Toronto is known for being a Canadian metropolis with towering buildings, bustling streets, and a famous waterfront skyline dominated by the CN Tower, but that’s not all. Toronto is also known for its ethnic and cultural diversity, its world-famous professional sports teams, and its competitive universities.
This multicultural city of opportunity is located just north of the American border in the province of Ontario. Toronto is known for its harbor on Lake Ontario, one of the five Great Lakes of North America. Although it is undoubtedly cold in the winter, the temperatures rarely reach those endured by the rest of the country. For these reasons and many more, Toronto is known as a place that students and expats from around the world love to call home. It’s also an essential stop on any North American travel itinerary.
Let’s discover everything else Toronto is known for.
1. A multicultural patchwork
As one of North America’s most important business centres, Toronto is known for attracting people from around the world. Just under three million residents live in the downtown core, but did you know just as many choose to commute from the neighbouring towns that make up the Greater Toronto Area (GTA)? Including the GTA, Toronto is home to six million people, only half of which claim English as their mother tongue.
Who makes up Toronto’s demographic?
Nearly half of Toronto’s population identified as Asian, a large portion of which identify as South-Asian or Chinese. Toronto is also home to a large population of Caribbean and African Canadians.
Every year, Toronto famously hosts the Toronto Caribbean Carnival to celebrate Caribbean culture. One million attendees travel from the United States to join in the festivities every summer, making it one of the largest street festivals in North America.
Head downtown to Chinatown to taste some delicious East Asian delicacies. If you’re into Japanese food, head to one of the many Ramen or Izakaya establishments hidden throughout the city. Don’t forget to wash it all down with some bubble tea!
If you’re looking to immerse yourself in some of the other communities that Toronto is known for, you’ll be excited to learn that you can even find a Koreatown, Greektown, Little Italy and Little Portugal in the city.
Students from across Canada and around the world study hard to earn a coveted spot in one of the many top universities that Toronto is known for. The University of Toronto proudly ranks high on all the top university lists but, being the diverse city that it is, Toronto is also known for having universities that cater to students with all sorts of interests.
York University is Canada’s third-largest and boasts Canada’s oldest film school. You’ll also find Canada’s largest business school at Ryerson University, located right in Toronto’s infamous downtown core.
Located next to the Art Gallery of Ontario, the Ontario College of Art and Design (OCAD) is the largest university of its type in Canada. You won’t miss its unique architecture if you happen to pass by. For the more hands-on types, look no further than George Brown College, which offers excellent programs in many different fields.
While we’re downtown, let’s not forget what Toronto is really known for according to all Canadians: shopping!
Did you know the Toronto Eaton Center is famous for being the busiest mall in North America? The daily traffic moving through this mall even gives the Toronto Pearson International Airport a run for its money. Look no further to find just about every brand you’re after. Although, if you do choose to look further, Yorkville is known for its smaller high-end boutiques and niche brands. Even if you’re just window shopping, its quaint streets will surely make you feel cozy on light winter wander.
4. Kensington Market
Bohemian Torontonians can often be spotted in Kensington Market’s selections of eclectic vintage shops, vegetarian cafes, and hipster bars. This neighborhood showcases the more alternative scene that Toronto is known for.
Plenty of grocers and specialty food shops serve hungry visitors who enjoy hanging out in the neighborhood’s Bellevue Square Park.
If you can’t make it to the park, let the park come to you. Since 2007, artist Yvonne Bambrick, has graced Kensington Market with his truly unique Garden Car. Every summer, the car is given a new detail, filled with soil and plants, and towed into the middle of the market for curious onlookers to appreciate.
5. St. Lawrence Market
The St. Lawrence Market is another market on every foodie’s bucket list. If you follow your nose inside its beautiful brick walls, you’ll find specialty vendors who take pride in serving top-quality products from baked goods to meat and veggies. A bottle of maple syrup from this market makes for a great souvenir from Canada.
Meat-lovers shouldn’t miss a chance to try Toronto’s world-famous peameal bacon breakfast sandwich from Carousel Bakery.
6. The Distillery District
Toronto’s Distillery District is known for its brick façades and Victorian-era industrial architecture. The historic district was once home to the Gooderham and Worts Distillery but has more recently been taken over by the much smaller, Mill Street Brewery, as well as some theatres, cafes, shops and restaurants.
In the winter, the Distillery District hosts the annual Toronto Christmas Market featuring a 50-foot Christmas tree, pop-up shops, yummy treats and holiday tunes to put you in the Christmas spirit.
7. The CN Tower
When you think of Toronto, I’m sure one visual comes to mind before all others. Located in the city center, the CN tower is the third tallest tower in the world at a staggering 553 meters (1,800 feet). It is an essential stop for all tourists looking for the ultimate bird’s eye view of the city.
If you get hungry on your way up, you can enjoy a nice meal at the 360 Restaurant or maybe you’d like to face your fears and venture outside. The EdgeWalk gives thrill-seekers an opportunity to test their limits by circling the tower on foot, attached to a harness of course!
8. The Six
People from Toronto are known for referring to their hometown as “The Six”. Toronto’s favorite rapper, Drake, famously coined the term, which can be heard in many of his songs.
