Nestled away in the heart of downtown, smack dab between the swankiness of Yorkville and the business of the Financial District, is the University of Toronto. While the university itself is a draw, it’s also perfectly located between a handful of pretty hotspots. These offer anyone an exciting day around town, whether you’re a new traveller or a longtime local.
Royal Ontario Museum
Start your day on Bloor Street and Avenue Road at the Royal Ontario Museum, where you discover the museum’s iconic modernist glass-and-aluminium entrance called the Michael Lee-Chin Crystal. This was added to the original building, erected in the early 1900s, by architect Daniel Libeskind in 2007. The structure juts out over the city sidewalk, and you begin to appreciate downtown Toronto as a place where old and new intersect, both literally and figuratively.
A couple steps to the right of The Crystal, you stumble onto a gated entrance, the Alexandra Gates, which leads to the Philosopher’s Walk. This scenic footpath winds through the northern edge of the University of Toronto. You feel like you’ve been suddenly transported onto an Ivy League campus as you see students reading on the park bench or running to class. Flanked by ivy-scaled Victorian buildings from the Royal Conservatory of Music, Trinity College, and the Faculty of Law, the path is a rite of passage for all UofT students.
A short five-minute walk from campus, you begin to notice that the neighbourhood quietly turns from a student hotspot to bustling, busy Chinatown. As you stroll down Spadina Avenue, you can browse T-shirts and trinkets, pick up a new case for your phone, or try your hand at haggling with a fruit stand owner. Stop in a shop for last-minute souvenirs or watch cooks making fresh dumplings in the window.
Hidden away behind Chinatown, Kensington Market offers a completely unique neighbourhood experience. It’s a hodgepodge of eclectic market shops, cafés, and quick-stop restaurants. Your senses are overloaded from the smell of incense burning, drum circles practicing in the park, and fishmongers selling their goods. Colourful graffiti lines the alleyways and dancers hold impromptu performances in the streets, turning up the reggae beats. Artists, poets, and free thinkers come to exchange ideas here. You can waste away the afternoon people-watching or engaging with locals who are always more than happy to start up a conversation.
Lamesa Filipino Kitchen
A short walk down to Queen Street West, you can get your window shopping done at fashion-forward shops while making your way to Lamesa Filipino Kitchen. Step inside and off of the busy Queen West streets and you’ll feel like you’re in someone’s home; there are water tumblers on the tables, oak flooring, warm banquettes in the back, and high-top, grainy wooden tables at the front. The restaurant is highlighted with creative accents including a massive mural and gentle teardrop-shaped lights. Your stomach rumbles a little at the faint aroma of spiced, savoury dishes. Good thing it’s time for dinner.
On the menu: comfort Filipino cuisine with a modern twist. There’s sisig, or pig’s face with chicken gizzard, fried egg, and rice to start; lechon kawali, or Filipino-style pork belly, iconic for its crispy skin; and halo halo for dessert, a leche flan with coconut jellies, sweat beans, and shaved ice, topped with evaporated and condensed milk. You can enjoy a five-course prix fixe menu with a glass of wine, great for an intimate date or a night out with friends.