10+ Things to do on the West End of Toronto

By Steven Wright

Feels like summer in the city even thought its barely spring in Toronto, that has inspired me do a series of articles of things to see and do in this great city! Toronto is Canada’s largest city, the capital of the Province of Ontario and is constantly evolving. It is a vibrant and culturally diverse city, who’s unique neighborhoods are great to explore to get the whole experience eh. The third article of this series is dedicated to Toronto’s West end; here you can find some amazing shopping, great restaurants, interesting neighborhoods, theatres, galleries, museums and Toronto’s entertainment district.

(Bloor Street West / Cumberland Street / Yorkville Avenue between Yonge and Avenue Road, TTC stations Yonge / Bloor or Bay)
If you are shopping for luxury goods and designer brands then this is the neighborhood for you. The Bloor Street West strip includes luxury brands like Tiffany & Co., Prada, Chanel, Coach, Hermes, Harry Rosen, and Canada’s luxury department store Holt Renfrew. Shopping continues with designer boutiques on Yorkville Avenue, Cumberland Street and Hazelton Lanes Shopping Centre. If you are searching for the perfect pair of jeans then I would recommend a stop at  Over the Rainbow (101 Yorkville). The neighborhood features a number of 5* hotels, high end condos, and fine dining. This is a good neighborhood for celebrity spotting, especially in September during the Toronto International Film Festival, grab dinner on the patio at Sassafraz for a bird’s eye view.

Royal Ontario Museum / Gardiner Museum of Ceramic Art / Bata Shoe Museum
(100 Bloor Street West, TTC Station Museum / 111 Queen’s Park TTC, Station Museum / 327 Bloor Street West, TTC St. George)
Just west of Bloor-Yorkville you can not help but notice Architect Daniel Leibskind’s redevelopment of The Royal Ontario Museum, the grand entrance makes a huge impression as you look down Bloor Street. The collections are dedicated to understanding world cultures and natural history. ROM Fridays feature a special rate from 3:00 pm to 5:30 pm. Friday Night Live @ROM includes Pop-up food, drink and DJs with $9 cover and $5 drinks, general admission is $15.  Not many cities can boast a museum of ceramic art and footwear, but Toronto has both! Across the street from the ROM on Queen’s Park find Canada’s only museum dedicated to ceramic art, The Gardiner Museum. The museum has gained international recognition and the new modern building has added more than additional gallery space, it includes a new restaurant by Canadian Chef Jamie Kennedy. If you get the chance join one of the clay classes in their state-of-the-art clay studios, instructed by professional ceramists. They have a Friday night program and family days on Sunday’s, general admission is $12. Travel down Bloor Street West to St. George Street, there you will find a building that resembles a shoe box, inside find the Bata Shoe Museum. The museum is dedicated to the history of footwear with an extensive collection of shoes from around the world. With over 12,500 shoes in the permanent collection there is something for every shoe lover. General admission is $14.

The Annex
(Bloor Street West between Avenue Road and Bathurst Street, TTC Stations St. Gerorge, Spadina, and Bathurst)
The Annex is a primarily residential area north of Bloor Street, but with the proximity to University of Toronto this is the preferred neighborhood for students and educators a like. The Bloor Street West strip is filled with restaurants, cafes and bars with street side patios great for grabbing a bite and people watching on the busy streets, some of my favorites are Future Bakery (483 Bloor Street West) for their mashed potatoes and mushroom gravy and Insomnia Restaurant and Lounge (563 Bloor Street West) for brunch. Grab toasted marshmallow homemade ice cream from Greg’s Ice Cream (750 Spadina), then catch a documentary film at the newly renovated Bloor Hot Docs Cinema. For an unique shopping experience don’t miss Honest Ed’s (581 Bloor Street West) the massive store has everything from dollar store items to fine antique pieces worth thousands of dollars and absolutely everything in between. Next to Honest Ed’s visit Mirvish Village, an area dedicated to art, culture and cuisine with many one of a kind vendors. In July the area is host to The Fringe Festival, Toronto’s largest theatre festival. Grab dinner on Harbord Street just one block south of Bloor Street between Spadina and Bathurst. Here you can find Toronto’s best fish and chips at a little take out stand, Harbord Fish and Chips (147 Harbord Street) or if you are looking for fine dining try Spendido (88 Harbord).

Little Italy
(College Street from Bathurst to Ossington, TTC Streetcar 506)
If you feel like a little Italian, the make sure to drop by Little Italy, the strip along College Street is filled with restaurants, bars and patios and it is a great place to spend an evening or a weekend brunch. Cafe Diplomatico (594 College) opened in 1968 and is one of the most recognizable restaurants, recently featured in Toronto Director, Atom Egoyan’s film Chloe. Kalender Restaurant and Bistro (546 College) is a great spot for dinner or weekend brunch with a great atmosphere and amazing food. Then take a relaxing stroll window shopping and grab a gelato at Dolce (697 College). If you are coming for a fun evening out start with martinis at Souz Dal (636 College), the open after dark and then head to Andy Poolhall (489 College) for a little pool and dancing, live music and djs at  The MOD Club (722 College) or dance the night away at El Convento Rico (750 College).

