One of the world's truly multicultural cities, Toronto is a thriving melting pot offering some of the best nightlife, dining, museums and galleries anywhere in Canada. It's estimated more than half of Toronto's current residents were born outside Canada so, with this much diversity in one place, how do you know where to begin? Well, start with these four thriving neighbourhoods.
WHY GO Probably starting from the mid 1990s, this two-kilometre stretch situated between Bathurst and Simcoe Streets has become one of the city's trendiest hubs, a melange of boutique hotels, vintage clothing stores, galleries, live music joints and the kind of pubs where afternoon pints in the sun feel almost mandatory. Known primarily as Toronto's art and design district, Queen West has a definite creative air and, while it's certainly been gentrified, it still feels just rough enough around the edges.
SEE + DO Catch a breath of fresh air and a nature fix at Trinity Bellwoods Park (bordered by Queen St West on the south and Dundas St on the north). Or simply grab a coffee at HotBlack Coffee (245 Queen St West) and go walkabout, exploring galleries such as Birch Contemporary (129 Tecumseth St), which showcases conceptual and contemporary work, or Graven Feather (906 Queen St West). At night, check out live bands at venues such as Horseshoe Tavern, (370 Queen St West), Drake Underground (1150 Queen St West) and The Rex Hotel (194 Queen St West).
SHOP TILL YOU DROP Groovy (323 Queen St West) is a sneaker store for all tastes, while F As In Frank (418 Queen St West) and Mama Loves You Vintage (541 Queen St West) are the places to hit for all things vintage and retro. Style mavens will enjoy Lavish & Squalor (253 Queen St West) for its unique clothing selection, home decor and coffee, while Smoke + Ash (644 Queen St West) is a popular option for women's clothing (only on the weekends, where I'm concerned.)
EAT + DRINK
For brunch, kickass comfort food and maybe a cheeky cocktail or two, head to Sky Yard inside The Drake Hotel (1150 Queen St West), an urbane setting with slick service. In keeping with Toronto's multiculturalism, try Soufi's (676 Queen St West) for a superb blend of Middle Eastern fare in a restaurant founded by Syrian refugees. Beer heads will love Bar Hop (391 King St West) with 36 craft brews on tap—there are now two other locations in the city—then head over to Wurst (609 King St West) for artisanal sausages and probably several more beers.
LIBERTY VILLAGE/ KING WEST
WHY GO Another former industrial-area-turned-cool, Liberty Village boasts many one-time factories that now house some of the best restaurants, bars and brewpubs in town, alongside a fresh new breed of cutting-edge companies and start-ups. A new bridge scheduled for completion in Spring 2020 will connect the area with King West, a lively hub of towering condos, exciting nightlife and sports stadiums.
SEE + DO Catch a Toronto FC game across the tracks at BMO Field (170 Princes Blvd) or, if Grid Iron is more your jam, a Toronto Argonauts match—they're the oldest existing pro sports team in North America. In the heart of Liberty Village, you can also watch The Toronto Wolfpack play tugby at Allan A. Lamport Stadium (1151 King St West). The nightlife on King West is among the most vibrant in Toronto.
SHOP TILL YOU DROP Liberty Market Building (171 East Liberty Street) is a slick 100,000 square feet of retail space housed inside converted warehouses, while the King West Fashion District is a great hub for clothes horses. If you're looking for a fresh take on fashion, hit T.O. Leather Fashion to pick up quality leatherwares to last a lifetime.
EAT + DRINK For one of the best brunch spots in town, head to Mildred's Temple Kitchen (85 Hanna Ave), where the menu boasts everything from sautéed mushrooms to pancake stacks, oysters and Bloody Marys. After sports games, many of Liberty Village's bars are packed with (good natured) red scarf-waving fans. Three of the best include the brewpub Liberty Commons (42 Liberty St), Williams Landing (120 Lynn Williams St), which is known for upscale casual dining, and Local Public Eatery (171 East Liberty St), where incredible burgers paired with beer are the speciality. On King, try Buca (604 King St West) for cured meats and contemporary Italian or Lavelle (627 King St) for incredible rooftop views across the city, before rounding off the night at Thompson Diner (550 Wellington St West) for comfort food—their mac 'n' cheese is the stuff of legend.
WHY GO This area of downtown Toronto is home to three of the city's major-league sports teams, countless theatres and performing arts centres, thriving nightlife, live music venues, restaurants and great hotels.
