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Kensington Market is Toronto’s bohemian neighbourhood located in the west of the city. Despite the name, Kensington is less of a traditional market and more of a small collection of streets with an extremely diverse and multicultural population, as well as plenty of indie cafes, vintage shops, fusion restaurants and colourful murals.
Even though it’s a popular destination with locals, Kensington Market is surprisingly unvisited by the hoards of tourists that you’ll find in other parts of the city. As much as I’d like to keep it my little secret, I thought it was about time to spread the word.
So here are just a few reasons you should include Kensington Market on your next trip to Toronto!
Top things to do in Kensington Market Toronto
Visiting Kensington Market for the first time can be a little overwhelming, but once you find yourself immersed in the unique bohemian atmosphere, you’re unlikely to want to leave. Here are a few of my favourite things to do and places to visit in Kensington Market in Toronto…
1) Admire the street art
I’m a big lover of street art no matter where I go, which is one of the main reasons I fell in love with Kensington Market so quickly. The colourful murals aren’t restricted to derelict walls in this part of town but instead spread out onto the shopfronts, cars, lampposts and just about anything else the local artists can get their hands on.
You won’t need to go hunting for street art in Kensington Market. Just wander around the streets and you’ll be surrounded by the eclectic art at all times.
2) Get lost in Blue Banana Market
One of my absolute favourite places to visit in Kensington Market is Blue Banana Market, the ultimate destination for gifts, fun knick-knacks and just about everything else.
From the front, it’s difficult to grasp how immense the store actually is, but once you’re inside you’ll find yourself lost amongst the isles for hours. There are so many fun (but certainly not tacky) novelty items that you’ll be stocking up on birthday and Christmas gifts for everyone you know. The market also has a whole array of homeware, clothes, jewellery, food and goods from local artisans.
I’m actually quite grateful that during my last trip to Kensington Market I was limited on suitcase space as I’ve never wanted to buy more things from one shop before. Advice – make sure there’s room in your suitcase if you’re planning a visit to Blue Banana while on a trip to Toronto.
3) Hit the vintage shops
Kensington Market is undoubtedly the city’s vintage fashion hub and is home to some of the best shopping in Toronto for those who love a bargain. There are many vintage shops in the area, but these are a couple of my favourites…
Courage my Love – One of the most popular vintage stores in the area, all of the amazing vintage clothes and accessories at Courage my Love are handpicked, cleaned and repaired by long-term owners Stewart and Patricia and their daughter Felice. As well as a constantly changing array of clothes and jewellery, the store also sells some beautifully refurbished lamps.
Bungalow – Another shop for gorgeous vintage clothing, however, Bungalow also sells newer fashion from unique designers. The 3000 sq. ft. space also stocks modern design furniture (with a focus on Scandinavian design) and retro housewares.
4) Stock up on cheese
Bringing it back to the ‘Market’ in its name, there are a number of local produce stores in Kensington selling everything from meat to vegetables to fresh bread. But one thing that Kensington Market does better than most is its cheese…
Cheese Magic – Run by PING, aka”Mama Cheese” who has owned the store for 24 years, and the cheese boys, Cheese Magic is any cheese lovers dream! Plus, even if you’re not buying, they’re generous with samples.
Global Cheese Kensington Market – Another great selection of quality cheese. What more is there to say?
5) Buy edible art at Daan Go
Daan Go is the ‘pastry playground’ of Christopher Siu, a top 5 contestant on Masterchef Canada Season 2. The Kensington Market store may be small, but the treats you’ll find inside will blow your mind.
As well as his amazing signature collection of cartoon macarons which resemble characters such as Winnie the Pooh, Spiderman and Pikachu, Daan Go freshly prepares some of the most creative desserts you’ll ever see.
The Tira-Meow-Su is my personal favourite, with a marshmallow cat placed inside an edible chocolate teacup with layers of vanilla chiffon soaked in a cold brew syrup and Kahlua, coffee extract and ground coffee, finished with white chocolate foam and cocoa powder. While the Lucky Duck, which comes as a yellow duck in a bathtub, is filled with layers of lemon curd, pistachio cremeux, almond dacquoise and a hand-painted chocolate duck.
Siu’s beautiful creations are so cute it’s almost a shame to eat them, but if you don’t, you’ll miss out on the delicious flavours inside!
6) Relax with a Coffee in a Hipster Cafe
In a neighbourhood as popular with the hipsters as this, popping into a coffee shop for a leisurely drink is an absolute must…
Best Coffee Shops in Kensington Market:
Originally used as a Swedish verb meaning “to go out for coffee,” the word fika can also be used as a noun: “coffee break” and is a common occurrence in Sweden. Something which Fika has also brought over to Toronto’s Kensington Market.
Fika Café is a cosy townhouse converted into a quaint cafe, with light Scandinavian decor giving it a much calmer vibe than the rest of the surrounding area.
Enjoy a cardamom-spiced latte, lavender white hot chocolate or mulled elderberry tea, alongside a traditional open-faced sandwich or tasty homemade pastry such as a Swedish cinnamon bun.
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Jimmie’s is a small chain of 8 coffee shops in West Toronto serving locally roasted coffee in simple and casual settings. The chain opened their cafe in the heart of Kensington Market in 2013 due to the area’s unique and intimate community which perfectly matched the cafe’s own homely vibe.