China Town
(Spadina Avenue from College to Dundas, TTC Streetcar 510)
One of the largest in North America, Toronto’s China Town is filled with great shops, grocery stores, herbs and Chinese remedies. There are a number of restaurants that encourage family style dining, you can order a number of items and share with your family or group around a large table equipped with a lazy Susan, other restaurants feature Dim Sum, order what you want off the carts rolled to your table. My favorites include Yeuh Tung (111 Elizabeth) for their amazing Chicken in a Hot Pot, the  Hua Sheng Supermarket (293 Spadina) and Tap Phong Trading Co. (360 Spadina) for amazing deals on kitchen ware and other home items.

Kensington Market
(Kensington Avenue, Baldwin Street & Augusta Avenue, TTC Streetcars 510, 506 & 505)
Just west of China Town find Kensington Market. Its a great area for vintage clothes and furniture, and craft shopping, picking up some groceries or grabbing a bite to eat. The last Sunday of the month from May through October the area is pedestrian only. Some of my favorite stops include Blue Banana Market (250 Augusta) for one of a kind gifts, Bungalow (273 Augusta) for retro clothes and furniture, Tom’s Place (190 Baldwin) for designer suits and accessories at discount prices, Global Cheese (76 Kensington) for exotic and specialty cheeses to bring home and enjoy, and vintage clothing favorites Dancing Days (17 Kensington) and Courage My Love (14 Kensington).

Art Gallery of Ontario
(317 Dundas Street West, TTC Streetcar 505)
I may be a little biased, but it is so amazing to have a small piece of Gehry excellence in Toronto. Toronto born Architect Frank O. Gehry’s transformation of the Art Gallery of Ontario has accomplished his goal of bringing the gallery to the public. The large glass exterior of the museum, incredible new entrance, the brilliant staircases and 5th floor tower are worth the price of admission. The museum is one of the largest in North America and houses a collection of works from 100 AD to present, the galleries feature Canadian, European, photography, the Thompson Collection, and two of my personal favorite are the contemporary and Henry Moore galleries. General admission $19.50, Wednesday nights entry to Permanent Collection is free from 6 p.m. – 8:30 p.m. When you have finished in the AGO, go behind the building down Beverly Street to Grange Park, here you can see the final gallery: the exterior staircase leading to the big blue Gehry box a top the AGO and the Ontario College for Art and Design‘s Tabletop, designed by acclaimed British Architect Will Alsop.

Queen Street West
(TTC Station Queen or Osgoode, Streetcar 501)
You can spend a whole day on Queen West, so put on your comfortable walking shoes. Start at Bay Street with Toronto’s Old City Hall and City Hall Nathan Phillips Square on the East and West, then continue to the West side of University to start your shopping day. No matter what you are shopping for there is something for you on Queen West, from salons, shops and restaurants, you can get a make over, redecorate your house, catch up on the latest fashion trends, buy some great fabric and stay well nourished throughout the day. Some of my favorite stops for home decor are Pavilion (739 Queen W), Quasi Moto (789 Queen W), Style Garage (938 Queen W) and The Queen West Antique Centre (1605 Queen W). For fabrics don’t miss Designer Fabric Outlet (1360 Queen W); for shoes B2 (399 Queen W) and Get Outside (437 Queen W); and if your with your man there are even a couple of stops for him Atlas Tools (233 Queen W), Active Surplus (347 Queen West) and Steve’s Music (415 Queen W). If you are coming in for the weekend consider staying at one of the boutique hotels The Drake (1150 Queen W) or The Gladstone (1214 Queen W) and have dinner at Ultra Supper Club (314 Queen W).

Entertainment District
(Between Queen Street and King Street from University to Spadina, TTC station Osgoode or St Andrew, TTC  Streetcars 501 or 504)
This area is the heart of Toronto’s nightlife, there are lots of great restaurants and bars to start your evening before heading out to one or more of the attractions in this area. Here you will find the Canadian Opera Company and National Ballet of Canada at the Four Seasons Centre, Broadway shows at The Princess of Wales and The Royal Alexandra Theatres, the Toronto Symphony Orchestra and other large events at Roy Thompson Hall, and a little further west you will discover Toronto’s “club land” where you can bar hop and dance the night away in one of the many clubs, or catch a movie screening at the Bell Lightbox, the home of the Toronto International Film Festival.

