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Experience Toronto: 5 Spots to Discover Arts, Culture & Life

by Gizelle Lau
From Culture Experiences
April 9, 2008

Yonge and Dundas Square

Experiencing Toronto is more than just about climbing the CN Tower, watching a Blue Jays baseball game in the Rogers Centre, catching a Toronto Maple Leafs or Toronto Raptors game at the Air Canada Centre, visiting Canada's Hockey Hall of Fame or making the trek to Niagara Falls. The best part of Toronto is its eclectic mix of cultures, peoples, foods, shops, music, events and festivals.

With museums, art galleries, lounges and bars of all kinds, you'll need months to discover Toronto in its entirety. Get a taste of Greece in Toronto's Greek town on the Danforth; try Little Italy or Chinatown for a different flavour; maybe some pork bone soup in Koreatown or fine dining all over the city.

"The best part of Toronto is its eclectic mix of cultures, peoples,
foods, shops, music, events and festivals!"

Toronto: A Port to the World

Although Toronto, Canada is the 4th largest city in North America, it is one of top three most multi cultural city in the world, as declared by the United Nations. It is a port to essentially every nationality and ethnicity in the world - with about 50% its population made up of non-Canadian-born residents.

The best time to visit Toronto is during the summer time from May to September because the city comes alive on summer evenings from its Harbourfront to its street festivals. During the winter from November to March is nice if you don't mind the snow - but there are lots of opportunities for skating and out-of-the-cold events.

5 Toronto Highlights to Discover Arts, Culture & Life

If it's your first time to Toronto, be sure to visit the major attractions: the CN Tower, the Hockey Hall of Fame, the Art Gallery of Ontario, The Royal Ontario Museum and the Science Centre. If you're looking to really experience Toronto, then these spots are for you!

Pride Flag

1) Church & Wellesley. This area in Toronto is considered Toronto's LGBT-oriented community or "Gay Village." It is located in downtown Toronto and has been developing since the 1980's. Today, many neighbourhoods in Toronto are gay-friendly but since Church street was the original, it remains the epicentre for many in the gay community. Tons of worthy shops, bars, restaurants, sushi spots and cafes line the streets in the area - and their patios and outdoor spaces are always packed during summer afternoons.

If you visit Toronto in June, you'll be able to take part in Toronto's Pride Week and Pride Parade, one of the largest Gay Pride festivals in the world. This year's will be held from June 20 to 29, 2008.

TTC2) Ride the TTC. One of the best ways to discover the culture and life of the city is to ride its public transit, and Toronto's is the Toronto Transit Commission or TTC: "The Better Way." Try riding the subway or one of the streetcars and you'll get a real glimpse and appreciation for the multicultural and huge diversity that exists amongst Toronto's population.

Ride the streetcars and jump on and off with a daily or weekly pass. You'll be able to pass through tons of the different neighbourhoods, each with their own flavour and distinctiveness. You can observe the way people work - and don't work - with each other on their daily commutes from place to place but you'll get a sense of the way Toronto's citizens negotiate through its diversity and differences. This is definitely a unique experience - and one not to be missed.

Distillery District

3) Distillery District. Located just east of the downtown Toronto core, the Distillery District in Toronto is one of its own cobble-stoned avenues. Originally built in 1832 as the Gooderham and Worts whisky distillery, it was transformed into a hip/artistic district in the 1990's.

The historical buildings were preserved and redeveloped into a pedestrian district full of art galleries, restaurants, coffee houses, theatres, and creative spaces and studios for actors, photographers, painters and more. Today, the Mill Street Brewery is found here, whose products are well known throughout Toronto's bars and lounges.

Spend an afternoon here and don't miss out on coffee from Balzac's two-storey coffee house and a few chocolates from Soma chocolate maker.

Yorkville4) Yorkville & Bloor Street. For higher end culture, chic fashion and dazzling couture in downtown Toronto, Yorkville and Bloor Street are the place to be. Here, you'll find major high end stores like William Sonoma, Prada, Gucci, Tiffany & Co., Louis Vuitton, Hermes, Vera Wang, Ferrari, Harry Rosen, Hugo Boss, and etc.

Just north of Bloor, you'll find Cumberland and Yorkville streets - a haven for celebrities and the affluent in Toronto. This is also where you'll find some of Toronto's best fine dining and chic establishments like Sassafraz, Pangaea, Le Trou Normand, Truffles and Flow. For a look into high-end produce, specialty foods, and Toronto's best pastries, visit Pusateri's at Bay and Yorkville Ave.

Chinatown5) Chinatown & Kensington Market. Although Toronto has about seven ‘Chinatowns,' its major Chinatown today is located at Dundas and Spadina in downtown Toronto. Small and big Chinese restaurants alike sit along its streets along with food stalls selling fruit, long distance phone cards and super cheap sandals. You'll see barbeque meats in the windows and cooks with their woks. More and more, the Vietnamese community has also become a part of China town and have set up many Vietnamese sandwich stores as well as Pho noodle restaurants.

One of the other Chinatowns in Toronto is located north in the Scarborough/Markham area at Kennedy and Steeles Ave.: Pacific Mall, Market Village Mall and Splendid China Tower. This group of complexes form the largest Chinese mall in North America - yet retain the Hong Kong small-shop, boutique style of stores. This is where you'll find the best Chinese food in Toronto.

Kensington MarketKensington Market in Toronto is one of my favourite places in the world - and is hidden away just a block away, behind the busy bustle of Chinatown. During the summer, the streets close to cars and you can walk freely with your fair-trade coffee in hand up and down the streets to the sound of reggae pumping and the sights of people dancing, artwork, the smells of baked goods in the air and the colourful array of fruits and vegetables being sold in street stalls. It is the home of the modern day hippie, artist, dread-locked musician and bohemians.

If you're looking for a big indoor market, visit St. Lawrence Market on a Saturday morning and your senses will be overloaded with smells, sounds and tastes!

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Gizelle Lau icon

Gizelle Lau

Gizelle Lau is a freelance writer & photographer in Toronto, Canada with a passion for food and travel. 

Located: Toronto Canada
Likes: cities, culture, food/wine, paths-less-travelled, photography, wildlife

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