A few steps away from Chinatown led me into another dimension and era ..... right smack dab into the 60's! Kensington market is a small neighborhood, only a few blocks long, filled with typical 'hippie' attire, second hand shops, bead shops, organic eateries, and flashback style music wafting from windows along the way ........
After a wonderful fruit smoothie, we wandered in and out of the various shops ............ incense was the theme as every shop had a different scent. Some of the clothing was appropriately priced, some was way overpriced - one must use their own judgement in deciding what to buy. But I found the beads and some of the little jewelry type thingies wonderful souveniers for my family ;)
This is a short block, but as you wander you enter other ethnic areas ..... ganga-ville, portuguese land, reggae-ville, etc ...... a wonderful way to taste and smell a little bit of other cultures is to wander into Kensington Market :)
We didn't get to spend much time at Kensington Market, the weather was drizzly and unlike the St. Lawrence Market which is indoor stalls, the Kensington Market is a collection of shops. I'll definitely head back to this area should I get to Toronto again.
Along the streets you'll find shops of many different ethnicities selling food, clothing, knick knacks, you name it. Frommer's Toronto 2005 has a lovely walking tour of the Kensington/Chinatown area mapped out.
Kensington Market isn't a "market" in the regular sense of the word, it's a collection of ethnic food stores, hip coffee shops, and used retro/military surplus clothes stores. If you ever have one of those days when you wake up thinking, "Hmmm... Today I'd like to buy a military tent, a genuine 60s go-go skirt, a Rastafarian hat, a pound of Mexican chillies, and then sit down to drink a latte while reading Nietzsche to pretend I'm clever," then look no further!
I know there are people that think Kensington is "ultra-cool" or the "jewel of Toronto", and don't get me wrong, I love spending time there, but the whole premise of the neighbourhood is absolutely ridiculous. But that's why I enjoy it; it makes me laugh. ...And I guess there is a nice idea of "world harmony" in there somewhere. It's a fun way to spend an hour or two on a sunny afternoon.
Many of the houses in the area were built in the 1880s to house Scottish and Irish immigrant labourers. "Kensington Market" itself was founded shortly after 1910 by a large wave of Jewish immigrants who were displaced from a different area of the city. They opened tailor, bakery, and import shops in the densely built houses that occupy the streets. Later still, immigrants from the Portugal, the Caribbean, Africa, the Middle East, and draft-dodgers from the US-Vietnam war all moved in. Council and developer plans to demolish and redevelop the area in the 1960s fell through when a mayor sympathetic to the neighbourhood was elected.
An open-air market occurs in the streets on Saturdays.
Kensington does offer one's mind a beautiful break from all the chain stores and franchise restaurants that plague the rest of Toronto's core. Even brand new storefronts and objects look slightly tattered and worn-out when placed here. But that's what this area's always been about... a home for the dispossessed.
To be honest I am indifferent to Kensington Market but some people love the place. Then again I know others who found the Kensington disgusting. So I suggest you visit it yourself and judge.
Kensington Market is a small neighborhood in central Toronto especially noted for its outdoor market stalls and its ethnic diversity. With respect to the later, it can be said to be emblematic of Toronto itself. Kensington Market dates from the 19th century and was actually where the Scotch first settled into Toronto. As with most ethnic groups, when they prospered they moved to other neighborhoods and other immigrant groups moved in. Few people are aware that this was at onetime a thriving Jewish neighborhood. In fact the oldest synagogue is in Kensington. More recently the neighborhood has been settled by Portuguese and Chinese. The former group are noted for painted their homes bright colours.
Today most of the outdoor food shops are concentrated toward the northern end of the market area. Elsewhere, there are many second clothing stores and cheap restaurants. Several coffee shops have recently opened up as the neighborhood also seems to be developing into a very trendy area. The area has also become the home of collection of neo-hippies who seem to hang around the outdoor bars, drink cheap beer and mourn the day Abby Hoffman died.
Kensington Market is in the same area as Chinatown, so you can easily spend a day browsing through both places. My first impression was that it was a bit run down, but you'll find some real deals if you dare to venture inside some of the stores. There's the usual t-shirt shops and souvenir stuff shops as well as some great spice stores, butchers, and foodstuffs.
The great thing about Kensington Market is the diversity of cultures you'll find. It's sort of a world market - you'll find imports from Mexico, the Middle-East, the Caribbean, Italy, China among others.
Definitely leave your car at home. There's no room for a car on the streets of Kensington Market, but don't be surprised when someone attempts to drive through anyway.
