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Travel guide/ Canada

A guide to Toronto's coolest neighbourhoods

When in Toronto, do as the locals do.

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Hey I’m Gail, a Torontonian who found her wandering feet headed for Australia on a working holiday visa with no clue how long i’d stay.

But hey, look who’s still here. But today’s not about that story, I’m here to fill you guys in on all things Toronto – my hometown.

For the first-timers, there’s a few things to know. Toronto is ranked as the most multicultural city in the world, so there’s a hot pot of incredible cultures and nationalities that call this place home. It's a city known for its incredible food scene, being a home for large tech businesses, tourist attractions like the CN tower, or a place to see iconic sports teams play (The Blue Jays (baseball), Maple Leafs (hockey) or the Raptors (basketball)). And the rapper Drake of course. But Toronto has so much more to offer than what's on the surface. In walks me to give you the insider scoop on the less-known local favourites.

Dundas West

A.k.a ‘Little Portugal’. A personal fave, this neighbourhood is full of quirky independent boutiques and delicious places to eat and drink making it a buzzy spot with locals, come day or night.

Weekend plans | Take a stroll along Ossington Ave and shop-hop the cute independent clothing, decor and homeware stores. Easy Tiger and Rose City Goods are great places to get an ethically-sourced gift (for you or a mate).

Hungry? Get a grab-and-go lunch at Lamo’s deli where you’ll find next-level modern Italian deli sandwiches. For dinner or afternoon drinks, Manita is a personal favourite – a street corner sidewalk patio lined with french-style cafe tables. So you can sip on a drink, enjoy some food and watch the cool kids walk by. If you’re ready to call it a night, stop by Bang Bang ice cream on your way home for original flavours like ‘cinnamon toast’ to try.

For the night owls - you’re in the right place. Dundas West is a great spot for a fun night out, with Churchill’s, Mahjong Bar, Get Well, Bambi’s, The Painted Lady or Sweaty Betty’s all great for a boogie. If you need a midnight snack and a debrief after – Lakeview Restaurant has some tasty diner classics (and they close at 4:00 am).

Queen West & Parkdale

Just a short walk away and you’ll find yourself in the Queen West & Parkdale area. Home to Trinity Bellwoods park, tv chef Matty Matheson’s signature smash burger and cool stores that will make your purse twitch.

Weekend plans | Start your day off with a seriously good coffee at Sam James, or if it’s a nice day sit in the beautiful back garden at Cafe 23. Walk along my favourite shopping street Queen St West and window shop at Gravity Pope and Tusk full of unique knick-knacks and cool clothing. Trinity Bellwoods Park is where the locals love to spend an afternoon or evening hanging out, listening to music and enjoying a picnic with some (actually legal) beers.

For a vibey lunch or dinner, Terroni does some delicious Italian food with lots of vegan and gluten-free options. 416 Snack Bar, North of Brooklyn Pizza, Doomies, Unholy Burger’s Priest and Hello 123 are some other tasty spots to enjoy in the area.

For a drink with a difference, escape to the dimly lit Shameful Tiki Room, where the staff come out chanting and singing with smokey dry ice-topped drinks. Time to tear up the dance floor? Go to Stones Place – an eccentric Rolling Stones-themed bar with decor to match the era of their heyday. Other night-out favourites are Apartment 200 or Dog & Bear.

Kensington Market

With lots of character, diversity and culture, Kensington is one of the only neighbourhoods in the city that’s almost untouched by gentrification with no high rises in sight. The vibe is very casual, hippie and bohemian, with some of the community having lived there since the 70s (and before) as well as lots of U of T students. The cultural and ethnic diversity of its locals make this area one of the best spots to try pretty much any cuisine you can think of.

Weekend plans | Get your vitamins in smoothie form and pick up some plants to decorate your room with at The Organic Press. For the thrifters, Kensington Market is arguably the best place in Toronto for vintage shopping, with tons of eclectic second-hand stores to browse. If you're in the mood for something sweet, head into vegan and gluten-free-friendly Bunners for thick soft serve ice cream, tasty cupcake flavours, or a giant glazed cinnamon bun drool. Still hungry? Impressive. I’m a big fan of El Rey; a Mexican restaurant with killer tacos, mezcal-based drinks and a vibrant atmosphere to soak up.

Time to show off your moves. For those who want to keep the night rolling check out Supermarket, the Boat, the infamous hidden bar and Cold Tea, or enjoy some live music at Handlebar. Just around the corner in Little Italy is Sneaky Dee’s too, where you can enjoy cheap cheesy nachos and dance your heart out at this casual Toronto institution.

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Tucking into delicious eats

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Autumn leaves of Toronto

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Chilling at Toronto Islands

Author Gail in Canada landscape

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Gail Bonavota

JENZA Guest Contributor | based in Melbourne, Australia

Born and bred in Toronto, Gail traded her Canada life for the life Down Under. On the weekend you’ll find her embracing Melbourne’s vegan foodie scene, browsing markets for second-hand finds and taking cool pics on her fave film camera.

"Toronto is ranked as the most multicultural city in the world."

Toronto Islands

If you’re here in Summer, Toronto Island is an absolute must. Just south of the city, the islands feel like an oasis of calm and are easily accessible by a 10-15 minute ferry or water taxi. With multiple pretty beaches and a different atmosphere at each, you can choose your spot based on what you’re in the mood for. Just make sure you catch the last ferry back from Ward’s Island at 11:45 pm or you'll be stuck until the morning!

Weekend plans | Rent a bike or use your feet for a walk or ride around the island taking in the cute cottages and pretty beaches while soaking up that fresh air.

For the beach bums, pack a picnic and park up for the day at Gibraltar Point Beach which, in my humble opinion, is one of the nicest and most relaxing beaches to spend the day at. Ward’s Island Beach is another smaller and more relaxed beach, near cafes, cottages and the ferry dock. Hanlan’s point is a clothing-optional beach that can get busy in the summer with a really fun and sociable atmosphere. In peak summer it often turns into a little beach party on Friday or Saturday evenings, where people bring their own drinks and music – it can get a bit rowdy but in the best way possible. There’s even a festival called ‘Electric Island’ here in the summer months with a couple of different stages and genres to get groovy to.

Forgot your packed lunch? It happens. There are a few places to eat on the island – The Riviera and The Island Cafe, both offering casual pub-style food and drinks to watch the sun go down with.

If you're craving a chnage of scene and Canada has got your name on, head to our Work Canada page for all the info on how we can help get you there.

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Author Gail in Canada landscape

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Gail Bonavota

JENZA Guest Contributor | based in Melbourne, Australia

Born and bred in Toronto, Gail traded her Canada life for the life Down Under. On the weekend you’ll find her embracing Melbourne’s vegan foodie scene, browsing markets for second-hand finds and taking cool pics on her fave film camera.

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