By Jaclyn LawUpdated Aug 24, 2017
In partnership with Tourism Toronto
Start your day at the famed CN Tower, the tallest tower in the Western Hemisphere, for incredible views of the city from the LookOut Level (1,136 feet high) and through the Glass Floor (don’t worry, it’s sturdy!). Zoom back down to ground level and head next door to Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada. Spend the rest of the morning exploring the kid-friendly exhibits and activities, including the shark-filled Dangerous Lagoon, mesmerizing Planet Jellies, hands-on Discovery Centre and fascinating Ray Bay. (To skip the line-ups, buy tickets for the CN Tower and Ripley’s Aquarium online.)
The gang is probably hungry by now, so head east to Toronto’s beloved St. Lawrence Market for lunch. Here, you’ll find something for everyone, from your pickiest to most daring eaters—the peameal bacon sandwich is a must. (If you’re in Toronto on a Monday, the market is closed, so head straight to Chinatown and Kensington Market for lunch.)
Next, spend an hour or two roaming Chinatown and Kensington Market. These colourful, historic neighbourhoods offer plenty of tasty snack or dessert options, and unique shops with local goods. Treat the kids to dim sum—a style of Chinese cuisine featuring small, shareable savoury and sweet dishes—available all day at Rol San (323 Spadina Ave., north of Dundas) or Dim Sum King (421 Dundas St. W., east of Spadina Avenue), where food is served from roaming carts. In Kensington Market, try the yummy baked goods at Wanda’s Pie in the Sky (287 Augusta Ave.) or, if the gang is getting hungry, stop by Seven Lives (69 Kensington Ave.) for tacos. And when the grown-ups need a caffeine boost, drop by Jimmy’s Coffee (191 Baldwin St.).
Finish your walking tour at Queen Street and Spadina Avenue, then walk east along Queen for about 20 minutes (or hop on the 501 streetcar heading eastbound) to reach Toronto City Hall and Nathan Phillips Square. There you’ll find the iconic 3D Toronto sign—an unbeatable backdrop for your family selfie. If everyone’s still feeling energetic, stop by the bustling “Times Square of Toronto,” Yonge-Dundas Square—it’s an especially lively spot in the summer, with craft markets, festivals, musicians and street performers.
End your day with dinner at kid-friendly Pickle Barrel across the street, grab a bite in the upstairs food court at 10 Dundas East or the Urban Eatery food court in the CF Toronto Eaton Centre (in the lower level), or walk a few blocks south to unwind at Fran’s, a ’50s-style diner on Victoria Street (at Shuter Street) to indulge in classic comfort food.
Spend a couple of hours at the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM), where kids can have a blast while learning about dinosaurs, animals, space, ancient Egypt and much more. Don’t miss the CIBC Discovery Gallery, a hands-on zone where kids can try on costumes and touch artifacts and fossils.
For just the cost of transit fare, you can view many of Toronto’s diverse neighbourhoods from the windows of the 501 Queen car. (Kids 12 and under ride for free.) Canada’s longest streetcar route takes you through (from east to west) the Beach, Leslieville, the downtown core, the edge of Chinatown, Queen West, Parkdale and Roncesvalles. (In 2017, you’ll see buses covering this route in the west end, due to construction.) End to end, the trip takes about 90 minutes.
Once you’re back downtown, head south to Toronto’s waterfront for a stroll along the boardwalk. The kids will have fun eyeing boats on the water and jets taking off from Billy Bishop airport on the islands, and they're sure to have a blast running up and down the WaveDecks—wavy sections of the boardwalk. Plus, you’ll find lots of activities in and around Harbourfront Centre, including festivals, ice skating (in the winter months),concerts and more.
For fun after dark, get tickets to a family-friendly show at one of Toronto’s many entertainment venues. You could catch a Mirvish musical (various locations), or a Young People’s Concert performance by the Toronto Symphony Orchestra at Roy Thomson Hall. There are also lots of shows for young kids, like Disney on Ice and Bubble Guppies Live; check out toronto-theatre.com for family-friendly listings.
With more days available, you can linger at bigger attractions—see more galleries at the ROM, catch the daily dive show at Ripley’s Aquarium or splurge on lunch at 360 The Restaurant at the CN Tower, which slowly revolves to give diners an amazing view of the city and Lake Ontario.
If you have sports fans in your family, be sure to take in one of Toronto’s many pro sports teams. Depending on the time of year, you can catch the Toronto Raptors or Toronto Maple Leafs at the Air Canada Centre, cheer on the Toronto Blue Jays at the Rogers Centre, or support the Toronto FC or Toronto Argonauts at BMO Field.
You can also travel back in time at Casa Loma, Toronto’s picturesque castle (book an escape game for a truly immersive experience), or at Historic Fort York, which often features family activities in addition to its Visitor Centre and fascinating virtual reality tour (book online and allow two hours for your visit).
When you're in Toronto for a longer visit, you'll want to spend a day beyond the downtown core. Take public transit to the Ontario Science Centre, where kids can explore physics, energy, biology and more through exciting exhibits and demos. And for a truly wild adventure, visit the Toronto Zoo, which is home to more than 460 species from around the globe.
Finally, when your feet are tired, head to one of downtown’s many movie theatres—Scotiabank Theatre Toronto and Cineplex Cinemas Yonge-Dundas and VIP are popular picks—to catch a family flick. For an eye-popping experience, look for 3D and IMAX screenings.
Be sure to keep seasonal activities in mind, too. If you visit the city in the summer, catch a film under the stars at one of Toronto’s pop-up outdoor theatres. Yonge-Dundas Square’s City Cinema series offers free films on Tuesday nights from late June to August. Meanwhile, down at the waterfront, Harbourfront Centre's Free Flicks screens movies in July and August, while Sail-In Cinema shows flicks from a floating screen that can be viewed from Sugar Beach or by boats on the water. Visiting during the holidays? Don’t miss The Distillery Historic District’s European-style Toronto Christmas Market. One of the biggest in North America, it’s set amongst the charming shops, eateries and large-scale art installations that line the cobblestone streets.
Good to know It’s easiest to get around downtown by public transit and on foot. To save money on public transit single fares, buy a TTC Day Pass, either in person at a subway station or via the TTCconnect app on your smartphone (available for Android and iPhone). Passes are $12.50 each and they’re good for unlimited travel for one day. On Saturdays, Sundays and statutory holidays only, a single day pass covers one adult and up to five youths (aged 13 to 19), or two adults and up to four youths (13 to 19), or two adults. Kids 12 and under always ride for free.
Many attractions in Toronto sell tickets online (sometimes with discounts), so visit their websites. It’s also a good idea to check opening hours, as some venues are closed or have shorter hours on certain days of the week.
If you’re seeing all or most of the CN Tower, Casa Loma, the Royal Ontario Museum, Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada and either the Toronto Zoo or Ontario Science Centre, it’s well worth it to get a Toronto CityPASS, which saves you up to 42 percent on entrance fees to these top attractions. The CityPASS is available online or at the partner venues. It’s valid for nine consecutive days, and you can visit the attractions in any order. Prices are $72 for people aged 13 and older, and $46 for kids aged four to 12 (plus tax).