Part of a series on my favourite walking trails in Toronto.
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Samual Johnson once said, “when a man is tired of London he is tired of life”. With a nod to Dr. Johnson, I’d say that also applies to Yonge Street in Toronto.
Many cities have a well-known street – Broadway in New York, Oxford Street in London, George Street in Sydney – but Yonge is a different from those thoroughfares in that, in a sense, there isn’t one “Yonge Street”. While it may be a single road, because it’s such a long street it takes on many moods, so that multiple stretches of Yonge form distinct little neighbourhoods, referred to usually by the cross streets – Yonge & Dundas, Yonge & Bloor, Summerhill, Yonge & St. Clair, Yonge & Eg, and so on as it goes north. Walking any 3-4 km stretch of Yonge between Steeles and the Lake will take you through at least a couple of these neighbourhoods, each with its own atmosphere and vibe. That, and Toronto’s famous mix of cultures from round the world, means that walking Yonge is like a mini tour of the United Nations dipped in maple syrup. I love it.
Length: Yonge is a little more than 20 km from the lake to Steeles, so allow about 5 hours if you want to walk the whole thing. That said, an hour’s stretch at picked at random is lots of fun and lets you explore the surrounding neighbourhoods too.
Surface: It’s a public road so concrete, concrete, concrete, and in winter add large dollops of salt. Wear comfy shoes.
Public Transit: Subway Line 1 runs most of the length of Yonge, from King up to Finch, and bus route 97 covers most of Yonge as well so it’s very easy to pick start and stopping points based on one of the subway or bus stops.
If it were me, I’d pick a stretch partly based on the weather and partly on the kind of food I like to eat. Starting down at the Lake on a sunny late spring day can be fantastic, and so can exploring mid-town or uptown. Downtown, mid-town, and uptown there are too many restaurants and shops to count, and there are parks like Ramsden or Alexander Muir Gardens or York Mills along the way too.
One way to decide is to simply pick a subway stop at random and then tell yourself you’re going to walk at least 3 subway stops either north or south along Yonge – keeping in mind that north of St. Clair, the stops are quite a bit farther apart than they are downtown.
However you do it, try walking not just Yonge but also the surrounding streets that parallel it. Often a block east or west of Yonge takes you into residential streets and that’s a great way to explore too, and also get away a bit from the traffic and hustle.
A favourite stretch of Yonge for me is in mid-town, between Bloor and north past Eglinton. This stretch goes past Ramsden Park (a mid-town jewel) as well as Mount Pleasant Cemetery, and it’s lovely to detour into those treed oases for cooling greenness on a hot summer day.
Sights on Yonge are as much or more about the people than about the buildings or shops. People watching on Yonge is a year-round sport, and endless fun. Part of that is being people-watched yourself – the way you walk down Yonge, what you wear and what you carry, will provide gossip for others just as much as you can gossip about them. In summer, that includes sitting at one of the sidewalk cafes and patios and people-watching the street scene, sipping a cold glass of something while the passers-by judge you by the food you’re eating. Oh the joys.
Of course, there is history along Yonge as well, if you want to explore. Yonge-Dundas Square, which has become a celebration point when something big happens, like the Raptors NBA Championship win in 2019. Or little bits of history like the plaque that marks the Montgomery Tavern at Yonge and Montgomery, where William Lyon Mackenzie set off with a group of like-minded followers in 1837 during the so-called Upper Canada Rebellion to protest against the government of the day. And landmarks like the clock tower of the old CN rail station at Summerhill that’s now become an iconic location of the LCBO.
Of course, for many people Yonge is really about the shopping. For most of it’s length, it’s lined by shops of all descriptions – antiques, clothing, shoes, foods, guitars, bikes, tea, electronics, and so much more. We lived for many years just off Yonge in mid-town and did all of our daily shopping within a 2-block stretch of Yonge that included a fishmonger, a greengrocer, a cheese shop & deli, a bakery, and a butcher, all great little shops where we knew the shopkeepers and they greeted us by name. Sure, Yonge has its share of the big chain stores, but why would you bother when you find some little neighbourhood gem for a unique experience? Between the shops and the many unique little restaurants and bars, you can shop local and follow your 100-km diet. Who needs more?
Food & Refreshment:
It’s Yonge, so expect at least a coffee shop if not an actual restaurant or takeaway every few hundred meters pretty much the whole length of the street. You’ll find virtually every type of cuisine the city offers, and every type of establishment from bars to bistros. There are also countless food shops, butchers, cheese shops, fishmongers, grocery stores, and greengrocers, so you can do all your shopping along Yonge – bring a knapsack and some shopping bags.
Keep in mind that Yonge is an urban streetscape for most of its length, so a hot summer’s day can feel even hotter, just a cold winter’s blast of wind can freeze to the bone. The many shops and refreshments along the way will give you breaks from the weather.
Finally, while there are no public toilets or water fountains available on Yonge Street itself, there are many options available. Downtown, there are washrooms & water fountains in the malls off Yonge at the Eaton Centre, College Park, and Yonge-Bloor. At mid-town, there are washrooms in the mall on the north-east corner at Yonge & St. Clair, and on the north-west corner at Yonge & Eglinton. Uptown, there are malls on the north-east corner at Yonge & Sheppard and the south-west corner at Yonge & Steeles. Of course, there are tons of coffee shops along the way so you can always pop into one of those.
- Make a game of it – how many coffee shops can you find along Yonge? How many couples walking dogs will you spot? How many BMWs per block?
- You can also use Yonge as a corridor between wider neighbourhoods that are well worth exploring, like Yorkville, Rosedale, Deer Park, or Lawrence Park. In that case, pick a couple of neighbourhoods that are separated by a few km of Yonge, and use the street to walk between them.
- There’s much debate about what counts as “downtown”, “mid-town”, and “uptown”. If you want to break down Yonge by those labels, then I’d say downtown is Yonge from Bloor south to the Lake; midtown is Yonge between Bloor and Eg; and uptown is north of Eglinton. Of course, ask 10 people and you’ll get 10 different definitions so try exploring what your friends suggest is downtown or midtown or whatever.
- Yonge is ever-changing and flows with the seasons, so exploring any part of it will be very different in December versus June.