Toronto/Kensington-Chinatown

Kensington Market and Chinatown are neighbourhoods in the western side of downtown Toronto. Kensington Market is one of the most eclectic and unique locations in the entire city. Everything from fresh food markets to restaurants and bars, vintage clothing boutiques, spice markets, and music shops are all contained in two small north-south streets and a handful of cross-streets. Chinatown, the second largest in North America after New York City, contains many Chinese and East Asian restaurants, shops and businesses. At the eastern edge of Chinatown is the acclaimed Art Gallery of Ontario. And south of these neighbourhoods is Queen St West and the Fashion District, home to both mainstream and independent shops.

Understand

Kensington Market

Kensington Market

During the 1920s, Kensington Market was known as the Jewish Market, once a centre of Jewish life. But since then it has morphed into the centre of Toronto's bohemian scene. Visitors will be assaulted by sounds and smells unlike anywhere else in the city, as narrow streets bustle with immigrants, punks, and yuppies alike. Today, you can sense the city's rich, multicultural mix, obvious in the shops packed with goods from Europe, the Caribbean, the Middle East, South America and Asia. A visit to Kensington is like a sensory trip around the world. It's also a treasure trove of vintage and second hand clothing shops, tucked in among eclectic restaurants and cafés.

Shopping in Kensington Market is centred along Augusta, Baldwin and Kensington as well as all along College Street. Many of the shops on Augusta tend to cater to a largely working-class clientele, with multiple shops selling tough, cheap clothing. Baldwin is focused mainly on food, with some of the finest butchers, grocers, bakers and fishmongers in the city. Kensington contains a jumble of Victorian row-houses housing second-hand clothing shops. College Street is packed with discount computer shops, particularly the closer you are to the university; further towards Bathurst Street, College becomes a centre of Latin-American restaurants and shops.

On Sundays throughout the summer the streets are shut down to motorists, and pedestrians take over the streets. There are frequently concerts, exhibitions of art (visual and performance), and occasionally political displays, which generally relate to ecology, going car-free, or anti-globalization.

Kensington Market is, first and foremost, a market: its shops are generally accepted as some of the finest in the city to purchase fresh food (especially cheese and meat), spices, vintage/thrift clothing and almost anything esoteric or exotic. Bring cash; it's taken everywhere and will save you hassles, as many of the smaller stores will not take credit or debit cards. American currency is taken at some stores, but may result in sneers and less-than-kind glances from others.

The Market is also home to an eclectic art community, and there are several galleries, many of them free, offering constant shows of local talent. This is helped by proximity to OCAD (The Ontario College of Art & Design. If you see something in the sky that looks like the offspring of a crossword puzzle and a Rubik's Cube standing on pencil crayons, you're looking at OCAD.) There are no major concert venues in Kensington, but especially in summer, many cafes and restaurants offer live music; in particular, Supermarket (South of College on Augusta) is popular with young urbanites.

If there's one thing you should keep in mind when visiting Kensington, it's that there is no local Starbucks. This is a very friendly but very protected enclave where vegan cran-apple muffins take the place of Big Macs and anyone who so much as says the words "double mocha venti" might get into trouble if the wrong people are listening. While it can be a great place to bring the kids and spend a day exploring the world, this is not a shopping mall. It's gritty, it's real, and it's organic.

Chinatown

Chinatown signs

Chinatown runs along Spadina Street and is one of North America's largest Chinese districts. This ever-expanding area is home to ethnic Chinese from Hong Kong, Singapore, Taiwan, Vietnam, and elsewhere. A wealth of oriental shops and fruit markets spills out onto the street, and a vast selection of authentic Chinese restaurants feature such delicacies as dim sum. Toronto's second Chinatown is located in the Broadview/Gerrard area, and three other distinctive Chinatowns are located in the suburbs.

Queen Street West

The intersection of Queen Street and Spadina Avenue is at the northern end of Toronto's former Fashion District that ran south on Spadina Avenue to Front Street; however, the garment industry jobs have long since left for cheaper places. The area is pretty much gentrified now and is losing its hipsters to up-and-coming West End neighbourhoods, such as West Queen West and Parkdale, with fewer Starbucks' and lower rents. The neighbourhood is centred along Queen Street running from University Avenue to Bathurst Street. The section of Queen from University to Spadina has become something of an open air Eaton Centre with chain clothing stores such as Club Monaco and The Gap dominating; despite this, there are still enough diverse restaurants and quirky independent shops to make this section of Queen a worthwhile visit. Immediately west of Spadina still contains remnants of the textile industry: a great many fabric shops. Further west towards Bathurst Street, Queen West shops seem more oriented to serve the surrounding residential neighbourhoods, with cafes and grocery stores.

