Designated as a national historic site of Canada in 2005, Kensington Market is one of the oldest and most diverse neighborhoods in Toronto—and also one of its liveliest. The neighborhood is not so much a traditional “market” but more of an eclectic collection of cafes, restaurants, vintage stores, bars, and specialty food shops selling everything from cheese and spices, to freshly baked bread and produce. The neighborhood is a microcosm of Toronto’s multicultural population and a place that represents something that makes the city so special.
A favorite among both locals and visitors to Toronto, Kensington Market is a place you can visit again and again, always finding something new to explore down side streets, graffitied alleys and in the ever-changing array of shops housed in old Victorian homes.
A visit to Kensington Market can feel overwhelming when you first arrive, but once you get into the flow of the neighborhood it’s easy to spend hours here. Whether you’ve never been or just need a refresher, here’s everything you need to know about visiting Toronto’s Kensington Market.
History of the Market
The area that is currently Kensington Market was first developed in 1815 by George Taylor Denison in the early 1800s. The Denison estate was divided into plots and during the 1880s, Irish, British and Scottish immigrants built houses on the property. In the early 20th century, Kensington saw an influx of Jewish immigrants, mostly from Russia and eastern and south-central Europe. The district was then known as the Jewish Market. Beginning in the 1950s and 60s, Kensington Market immigrants from countries around the world made the district even more diverse—a tradition that has continued over the years.
The market has managed to stave off gentrification to a certain extent, maintaining its unique personality and making it one of the city’s top attractions.
Location and When to Visit
Kensington Market is located to the west of the downtown region of the city and the area is bordered by Bathurst Street, Dundas Street, College Street, and Spadina Avenue and spreads out over a few other streets, centred along Augusta, Baldwin and Kensington. The area is easily accessed by public transit
From the Bloor-Danforth Line, exit at Spadina and take the 510 Spadina Streetcar south to Nassau. Exit and continue south to Baldwin and go right. The closest subway station is St. Patrick on the University-Spadina Line. If you’re on the Yonge Street line you should exit at Dundas. From either station you can cut out most of the walking time by riding the 505 Dundas Street West Street car westbound to Spadina Avenue. Exit the streetcar and continue one block further west to Kensington Avenue and go right.
What to Eat and Drink
There are a mind-boggling array of places to eat and drink in Kensington Market, whether you’re looking for a quick snack, takeout, or a sit-down meal. In addition, due the multicultural vibe of the area, you can get almost any kind of food here, from Mexican and Italian, to Salvadorian and Portuguese. This is a place you want to bring your appetite to and you definitely won’t leave hungry or thirsty.
Eating: Stock up Montreal-style bagels at Nu Bügel, chow down on some of the city’s best tacos at Seven Lives, enjoy lighter organic and gluten-free fare and sweet or savoury buckwheat crepes from Hibiscus, head to Torteria San Cosme for traditional Mexican sandwiches, indulge in churros at Pancho’s Bakery, thin crust pizza from Pizzeria Via Mercanti, pies and other sweet treats from Wanda’s Pie in the Sky, or empanadas from Jumbo Empanadas—just to name a few options.
Drinking: Get your caffeine fix from Moonbeam Coffee Company or FIKA Café, feel like one of the cool kids with a cocktail at semi-hidden bar Cold Tea, get your craft beer fix with a pint from Kensington Brewery Company, or stop in for a casual beer at Handlebar or Thirsty & Miserable.
Where to Shop
One of the best things about Kensington Market is the wide range of shops that include a whole host of vintage stores and independent boutiques. This is also a great place to do some grocery shopping thanks to the array of small greengrocers you’ll find here, as well as butchers, cheesemongers and health food stores. While this section won’t cover everything you can buy in Kensington Market, here are a few spots not to miss.
If you’re looking to pick up gifts for anyone, one of your best bets is Blue Banana Market, which sells one-of-a-kind items, cards, jewelry, decorative home accessories, and creative works of art, making it a one-stop-shop for gift-giving.
While Kensington is filled with vintage shops, one of the oldest and best-loved is Courage my Love. Walking into the store is like walking into a wonderland of handpicked vintage items where you never know what treasures you might stumble upon. Bungalow is another shop for vintage finds, but they also carry their own remade fashions and accessories and new pieces from unique fashion lines. You can also shop for furniture and housewares here.
Another great spot for gifts and local, handmade items is Kid Icarus, which also sells their own line of greeting cards, gift wrap and original hand printed items. They also offer screen printing workshops.
If you love cheese, you can stock up at two spots in Kensington: Global Cheese and Cheese Magic. Both have knowledgeable staff happy to help you select the cheese you’re after and both are generous with samples. Then, pair your cheese with some freshly-baked bread from Blackbird Baking Co.
Essence of Life is one of the best places in Kensington Market to pick up healthy and natural food items and eco-friendly skin and body care. They also sell many vegan and vegetarian products for anyone looking for alternatives to meat and dairy.
Travel Tips and Mistakes to Avoid
From May to October the streets of Kensington Market go car-free on the last Sunday of the month in what’s known as Pedestrian Sundays. These Sundays do get busy, but in addition to no cars, there’s also street performers, music and food stalls to check out.
Kensington also puts on a Winter Solstice parade and festival on December 21.
It’s also good to note that if you’re visiting on a Monday, many of the smaller stores are closed.
Taking public transit is your best bet for getting to Kensington since parking is limited and driving is tedious in the area.