Financial District
(King and Bay Street, TTC Stations King or St Andrew, Streetcar 504)
The area around King and Bay Streets is the Financial District and home to some of Canada’s tallest buildings, 5* luxury hotels and condos, incredible restaurants and great public spaces. One of my favorite stops in this area is Cloud Gardens, a small park between Richmond and Adelaide just west of Yonge, make sure to visit the Cloud Forest Conservatory while you are there. For a little history enter into the lobby of Commerce Court North (243 Bay Street), which was once the tallest building in the British Commonwealth for over three decades. Across the street at King and Bay, find TD Centre, designed by Modernist architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe who even convinced the City of Toronto to allow him to change the sidewalks around the building to match his masterpiece. Here you can grab dinner at one of Canada’s best restaurants Canoe (66 Wellington Street) on the 54th floor overlooking the city, or visit Canada’s design museum the Design Exchange (234 Bay Street) in the former location of the Toronto Stock Exchange, general admission is $10, every Tuesday evening between 5 p.m. and 8 p.m. admission is pay-what-you-can. Stay at one of Toronto’s newest 5* luxury hotels Trump Toronto (325 Bay Street) or the Ritz Carlton Toronto (181 Wellington Street West).

King Street West
(King Street West, TTC Streetcar 504)
King Street just West of the Financial District and South of the Entertainment district offers a number of great restaurants and bars, a great place to grab a bite before or show or have a late dinner. My favorites are Lee (601 King W) by famed chef Susur Lee, Rodney’s Oyster House (469 King W), the European style Bier Markt (600 King W), and French bistro Crush Wine Bar (455 King W). I have a couple of other favorite stores in this area, one is Design Within Reach (435 King W) for modern furniture and home design, Lee Valley Tools (590 King West) for great gardening, household items and tools and Mountain Equipment Coop (400 King W) for everything relating to outdoor activities from apparel to tents, backpacks, canoes and much much more.

Liberty Village
(South of King Street between Strachan Avenue and Dufferin Street, TTC Streetcar 504)
A whole neighborhood has popped up in these former industrial lands, now a hip new neighborhood with loft conversions of historic buildings, new developments and condos and an abundance of sores, boutiques, trendy restaurants and bars. For brunch head to trendy Midlred’s Temple Kitchen (Unit 104  85 Hanna Avenue) then go shopping for home accessories at West Elm (109 Atlantic Avenue), or play some pool and grab a bite at The Academy of Spherical Arts (1 Snooker Street).

Roncesvalles Village
(Roncesvalles Avenue between Queen W and Howard Park, TTC Streetcar 504)
If you have never had Dill Pickle soup then visiting the Polish area at Roncesvalles Village is your opportunity stop at Cafe Polonez (195 Roncesvalles) for a bowl like no other. There are a number of other Polish bakeries, delis and restaurants offering up old world charm and traditional music throughout the village. In September there is the Roncesvalles Polish Festival. Its a great neighborhood for shopping or you can also catch a movie at the Revue Cinema (400 Roncesvalles), one of Toronto’s oldest cultural venues.

Toronto Posts:
10+ Things to do on the east end of Toronto
10+ Things to do on Toronto’s Waterfront
Winterlicious – Toronto’s dining gem


Chic Outlet Shopping – Europe

By Steven Wright

Without a doubt one of the great things about traveling to Europe is the shopping. You have access to more of the luxury brand offerings and the up and coming designers labels that have yet to have major presence in the Americas. I have recently written about my trip to Outlet City Metzingen and have just discovered Chic Outlet Shopping.

Strategically located close to many tourist destinations, Chic Outlet Shopping is a series of shopping experiences throughout Europe. Each Village offers a unique setting, restaurants and cafes, tourist information and luxury and designer brands offering last season’s genuine merchandise at huge discounts. I say genuine merchandise as many US outlets carry lines that were created exclusively for the outlet stores, where Chic Outlet Shopping boasts last seasons (3-4 months old) lines that were sold on the high streets. The Villages offer Tax-Free shopping for tourists.

The Shopping Express, a round-trip luxury coach bus service with WIFI from many major centres in Europe offers a great way to have a girl’s shopping day or even take the whole family. Shopping Day Experiences give you the VIP treatment with round-trip luxury coach bus service with WIFI, a VIP Day Card, lunch and a 50€ Gift Card. Currently available at La Vallée, Fidenza and Maasmechelen Villages. Or even create your own shopping experiences including chauffeur driven transfers from your hotel, a personal shopper who will shop with you all day, provide feedback and their expertise to help you make the most of your day, and meals at the restaurants and cafes on site. A travel agent like myself can help you make those arrangements before you depart.

