Summer’s here, and Toronto has a ton of ways to have fun on the cheap! Here are our favourite things to do for free this summer with kids.
Summer is festival season, and you’ll have your pick every weekend. Not all festivals are free, but some of the best ones are. For a full picture of all upcoming festivals (free and not), see the online calendar.
The Toronto Islands are a great destination for kids on any day in summer, but even more so during this free, weekend-long family festival with inflatable obstacle courses, bouncy castles, games, face painting, and character meet-and-greets. Get your ferry tickets in advance to avoid long wait times. July 18–20
Expect live music and theatre performances, interactive art, kid-friendly play spaces, inflatables, and lots of food at this two-day art and culture festival in The Annex that takes over a car-free stretch of Bloor Street. July 21–22
This fun, twice-per-year happening encourages community and active play for all ages by closing major streets to traffic and offering group yoga, music performances, obstacle courses, public dance classes, and more in the streets. August 19 (and September 16)
This is Ontario’s largest annual children’s festival, with tons of free activities and performers, superhero and mascots, and more. Some of thea activities require a fee ($10 play-all-day wristband), but many are free. August 26
Outdoor play spaces are in full swing in summer, and if the weather cooperates, you’ve got nearly endless options.
The perfect way to cool off on a hot day, splash pads start operating on Victoria Day weekend. The City of Toronto operates more than 50 splash pads across the city (see a Toronto splash pad map), of varying quality. See our favourite splash pads, which are worth a special trip!
There’s a city-park wading pool (or three or four) in every neighbourhood throughout the city (see a Toronto wading pool map). They’re open from Canada Day weekend and fully staffed by lifeguards. Bring your water toys, buckets, and beach balls!
Toronto’s only farm in the city, Riverdale Farm is 7.5 acres of barns and paddocks with farm animals and pathways through wooded areas, around ponds, and into wonderful gardens. Daily
Pack a picnic and plan for a day’s adventure on the car-free Toronto Islands. The ferry or water taxi ride there is part of the fun. When you arrive, you can take advantage of beaches, the Franklin Children’s Garden, splash pad, playground, and bike paths—all free.
Bison, deer, peacocks, and highland cattle are some of the animals you’ll see at this small zoo area in High Park. Visitors can feed and pet the llamas on weekends and holidays from March until October. Year-round
High Park “castle playground”
The Jamie Bell Adventure Playground at the south end of High Park (adjacent to the High Park Zoo) is one of the city’s coolest playgrounds by far, with turrets, mazelike passageways, two-story slides, and an enclosed area just for toddlers. Dress your child in bright colours—it can be hard to keep an eye on them behind the labyrinthine castle walls.
Dufferin Grove Park Sandpit Playground
This park has a playground and a wading pool, but the most exciting feature is the giant dirt “construction” area for wannabe archaeologists and mud-pie lovers. Grab a kid-sized shovel, fill buckets with water from the faucet, and make use of the bulldozers and excavators strewn about to create moats, reservoirs, and winding rivers. Bring a change of clothes!
Free attractions for kids every weekend (and some weekdays) at this green space in the city include nature play in the children’s garden, a bike obstacle course, and nature-themed scavenger hunts. A farmer’s market is on each weekend in summer, too.
If you love gorgeous cliff sides and feeling lost in a vast wilderness that is actually in a city center, then Bluffer’s Beach is for you! Take a beautiful ride down the long, steep and windy road to an ample parking lot that has generous-sized washrooms close by, then hop out of your vehicle and take a short stroll to a spanning beach that has clean sand and water. Blue Flag rated; supervised by lifeguards during peak times.
Marie Curtis East Beach
One of Etobicoke’s greatest highlights is the lovely Marie Curtis Park East Beach. One of the few beaches in North America named after a female community leader (Marie Curtis was a favoured small-village mayor in the GTA), this beach boasts a beautiful shorefront that is perfect for watching the sunset. The adjacent park has a playground, wading pool, an off-leash dog area, picnic areas, parking, washrooms, walking trails, and a connection to the Waterfront Trail. Blue Flag rated; supervised by lifeguards during peak times.
It’s more of a water playground than a true water park, but Kidstown Water Park in Scarborough’s L’Amoreaux Park is still loads of fun—and it’s completely free! Lifeguards monitor the play area, which has a two-story structure with founatains, sprays, and a giant tipping bucket. There are also shallow pools, mini slides, and a splash pad. Daily in summer.
Ice skating at Ontario Place
That’s right—ice skating…in summer! Ontario Place has a waterfront synthetic ice-skating rink (hint: it’s not actually ice) wher eyou can strap on your skates and practice your figure-8s year-round.
Admission is free to Canada’s only national urban park. Rouge Park has hiking trails, free guided family walks on weekends and every Wednesday, paddling, and kids’ activities at regular Club Parka events, featuring visits from the Parks Canada beaver mascot, Parka. See our insider guide to Rouge Park with kids.
On every weekend, rain or shine, at HTO Park, Toronto’s own waterfront open-air market features a carefully-curated mix of 75 local, up-and-coming artisans, crafters, chefs and bakers. Weekends
This market at Artscape Wychwood Barns has live music and tasty treats, and the adjacent Wychwood Parkette has a great splash pad, sand pits, playground and picnic tables. Saturdays
This market is especially family friendly for its convivial atmosphere, live music, a communal eating area with picnic tables, and proximity to the amazing “dirt playground” (see above), as well as a fenced “typical” playground, children’s garden, wading pool, and skateboarding zone. Thursdays
This market is hosted at Jonathan Ashbridge Park, which has a wading pool, and a playground. After you stock up on local goods, head to nearby Woodbine Beach or Ashbridges Bay Park for some biking, grilling, or fun in the sand. Sundays
On the last Sunday of each month, the streets will close to vehicles as a festival takes place in the market. Artists, musicians, and performers will be on hand to fill the car-shaped hole from noon to 7 pm on each of the days. July 29, August 26
Movies, Museums, and More
Free outdoor movies
Parks and public spaces throughout the city host free movies throughout the summer on select nights. Look for pop-up movie events in your neighbourhood or check out our favourite places to see free outdoor summer movies with kids.
Free movies, workshops, puppet shows, and crafting are among the many fun opportunities at local libraries throughout the city. Your local library should be one of your first stops on a rainy day or a day that’s too hot to spend much time outdoors!
Free workshops for kids ages 7–12 start out with a tour of the current exhibition at the Power Plant gallery. Afterward, kids are guided through an art project inspired by the artist’s work.
These fun, free arts events take place in parks throughout Toronto during summer and include clowns, theatre, multimedia installations, puppetry, music, and more.
Pick up free passes to major museums and attractions including the ROM, AGO, Aga Khan Museum, Toronto Zoo, Ontario Science Centre, and Black Creek Pioneer Village at your local library via this amazing, free program offered by Sun Life Financial. Each library offers a limited number of passes for select attractions, so call the library first to see what’s available.
A version of this post originally appeared on Help We’ve Got Kids