"Toronto is like New York, as run by the Swiss," actor Peter Ustinov is rumored to have said. Indeed, this is a big, beautiful, and efficient city, one that has emerged from relative obscurity over the past half-century to become the centre of culture, commerce, and communications in Canada. With its colourful ethnic mix, rich history, and breathtaking architecture, Toronto is nonstop adventure, from the top of the CN Tower to as far as the eye can see.
More than half of the 2.5 million residents who now live in Toronto were born and raised somewhere else, often very far away. Nearly 500,000 Italians give Greater Toronto one of the largest communities outside Italy; while South Asians, the biggest visible minority group inside Toronto, account for 12% of the population (nearly 300,000 people). It's also the home of the largest Chinese community in Canada and the largest Portuguese community in North America. The city hosts close to 200,000 Jewish people, nearly as many Muslims, and tens of thousands of Germans, joined by Greeks, Hungarians, East Indians, West Indians, Vietnamese, Maltese, South Americans, and Ukrainians—more than 80 ethnic groups in all, speaking more than 80 different languages. Toronto is also the home of Canada's largest gay and lesbian community.
Although the assimilation of these various cultures into the overall fabric of the city is ongoing, several ethnic neighborhoods have become attractions for locals and visitors. These include Kensington Market (west of Spadina Avenue between College and Dundas), Chinatown (around the Spadina Avenue and Dundas Street junction), Greektown (Danforth Avenue between Chester and Jones), Little Italy (College Street between Euclid and Shaw), Little Poland (Roncesvalles Avenue between Queen and Dundas), Portugal Village (Dundas Street West, west of Bathurst), India Bazaar (Gerrard Street between Coxwell and Greenwood), and Koreatown (Bloor Street West between Bathurst and Christie).
What this immigration has meant to Toronto is the rather rapid creation of a vibrant mix of cultures that echoes turn-of-the-20th-century New York City—but without the slums, crowding, and tensions. Torontonians embrace and take pride in their multicultural character, their tradition of keeping a relatively clean and safe city, and their shared belief in the value of everyone getting along and enjoying the basic rights of good health care, education, and a high standard of living.
Toronto is also filled with boutiques, restaurants, and cafés, and there are plenty of shops, both aboveground and on the PATH, Toronto's underground city—an 11-km-long (7-mi-long) subterranean walkway lined with eateries, shops, banks, and medical offices.
And then there are the oft-overlooked gems of Toronto, such as the beach-fringed Toronto Islands. These eight tree-lined islands—and more than a dozen smaller islets—that sit in Lake Ontario just off the city's downtown have been attracting visitors since 1833, especially during summer, when their more than 550 acres of parkland are most irresistible. From any of the islands you have spectacular views of Toronto's skyline, especially as the setting sun turns the skyscrapers to gold, silver, and bronze.