Toronto is a city of neighbourhoods, and the downtown area is no exception. Fort York is nothing like Cabbagetown, just as Yorkville is entirely dissimilar to Chinatown. The varied neighborhoods of downtown Toronto do have one thing in common, though: they’re steeped in history. Officially formed in 1834, the City of Toronto was first comprised of not much more than the current downtown neighbourhood.
Although some parts of downtown are recognized for their contemporary atmospheres, the Distillery, St. Lawrence, Cabbagetown, and Corktown are amongst those celebrated for their heritage buildings and strong sense of the past. In these neighbourhoods, both residential and industrial architecture have been well preserved, and sometimes even creatively repurposed into office spaces or residential hard lofts.
Downtown Toronto also happens to be where all the business deals go down. From five o’clock onwards, the sidewalks of City Centre and the Bay Street corridor fill up with briefcase-wielding pedestrians heading home – or heading toward their favourite happy hour spots, more likely.
Downtown Toronto is also home to a number of neighbourhoods that have no equal — in Toronto or elsewhere. For example, Kensington Market is an ever-evolving pocket of the city that went from poor and overpopulated to thriving and eclectic. Today, this downtown neighbourhood is equal parts tourist destination and local haunt, and it also happens to be one of the best spots for fresh produce, imported cheeses, vintage fashion, and South American cuisine.
Downtown residents can choose a neighbourhood to spend an afternoon in, or they may simply head to a particular attraction. This area is where the Toronto’s most well-recognized venues can be found, such as the CN Tower, the Rogers Centre, the Air Canada Centre, the Art Gallery of Ontario, the Royal Ontario Museum, and the St. Lawrence Market.
While superstars like Beyoncé and Elton John can easily sell out the Air Canada Centre, downtown Toronto is also known for the more intimate venues that are scattered throughout the area. The Phoenix Concert Theatre and Massey Hall may be smaller in scale, but that’s all part of the fun.
In terms of theatre, downtown Toronto has plenty of options. Independent and international films are screened on the regular at the TIFF Bell Lightbox, while the Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema specializes in documentary motion pictures. Touring Broadway shows make stops at the Royal Alexandra, Princess of Wales, and Mirvish Theatres, to name a few, while downtown is also chock-full of theatres that show local productions, such as the Buddies in Bad Times and Tarragon Theatres.
The downtown Toronto skyline is filled with soaring condo towers, the newest of which are almost always clad in glass. These tall, high-density downtown condos tend to be concentrated in the central, southern portion of downtown, as well as along major arterial roads.
Condos downtown showcase a hodgepodge of architectural styles, including neomodern, postmodern, and even Art Deco. Unsurprisingly, Toronto is also home to the tallest residential buildings in Canada: The One Condo, slated for completion in 2022, will reach to 85 storeys, beating the Aura’s current record by seven floors.
In terms of single-family homes, the Annex style and the bay and gable style are quite unique to downtown Toronto. The latter emerged in the 1870s, and is characterized by massive bay windows, pitched roofs, and long, narrow layouts. Downtown is also home to a large quantity of Georgian, Edwardian, Victorian homes – especially in older neighbourhoods like Cabbagetown and the Annex. However the majority of homes in the downtown area are now condos.
Downtown Toronto is serviced by two main subway lines, one running along Bloor, and the other traversing Spadina, University, and Yonge Street. Those who plan to commute without a car may also rely on streetcars and buses, which carry passengers north, south, east, and west along other major arterial roads.
Traffic can get pretty nasty, but those who prefer to drive can figure out tricks that help them get around with ease. Thankfully, two major highways run throughout downtown: the Gardiner Expressway stretches east and west along the lakeshore, and the Don Valley Parkway hugs the eastern border of the area.
Downtowners traveling by train will begin their journeys at Union Station, while those heading out by plane can save on travel time by booking flights from Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport. Even Pearson International Airport is within reach, thanks to the UP service that departs from Union Station.
The Locals: Anyone who wants to live in the centre of all the action.
Code of Conduct: If you can’t find something to do when planning a date night in the Downtown neighbourhood, something is seriously awry.
What You’ll Find: Beloved brands amidst independent businesses, and skyscrapers next door to heritage homes.
What You Won’t Find: Sprawling suburban front lawns.
The Homes: As varied as it gets — but mostly condos.
Sealing the Deal: There’s simply no place more bustling in Canada than downtown Toronto.