Get in

By transit

Kensington Market and Chinatown are accessible by the 506 College and 510 Spadina streetcars, both of which are operated by the TTC . The 506 runs along College Street from High Park in the west to Main Street station on subway line 2 (Bloor-Danforth) in the east, it runs through Church-Wellesley and Cabbagetown, Queen's Park, the University of Toronto and Little Italy and connects to subway line 1 (Yonge-University) at College and Queen's Park subway stations. For Kensington Market, get off at Augusta Avenue or Spadina.

The 510 runs from Union Station in the Financial District to Spadina subway station in The Annex. It has its own right-of-way, making it much faster than other routes and even driving, however it can be extremely crowded, particularly during rush hour. For Kensington Market, get off at Nassau Street.

Another option is the 501 Queen streetcar, which runs along Queen Street through the northern end of the former Fashion District, south of Chinatown. It runs with traffic so it can be extremely slow, and it can also be extremely busy.

The more adventurous can hike over from Queen's Park subway station to Kensington Market. Exit the station by taking a right, then a left, and walk West until you hit Spadina. You can either continue along College, taking you past the border of the University of Toronto campus, or cut Southwest and pass through quiet, but pleasant, residential areas. When you hit the streetcar line, do a block or two more to the West, and you'll be in Kensington.

Chinatown can be reached from the St Patrick subway station. It is about two blocks west along Dundas St.

By car

As Kensington is quite comparable to an open-air market, it's not an especially car-friendly place. There are "Green P" (Municipal) lots in the area, and there is street parking on most thoroughfares, but the sheer pedestrian volume (especially on weekends in summer) can make driving a daunting prospect. In particular, Kensington has "Pedestrian Sundays" in the summertime: any cars parked between noon and 7-10:00 PM (Depending on the location) will be towed to a local lot at the owner's expense.

If you must drive, park on Spadina or College instead. If you must drive through Kensington, keep an eye out for jaywalkers, and do note that most of the local streets are one-way.

By foot

Kensington Market is one of the most walkable neighbourhoods in the city. It is located immediately next to the University of Toronto and adjacent to Chinatown. College Street or Spadina Avenue are the best ways to access the area on foot as their sidewalks tend to be significantly wider than most in the city.

See

Grange Park

Sharp Centre for Design, OCAD University

At or near Dundas Street West and McCaul Street.

Kensington

Chinatown

Do

Events

Walking Tours

Theatre

Buy

Kensington Market

The Kensington Market is a great place to find second hand clothing. There are many second hand and new clothing stores spread out through the market. On Kensington Ave, south of St Andrew St, houses on both sides of the street were converted to shops making the street look very bohemian.

Chinatown

In Chinatown, street signs in the area are written in both English and Chinese, and there are two large shopping malls that cater to a large Chinese clientele – the Chinatown Centre and the Dragon City complex, both near Dundas and Spadina streets.

Queen Street West

Stroll along Queen Street West, between University and Spadina Avenues, where there is a mix of unique, eccentric stores and North American chains.

Spadina & College

Money/Banking

There are a cluster of major banks at Spadina and Dundas; don't mind the Chinese signage, the tellers also speak English, as do the ATMs. Many of Kensington's smaller shops will not accept credit cards or debit, so visitors are advised to bring at least some cash with them if they plan on doing any shopping.

Eat

Kensington Market

There are many places to buy food.

Kensington coffee shops

Kensington Market has perhaps the highest concentration of independent coffee shops in the city. Here are just a few of them:

Chinatown

The restaurants are a big attraction to visitors, as the familiar "North American Chinese" menu is all but non-existent here. Instead, chefs in the area produce a variety of authentic cuisines, including Szechwan, Hunan, Mandarin, and Cantonese. Their ingredients are purchased fresh from the stalls lining the streets. And it's not unusual to pass dozens of shop windows lined with barbecued pork, duck, steamed buns, and other more exotic fare.

There is an immense (and frequently changing) selection of restaurants in Toronto's Chinatown. Most are cheap, and many use plastic tablecloths that are picked up by the corners along with all the dishes. They may look bad, but the food is frequently excellent. If you're on a tight budget, this is a good way to go. Bakeries are particularly cheap and filling, and do offer many meat and veg options.

North of AGO

North of the art gallery, there are restaurants on the north side of Dundas Street, the west side of McCaul Street and on both sides of Baldwin Street (Baldwin Village) within 1 block west of McCaul Street. Baldwin Village is quaint with houses converted into restaurants and shops along a tree-lined street.

Queen Street West

Drink

Kensington is a great place to go to find an out of the way quiet bar with cheap drinks and a friendly atmosphere. Spadina and Queen West have some of Toronto's best known bars for live music, like the El Mocambo and Horseshoe Tavern.

Sleep

Neither Kensington Market nor Chinatown are major hotel neighbourhoods, most visitors stay in hotels in other parts of the city. Yorkville is a nearby neighbourhood with many high-end hotels.

Connect

Go next

Here are a list of neighbouring downtown districts:

This article is issued from Wikivoyage - version of the Wednesday, February 24, 2016. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.