8 family-friendly winter activities in Toronto

This winter, kids of all ages can enjoy fun indoor and outdoor activities in Toronto.

In partnership with Tourism Toronto

Ice Breakers - Icognito. Photo: Andy Barrow/LightBox Photography
Ice Breakers – Icognito. Photo: Andy Barrow/LightBox Photography

1. Ice Breakers

What’s new at Toronto’s waterfront? Families are flocking to Queen’s Quay West to see Ice Breakers, a collection of five interactive public art installations. These unique works are placed along the quay from Harbourfront to the Toronto Music Garden, making for a fun (and free!) urban expedition. Download the TO Ice Breakers app (for iOS and Android) to enrich your family’s experience with videos, maps and artist interviews.

When: January 21 – February 26

More info: waterfrontbia.com

Artist: LAVA, Photo: Thane Lucas/Toronto Light Festival
Artist: LAVA, Photo: Thane Lucas/Toronto Light Festival

2. The Toronto Light Festival

This brand-new event will illuminate the cold winter nights with bright displays from local and international artists. Dazzling light sculptures and interactive installations will be set among the cool Victorian industrial buildings at the Distillery Historic District. It promises to be nothing short of magicaland, of course, you can enjoy the many delights of the Distillery itself while you’re there. Admission is free.

When: January 27 – March 12

More info: torontolightfest.com

Photo: Harbourfront Centre
Photo: Harbourfront Centre

3. Skating in downtown Toronto

Enjoy free outdoor skating at two popular downtown rinks: Natrel Rink at Harbourfront Centre on the waterfront, and Nathan Phillips Square in front of city hall. Both offer locker rooms, washrooms and skate rental (Harbourfront also rents helmets), and you can refuel with food and drinks from nearby vendors. Nathan Phillips Square is also home to the iconic Toronto sign—perfect for family selfies! On Saturdays through to February 18, Harbourfront’s Natrel Rink features DJ Skate Nights, with guest DJs spinning tunes from 8 to 11 p.m.

When: All winter long

More info: harbourfrontcentre.com; Nathan Phillips Square: toronto.ca and nathanphillipssquareskaterentals.com

Photo: Mike Derblich for Evergreen
Photo: Mike Derblich for Evergreen

4. Evergreen Brick Works

Every weekend this winter, there’s something fun happening at Evergreen Brick Works, a popular community environmental centre nestled in Toronto’s Don River Valley. Munch at the Street Food Market, buy local at the Farmers’ Markets, play at the Children’s Garden (complete with art and nature lessons, and a hybrid hut-yurt playspace) or try a scavenger hunt. You can also enjoy skating, hiking or fat biking—riding the Evergreen trails on a bicycle with extra-wide tires for the snow. Bike and helmet rentals are available, and group rides take place Friday nights and weekend afternoons; email alex@sweetpetes.com for details.

When: Winter Village, weekends from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. until February 28. Opening hours for other attractions vary; visit the website for details.

More info: evergreen.ca

Photo: Rock Oasis
Photo: Rock Oasis

5. Indoor rock climbing

Indoor climbing is fun and challenging, and it’s a great activity to get your kids active on days that are just too cold to linger outside. Toronto’s newest climbing gym, Basecamp Climbing, is just a short walk east of Christie subway station. The gym offers lessons and two-hour Kids Climb sessions with staff supervision. In Liberty Village, west of downtown, you’ll find Joe Rockhead’s Indoor Rock Climbing, which also provides lessons and Kids Climbs. In the east end, try The Rock Oasis, which has a kids’ zone for bouldering (climbing without ropes) and intro lessons for teens. Parents can take short lessons to learn how to belay their kids or monitor their use of the gym’s auto-belays. Climbing gear is available for rent. (Reserve lessons and kids’ programs in advance.)

More info: basecampclimbing.ca, joerockheads.com, rockoasis.com

Photo: Simon P
Photo: Simon P

6. Escape games

Immersive, interactive escape games are incredibly popular in Toronto, and are a great way to evade the cold. The concept is simple: you work together to solve clues in a mystery story. If you figure it out before the time is up (usually 45 minutes or an hour), you’ve successfully “escaped.” Each escape room is designed to reflect a different story’s theme. Looking Glass Adventures in Toronto’s east end offers a story suitable for young kids (at least two adults must attend.) For games with more mature content, try Escape Zone, which offers four themes, or Mystery Room, which offers six. For a unique experience complete with actors, join a game at Toronto’s historic Casa Loma. (All games require advance registration.)

More info: lookingglassadventures.com, escapezonetoronto.com, mysteryroomonline.com, escapecasaloma.com

Photo: torontocircus.com
Photo: torontocircus.com

7. Circus school

Kids will love trying something new with a visit to the Toronto School of Circus Arts, located in Downsview Park. If you only have a short time, the best option is the drop-in flying trapeze class on Friday evenings (for age 8 and up). You can also book private classes in aerial silks, aerial hoops, static trapeze and acrobatics, open to any and all experience levels.

More info: torontocircus.com

Photo: Second City
Photo: Second City

8. The Second City

For laugh-out-loud entertainment, take the gang to a show at Toronto’s famed comedy venue, The Second City. Big Bad Wolf vs. Lord Underwearface von Schtinker offers a hilarious take on the villain from The Three Little Pigs. Framed for terrible deeds he didn’t commit, the Big Bad Wolf must prove his innocence with a little help from his fairy-tale friends. The one-hour show is ideal for kids aged 5 to 12.

When: February 18–20 (Family Day weekend) and March Break

More info: secondcity.com

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