Canada’s largest and most populous city, Toronto is the capital of Ontario and sits on the eponymous Lake Ontario itself – all 24,000 square miles of it. With a European history going back to the 18th century, Toronto originally grew from a British colonial settlement called York. Today, its outlying farmsteads and wild areas make up part of the city itself, becoming suburbs and natural enclaves to explore.
Interestingly, Canada is the most multiculturally diverse city on Earth. There are over 160 languages spoken here, and more than 50% of the inhabitants of the city belong to a minority. Not only immigrants, but also Canada’s original native population makes up the society of Toronto today.
Map of Toronto
1. Yonge-Dundas · 2. Entertainment & Financial District · 3. Yorkville & The Annex · 4. Kensington-Chinatown & Roma · 5. Downtown East · 6. Harbourfront · 7. Midtown · 8. West End · 9. East End
A modern city with a lot of creativity going on – as well as a big business and banking sector – Toronto is home to a lot of fantastic architecture. This runs the gamut from handsome Victorian mansions and old government buildings to the landmark CN Tower – once the tallest structure in the world (and still not far off).
Each year, the city hosts over 25 million tourists, drawn here for the enigmatic mix of laid-back living, open-minded culture, and lakeside lifestyle. Here are some of the best areas you can base yourself in during a trip to tantalizing Toronto.
The area of Yonge-Dundas is located in the heart of Toronto and is centered around the Yonge-Dundas Square – which includes its own metro station. A new area, with the square only completed in 2002, it provides a public space for the city. Many art shows and other activities are hosted in this square. Akin to the scramble crossing in Tokyo’s Shibuya, Yonge-Dundas features the most significant crossing in Canada; 100,000 people cross per day.
Touted as Toronto’s Times Square, Yonge-Dundas is an exciting place to base yourself in the middle of downtown Toronto. Here there is an avalanche of eateries and bars. There’s also plenty of history, like the soaring St Michael’s Cathedral Basilica, built in the 1800s.
Accommodation in this area consists of towering chain hotels – modern, comfortable, and high-end in terms of price – as well as a handful of down-to-earth budget options.
Embodying the ideals of working hard and playing hard side by side, the Entertainment and Financial District are two areas just to the south of Yonge-Dundas. The Financial District is, in essence, the home of Old Toronto, edging the grand Union Station and housing historical sights as well as modern wonders, like the gold-clad skyscraper of the Royal Bank Plaza. To the south, the 553 meters tall icon that is the CN Tower can be found.
The Entertainment District was originally known as the Garment District; by the 1970s, most of the historic factories had been abandoned, and now house nightclubs, music venues, and theatres, giving the area its name. Staying in this lively area, you’ll find contemporary hotels right amidst the action. Choose to stay in the neighboring Financial District for elegant lodgings set in heritage buildings dating back to the early 20th century.
Located to the north of Yonge-Dundas and reachable via Yonge Road – but still with a couple of metro stations connecting it to the rest of Toronto – Yorkville is all about the high-end. Boutiques and galleries jostle for room along Bloor Street, as do a multitude of upscale restaurants, fancy cafes, and swish cocktail lounges.
Neighbouring Yorkville to the west is The Annex, a more residential area home to a sizeable student population since it edges the University of Toronto. This area features grassy streets lined with some fantastic examples of Victorian and Edwardian architecture. With the Spadina, Dupont, and Bathurst metro stations serving the area, getting around is a breeze.
You can now stay in the Annex’s old buildings thanks to boutique lodgings and bed-and-breakfasts, while Yorkville hosts some exquisite, high-end, international hotel chains with service to match.
Centered on the crossroads of Spadina Avenue and Dundas Street is Toronto’s Chinatown; also bordering this is the area known as Kensington. Home to different cultures and ethnicities, you will find everything from vintage shops to Japanese convenience stores.
Kensington Market is a retail area with lots of small shops. You’ll find bakers, tea shops, tree-lined streets, and plenty of international restaurants. On Sundays (during the summer), the roads are closed to traffic, making it a pedestrian’s dream.
Chinatown isn’t just about the Chinese eateries; there are also Korean, Thai, and Japanese delights to discover. Along Spadina Avenue, you’ll find fresh fruit, dumplings, and even Chinese traditional medicines and souvenirs. Needless to say, this is the place to come for Chinese New Year!
Budget-friendly options, hostels, and homely guesthouses in red brick buildings make up the accommodation in this part of town. There are no metro stops, but it’s served by numerous streetcar and bus stops.
This is the general area east of Toronto’s Downtown district, running to the River Don. It consists of the regions of Cabbagetown, Regent Park, Trefann Court, and Corktown. Mainly residential, Corktown is home to Corktown Common, a lovely green space to relax in on the banks of the river. Cabbagetown is a sizeable neighborhood with yet more greenery, such as the large Riverdale Park; an old farm, this is a popular spot for ice skating and sledding in the winter.
Regent Park and Trefann Court are low rise residential areas developed during the 1940s. Another district in this east Downtown area is Church and Wellesley, known as ‘The Village’ and home to a large part of Toronto’s gay community. A fun and friendly space, this is the place to go for Toronto’s Pride celebrations – as well as a memorable Halloween.
Staying in this large area gives you the option of guesthouses, hostels, affordable chain hotels, and some boutique offerings as well.
