Without question, Toronto is packed with awesome ways to entertain your family. However, some of those options are kind of well, expensive. That’s not to say that they aren’t worth the money but for most of us, it’s not exactly feasible to be spending hundreds of dollars every week on keeping your kids amused.
So below we’ve put together a list of 17 citywide attractions and events that are easy on your wallet but still tons of fun.
And, if you’re looking for another great way to get in on inexpensive fun, be sure to look into the new Family Pass — a Toronto/GTA discount program specifically for kids and families that saves you up to 40% at local attractions and retailers for an entire year. Find out more here.
1. Evergreen Brick Works | evergreen.ca
In 2010, this site of a former brick factory was transformed into a community hub that features everything from a farmers market to a self-led scavenger hunt. It’s also home to the Children’s Garden, where kids are encouraged to participate in open-ended play, “while developing an appreciation for the natural world.” Programming at the Garden changes monthly and on the weekend, access to it and the rest of the Bricks Works (with the exception of some special events) is free. Also free are the surrounding family-friendly walking trails. During warmer weather, watch out for the many turtles that call the nearby wetlands home. Come wintertime, the Brick Works is home to a skating rink and special winter programming.
2. Harbourfront Centre & Natrel Pond/Rink | harbourfrontcentre.com
Despite its lakeside location, we consider Harbourfront a year-round destination thanks to a programming schedule that includes something for every month of the year. Many of these events feature free components including crafts, live performances and sometimes even food samples. Harbourfront is also home to the Natrel Rink, where your family can ice skate for free. When the weather warms up, the rink becomes a pond where you can rent two-people paddleboats for $10 a person.
3. Cinesphere at Ontario Place
If you’ve got a few movie-lovers in your family, Cinesphere is a great place to check out. This iconic theatre is open year round and offers families a variety of films for all ages. The immersive IMAX experience is sure to impress budding film fans, too. Ticket prices range from $15 for adults to $11 for kids, but when you’re a Family Pass member, you get 20% off admission prices and 10% off the concession stand. Let’s all go to the lobby…
4. EarlyON Centres
Formally known as Early Years, these centres aim to provide a nurturing community for kids aged newborn to six and their caregivers. While programming varies depending on the day and the location, most centres offer drop-in programs that feature song circles, crafts and lots of free play opportunities. Some even include free snacks. Dozens of EarlyON centres operate across the city and their days and hours vary, with some even being open until 6 pm and on Saturdays. With the exception of some special events and classes, which may charge a small fee, EarlyON is a free experience, funded in part by the provincial government and in part by private donations.
5. Home Depot Kids Workshops | homedepot.ca/en/home/ideas-how-to/workshops
Got a crafty kid in your house? Or maybe one that loves building tools? Then you’ll want to take them to one of Toronto’s three Home Depots on the second Saturday of the month for the chain’s Kids Workshops. Each month features a different project that’s designed to be assembled by children five through 12. Besides bringing home their project, and maybe some new construction skills, attendees will also receive a pin and certificate. Kids Workshops are completely free but you do need to register in advance. To do that, contact your most convenient Home Depot location.
6. Michael’s | michaels.com
Yes, we’re talking about Michael’s the craft store. Most Saturday mornings, its three Toronto locations host its Kids Club where your mini makers can busy themselves completing a fun, take-home project. Two different crafts are always offered, with the craft aimed at kids age three to eight costing $2 and the other, designed for kids six and up, costing $5 (and yes, that covers all needed supplies). You can sign your child up in advance or simply drop in; each session starts on the half-hour between 10 am and 11:30 am. Note that while you have to remain inside the store while your children make their project, you are free to wander around and do some shopping.
7. Playground Paradise | toronto.ca
This appropriately-named indoor playground is a great spot for kids aged toddler and up to burn off energy while climbing, jumping and sliding. And while Toronto has its share of indoor playgrounds, this one, run by the City of Toronto at the Flemingdon Community Centre, is completely free to use. As a result, Playground Paradise can get busy so aim to arrive when it first opens and don’t forget to bring socks for your kids.
8. Public Pools | toronto.ca/data/parks/maps/pools
Here in Toronto we’re lucky to have access to dozens of public pools, most of which offer free family swim times throughout the week. Though you might have to bring a few quarters for the lockers, the rest of your visit to your local pool should come at no cost. While most Toronto neighbourhoods have easy access to a pool, we have to recommend a trip to the Pam McConnell Aquatic Centre in Regent Park. This gorgeous space includes a dedicated leisure pool, water slide and hot tub. There’s also a universal change room that is fully accessible.
9. Recreation Fun and Play with Caregiver | toronto.ca/data/parks/dropin
This awkward-sounding name is what the City of Toronto has named its drop-in play gym program. For a few hours each week, gyms in select community centres across the city become well, kind of chaotic, as children run and wheel about, thanks to various ride-on toys. Hockey nets, an assortment of balls, small slides and more are also available to entertain your kids for free. To find a Recreation Fun and Play with Caregiver time near you, click this link: toronto.ca/data/parks/dropin and select “Children’s Play” from the “General Interest” menu. Some community centres also offer other kid-friendly drop-in programs including family fitness and African drumming.
