Toronto's Cultural Pockets

12 April 2013

Separated from New York only by the grey-blue waters of Lake Ontario, Canada's largest city Toronto is something of a jigsaw where 240 neighbourhoods tessellate snugly amid the urban sprawl. The metropolis of Toronto was born when half a dozen internal cities amalgamated, each giving way to smaller hubs of activity, flavour and distinct character.  In this city of neighbourhoods, villages have held on tight to their cultural identities and offer a colourful collection of streets to wander, shops to peruse and eateries to enjoy on your Toronto travels. Here are five neighbourhoods we recommend you visit for a round-the-world holiday without leaving the city.

 Toronto

Little Italy
Toronto's Little Italy is the perfect place to sip an espresso and join a passionate conversation about football. Between Euclid Avenue and Shaw Street, Little Italy's College Street is dotted with traditional trattorias which come alive in June for the Taste of Little Italy Festival. The neighbourhood is known for its vibrant nightlife, with bars, clubs and pool halls packed to the rafters of a weekend. After you've had your fill of gelato, taken in an art house film at the Royal Cinema and followed the stars along the Italian Walk of Fame, head to St Clair West to check out mini-Little Italy, Corso Italia.

Little Poland
Roncesvalles Village is Toronto's very own Little Poland, with an atmosphere that could fool you into thinking you had arrived in a charming European town when in reality you were a mere few blocks west of the city. Stretching along Roncesvalles Avenue between King Street and Dundas Street West, Little Poland is your best bet for European delicacies, with Polish butchers, bakeries and delis galore. Roncesvalles is quiet of an evening but flourishes mid-morning when the brunch crowd gets a hankering for perogies and pastries. The Roncesvalles Polish Festival pops up in September, promising polka dancing and plenty of hearty fare.

Greektown
Toronto's Greektown boasts the second-largest Greek population outside Greece itself, with a community that has been growing since the early 1900s. Businesses old and new along Danforth Avenue display the trademark blue and white flag, gently swayed by breeze carrying the mouth-watering aroma of fresh souvlaki and dolmades. Greektown is must-visit for food lovers, who come for lunch and inevitably end up staying for dinner. Visit during the Taste of Danforth street festival for a feast of Greek food, music and dance where shouts of “opa!” can be heard from Chester Avenue to Dewhurst Boulevard.

Chinatown
Like a little piece of Hong Kong dropped in Toronto city, Chinatown is a hotpot of sights, sounds and scents of Chinese culture. There are a total of seven Chinatowns in Toronto, but the neighbourhood on the corner of Spadina and Dundas Street West triumphs as the oldest and largest, where grocers peddle exotic fruits, dim sum houses serve tasty cheap eats and Dragon City Mall houses the latest Asian fashion. Chinese New Year is without a doubt the biggest calendar event with dancing dragons weaving through the streets, but the annual Toronto Chinatown Festival also draws a crowd with a smorgasbord of East Asian delights.

Koreatown
On the edge of the downtown district between Bathurst and Christie Streets on Bloor Street West is Koreatown, also known at Little Korea or K-town. The community arose after a wave of immigration from Korea in the 1960s, with many of the original family businesses still standing strong. It goes without saying that Koreatown is the best place for authentic Korean cuisine including popular Korean BBQ joints, vegetarian cafes and 24-hour restaurants for night owls. Warm up your vocals and put your introversion aside at a karaoke bar, sample traditional walnut cakes and enjoy the cultural celebrations midyear when the Dano Spring Festival rolls into town.

Ashton Rigg

When I'm not at home in Brisbane, you’ll find me wanderlusting around hipster bars, eclectic boutiques and arty nooks. From bagels in Brooklyn to strudel in Salzburg, I believe the best way to experience a destination is by taking a bite! Tweets & 'grams at @AshtonRigg