All Articles 4 Toronto neighborhoods you don’t want to miss

4 Toronto neighborhoods you don’t want to miss

Kaitlyn McInnis
By Kaitlyn McInnisApr 4, 2024 5 minutes read
People kayaking on Lake Ontario in Downtown Toronto, with a view of the CN Tower and Toronto skyline
View of the Toronto skyline and CN Tower from Lake Ontario
Image: Istvan Kadar Photography/Getty Images

There’s an often-repeated fact about Toronto that sums up exactly why so many flock to experience what it has to offer: it’s the most multicultural city in Canada. It doesn’t matter what kind of cuisine or cultural experience you’re looking for, there’s a good chance you’ll be able to find it (and find it done well) in the sprawling Ontario city.

As a Canadian travel writer, I’ve been lucky enough to commute back and forth to Toronto from Montreal and Halifax for years, and every time I visit there’s something new and exciting to discover. The city is sprawling and ever-changing, which makes it tricky to decide the best spot to make your base. Here are some of the best neighborhoods in Toronto, depending on what you’re after:

Kensington Market and Harbord Village

A street corner in Kensington Market in Toronto

You’ll often hear folks waxing on about the hippie-flooded streets of Kensington Market, a popular student neighborhood with colorful nightlife and a kaleidoscope of interesting sights and sounds. It’s a great place for scoring preloved designer and vintage fashions—especially come summertime when the vintage shops expand into the pedestrian-only street on weekends—as well as a variety of budget-friendly restaurants and bars. Check out the well-curated Courage My Love for whimsical vintage frocks, or pop into Space Vintage for affordable secondhand designer finds.

Where to eat: Kensington Market will lend itself well to those looking for a budget-friendly breakfast or sweet snack. Check out casual Kos Cafe & Restaurant for breakfast and Cafe Pamenar for an afternoon pick-me-up on the backyard terrace. There’s also Dreyfus, a decidedly cool French-inspired brasserie on Harbord Street, that serves some of the best wine in the city as well as a chalkboard menu of seasonal sharing plates.

Hotel pick: Neighboring Harbord Village will be where you want to stay; it’s slightly more grown up than Kensington Market and has more comfortable accommodations—like the Kimpton Saint George Hotel on Bloor Street—and restaurants as well (that are still relatively affordable for Toronto standards). If you’re dead-set on staying in Kensington Market, check into The Planet Traveler Hostel for a cheap but comfortable night’s sleep.

Yorkville

A boy standing under a dinosaur skeleton at the Royal Ontario Museum
The dinosaur exhibit at the Royal Ontario Museum
Image: Management/Tripadvisor

It doesn’t get any more sophisticated than Yorkville—and while said sophistication comes with a higher price tag than other Toronto neighborhoods, it’ll be worth it if you want to be within walking distance of great shopping and museums like the Royal Ontario Museum and the Gardiner Museum. I lived in this neighborhood when I was a fashion intern and would window shop the upscale designer brands such as Cartier and Gucci for inspo. You’ll also find boutiques like the Toronto Designers Market, which stocks local and upcoming designers in one beautifully-curated jewel box.

Yorkville was its own city until it was annexed by Toronto in the late 1800s, and you can still see that history in its stunning Victorian architecture and cobblestone streets. The tightly packed streets are worth getting lost in for the architecture and people watching alone (especially during the Toronto International Film Festival when celebrities flood the streets), while Yorkville Village is a great spot to warm up or escape from the rain if you’re stuck with inclement weather.

Where to eat: You’re going to find a lot of high-end restaurants and bars here. The Writer’s Room Bar on the 18th floor of the Park Hyatt Toronto is right around the corner from the Royal Ontario Museum and serves as a great spot for a martini with views of the city skyline. Check out Cafe Boulud—a stylish spin-off from Michelin-starred chef Daniel Boulud—for a decadent French-inspired brunch. And if you’re short on time, stop by Eataly Toronto; it’s chaotic and fun to walk through, but pulling up a bar stool and having a couple of oysters or a slice of pizza makes for an easy meal.