Just south of the Entertainment District and bordered to the north by both the main train line and the Gardiner Expressway, you’ll find Harbourfront. This aptly named area is set right on the shore of Lake Ontario; a relaxing area on the largest urban lake in the world!
The Harbourfront Centre hosts year-round community events such as markets, film screenings, and concerts. In the summer months, you will see people enjoying outdoor art exhibitions and even canoeing around the area. There are a ton of cafes along the pedestrian promenade where you can sit and have a drink on the patio along the water’s edge. Alternatively, you could hop on a boat and get a view of Toronto’s skyline from the water. You can also take the ferry from here to the Toronto Islands.
Accommodation in Harbourfront consists of a handful of hotels along the water. These are mostly upscale, tall, and modern, with views of the lake from up high.
The sprawling Midtown area to the north of Toronto Old Town is an upscale area that is officially one of the city’s central business districts. Here you will find prestigious neighborhoods such as Forest Hill, with its many mansions and private schools, and Deer Park, with tree-lined streets that connect with the bustling Yonge Street.
This area is a blend of relaxation and entertainment, with city amenities never too far away but plenty of green spaces and parkland to explore as well. For example, the Moore Park Ravine is a beautiful leafy area to wander, with shady Beltline Trail leading to the forested Don Valley Brick Works Park – and further still to even more of the area’s green spaces.
If this affluent, suburban, and decidedly natural area sounds like your sort of thing, there are homestays in charming houses, bed-and-breakfasts, and even mid-range hotels near to transport.
Making up a vast portion of the area west of Old Toronto, with Lake Ontario to its south and the Humber River making up the western border, this is a multicultural, up and coming area of the city. This neighborhood began to thrive around the turn of the 20th century, when migrants arrived to work on Canada’s growing railway, specifically in the area now known as Little Italy. There’s also a Portuguese presence in Little Portugal, particularly along Rua dos Acores. There’s even Little Malta, and the West End is home to Toronto’s Koreatown, too.
The immigrant population has recently been joined by young professionals drawn to the area by a combination of lower rent, great food, and exciting nightlife. Not a region filled with a load of museums, it’s more of a place to come to see Toronto’s multicultural makeup. Stay here in renovated hotels from the 19th century and cool, quirky inns.
With East York to the north and East Downtown to the west, the East End of Toronto lies across the Don River and is an urban neighborhood with a lot of parkland, as well as farmer’s markets. East End is home to yet more of Toronto’s multicultural landscape, with Little India, East Chinatown, and Greektown making up just some of the segments.
This suburb also runs along the shores of Lake Ontario and is home to The Beaches, an aptly named area that’s more like a resort; it’s where city and suburb dwellers alike come to escape the heat, stroll the boardwalk, or take a dip in the water. In nearby Kew Gardens, there are jazz festivals and art shows.
There is a handful of affordable accommodation options, especially near East Chinatown. But there are also lively and elegant hotels in the southern Studio District, and some places to stay near The Beaches.
The vast area of Etobicoke lies west of the Humber River. With the international airport on its east, it runs all the way from the shores of Lake Ontario to the northern, leafy suburbs of Mount Oliver and Clairville. Formerly a city in its own right, Etobicoke features broad boulevards, shopping malls to match, and plenty of housing developments.
An excellent place to base yourself to be closer to Toronto’s airport, this area is also filled with a lot of green spaces. You can dive into the manicured James Gardens along the Humber River, as well as the Centennial Park – with plenty of space for sports. In the north, the large Humber Arboretum makes for great autumn walks, while Colonel Samuel Smith Park is a sizeable space close to Lake Ontario.
As well as plenty of golf courses, Etobicoke is home to a large selection of hotels, many of which are chains and conveniently placed in the vicinity of the airport; but there are many smaller options nearer the lake.
Formerly the agricultural heart of Toronto, and made up of many different villages, North York is a sprawling area to the north of the city proper that still retains a rural, small town feel. Evidence of its past can be seen in the sheer amount of golf courses, green spaces, and large parks that offer plenty of opportunities for strolling around in nature. One of the largest is the East Don Parkland, which follows the course of the Don River for miles in wooded surroundings.
There are also shopping malls – such as the Centerpoint Mall and the Bayview Village Shopping Centre – for all your retail needs. But there is culture here too, with interactive exhibits at the Ontario Science Centre, the open air heritage museum of Black Creek Pioneer Village, and the Aga Khan Museum, showing a selection of Islamic art.
Suites and guesthouses, as well as modern lodgings and motels, can be found in North York.
The eastern part of the city of Toronto, Scarborough is filled with a whole lot of greenery. There is a total of nine parks situated along what is known as the Scarborough Bluffs along the shoreline of Lake Ontario. These include Bluffer’s Park – complete with sandy beach – and Guild Park and Gardens, with its collection of ‘ruins.’
There’s also the huge Morningside Park; this is a forested area with creeks and trails for an adventurous stroll through nature. Needless to say, Scarborough is great for those who like to hike. Scarborough is where you will find Toronto Zoo, a large area covering over 740 acres where you can get to grips with wildlife. Scarborough is the perfect place for a family trip to Toronto.
With motels and easygoing guesthouses, as well as midrange hotels with pools and dining options, there are a few different accommodation choices in Scarborough to suit your travel style.