10. Riverdale Farm | riverdalefarmtoronto.ca
This special slice of Toronto has been entertaining kids for generations. Spread across 7.5 acres, this actual working farm will give your family a taste of country living. Here they can visit with chickens, pigs, goats and even horses. Every day there’s a “daily farm demonstration” where the on-site farmer showcases one of the location’s animals. Other demonstrations and special events are common, and sometimes make use of the farm’s wood oven. There are also over three kilometres of trails to discover. Once your family has finished exploring the farm, walk over to the adjacent Riverdale Park West and have a picnic or cool off in its wading pool.
Best for Summer
11. The Beach | thebeachvillage.com
We won’t touch on the whole The Beach verses The Beaches debate but we will recommend this highly scenic section of Toronto as an ideal spot for some cheap family fun. While you can grab something to eat at one of the nearby restaurants or snack shops, you can also pack a picnic to enjoy on sandy Woodbine Beach. And be sure to pack your swimsuits and towels because so long as the weather cooperates, you can (usually) go for a dip in this part of Lake Ontario. Other activities your family and you can do include beach volleyball, tennis and exploring nearby parks including Kew Gardens. Just remember that on warm sunny days, the Beach can get busy so if you plan on driving to this part of town, head out early.
12. Fringe KidsFest | fringetoronto.com/fringe/kidsfest
With $5 kids tickets and babes-in-arms free, this annual event is an affordable way to introduce your kids to live theatre. Besides featuring performances that are aimed at children, programming starts in the morning, making it easier to accommodate nap schedules. All front-of-house staff are also “friendly kid-experts,” who understand that sometimes children are unpredictable and loud. After your family has checked out a show, hang out for a bit at the Fringe’s KidsFest Club, a by-donation playspace.
13. High Park | toronto.ca
Toronto’s largest park is packed with ways to entertain your family, all for the price of maybe some ice cream. It’s home to the big, beautiful “castle playground” (which you may also recognize from one of Mike Holmes’ TV shows), that is perfect for hide-and-seek and all kinds of imagination games. Once your kids are tired of the playground, walk a few steps over to the nearby zoo. While it’s small, the zoo does let you get up close and personal with such animals as llamas, emus and the legendary (at least in Toronto) capybaras. Finish your day off at High Park’s outdoor pool, which includes a slide and a kiddie area.
14. Outdoor Movies
There’s just something about watching a movie under the stars that makes it seem that much more magical. From late June until early September, a number of Toronto neighbour associations and groups organize outdoor screenings that can be the ideal place to introduce your little ones to such beloved films as Ghostbusters. These events are often free or PWYC and some event include popcorn! While you can catch outdoor films at Christie Pits, Yonge-Dundas Square and the Aga Khan Museum, two destinations that tend to host more family-friendly movies are Sorauren Park [https://soraurenpark.wordpress.com/festivals-movies/outdoor-movies/] and the Beach Village [https://thebeachvillage.com/movie-nights-in-the-park/].
They’re only with us a few short months, but what a glorious few months those are. Toronto is home to over a 100 supervised wading pools, which open the last weekend in June and close Labour Day weekend. Splash pads, which aren’t supervised as they don’t have standing water, are open for longer, from mid-May until mid-September. Both types of water features are always free to use and are the perfect way to entertain the kids on hot (or even just warm) summer days. A few of our favourite splash pads and wading pools include the ones at Oriole Park, Sugar Beach and Alexandra Park.
16. Toronto Island Picnic | toronto.ca
When parents hear “Toronto Island” they tend to think Centreville but there are plenty of other, and frankly cheaper, ways to experience this ideal summer destination. Franklin’s Children Garden is a great spot to teach your kids about nature, thanks in part to its summer programming that includes a special garden just for little ones. And located conveniently nearby is one of Toronto’s many splash pads, as well as fun cedar hedge maze. After your family has cooled off, enjoy that lunch you brought along at one of the island’s picnic tables. Can’t stay away from Centreville? Remember that Far Away Farm is free to visit. Ferry tickets run under $4 for children while adult tickets cost under $8.
17. Toronto Railroad Museum | torontorailwaymuseum.ca
Technically this is a year-round destination but we’re recommending that you visit the Toronto Railroad Museum between May and October when you and your kids can take a ride on its outdoors miniature train. Indoors, the museum features full-size locomotives, passengers cars and freight cars, making it an ideal place to bring your Thomas the Train fan. While the museum is located in the heart of Toronto, it doesn’t have the same pricey admission fee that many downtown attractions have. Instead, kid and senior tickets cost $3 while adults are only $5, with ride tickets for the miniature train costing respectfully $2.50 and $3.50.