Welcome to Kensington Market, the best place in Toronto for vintage stores, authentic hole-in-the-wall food spots, street art and people watching. Here’s a guide of our top tips for exploring this incredibly diverse, bohemian and pedestrian-friendly neighbourhood that’s unlike anything else in the city!
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Your Guide to Kensington Market: Toronto’s Most Unique Neighbourhood
No trip to Toronto is complete without visiting the iconic Kensington Market. Its roots are in an immigrant working class and today it’s one of the most diverse, most unique and most photographed areas in the city. When you visit you can see a mixture of the same immigrant communities, their shops, artists and their workspaces – as well as a new wave of more upscale cafes and restaurants. The Market is eclectic and bohemian, and that’s the way we like it. Due to rent increases, the neighbourhood might be losing some of its gritty charm, so come see it soon and be part of the legend!
If you’re looking to explore further, Trinity Bellwoods is not too far away and is a similarly artistic area, and nearby Little Italy also has some of its original immigrant-built character!
In the meantime, we’ve made a list for you of all the ways you can explore Kensington Market, from shops to parks to cafes. Check it out:
1. Shop around at all the vintage clothing stores
Kensington Market is Toronto’s veritable hub for all things vintage. From shoes at stores like Cinderella Vintage, to accessories, to of course, clothes – the people in the Market know how to find a good deal. Here’s a few of our favourite places to shop for your next new look.
First of all, Courage My Love. Not only does it have the most supportive shop name ever, it stocks a whole lot of cowboy boots, formal wear, cashmere, handmade knick knacks, beads and other DIY accessory supplies. You’ll feel inspired just being in there. website
Right next door to Courage My Love is Sub Rosa Vintage. This shop’s a little bit pricier but they really curate their clothes so you can be sure that everything you’ll find there is irresistibly cute. They’ve also always got a great selection of denim. website
Exile is a bit of an oddball. There’s always a couple funny mannequins outside… think chicken heads or a Grinch couple. They’ve got two stores in Kensington Market full of costume clothing, or just clothing for the more fabulous among us, and great jeans, too. website
2. Grab a bite as you explore the streets
You’ll be walking around a lot when you visit Kensington, trust me. Take a load off your feet; have a meal. Eat in, or take out – the perfect way to acquaint yourself with all the cultures influencing the area is to taste their food. There are so many places to eat, we have a whole guide just for Kensington Market Restaurants. It can be overwhelming to choose one, but here’s a few that really stand out:
A cozy place serving Native American inspired foods, prepared and served by Indigenous people. Their “tacos” are really Ojibway fry bread topped with a heaping pile of food – and they’re delicious. Their brunch menu is also especially popular and can be enjoyed on the patio. instagram
Up next, Jumbo Empanadas. An authentic Chilean eatery that’s been open since 1991, they make excellent empanadas, naturally, as well as humitas, corn pie, and other pastries. It’s got a sweet family-run vibe. website
Rasta Pasta is more of a takeout place, but they’ve got a pretty cool menu of Italian and Jamaican fusion. They make a juicy and tender jerk chicken and give pasta dishes a Jamaican twist. Sitting in a park with your meal on a hot summer day… you’ll swear you’re in the Caribbean. website
Wanda makes some pretty sweet (but not too sweet) pies. Stop by for a slice of pie or cake, or just get a full one. They also have other desserts, pastries, egg dishes, and even do vegetarian lunch. It’s all made right there in store… this place is out of this world! website
It’s part of the new wave of restaurants cropping up in Kensington. Here, you can eat German street food (unlike any thing else you can get in the city) in the trendy interior, or on the patio. Plus, there’s a disco ball and speakers in the bathroom: every part of being there is a good time. website
3. Settle in for a finer dining experience
As much as eating takeout is nice, sometimes you want to elevate your dinner experience to the next level. If you’re looking for a place spend a whole evening (and some money) may we suggest:
A wine bar that recently opened up on Kensington’s Augusta Avenue. It’s fancy enough for even an anniversary dinner, but you’ll feel right at home just hanging out with friends, too. They’ve got a long list of wines, as well as oysters and truffle on the menu. website
4. Relax in the park
So you got takeout, wondering where to eat it? Or maybe you’re just tired of shopping and want to relax in the sun… a park is the solution, and Kensington’s home to a couple. The main one is Bellevue Square Park, off Augusta Ave, which currently undergoing renovation to make it an even better place to hang out. It’s getting a sweet new playground, a new water feature, better lawn space, and a wooden deck for easy sitting. There’s also Sonya’s Parkette a cozy little nook with a playground that makes the perfect refuge from the city’s busy streets.
