Toronto is the fourth largest city in North America.
Yes, it’s big.
But it’s also small in many ways.
The downtown is alive day and night, neighborhoods dotting the city reflect a variety of cultures, and parks, ravines and islands provide plenty of green space. All this and more make this large city liveable and welcoming to visitors.
Like any large city, it can be expensive. But if you know your way around, there are plenty of affordable things to do. So Tracey and I put our heads together to come up with a big list of free and low-cost things to do in our home town. Here you go…
Free for Tourists in Toronto
- There are many interesting areas to walk. Here are links to some of our faves:
- Take a free Walking Tour of Downtown. This walk goes from Union Station (Toronto’s rail terminus) to City Hall. In bad weather it follows the underground PATH system. Please tip your guide.
- Book a Toronto Greeter, meet a local and walk their neighborhood with them for free.
- Enjoy a Discovery Walk. There are 12 Discovery Walks planned out by the City of Toronto. Click to download a PDF for each.
- Walk Toronto’s neighborhoods. From Little Italy to Little India, from Baby Point to the Beach, there are fascinating neighborhoods to walk throughout Toronto.
- Hike the Ravines. In the centre of the city there are many hiking options.
- Take in the Rouge. Located in the east end of the city, this is Toronto’s largest park and Canada’s first Urban National Park. It stretches from the Oak Ridges Moraine to the shores of Lake Ontario covering over 40 square kilometres and Canada’s largest wetland. Great hiking.
- Boardwalk in the Beach. It’s a wonderful stroll along this 3km boardwalk in both the summer and winter. Take the Queen Streetcar east to Beech Avenue, grab a coffee at The Remarkable Bean and walk south to the lake and boardwalk.
- Explore the Distillery District. Enjoy the boutiques and art galleries. Get a coffee at Balzac’s or a beer at Mill Street Brew Pub.
- Listen at the Toronto Music Garden Located along the Toronto Harbourfront, designed by internationally renowned cellist Yo Yo Ma and landscape designer Julie Moir Messervy, this garden is a reflection in landscape of Bach’s Suite No. 1 in G Major for unaccompanied cello. There are concerts and tours in the summer.
- Go to Ireland Park and see the Toronto Irish Famine Memorial. The hardship of the Irish who immigrated to Toronto is remembered in this unusual memorial.
- Go to the market. There are a variety of markets in Toronto. St. Lawrence Market was rated the number 1 market in the world by National Geographic. But there is also the Evergreen Brickworks that has a farmer’s market, nature walks, classes, cafe and gardens. A free shuttle bus runs from outside Broadview Subway Station to Evergreen daily. Another favorite of ours is Kensington Market which is a community as much as it is a market. It includes vintage clothing stores, local coffee shops as well as great food.
- Riverdale Farm is in Cabbagetown overlooking the Don Valley. This 7.5 acre farm features pathways through wooded areas, around ponds, and into butterfly-herb-flower-vegetable gardens. Visit the animals and chat with the farmers during daily chores.
- Go swimming or catch some rays. There are 11 designated swimming beaches in Toronto with Blue Flag certification indicating that they meet this international eco-label’s high standards for water quality, environmental management, environmental education, and safety and services.
- Explore Harbourfront. Harbourfront at Lake Ontario is festival central during the spring, summer and fall. Yes, there are festivals throughout the city but there is always something going on at Harbourfront.
- Public events in the Squares. Nathan Phillips Square and Yonge-Dundas Square are both events locations in the downtown area.
- Take in a Street Festival. You can also go to one of Toronto’s famous cultural neighborhoods for a festival with a more local flavor.
- Take a free tour of the TIFF Bell Lightbox. This is the headquarters for the Toronto International Film Festival that takes place every September and is a haunt for cinephiles all year round.
- Go to Allen Gardens Conservatory to drink in the rich air of this magnificent greenhouse full of exotic plants. The park the greenhouses are in can be a bit rough but it’s totally safe during the day. Located at Jarvis and Carleton Streets.
- Meditate. Slow down and take a free meditation class.
- New Orleans in Toronto. Every Saturday afternoon there’s music at Grossman’s Tavern on Spadina Avenue. It’s usually Patrick Tevlin and the Happy Pals.
- Go to a Public Library and see what free events they have going and what free tickets they have for local museums and events (the latter varies week to week).
- Art Gallery of Ontario There’s free admission to the AGO collections on Wednesday nights 6-8:30 pm. Of course it’s worth going at any time.
Almost Free Stuff in Toronto
- Take public transit. Buy a day pass for the TTC or if you plan to use transit a lot it may be worth getting a week pass or a Presto card. Toronto is very easy to navigate as the city is largely planned on a grid. Taxis are expensive. Uber is a good option.
- Bop between sights with Toronto Bike Share. These are not meant for day-long cycling trips but for little jogs around the city. Pick up a bike at one location and drop it off at another.
- Buy a City Pass and get 5 attractions for one price.
- Play Golf on an Urban Course. There are five affordable, public golf courses in Toronto.
- Ride the 501 Queen Street Car from one end of the city to the other for a historic look at Toronto.
- Ride the 506 College Car from one end to the other for a look at the ethnic diversity of the city. Here’s Tracey’s take on what you’ll see.
- Get a henna in Little India on Gerard Street East just west of Coxwell for approximately $10.
- Go to the Toronto Islands. Take the Ferry to the Toronto Islands. Rent a bike and explore then watch the sun set over the city skyline. Dine on the beautiful patio at the Rectory Cafe.
- Toronto Bicycling Network. Cycle with locals on rides of different levels of difficulty almost every non-winter weekend. There’s a small guest fee. You can also ride independently. There are lots of bike paths in Toronto that will take you along the shoreline of Lake Ontario, through ravines and parks. You can rent a bike here.
- Rent a pair of skates and show off your moves on the rinks at Nathan Phillips Square or Harbourfront Centre.
- Tour of the 6. This tour is unique and run by Ellie, our assistant. She gives you an insider’s look at what “Vogue Magazine calls the second coolest neighbourhood in the world”.
Best Sources for What’s Going on in the City
New York, London and other major cities have Time Out magazine which I use when I travel there. And while there is a Time Out Toronto, it’s not where I as a local would ever look for information. Here are my picks:
- Intelligensiac. Full disclosure, this site is run by my niece but it has to be included here. It’s a calendar of the most unique cultural and ideas events in the city. I don’t think any other site has it all in one place like she does.
- Now Magazine. NOW is a Toronto institution of left leaning news as well as entertainment, food and and events coverage since 1981. If you don’t like the politics definitely read for their reviews.
- BlogTO. Is a great source for lists of top.
- Toronto Life.