Jimmie’s in Kensington Market is best known for its large outdoor patio, where during the summer months, local artists, students and the likes settle down for a days work. Join the family and sit down with a coffee and good book, or grab a drink to go in one of Jimmie’s signature cups with a bright yellow lid.
Stay up to date with special events at the market, from Pedestrian Sundays to Pride Parade to Jazz Festivals.
7) Eat at one of the many Kensington Market restaurants
Being the cultural melting pot that it is, Toronto’s Kensington Market is home to an interesting variety of international and fusion restaurants which you certainly won’t find anywhere else in the city. Grabbing breakfast, lunch, dinner or even just a coffee and snack is an absolute must on a visit to the area, and if I were you, I’d go for them all to try as many places as possible.
The other great thing about eating in Kensington Market is that almost every restaurant and cafe caters extensively for vegans, vegetarians, gluten-free, dairy-free and all other dietary requirements.
Where to eat in Kensington Market Toronto:
There are plenty of amazing restaurants, cafes and fast food spots in this part of town, and you probably won’t go wrong wherever you happen to wander in to. But to help you out, these are just a few of the best restaurants in Kensington Market…
When in Canada, there’s one dish you absolutely must try… poutine! And Kensington Market is home to some of the best poutine in the city.
For those of you unaware, poutine is a traditional French-Canadian dish consisting of french fries and cheese curds topped with brown gravy.
At Moo Frites in Kensington Market, you’ll find some of the best fries in Toronto, with a menu spanning traditional poutine to a range of interesting variations including Kimchi frites, nacho frites and war frites (with dutch peanut sauce). Available to eat in (very casual) or take away. Moo Frites is definitely one of my favourite Kensington Market restaurants.
Wanda’s Pie in the Sky is a bakery and vegetarian café owned and run by founder Wanda Beaver. Wanda’s has become an institution in Kensington Market over the years, with her extensive menu of homebaked pies, tarts, cakes, cookies and more.
Wanda’s serves a daily selection of delicious fruit, apple, cream, custard and nut pies which will have you returning time and time again to sample every single flavour. And if you’re after something savoury before tucking into the sweet treats, the restaurant also serves a changing menu of soups, salads, quiche, pizzas, pierogies and more.
Rasta Pasta is a creative fusion which combines the essence of Jamaican and Italian culture – just the unique combination that you’d expect from Kensington Market.
One of the restaurants most popular items is ‘the Vatican’ and consists of an Italian panini filled with marinated Jamaican jerk chicken. You can also find other interesting dishes such as Dreadlock Lasagna, Irie Pizza and Dutch Pot Oxtail.
If you’ve read any of my food posts before, you’ll know that chicken and waffles are one of my all-time favourite dishes. And there’s no place like North America to guarantee a tasty portion of chicken and waffles.
As is obvious from the name, Dirty Bird specialises in this particular dish, with massive gluten-free waffles and chicken with a gluten-free bread coating, which can be accompanied by sides such as fries and homemade potato salad (a must try).
I won’t lie and say this is the fanciest place going, but if you’ve got a big appetite and a hankering for meat, Top Gun Steak & Burgers is the place to go.
The Kensington based restaurant uses fresh local ingredients and never freezes its meat to produce its gourmet burgers and sandwiches. There’s a good selection of beef, chicken and veggie burgers, most of which are smothered in Canadian cheese, as well as ridiculously tasty and huge Canadian AAA Rib Eye steak sandwiches (my favourite).
The portions are massive and pretty messy to eat, so don’t forget to wear trousers with an elasticated waistline and craft your finest napkin bib. And if you haven’t already gathered, I probably wouldn’t recommend picking this spot for a romantic first date.
8. Enjoy a few beers at a cool local bar
Toronto is a city known for its vibrant nightlife and, unsurprisingly, Kensington Market is no exception with plenty of quirky local spots and cool dive bars serving great local and international beers.
A few of the best bars in Kensington Market include:
Thirsty and Miserable – a hole-in-the-wall style dive bar known for its great beer selection.
Handlebar – a hip late night spot with a live DJ.
Ronnie’s Local 069 – a cosy, local bar with a large outdoor space.
El Rey Mezcal Bar – a fun spot for Mexican mezcal drinks and snacks.
Poetry Jazz Cafe – a cocktail bar with live jazz music on its outdoor patio.
BONUS: Head next door to Chinatown
Kensington Market is conveniently located right next door to Toronto’s Chinatown, so if you have time after Kensington, walk just up the road to explore another fascinating part of the city.
Here you’ll find lively Asian open-air markets and plenty of delicious restaurants serving Chinese, Thai, Vietnamese, Japanese and Korean foods.
Want some help exploring Toronto’s foodie scene?
Where to stay in Kensington Market
One of the most central hostels in Kensington Market, College Backpackers has both private rooms and shared dorms, balconies overlooking the local area, free breakfast and a great common space.
Another hostel on the edge of Kensington Market and Chinatown with dorms containing private futuristic pods. There is also a lovely shared terrace to enjoy a drink with other guests on a sunny day.
How to get to Kensington Market Toronto
Kensington is located just to the west of downtown Toronto. The area itself is easy to walk or cycle around, but to get there from the city centre, public transport is probably your best option.
From the Bloor Subway – take the Spadina or Bathurst streetcar south. Get off at College.
From Yonge/University Subway – take the College or Dundas streetcar west. Get off at Spadina.
From Union Station – take the Queen’s Quay/Spadina streetcar. Get off at Dundas.