5. Get ingredients for a home-cooked meal
Kensington Market is, after all… a market, so why not pick up some fresh foods? What these local specialty grocers sell is way beyond what you’ll get at the supermarket. Spend a day walking around, picking up fresh ingredients, chatting with the storeowners and at the end you’ll have what you need to make an incredible meal.
Maybe the best bread in the city. That’s a big claim, but their sourdough is the perfect ratio of crunchy and soft. Just try it for yourself, you won’t be disappointed. They also champion Red Fife, a heritage Canadian grain harkening back to the country’s days as the world’s breadbasket, making dark crusty loaves fresh daily. website
Reg Natural Food
The next stop on our tour is the perfect place to get spices and any other dry goods you need. There’s currently a GoFundMe campaign to save the shop owner from being priced out of her storefront of 42 years. You can also visit a couple health food stores down the street as well as House of Spice on Augusta.
A meat haven for foodies. Also probably one of the few stores in Kensington that can be described as “spacious.” They have a real farm to table approach: almost everything is labelled with the name of the farm it came from, and they strive to feature grass-fed beef and hormone-free meats. website
They’ve got selection, quality, and friendly and helpful staff. Cheese lovers… don’t miss this. You can really shop around, sample some cheeses, and really find the right one for you. Cheese haters? You might be a convert. You can also pick up some olives to go with your fresh pick. facebook
Fresh Fruits and Vegetables
Inviting storefronts full of colourful fruits… this is really where the market shines. Castlefruit Produce is just one of the many fresh produce stands, and it’s right by the other stops on this list. But there’s fruit on nearly every corner, you can also stop by Kensington Fruit Market off St. Andrew Street, or Good Price grocer on Augusta.
6. Spot the area’s street performers and musicians
Since Kensington’s a hub for artists, naturally there’s always some kind of performance happening on the streets. The area’s got its fair share of buskers, sketch artists and just straight up eccentric characters that you can get to know. Wandering around the streets, especially on weekends in the summer, is prime time for people watching. Be sure to support the local artists if you enjoy what they’re doing! Maybe if you’re lucky you’ll even get to spot Toronto’s vlogging, skateboarding Spiderman named “Peter Parkour” who’s known for spinning webs around the Market…
7. Grab some drinks with friends
Getting some beers is the perfect way to cool off after a long day in the sun. It’s time to kick back, relax, and be merry. Where to go?
Tour the area through its flavour profiles… this brewery’s beers are inspired by the sights and smells of Kensington Market itself. They have several beers available for sale at the Bottle Shop in front, or you can sit down in the back, order from the bar, and maybe play one of their board games. You can even bring your own food! website
Down the hall through Kensington Mall, see that door marked only with a red light? You’ve arrived at Cold Tea. They’ve got drinks, dumplings, a backyard patio and an air of mystery. It’s colourful, intimate and makes you want to move. Luckily, Every Sunday is Old Cold Tea Sunday, so stop by to dance to some great DJ sets. instagram
This bar’s a big supporter of music – there’s something going on every night whether it’s a DJ (the DJs here “dig deeper”), a live music set, Hot Breath Karaoke, or the occasional Bad Movie Night. You can also get a pint of Ontario craft beer for $5 on Mondays. website
El Rey’s an upscale Mexican dive bar… somehow. Their drinks are on the pricier side, but the Mezcal makes it worth it! They’ve also got tostadas, tacos and other snacks. They don’t take reservations so make sure to come early, and maybe snag a spot on the patio. website
8. Settle down for a coffee
A different type of drink experience: Kensington doesn’t only have good brews… but good roasts too. In this densely packed area there’s a lot of choice when it comes to coffee. These two places stand out for different reasons.
