A Newcomer’s Guide to the Big Smoke
Once known as Toronto the Good for its buttoned-down culture, today Toronto is one of the most dynamic and multicultural cities in which to study or work.
Toronto has welcomed a wide array of different nationalities who now call Toronto home. As a result, it’s a bustling, vibrant place to live in or visit. This article will quickly go through some of the neighbourhoods and activities that make Ontario’s capital – and Canada’s largest city – a North American gem.
Home to towering skyscrapers and major entertainment venues, there’s always something going on in the hub of the city. You can take in a Blue Jays or Argonauts game at the Rogers Centre, or a Maple Leafs or Raptors game at the Scotiabank Arena. If you prefer your entertainment on the stage, you can choose from major Broadway musicals at the Royal Alexandra and Princess of Wales Theatres, while a host of independent venues provide a wide range of theatrical offerings year-round.
The downtown restaurant scene in Toronto has something for all palates, drawing on the culinary heritage of every continent. Go to Chinatown on Spadina Avenue to enjoy authentic Chinese cuisine, or travel to Little Italy on College Street West for the best Italian food can offer. There are excellent restaurants scattered throughout the downtown core that craft dishes inspired by African, Asian, Latin American, and Indian cuisines.
The Waterfront and Toronto Islands
Whether you’re looking for a place to live or a place to spend an afternoon, head for the lake! The strip of land along the Lake Ontario shore is undergoing a renaissance, evolving from a century or more of use as a major industrial shipping port to become a residential and recreational jewel. The Harbourfront Centre has developed over the past 30 years into a cultural hub for the city, with theatres, studios, and art galleries. Beautiful new condominium buildings provide glorious lake or city views.
Take a ferry across the harbour to the Toronto Islands, home to a diverse community and many recreational attractions, including an amusement park, petting farm, and beautiful beaches – Hanlon’s Point, a clothing-optional beach, to name but one.
The east end of Toronto is home to a patchwork of communities that add to the multicultural vibe of the city. Little India, at Coxwell and Gerrard, boasts North America’s largest South Asian market, with a dazzling array of silks, furnishings, jewellery, and art. There are many restaurants featuring the cuisines of India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, and Bangladesh. Greektown on the Danforth has its own unique feel, with lots of great restaurants to choose from!
The Beaches, in Toronto’s east end, has long had a reputation for laid-back urban charm. You can stroll along the three-kilometre boardwalk, enjoy the Blue Flag certified beach, or make your way along Queen Street East with its eclectic mix of shops, restaurants, and bars.
The Don Valley, east of downtown, combines the best of city life with beautiful natural surroundings. Cabbagetown has long been one of the trendiest places to live in Toronto, with its renovated 19th century row houses and quirky restaurants and cafes. The Evergreen Brickworks hosts a farmer’s market, and Riverdale Farm gives city kids a chance to see farm animals up-close. It’s also home to the world-renowned Ontario Science Centre, with an emphasis on hands-on experience for kids and adults alike!
Scarborough is a bustling multi-ethnic community where you can find unimposing restaurants serving the best of world cuisine, including Filipino, Lebanese, and Persian, among many others. It’s also home to the world-class Toronto Zoo and Rouge Park, Canada’s first national urban park, where you can hike and camp.
To the west of downtown, a lively community surrounds the 400-acre High Park. Roncesvalles Village still has the restaurants of its Polish roots, and The Junction has risen out of its past as the meat-packing district of Toronto to become the home of its most cutting-edge trends, as seen in the unique design and art shops in the area. As is true of Toronto in general, its many restaurants cater to a wide variety of tastes, with organic and vegetarian/vegan options available.
Come Out to Play!
Toronto hosts the biggest Pride event in North America every June. For one weekend, the streets around Yonge and Church turn into a giant celebration. Over one million festival-goers participate, and the Sunday parade goes down Yonge Street from Bloor to Dundas Square. It is easily one of the most popular events of the summer.
TD Toronto Jazz Festival
The TD Toronto Jazz Festival, held over ten days in late June, features 1,500 musicians performing for more than half a million people annually. Venues large and small include churches, bars, and theatres and concert halls.
On the first weekend in August, a million tourists come to Toronto for Caribana, North America’s largest cultural festival! There are several different events during the weekend, ranging from parties hosted by celebrities such as Drake, to Carnival Village in Regent Park, to the massive parade on the last day of the festival, which goes along Lakeshore Boulevard before ending back at Exhibition Place for a masquerade party.
Taste of the Danforth
The second weekend of August heats up when the Danforth turns into one giant street party, as the district celebrates its Greek roots. There’s non-stop entertainment from musicians, while vendors and restaurants serve up the best of Greek cuisine. More than 1.5 million people attend annually.
Every August, the Canadian National Exhibition returns to Toronto, bringing with it not only the midway rides and games, but also exhibits, parades, a dizzying array of foods from around the world, and on the final Labour Day weekend, the Canadian International Air Show, featuring the Canadian Forces Snowbirds. This traditional end to the summer (and yet another August event!) attracts over 1.5 million people every year.
Toronto International Film Festival
TIFF is a star-studded movie festival that brings international celebrities to town every September, providing locals and tourists alike a chance to see hundreds of new and classic films in venues around downtown.
On the Water
Located on Lake Ontario, and with three major rivers cutting through the city, Toronto gives residents and visitors many unique ways to enjoy the water. You can canoe or kayak on the Humber, Don, and Rouge Rivers. A popular route for Stand Up Paddleboarders follows the Lake Ontario shoreline along the Scarborough Bluffs. And the Toronto Islands has an extensive network of lagoons for exploration. If you prefer bigger craft, there are more than a dozen marinas along the lakeshore.
Hitting the Trails
No matter where you are in Toronto, you’re not far from an excellent hiking trail! In Scarborough, Bluffer’s Park leads you along the cliffs toward the east. There are several good trails in Rouge Park, and the Don Valley has 11 kilometres of trails that provide a welcome escape from the bustle of city life. In the west end, you can walk in either High Park or along the Humber.
Toronto is a great city for cyclists, with some dedicated routes that have plenty to offer. The Waterfront Trail follows Lake Ontario from Etobicoke to Scarborough, taking you through the heart of the city. If you’d like to combine cycling with bird-watching, head for Tommy Thompson Park, where there are no cars to compete with on the five kilometres of paved roads. And if you don’t mind hills, the 15-kilometre stretch along the Scarborough Bluffs is a scenic wonder!
Torontonians have lots of places to skate once the cold winter weather arrives. The skating rink at Nathan Phillips Square is the most well-known of these, but there are many other rinks around the city. The Harbourfront Centre is home to Canada’s largest artificial outdoor rink, with a DJ spinning tunes every Saturday night. The newest rink is the Bentway, tucked beneath the Gardiner Expressway near Fort York, with a 220-metre “figure 8” looping around the expressway’s supports.
For these reasons (and many more), Toronto continues to be one of the most popular destinations in Canada for tourists and newcomers alike. Not only does it enjoy an expanding economy with plenty of job opportunities, but it also is home to a pulsating, diverse cultural mosaic that truly makes it a global hub!