SEE + DO For a live concert, head to Roy Thomson Hall (60 Simcoe St), home to the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, or don your best cravat and make a beeline for Princess of Wales Theatre (300 King St West). With 2000 seats, it's where you can find some of the most prestigious live productions in Canada. For laughs, The Second City (51 Mercer St) has earned a rep as one of the most prolific comedy enterprises in the world, with live shows from leading comics weekly. But this district is also about sports, and no visit to Toronto would be complete without checking out the Blue Jays baseball team at Rogers Centre (1 Blue Jays Way) near the base of the iconic CN Tower. Alternatively, you can catch a good punch-up with a bit of ice-hockey thrown in at a Toronto Maple Leafs game at Scotiabank Arena (40 Bay St) or see the increasingly popular Toronto Raptors basketball team play at the same venue.
EAT + DRINK For lunch with a view, it's hard to go past Kost on the 44th floor of the BISHA Hotel (80 Blue Jays Way). The restaurant is known for its refreshing Baja Peninsula inspired dishes paired with seriously good cocktails. For dinner, Kojin (190 University Ave) is a Momofuku property opened in June 2018. Inspired by executive chef Paula Navarrete's childhood in Colombia, the emphasis here is on grilled meats and quality produce. For something more casual, The Ballroom (145 John St) is a bowling alley with pool tables, sports screens, foosball tables, a gigantic Connect 4 and no-nonsense pub fare. Those with a sweet tooth will love Sweet Jesus (106 John St), a haven for wacky-flavoured ice creams, decadent shakes, soft serve ice cream and much more.
WHY GO Situated smack in the heart of the city, this is one of Toronto's liveliest, best loved and most eccentric neighbourhoods - a must-see. Made up of narrow streets, Kensington Market is synonymous with counter-culturalism. The area has resisted big business and commercialisation for decades and is filled with offbeat landmarks, from cars filled with plants to street art, vintage and surplus stores, and much more.
SEE + DO Part of the fun here is simply to wander and see what catches your eye, ducking into little bakeries, coffee shops or indie stores. There's a real bric-a-brack charm that's increasingly rare in today's major cities. Regular block parties are thrown here, especially in summer months, when crowds gather to enjoy food, beer, wine and live music in the sun, often to help charitable causes. Just outside of the market is the Art Gallery of Ontario (317 Dundas St West), home to some 95,000 works and collections ranging from Modern Art to Photography, African and Indigenous art.
SHOP TILL YOU DROP Kensington Market is the best spot in town for vintage shops. Some of the most celebrated include Bungalow (273 Augusta Ave), a hot spot for retro housewares and collector pieces from the 1940s to the 1960s, and Exile (62 Kensington Ave) known more for its vintage clothing. Blue Banana Market (250 Augusta Ave) is a cool spot to pick up a unique gift, jewellery or creative artworks,while just a little further on, Good Egg (267 Augusta Ave) has everything the foodie needs, from cook books to kitchenware.
EAT + DRINK Fusing Italian and Jamaican cuisine might sound dubious, but Rasta Pasta (61 Kensington Ave) will quickly dispel any doubts. Featuring dishes such as Dreadlock Lasagne—disclaimer, not actually made from dreadlocks—Dutch pot oxtail and grilled jerk chicken, it's a superbly inventive menu. For a more upmarket option, Grey Gardens (199 Augusta Ave) fuses delicately crafted high-end ingredients to create amazing share plates such as scallop, caramelised cabbage and yuzu or lobster with tandoori, lemon and Brussels. After a few beers at Kensington Brewing Company (299 Augusta Ave)—try the Fisheye IPA—head to nearby Fresco's (213 Augusta Ave) for a bowl of classic poutine, a decadent blend of chips slathered with gravy and cheese curd. Finally, Wanda's Pie in the Sky (287 Augusta Ave) does hands down the best slices of cake and pies in Toronto.
Air Canada flies direct between Sydney and Vancouver with ongoing connections to Toronto. See aircanada.com
The InterContinental Yorkville is a 4-star hotel centrally located in The Annex, near Royal Ontario Museum and University of Toronto. See ihg.com
Guy Wilkinson was a guest of the Canadian Tourism Commission and Tourism Toronto.
FIVE MORE COOL CORNERS
Mix of high-end shopping, hotels and restaurants, close to Royal Ontario Museum and University of Toronto. See seetorontonow.com
Former warehouse district turned trendy, this is now filled with cutting-edge restaurants, bookshops, bars and more. See torontoneighbourhoods.net
Named after the four beaches situated on Lake Ontario, this area east of downtown in the Old City is ideal for unwinding by the water and perusing small shops. See thetorontobeaches.com
Packed with characterful trattorias, cafes and outdoor espresso patios, this is the spot to pull on your tight jeans and hop on a Vespa. See tolittleitaly.com
Historically the film district, it's now populated by vintage furniture stores and designer homeware nooks, but also has a great nightlife scene. See leslieville.com