Toronto is a patchwork of neighborhoods with a remarkably vibrant downtown core. Once you're in the heart of the city, you can head in just about any direction and end up somewhere with plenty to see, eat, and do. Where most North American urbanites might know the heart of their metropolis as a workplace, more than 200,000 Torontonians eat, play, sleep — yes, and work — in the downtown core. If you're coming in from Pearson International Airport, the city might seem sprawling, but once you're grounded downtown, you'll find that everything is here: shoulder-to-shoulder shops, theaters, parks, galleries, restaurants and cafes, bars and nightclubs, and places of worship.
With upwards of 115,000 new Torontonians funneling into the city every year, Toronto has spent decades expanding outwards. In 1990, a greenbelt was established around the GTA (Greater Toronto Area) to preserve the many rivers, waterfalls, ravines, and forests. The result: The city center has densified, reaching new heights every year, while stunning hiking trails remain accessible by city transit.
For the past 2 decades, Toronto’s skyline has been a canopy of cranes. The majority of the building activity is new condo towers, anchored by offices and retail. These mixed-purpose buildings have endowed downtown with its frenetic live-work-play energy. Whether it’s suits bustling to work in the morning, revelers filling the dance clubs on weekends, or shoppers browsing window displays, the core is always humming.
Start anywhere in the center, walk in any direction for no more than 15 minutes, and you’ll see eclectic contemporary buildings beside neo-Gothic and Brutalist architecture. Just outside downtown, you’ll start to notice Toronto’s ethnic spectrum. From the residential laneways of Little Italy, lined with garages where wine ferments and tomato sauces simmer in late summer, to West Indian barbecues smoking jerk chicken along Eglinton West, foods reflect the city’s diverse cultural makeup. This is one of the best eating cities in North America. Toronto offers something for everyone: cultural centers of every stripe, music to suit any taste, galleries galore, and interesting shops all around.
Toronto is a safe, walkable city and is best explored on foot. The layout and organization of the city means you will almost certainly get lost at least once during your stay. Streets have names, not numbers, and have a crazy-making habit of changing their monikers as they go along. Key urban artery University Avenue, for example, turns into Queen’s Park Crescent, then into Avenue Road, before becoming Oriole Parkway. To make matters more confusing, Avenue then recommences (a few hundred feet west) at Eglinton. My best advice: Find the CN Tower and use it for orientation (it, typically, marks south). Located almost smack-dab in the city's center, Toronto’s tallest tower is unmissable from any vantage.
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