Toronto definitely got on my favorite cities list along with Bangkok, Saigon, San Francisco, Amsterdam, Porto, Rome, Munich, Riga & Vilnius.
It's young, colorful and hip, but most importantly for me - it's relatively small, walkable, cozy, cute, with all of its many neighborhoods having a distinct character. My Toronto=from what I experienced is all about food, live music, art and great vibe. I didn't go to restaurants, but tried to find and eat at local, affordable food gems and trust me - if you decide to skip upscale, modern fusion, fancy places which you can find in any city, you're going to discover amazing amount of rather small food places that are inexpensive, very personal, with a lot of character, offering cool mix of world cuisine and much loved by the locals. Music wise Toronto is amazing - many cafes and bars will have at least a tiny stage and any day of the week will have a big music performance program to choose from. Art is everywhere - museums, galleries, installations, art labs, streets.
People in Toronto are easy going, friendly, nice but not fake and talkative, people start conversations easily and anywhere. English in Toronto for me is extremely clear - while sometimes I have trouble understanding California, NYC or Southern English, Toronto English (unless it's Frenglish) was always perfectly understandable.
I didn't do much of touristy stuff following my well worked out strategy of avoiding touristy places and activities in order to discover real city, real people and the culture the way locals experience it. So what I did is I walked the entire more or less central city in 7 days paying attention to details and doing what locals do. Here are some highlights of Toronto for urban junkies like me:
Lively and hip street with most interesting stuff stretching from downtown to Dufferin street. It's full of funky shops, bars and cafes, fashion boutiques. It's very colorful and full of street art. Don't miss backstreets around Queen St West and Spadina - you don't even need to go to modern art museum - it's all there on the walls if you care to explore.
Here (actually everywhere else as well) you can discover a very interesting feature of Toronto - many commercial services will have a different way of promoting themselves - rather than having an official sign by their doors they will have their service advertised on the wall of their building as a street art - amazing! I've seen clinics, realtors, car repair shops, food markets etc do this.
This is wall art for animal clinic.
Couple of things to check out on Queen St West are Gladstone hotel - an art incubator hosting exhibitions, installations, creative events, and Cadillac Lounge - nice venue & bar hosting 60'-80' style live music every night.
This is the hipster and hippie paradise - organic food stores and cafes, street markets, boutiques, art places, flea stores, international stores, with promoted hanging out at a cool cafe & music culture. Absolutely lovely, colorful area! Check out Ideal Coffee place on Nassau street - great atmosphere with a terrace to hangout, Hibiscus Cafe with its amazing menu and many African & Carribean shops.
Kensignton market borders with Chinatown - another cool area to explore - many traditional stores, local food places and cool cozy atmosphere.
Spadina street is also nice to check out - food places, bars, great vibe. One venue to check out on Spadina & College street is El Mocambo - legendary music venue hosting artists from the 50'. Check out their calendar for events! I got to see the Great Canadian Burlesque show and Rockabilly night there - very cool and authentic experience!
Quick info tip for music/party lovers - check What's on schedules here: nowtoronto.com/music It's a great resource and the events will accommodate any taste on any day, really.
Bloor street is the one with metro line running along it, so you might be tempted to skip walking on it and just take the metro. However, this is a nice walk to downtown with many family run restaurants (e.g. Indian, Israeli and Carribean cuisine). Highlight is definitely Koreatown - you'll have an amazing selection of food places here.
Bloor and Lansdowne ave is the neighborhood where I stayed - it's absolutely lovely area with a lot of cute residential houses, they're just so cute!
This is an excellent walk and here you can see Little Portugal with a lot of shops and cafes with very authentic Portuguese atmosphere.
This area is a great location for party, live music, cheap & nice eats. This is also where you can see Little Italy.
Even though it's located in downtown - the street has a very local feel, with small cute shops and restaurants - it's a nice walk going from Bloor street South on Yonge.
Art & design lovers will find plenty of galleries and museums in Toronto - some highlights are: MOCCA, smaller galleries listed here, Art Gallery of Ontario, The Design Exchange, check emerging arts and projects at White House as well.
Needless to say, I fell in love with Toronto - it's absolutely charming and has everything I usually love about cities. The goal is to visit it in summer!
Some more impressions