There are a variety of luxury and designer brands across the Villages, but each village is unique in their offering. Some of the brands include Alexander McQueen, Armani, Bvlgari, Burberry, Dior, Dolce & Gabbana, Fendi, Gucci, Jimmy Choo, Mathew Williamson, Paul Smith, Polo, Prada, Salvatore Ferragamo, Valentino, Versace, Yves St Laurent and much much more. Check each Village for their offering.

Contact me to book your escape to Chic Outlet Shopping

London · Bicester Village
Dublin · Kildare Village
Paris · La Vallée Village
Madrid · Las Rozas Village
Barcelona · La Roca Village
Milan / Bologna · Fidenza Village
Brussels / Antwerp / Cologne · Maasmechelen Village
Frankfurt · Wertheim Village
Munich · Ingolstadt Village

Other Shopping Posts:
Outlet City Metzingen
Shopping in Berlin – ja, das ist gut!
Finding Karl, Jean-Paul and Christian in Paris
La Rambla is just a warm up to shopping in Barcelona

Finding Karl, Jean-Paul and Christian in Paris

By Steven Wright

I have been inspired by fashion my whole life. Growing up in small town Ontario, every Sunday evening I would encourage my father to give me a 1/2 hour hiatus from the football game he was watching to follow Jeanne Beker and Fashion Television. Jeanne was a heroine to me, she traveled the world, was on the front line at prêt-à-porter and couture fashion shows each season, and got to interview amazing designers at interesting locals. Paris is known as the mecca of fashion, beyond The Avenue des Champs-Élysées, come with me on my search for Karl, Jean-Paul and Christian.

The Avenue des Champs-Élysées is undoubtedly the most famous shopping strip in the world. From the Place de la Concorde to the Arc de Triomphe, stroll along the spacious sidewalks, enjoying the clipped Horse Chestnut trees. The strip is lined with luxury shopping, quaint boutiques and flag ship designer stores. You can grab a snack and people watch on sidewalk patios. Travel through the underground passageway to explore the Arc de Triomphe, before shopping the opposite side of the Avenue.

It’s worth a stop at the flagship Louis Vuitton store (Avenue des Champs-Élysées, 101). The window displays will be the first thing to catch your eye, even from the opposite side of the street. On the main level find leather goods including bags, luggage, wallets and other accessories adorned with the iconic LV brand pattern. Explore the upper levels for men’s and women’s apparel and accessories. Work with a personal shopper to find the perfect Marc Jacobs designed piece for your collection.

Any trip to Avenue des Champs-Élysées is not complete without paying homage to The Grand Palais. The building is famous for its rounded glass ceiling, not to mention the fact that it has been the home of Chanel runway shows for the past number of years. Karl Lagerfeld brings his many visions to life, and amazes the fashion crowd here season after season.

For the ultimate luxury shopping experience, ditch the crowds on Avenue des Champs-Élysées and head north-east of The Grand Palais to Avenue Montaigne and L’avenue George-V. All of the luxury brands boast a spot on this coveted strip and it is also the location of many of the head offices, and thus an opportunity to run into, or stalk, depending on your preference, the likes of Karl Lagerfeld, Jean-Paul Gautier, Marc Jacobs and more.

Highlights for me include the leather goods at Hermés, the stand alone Jean-Paul Gautier store, the Christian Dior store including separate boutiques for men, women, children and infants, and the Chanel corner. You can also find Chloe, Dolce & Gabanna, Georgio Armani, Prada, Valentino, Fendi, Gucci, Versace and much more in this area.

Take a break from shopping at Chez Francais, 7 Place de l’Alma. Grab a seat on the terrace for an amazing view of the Eiffel Tower and Liberty’s Flame, the Princess Diana Memorial. Chez Francais was recently featured in a scene in Inception with Lenardo Dicaprio and Ellen Paige. If that is not enough, the 5* service and amazing food wine and coffee keep patrons coming back for more. This would also be an ideal location for a romantic dinner or wedding proposal, I’m just saying.

No luxury shopping trip to Paris is complete without stopping at the Christian Louboutin boutique, 19 Rue Jean-Jacques Rousseau. To best shop the store I would suggest window shopping first, at the entrance to the store and then around the corner through the Galerie Véro-Dodat. This gives you the best opportunity to view the show stopping collection with the patten red leather soles. Then head inside to see the rest of these amazing creations and to arrange to have your purchases shipped home.

Stop at Aux Deux Ecus, 1 Place Deux Ecus, for a coffee and croissant before heading to the Louvre or on with your day.

France Posts:
Enjoying My Cake in Versailles Gardens
Pasta in Paris, Brunch in Blue – My guide to finding good eats
Sightseeing on the Seine
Shopping Posts:
La Rambla is just a warm up to shopping in Barcelona
Outlet City Metzingen
Shopping in Berlin – ja, das ist gut!
Chic Outlet Shopping – Europe