In Shawn Micallef’s new book Frontier City: Toronto on the Verge of Greatness, the urbanist and writer argues that the city has, since its rapid growth began in the 1970s, become a place of neighborhoods that are fragmenting the city’s sense of itself. Walking around the various neighborhoods of Toronto, the traveler is left with an ultra-high sense of entrepreneurship, illustratively designed small businesses and a whole load of creativity. Toronto is an easy-pace urban city, full of bright character and homey feel.
Trinity Bellwoods and Queen St West
Most of the action nowadays is around Queen St West. All along that axis, there are a few neighborhoods worth exploring portraying a new face of the city, a more alternative one than your average American city full of chain stores and shopping malls. Toronto’s art and design district boasts an extensive array of menswear, vintage, house and craft supplies. It’s a goldmine for the fashion-hungry! At night the neighborhood offers lively patios (oh the summer around here!) and bars, also catering to the hungry ones for live rock or pop music. Internationally-renowned venues like the Cameron House, the Horseshoe and the Rex are all packed when they host shows. Re-charge with food from around the world at unique restaurants (see below) and cafes that are often open late. If you’re there during summertime then the Trinity Bellwoods park is a great spot for a quick impromptu picnic or just a small break away from the city’s concrete backdrop.
The Drake Hotel offering cozy rooms with a twist
Cambie homeware on Queen St West
The Drake General Store, opposite their hotel
Regulars at R Squared Cafe keep their loyalty cards by the café’s till Old Toronto and the Entertainment District Most tourists call this area downtown as it features most of the city’s hotels, Rogers stadium and the CN Tower. Although not the preferred location for one who wants to get the real feel of the city, Old Toronto is a must for those that want to understand some of the history, the culture and the most famous building of the city, the CN Tower. Dating back in the 1970s and once the tallest building of the world, the CN Tower offers a quick ride up to its 147th floor (less than 30 seconds!) and great views all around. Few things bring Canadians together quite like ice hockey so if you happen to be in town during game season (April to October) you may want to buy one of those tickets.
The walks can be long around Toronto and lunch is always a good idea in a city that offers so many interesting food genres. Rooting back to its history, the food scene in Toronto is super rich with Japanese, Portuguese and Italian being front and center. Pizza Libretto is one of the best choices if you’re craving a delicious pizza and an easy-going lunch or dinner. If you’re only looking for coffee and small bites then Dineen Coffee Co is a chic alternative. Launched in 2013 right where the famous W F Dineen Co used to sell fur clothing, this upscale coffeeshop offers a very bright space full of young entrepreneurs docking their laptops on the marble counter around the vintage Marzocco espresso maker.
Located only 125km away from Toronto, Niagara Falls offers the perfect excuse for a very convenient 1.5hrs roadtrip to the countryside. Three waterfalls, all flowing into the same spot right on the Canadian-American border where Buffalo, New York meets Toronto, Ontario. Temperatures can be tricky during the winter (especially with all the drizzle from the waterfalls) but during the summer it’s a joy to walk around. The bravest ones even go down to the water for a tour around the falls base.
- CN Tower – 553m-high concrete communications and observation tower in downtown Toronto
- Queen St West – one of the most colorful neighbourhoods with a single street featuring multiple attractions for both shopping (Cambie for the house, The Drake General Store for miscellaneous, Type for books, for him/her) drinking coffee and, in general, hanging out
- Toronto Islands – great to visit during the summertime when also various music festivals take place, also home to Billy Bishop small and cute airport
- Niagara Falls – the famous three waterfalls that straddle the international border between Canada and the United States, only 1.5hrs away from the city centre
- The Drake Hotel – one of a kind multi-purpose hotel, featuring just 19 rooms, a live-events space, a bar and a café. Be sure to check what’s on if you’re there during a weekend as it gets really loud on Saturdays. The breakfast selection at the café nextdoor though is superb and the staff is very friendly – almost feels like home! Also, very fashionable crowd at the bar if you’re up for that
- Hotel Ocho – located downtown, this hotel is a mid-range 12-suite property on Spadina Avenue away from Queen St West Chinatown and Kensington Market. Most suited for those seeking more of an industrial feel to their stay
- Pizza Libretto – great Italian pizza in this contemporary designed space downtown Toronto. Order on of the spicy pizzas!
- Kinka Izakaya – an authentic Japanese experience in this loud space, outside which regular patrons religiously line up. Make sure you get a reservation and don’t be intimidated by the strong smells inside – the food is delicious!
- Fring’s – probably one of the best restaurants around, owned by Drake himself. The cocktail trolley service before dinner gets served is so good (ask for the day’s specials!) and the food is also very tasty
- Noce – traditional Italian cuisine, in an elegant dining room with a covered patio on Queen St West
- Rose and Sons – owned by one of the most celebrated Toronto restauranteurs, Rose and Sons diner in Midtown offers a nice atmosphere be it on the counter stools or in the booths
- La Cubana – great Cuban takeaway sandwiches if you’re in a rush and in need of a throwback vibe
- Dineen Coffee Co – upscale but honest coffee shop, also featuring tasty sandwiches (think brie, apple and walnut baguette!) – coffee is also delicious
- Nadege – funky patisserie on Queen St West; ok for a small “pit-stop” for the sweet-tooth
- Bar Raval – Spanish tapas and drinks with signature wooden decoration reminiscent of Gaudi. Try the Give Me Back the Nights, a bourbon-based cocktail mixed with squid ink
- The Walton – charming café by day and cosy cocktails by night; located in Little Italy and famous for its jazzy bistro/pub feel