Kensington’s outpost of a popular Toronto coffee company: Jimmy’s, which is pretty essential to the city. Roasted in town, their espresso is smooth, the baristas are nice, and regulars make the laptop friendly cafe bustle with energy. Do like a true local and take one of their coffee blends home so you can wake up with Jimmy every morning. website
On the opposite end of the spectrum, Moonbean screams Kensington Market. For a little place, they’ve got a lot on offer, from coffee to smoothies to specialty ice drinks, and lots of character. You can pick up a variety of coffee beans and loose leaf teas to take home, or enjoy a specialty drink on one of their two patios! website
9. Look around at the murals and public sculpture
Many a street artist has left their mark on Kensington market, every alleyway and many storefronts are truly works of art. The buildings themselves are canvases. As you walk around spot posed mannequins on the balconies of the area’s Victorian homes, store signage that goes all the way to the roof, and beyond, the word “Kensington” spelled out in bike chains and so much more.
Some other notable features are the sculptures by David Hlynsky and Shirley Yanover, featuring the motifs of the globe, a cat, and a kitchen chair with titles like “Bigitty-Big” and “Jiggity-Jig” as well as “Home Again, Home Again.” On their extremely tall pedestals they serve as signposts marking the entranceways to the market.
A prominent mural is the one Oxford St and Augusta Ave, influenced by Czech art nouveau artist, Alphonse Mucha. In front of this mural, during the summer months, you’ll find Yvonne Bambrick’s Garden Car or “Community Vehicular Reclamation Project” that’s been a beloved part of the community for 11 years now. It’s a car full of dirt and plants, and probably one of the smallest parks out there.
10. Shop for some artisan gifts
There are so many vendors on the streets of Kensington, and they’re the perfect places to find something to bring back home from Toronto or simply to treat someone you care about. You can find homemade Jewellery out front of 13 Kensington Ave, next to Breathless Vintage, or at One Heart on Baldwin St. as well as cool vintage accessories at Butterfly.
The ultimate destination for gifts. They’ve got so many novelty items as well as stalls from local artisans. The products range from funny and useless, to practical homeware, to jewellery and clothing. They’ve got food and candy too. It’s the kind of place you could spend hours in, just trying to see it all. website
Another great opportunity for shopping and supporting local art, maybe the opportunity for it, is the Kensington Market Art Fair. The curated art fair serves as a platform for local artists to share their art, of various mediums, with a wider public. Come out and support the artists and artisans under their pop up tents (away from the blazing sun!) and have a chat with them about their work. facebook
Another plus: the KMAF coincides with Pedestrian Sundays, where people take over the streets. They’re shut off to traffic, and opened up to performers, food vendors, dance parties… and endless surprises. Visit the market on the last Sunday of each month from May through October, to hit up the art fair and have the ultimate Kensington Market experience!
It only happens once a year on the winter solstice, but if you’re around you have to attend.
The entire night, organized by Red Pepper Spectacle Arts, is one spectacle after another as the parade marks the longest night of the year with lights and performance. The whole festival is built by hand by local artists and volunteers, you can even lend a hand and learn new skills during lantern making workshops throughout the month of December, hosted by Red Pepper. The parade of clowns, giant hand-made puppets and fire breathing performances makes its way through the market, flanked by theatrical scenarios. The evening culminates at the baseball diamond in Alexandra Park for the Fire Finale Performance as fire dancers and a burning sculpture light up the night. This festival is the culmination of all the amazing things about Kensington Market: arts, community, and a freedom of spirit.websitefacebook
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