Vuitton—just to name a few spots to spend your hard-earned cash.
See a Movie
Sometimes the best way to spend a relaxing afternoon or evening is to simply go see and movie, something you can do in Yorkville courtesy of Varsity Cinemas. The popular theater shows first-run movies and offers VIP areas where you can order food and drinks (including wine, beer and cocktails) right to your seat before and during the movie.
Hang Out in Yorkville Park
Stop for a rest or to do some people watching in Yorkville Park, a small but welcome enclave in the bustling neighborhood aimed at celebrating the history of the Village of Yorkville and reflecting the diversity of the Canadian landscape. In fact, the park is divided into various sections designed to represent the broad range of Canadian landscapes that make up an urban forest of sorts. One of the highlights here is the 650-ton rock (that is over one billion years old) transplanted from the Canadian Shield that acts as the park’s centrepiece. You’ll also find bistro tables here for anyone who wants to linger with a coffee from one of the area's many cafes, as well as a wooden boardwalk around the marshy terrain, and a waterfall known as The Rain Curtain.
Visit the Toronto Reference Library
Even if you don’t live in Toronto, making time to check out the Toronto Reference Library (TRF) can be an interesting way to spend a couple of hours. Five floors house a sprawling collection of reference materials including, of course, books covering a huge array of topics, but also rare books and literary memorabilia, magazines, music, and much more. In addition, the TRF also houses an art gallery showcasing art, artifacts, manuscripts and more from the library's extensive Special Collections. You can also take part in the library’s wide array of talks and workshops and enjoy a coffee courtesy of the on-site Balzacs café.