The largest city in Canada and one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the world, Toronto, is a truly global city. Situated on the shores of Lake Ontario, Toronto is lovingly called ‘Canada’s Downtown’. And rightly so! Toronto has rich architectural sites, art galleries, museums, shopping centres, ethnic enclaves, markets, national historic sites, sports stadiums, and it also hosts major festivals. Millions of tourists flock to Toronto every year to marvel at the sights and sounds of this amazing city. There are a ton of activities to do in Toronto. But most involve a fee or a charge. Luckily, Toronto also has a bunch of things that are free and enjoyable as a solo traveller, family or group. From picnics to free movies to skating to walking tours, check out our recommendations of the top 10 free things to do in Toronto, Canada.
1. Laze off on the Sunnyside Beach
One of the best free things to do in Toronto is visiting one of the many beaches along the shores of Lake Ontario. Whether you’re interested in swimming, sunbathing, kayaking, stand-up paddle boarding or biking, rollerblading and skateboarding along the boardwalk, Sunnyside Beach has you covered! The beach is 3 km (1.9 miles) long and is part of the Sunnyside lakefront district that also includes a park and a café. You can go for a swim when the green flags are up or just sunbathe on the beach watching the Toronto skyline from the distance. The attached park is very green and the vast numbers of trees provide plenty of shade during the hot summer days. There are also some free picnic areas and playgrounds at the beach.
2. Visit the Distillery District
The cobbled streets and brick buildings of the Distillery District are laden with history and it is now a popular arts, culture, food and entertainment venue in Toronto. This former whisky distillery is a pedestrian-only area and the perfect spot to spend an afternoon or evening wandering around browsing through its many vintage boutiques, admiring the artwork in its numerous galleries, taking in the music and dance performances or just strolling by looking at the art installations peppered throughout the area. And anywhere you select to eat here, there’s going to be a huge array of wines and local beers to choose from.
3. Pose for a picture at Graffiti Alley
Regarded by most cities as vandalism, Toronto has decided to adopt another viewpoint towards graffiti – embrace it, legalize it and possibly even make it a tourist attraction! Call it street art, murals or paintings, the graffiti along the nearly 1 km (0.62 miles) stretch between Spadina and Portland Street in Toronto is mind-boggling. Visit Graffiti Alley any time of the day and admire wall-after-wall covered in fabulous murals. The alleyway has also been featured in many TV shows, music videos and hosts mini street festivals too. So, pose in front of a graffiti wall, frame it and make it your Toronto souvenir!
4. Watch a free movie at TIFF Cinematheque
Toronto is home to the world-famous Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF, for short). While it may not be possible for you to be in Toronto in September when TIFF takes place, catching a free movie screening at TIFF Cinematheque’s Bell Lightbox is certainly a possibility throughout the year. TIFF Cinematheque is dedicated to the presentation and appreciation of Canadian as well as international cinema, all year round. It presents a curated mix of films that audiences can watch for free. The events/screenings have a limited number of tickets that can be reserved online too. The screening events also sometimes include bonus features like the director’s commentary, rare or archival prints screenings, Q&A sessions with the director, experimental cinema, etc.
5. Picnic at Evergreen Brick Works
Popular for promoting sustainable living, Evergreen Brick Works is a well-known geo-tourism destination in Canada. This destination has a garden market, a community bike space, a children’s garden, skating rink, hiking trails, pavilions, and a lush green park. Take a packed picnic lunch and enjoy eating it on one of the many open areas here. Or go for an afternoon or evening hike along the many trails and picnic at the lookout point.
6. Visit Harbourfront Centre
Another popular year-round free thing to do in Toronto is to visit the Harbourfront Centre on the banks of Lake Ontario. This multi-faceted venue has parks, gardens, art galleries and a lot more. Conveniently situated in downtown Toronto, this vast waterfront site is perfect for a peaceful stroll any time of the day, kayaking or paddle-boarding in the summer and skating in winter. There’s also the enigmatic Toronto Music Garden to enjoy or you could simply enjoy one of the many free events that the Harbourfront Centre hosts throughout the year.
7. Go skating at Dufferin Grove Park
Skating is a favourite winter pastime in Toronto. As such, Toronto has 54 artificial outdoor ice rinks and one of the most popular community-skating rinks is located in the 5.3 hectares (13 acres) Dufferin Grove Park. The rink is perfect for pleasure skating or even a round of ice hockey. Bring your own skates and enjoy a morning, afternoon or evening of skating for free. Dufferin Grove Park also has a picnic area, children’s playground, basketball court and a multipurpose sports field.
8. View beautiful plants at Allan Gardens
Allan Gardens Conservatory is a huge 5000 metres (5400 yards) green sanctuary in the middle of Toronto. The century-old conservatory is easily recognizable with its glass domes and greenhouses that contain tropical plants from all over the world. The conservatory is open year-round and access is always free. Spend a little quiet time admiring the orchids, begonias, cacti and even tropical palms, bananas, citrus trees, vines and such.
9. Take a free walking tour with Tour Guys
Keen to share their native Toronto’s captivating history with locals and visitors alike, Tour Guys offer free walking tours in Toronto (and many other cities too!). Take your pick from a variety of tours – downtown Toronto tour, old town history tour, waterfront tour, Toronto ghost tour and even a graffiti tour! The tours are famous for the hidden gems that are shown alongside iconic Toronto sites. The guides are friendly, knowledgeable and deliver the tours with panache.
10. Explore the Textile Museum of Canada
Located in the heart of downtown Toronto, the Textile Museum of Canada is a research and educational centre on textiles containing 13,000 multi-cultural exhibits, some of which date back to about 2000 years. The museum showcases rotating exhibitions of textile artefacts like beadwork, quilts, embellishments, and other art from all over the world. It also conducts interactive workshops and features experts and speakers from various fields. The museum is open all days of the week, except for some holidays. Admission is usually 15 USD, except on Wednesday evenings (between 5:00 pm and 8:00 pm) when the museum follows a ‘pay what you can’ policy.
Experience Toronto for free
Toronto is a very lively metropolis where there is always something to see or do. And there are plenty of things that you can do without spending a single penny – from lazing on the beach to skating on an ice rink to watching free movies. Arm yourself with our list of free things to do in Toronto, Canada and have an awesome time!
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