Fill your belly and your camera’s memory card with this day-to-night itinerary for one of Toronto’s most iconic neighbourhoods.
Growing up in the 1990s, I traversed Chinatown nearly every weekend with my Cantonese grandparents. We would run errands in and around Spadina Avenue and Dundas Street West, stocking up on tangerines, lychees, bok choi and lap cheong (Chinese sausage).
Sunday mornings, my grandfather would take us out for dim sum, and my grandmother would buy me good-luck charm bracelets, bright kung fu slippers or steamed curry-beef baos.
Decades later, these are all things you can still do.
While Chinatown now offers shops from the Asian diaspora and beyond, its cultural DNA as a walkable, food-obsessed, Chinese-Canadian heritage district remains. Here’s how to cover 12 hours in Toronto’s downtown Chinatown.
10 a.m.: Dim Sum
Downtown Chinatown (also called Chinatown West as there are five Chinatowns in the Greater Toronto Area) welcomes visitors with Millie Chen’s iconic Gateway art installation, on the corner of Spadina Avenue and Dundas Street West. Located high above a streetcar stop, its four red dragons serve as an allegorical entrance.
Another landmark is Dragon City Mall (280 Spadina Ave.), filled with food spots, souvenirs and clothing shops.
11 a.m.: Shopping + Sightseeing
Head north on Spadina Avenue towards College Street for the full, bustling Chinatown experience, where music booms from shops, greengrocers call out in Cantonese and everyone from tiny grannies to frazzled University of Toronto students are speed-walking to their next destination.
Tap Phong (360 Spadina Ave.) is a one-stop shop for affordable Chinese and western cookware, as well as classic souvenirs like paper lanterns and jade statues. Shops selling bamboo goods, T-shirts, umbrellas, sun hats and slippers abound, such as at B & J Trading (376 Spadina Ave.), so if you forgot anything at home, now’s your chance.
Explore the eastern edges of Chinatown on Dundas West, for Chinese good-luck ephemera at Chinatown Mart (490 Dundas St. W.). Take a milk bubble tea break at Hey Sugar (449 Dundas St. W.) or Higher (493A Dundas St. W.).
1 p.m.: Lunch
Sit down for lunch at Fudao Noodle House (358 Spadina Ave.), or head to Pho Hung (350 Spadina Ave.) for excellent Vietnamese bun noodles and pho. Or takeout Vietnamese sandwiches from Banh Mi Nguyen Huong (322 Spadina Ave.) or steamed BBQ pork baos from Ding Dong Pastries & Cafe (321 Spadina Ave.) to eat at Grange Park.
2 p.m.: AGO + Grange Park
Spend the afternoon at the AGO, an art museum with something for all ages. An expansive Group of Seven permanent collection, notable Indigenous and Canadian art collections, and the impressive Old Master Collection will all captivate art lovers.
Across the street, Bau-Xi Gallery (340 Dundas St W.), is one of the city’s best international and Canadian contemporary art galleries, founded by prominent Chinese-Canadian Bau-Xi Huang.
6 p.m.: Dinner
Tuck into Chinese-Canadian comfort foods like chow mein, fried rice and lo mein at Swatow Restaurant (309 Spadina Ave.) or Taste of China Seafood Restaurant (338 Spadina Ave.), or, for a fun hotpot experience, try Chine Legendary Hot Pot & Noodles (327 Spadina Ave.).
8 p.m.: Dessert or drinks
10 p.m.: Nightlife
Take in Toronto’s live music scene at the legendary El Mocambo (464 Spadina Ave.); its unmissable neon palm signage dates from its origins as a circa-1948 dance club. Acts such as Blondie, U2 and the Rolling Stones have appeared on the “El Mo” stage.
Getting to Chinatown
- Take the 505 Dundas streetcar to Spadina Avenue
- Or take the Line 1: Yonge-University subway to Spadina station, then take the 510 Spadina streetcar southbound to Dundas Street West