What does the number six have to do with Toronto? The nickname comes from the city’s area code, 416. It certainly rolls off the tongue a bit easier than Toronto. If you really want to go the extra mile to sound like a local, it’s pronounced “Toronno”.
9. Toronto International Film Festival
One festival that puts Toronto on the map is the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF). Every year, the TIFF invites acclaimed actors, directors, and audiences of nearly half a million to join together at the TIFF Bell Lightbox to celebrate world cinema.
Act fast if you want to get your hands on some tickets for a screening or catch the star-studded red carpet appearances. Toronto is absolutely famous for its film culture!
10. High Park
How do Torontonians fit a breath of fresh air into their busy schedules?
In West Toronto, you’ll find folks enjoying all 400 acres of High Park, no matter the season. In the spring, the park’s famous pink cherry trees make a great photo-op as they blossom. In the summer, soccer and baseball players gather in the park’s many fields while picnickers spread out on the luscious green grass. In the autumn, the leaves turn beautiful shades of red, yellow and orange. In the winter, you might even find ice-skaters on the park’s frozen Grenadier Pond.
11. The Beaches
You might not expect a major city in Canada to have a neighborhood called ‘The Beaches’ but because of its location on Lake Ontario, swimming is great way to beat the heat.
Beachgoers opt for one of four beaches in this part of town, Woodbine Beach, Kew Beach, Scarboro Beach, and Balmy Beach. After dipping their toes into Lake Ontario, locals relax to the sound of free jazz at The Beaches International Jazz Festival. The Kew Gardens are also a great source of shade in the summer.
12. The Toronto Islands
The Toronto Islands offer a much-deserved city break to residents and visitors who love to hop on a ferry at the Toronto Harbor and head to one of 15 tiny islands off the coast.
Did you know Toronto is famous for having one of the world’s shortest ferry rides? The vessel transports passengers 120 meters (400 feet) for a mere 90-second ride to and from its Billy Bishop City Airport.
While some people actually live on the Toronto Islands, most people see it as an escape to enjoy some of the best nature and views of the city. Cycling and swimming are two popular island hobbies. You can also catch an annual dragon boat regatta in the Main Channel of Toronto’s Center Island.
13. The Royal Ontario Museum
Toronto is known for having one the largest and most odd-looking museums in North America, the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM). This unique piece of architecture is hard to miss while walking down the street. The structure opened to the public in 1933, and was controversially expanded in 2007 to include an addition called “the Michael Lee-Chin Crystal”. Daniel Libeskind famously designed the glass and aluminum addition to appear as a crystalline form extending out of the original heritage building.
The museum hosts natural history, costume and textile, as well as contemporary local and world cultural exhibitions.
14. Canada’s Wonderland
Toronto is known for having the largest amusement park in Canada. Canada’s Wonderland is actually located about 16 miles outside of the city and welcomes millions of visitors every summer. The amusement park has 17 roller coasters, a water park, and Halloween theme-park in the fall. The park even holds a winter-fest for during the off-season.
15. The Toronto Zoo
It may come as no surprise that Toronto is known for having the largest zoo in Canada. It houses over 5,000 animals and 460 different species. Over 1.5 million visitors come to check out its seven different exhibits, each featuring animals from different corners of our planet. The Toronto Zoo famously dedicates its resources to the conservation of endangered species from around the wold.
16. Graffiti Alley
Toronto’s ultra-photogenic Graffiti Alley, officially Rush Lane, is located in the city’s Fashion District. The alley represents a fight for graffiti to be recognized as an important art form by city officials. The alley has long been a canvas for street artists; however, not everyone was pleased with it.
Finally, in 2011, officials considered the art worthy of protection and respect. As a way of managing graffiti in the city, Toronto’s municipal government laid out the StreetARToronto (START) program which sponsors murals throughout the city. Graffiti is now more often seen as an art form rather than a nuisance.
17. The Bata Shoe Museum
Think you have a lot of shoes?
You’ll be amazed to see Sonja Bata’s fascinating footwear collection spread over 40,000 feet (no pun intended). 13,000 shoes make up the Bata Shoe Museum’s permanent collection, some of their origins dating back as far as 4,500 years. This museum, located in downtown Toronto is known for having the largest footwear collection in the world.
Temporary exhibitions also make their way through the museum. Some have featured Inuit shoes from the Canadian North, the rise of sneaker culture, infamous Manolo Blahniks and even a celebration of children’s shoes.
The museum fits into one of those unexpected niches that Toronto is known to love, yet this unparalleled collection would capture the attention of even the least fashion conscious visitor.
Anybody who follows professional sports knows that Toronto is home to the 2019 NBA champions, the Toronto Raptors. Toronto is also known as the only Canadian city to have a basketball and a baseball team, and they represent the nation well!
Baseball fans head to the Roger’s centre to root for the Toronto Blue Jays, hotdog in hand, while hockey aficionados cheer on their beloved Toronto Maple Leafs at the Scotiabank Arena.
It is safe to say that Toronto is know for having something for everyone. It is a place where you can find your niche and fit right in. From its myriad of museums and shops to its endless unique experiences. Toronto is for the ambitious, the thrill-seekers, the trendy fashion-lovers and the foodies and just about everyone else too.
Now, hop over to read about other Canadian cities in this series: