Toronto is a great place for families. From winter to summer, there is always a ton of things to do. I’m slightly biased – I lived there for almost 7 years – but it’s one of our favourite weekend getaways within a decent time’s drive. Mind you, Toronto traffic is brutal and something we never look forward to. If you’re driving, try to avoid coming into or leaving the city during the worst times and rely on public transit or other forms of transportation for the most part once you’re actually in the city. If you’re going to be checking out more than one or two of the most popular sites, like the Royal Ontario Museum and the CN Tower, the Official Toronto CityPASS is definitely the best way to go as it allows you to save up to 40% off admission prices. Here are the best family-friendly things to do in Toronto.
Toronto Travel Guide for Families
What to Do and See
Evergreen Brick Works Market
Brick Works is hands down one of my favourite markets. We used to come here way back when it first started up and had only a handful of vendors, but it’s grown SO much since those early days. Get there early as it can get busy. Set in an old factory, it’s a great, expansive space, perfect for wandering the many booths of fresh veggie and fruit vendors, local artisans, jams, honeys, candles, bread and bakery products and even a local bio-dynamic winery on some weekends. There is a prepared food space inside too with everything from freshly-made crepes to smoothies and vegan offerings. From there you can wander outside and even go for a little hike or explore the ponds that are teeming with turtles and fish. It’s such a gorgeous place. Oh, did I mention it’s dog-friendly? There is also an amazing children’s learning garden and there are often events or workshops going on geared specifically toward children, including weekend gardening projects. Inside the new entirely enclosed building is a restaurant, a couple more shops and some washrooms. You can honestly spend an entire morning here, and the kids will love the awesome garden and fun opportunities to explore the pathways and ponds out back. There is a paid parking lot and also lots of space to lock up your bicycles.
The Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) is the perfect place to spend an afternoon. It’s a gorgeous museum with something for everyone. The best part for families is the kids area, which is full of fun activities and learning spaces. From digging for dinosaur bones, hanging out in a teepee, trying on costumes and exploring the caves, to learning about animal and plant life, it can keep little ones busy for hours. There is always a different special exhibit going on as well. The admission prices – $16 for adults, $13 for kids 4+ and free for kids 3 and under- are reasonable for what a great museum it is. There is also a cafe downstairs with plenty of food options and you can even bring your own lunch, which is always nice.
St Lawrence Market
Another fun market, the 2-level St. Lawrence Market is right downtown near the waterfront. It gets crazy busy on weekends but is always a fun place. There are samples, your usual veggie/fruit, meat and bakery vendors, as well as prepared food stalls. There are also a lot of artisans and some vendors selling fancier foods like gourmet mustards and olive oils. In the warm weather, there are jewellery and clothing vendors outside. This market is also set in the Distillery district so it’s fun to wander around and explore once you’re done at the market. It’s within walking distance to many hotels and right on the TTC route.
I can’t forget about one of Toronto’s main attractions: the CN Tower. The fifth-largest free-standing building in the world, it also contains one of the highest observation decks. Although admission prices are not cheap ($29 for adults, $22 for kids), it’s definitely a must-see for those who are not afraid of heights. The glass floor at the top is not for the faint of heart, however. If you want to stay for dinner, there is the revolving restaurant, 360 that offers expansive views of the city as you very slowly rotate around.
Normally packed in the summer months, Centre Island is a great place to bring the whole family to spend a day. Try to get to the ferry dock early as line-ups can get really long on some days, particularly warm weekends. Only a short ride away from downtown Toronto, there is a ton to do here, including biking, beaches, wading pools and Centreville Amusement Park. Centreville is catered to kids, with rides and Far Enough Farm, which houses tons of different animals. You can bring your own lunch to the island or pick up some food at one of the few cafes and restaurants. If you’re looking for more of a chilled-out scene, check out Ward’s Island which is a cute, much quieter island where you can hang out on the beach, bike, or stroll around.
Ontario Science Centre
The Ontario Science Centre is a great place to bring kids of all ages. Exploring caves, the rainforest, learning about electricity, a paper-making demo, and even an aging machine, there is no lack of things to interest everyone. It’s a bit of a hike from downtown and parking is a $10 flat rate fee, but there is public transit that can get you out there. For younger kids especially, this is a great place to visit while in the city.
Ahh, our old stomping ground. The Beaches (otherwise known as “The Beach” depending on who you talk to) is my favourite family-friendly neighbourhood in the city. The pace seems to slow down the second you step off the 501 Queen streetcar. Along with the many shops and dining options, there is Kew Gardens, Kew Beach and the boardwalk. Kew Gardens often holds events and they do an outdoor movie night once a week in the summer, which is a great family affair. And then the magical playground- oh, it’s one of the best ever. Good luck tearing the kids away from exploring the castles though! If you head on down to the boardwalk, you can walk, bike, rollerblade or skateboard along the water. There’s even a separate off-leash area for dogs. One of our favourite spots to end a day in the Beaches is at Ed’s Real Scoop. I only have one word for the ice-cream that Ed makes: Delicious. Made on site with REAL, natural ingredients, Ed’s is a must-stop whenever we’re in town. There are constantly new flavours for different occasions, like cinnamon, eggnog, or pumpkin pie around Thanksgiving and Christmas, and more fruity berry flavours in the summer. A new favourite stop of ours for a quick bite to eat is Tori’s Bakeshop, a sweet little vegan cafe with delicious lattes and coffee, amazingly delicious pizza pockets (perfect for adults and kids!) and simple sandwiches and pastries.
On the complete opposite end of the city from Beaches, is another awesome area, quiet High Park. Come here for the massive, gorgeous park, which almost makes you forget you’re in a big city. Along with exploring its beauty, there is another amazing play area – Jamie Bell Adventure Playground, a mini petting zoo, a big pond and an off-leash dog area. It’s the perfect place to come with a picnic lunch – there are tons of picnic areas throughout the park – and to let the kids romp around. High Park itself is such a great area too with cafes and shops if you’re in the mood for strolling around the neighbourhood after.
Where to Stay
There is definitely no shortage of choices when it comes to accommodations in Toronto. We’ve done it all – stayed with friends, in a hotel, and even Air BnB, which we used for our last visit. Both a hotel and renting a place have their pros and cons. While I like the idea of more space, separate bedrooms and a kitchen to eat simple meals like breakfast or laid-back dinners from goods picked up at the market, hotels are also fun and normally right in the heart of all the entertainment. Most kids love hotels, too. Some of the top choices for kid-friendly hotels include:
- Westin Harbour Castle – I’m a big Westin fan so this is our first choice. The service is always good, the views are great, and the pool is gorgeous.
- Cambridge Suites – I really like the idea of having the suite with more space to spread out, and the location (right downtown) is fab.
- Marriot Eaton Centre Hotel – the location here is also great and there’s a nice indoor pool.
- Hilton Garden Inn – I’m a fan of the garden inns and this one is set in the entertainment district and also has a pool.
- Chelsea Hotel – this super child-friendly downtown hotel has all sorts of rooms including a family fun suite, and they also have a kids pool with waterslide.
- One King West – a beautiful hotel, they offer a good range of suites that give you some more space.
- Omni King Edward – this luxury hotel is gorgeous if you want to splurge, with top of the line everything and a variety of gorgeous rooms.
Where to Eat
Toronto has no shortage of good eats. You could spend days just exploring the different offerings in each neighbourhood. Depending on where you’re staying, you’ll have great options. From the Pickle Barrel to smaller independent restaurants and brewers (Granite Brewery on Eglinton Ave E. has a great kids menu), you’ll have a hard time deciding where to chow down. Blog TO has an awesome list of some of the best kid-friendly restaurants in Toronto.
Have you been to Toronto? What was your favourite part? I’d love to know!
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