I'm not sure why, but I wasn't especially intrigued with the Kensington Market area. In all fairness, I didn't spend a great deal of time there and maybe it was because I had just enjoyed a nice Dim Sum lunch at the Bright Pearl restaurant nearby and wasn't in the mood for people standing in the street obstructing traffic. Nor did the crowded sidewalks, blaring music and many Rasta shops that seemed to dominate the area entice me, and as I wasn't in the need for any surplus military items I just didn't get it.
But don't let me influence you! You might get it and like it! It is certainly a different sort of ethnic place and the one picture taken was someone's tranquil little garden located in the far reaches of an alleyway. I guess there really is something for everyone and this place was my highlight... So very contrasting to the rest of the area.
To the west of Chinatown you can find Kensington Market. A totally different area but so much fun to visit! You have to go here on a beautiful sunny day, I think a Saturday would be best for a visit.
There are dozens of tiny shops and produce stands hidden in the labyrinth of little streets. Lots of people walking around shopping, relaxing, enjoying the beautiful summers day and also to watch other people or to 'be seen' themselves. It's amazing how many different cultures and characters are mixed together in this little neighbourhood of Toronto.
The spring is an excellent time to visit Toronto, it has been my favorite season so far to go here. Of course there is more chance of a rainy day in this time of the year, but when the sun starts to shine it's so wonderful to walk around in Toronto. All the people seem to enjoy that the winter is over and are in a good mood. Everyone seems to escape their houses after a long winter and walk around leasurely in the city. Enjoying the nice weather and wearing their summer clothes, even if it's not warm enough for that yet, LOL. But no one seems to be bothered by that and enjoys the beautiful sunshine. And Kensington Market, in my opinion, really reflects that feeling at this wonderful time of the year.
The temperatures can be surprisingly warm in the spring (but be aware that it can be quite cool also). In the summer it can get hot and sticky and no one seems to enjoy walking around in Toronto that much. Hahaha, no need to tell you about the winter... brrrr. way too cold to be here, and there's nothing to see and do on the streets at that time of the year.
And in a neighbourhood like this it is obvious there are some streetartists giving some entertainment to the leisurely walking crowds on the streets of Kensington Market. You have to take your time in Kensington Market, don't hurry, relax and enjoy and take in everything around you. That's the only way you can enjoy this area of Toronto to the fullest. In a way it reminded me of some parts of Amsterdam, hahaha, but on a much smaller scale of course :-)
I've been in doubt wether to put this tip under must sees or shopping, but I decided for the must see activity this time. I think this is what makes "Kensington Market" to what it is, a neighbourhood with a lot of atmosphere and bohemian feel. The antique shops add to this feel and you can see quite a few of them around. I took this photo through the window of an antique store and this woman was totaly taken but the old tv :-)
Everywhere in Kensington Market you can find these colourful Victorian Houses. These type of houses are not only restricted to Kensington Market, but you find them as well in the adjecent neighbourhoods.
But of course in this 'bohemian' like neighbourhood the houses are painted a bit more colourful than the rest of the area :-)
When you are walking around in Kensington Market don't forget to look around you, not only on the streets, but also look up once in a while. You'll be surprised what kind of funny details you will see. Maybe you can spot some of these super models posing on the balcony above one of the shops.
There are lots of shops in Kensington Market that sell vintage clothing. I think the beauty of these shops is that they are all in the old Victorian Houses of this neighbourhood and don't look like a 'real' store at all.
Just like in Chinatown there are lots of fruitstands and shops in Kensington Market, yummie! Hahaha, this one was funny though as it still had some christmas lights and decorations hanging in the store..... and it's May!!! Hahaha, only something like that can happen in Kensington Market :-)))
Like I already said, Kensington Market is a great place for watching people and to be 'seen' yourself. You can find some excentric looking people walking on the streets. And the best place to do this is at Louie's Kaffee. It's on a corner in the heart of Kensington Market, you can't miss it! There are benches and barstools outside of the shop. All the windows are open... actually.... they are not there at all. So when you are inside, it's almost like being outside and you have a great view over the street. And it's also visa versa, you can just order your coffee from your barstool outside at the lady at the counter, it's as easy as that.
AND they serve a great cup of cappucino as well!!! I loved it here so much, sitting outside in the sun, watching the people walking by, hearing all different languages around me and having a great cup of cappucino. I sat there for quite a while, enjoying every minute of it. And I wasn't the only one, hahaha, some I saw still sitting there a few hours later :-)