Hotel pick: Yorkville is a veritable heaven for hotel fiends like myself; I always end up grabbing a cocktail and hanging out in hotel lobbies here. I recommend checking into the Park Hyatt Toronto for unparalleled luxury and great views of the city skyline, but for something a little more down-to-earth, check out W Toronto or The Yorkville Royal Sonesta Hotel.

Downtown Toronto

A woman walking on the Sir Isaac Brock Bridge in downtown Toronto
Image: A&J Fotos/Getty Images

Don’t overlook Downtown Toronto—especially if it’s your first time visiting the city. The city isn’t known for its stellar public transit, so setting up your base in a walkable part of town is smart. Here, you’re connected directly to Union Station—so if you’re traveling by Via Rail, you’ll be able to walk directly to your hotel from the train. It’s also very accessible to get to and from Billy Bishop Airport which is located at the foot of Bathurst Street.

It’s hard to ignore the biggest attraction in Downtown Toronto: the CN Tower. It might seem a little touristy, but in reality, locals love the CN Tower. The towering monument serves as an impressive feat and walking by it (or better yet—having a great view of it directly from your downtown hotel room) feels distinctly Toronto.

The downtown core is home to plenty of other attractions as well. If you’re traveling with kids, the Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada and the Toronto Railway Museum are both must-sees. I also really love spending time near Nathan Phillips Square; either eating a street hot dog in the summer or practicing my twirls at the outdoor skating rink come winter.

Where to eat: There’s something for all tastes and budgets downtown. I recommend Jollibee for lunch; the fast food chain has cult status in its native Philippines for its takeout spaghetti and fried chicken. Decadent afternoon tea at the lobby of the Shangri-La Toronto is a must for excellent people watching. Canoe is one of the best spots for sampling modern Canadian cuisine while the Library Bar at the Fairmont Royal York is where you’ll want to end your evening with a strong nightcap.

Hotel pick: The best thing about downtown hotels is that it’s incredibly easy to knab a great view of the CN Tower. When I want to splurge, I check into the Ritz-Carlton, Toronto, which has views that feel like you could climb out of your hotel and onto the tower. For a more economical option, consider the trendy Le Germain Hotel Toronto Maple Leaf Square.

Little Portugal

The lobby of the Drake Hotel
The Drake Hotel's lobby
Image: Management/Tripadvisor

Little Portugal probably isn’t in your guidebook, but hear me out. The multicultural enclave was largely residential up until a few years ago. You’ll still find traditional neighborhood bakeries and shops—like Brazil Bakery and Pastry—owned by those with Portuguese and Brazilian backgrounds who made the neighborhood home, but in recent years, Little Portugal has also seen a rise of trendy new restaurants and bars dotted along Dundas West Street. (The street is also home to the Stephen Bulger Gallery, one of the best photography galleries in the country.)

If you’re planning a trip to Toronto in the summer months, it might be worth booking your dates in early June around the Do West Fest to get a colorful primer on the eclectic neighborhood. The three-day festival features busker performances, art installations, and live music on three separate stages with the intention to showcase the vibrancy of the largely Portuguese neighborhood.

Where to eat: Getting pastéis de nata at Bom Dia Cafe & Bakery is a non-negotiable. You’ll also want to book a table at the award-winning Taverne Bernhardt’s for an upscale rotisserie dinner (make sure to order a glass of local Ontario wine) and plan for a cocktail at Spanish-inspired La Piscina.

Hotel pick: The Drake Hotel is where cool travelers drop their bags and where locals convene for a cocktail (the trendy spot has multiple bars and a nightclub). For a more subdued option, The Darling Mansion is a quirky redbrick B&B-style property tucked into a charming 19th-century home.

Kaitlyn McInnis
Kaitlyn McInnis is a Montreal-based lifestyle and travel writer committed to helping you plan your next holiday. Her travel writing has been published in international publications across five continents, including Conde Nast Traveler, Travel + Leisure, South China Morning Post, CNN, The Points Guy, and more. She holds a Bachelor of Arts focused in English Literature and Irish Studies and is currently working toward a Master of Fine Arts from the University of King's College.