Toronto is such a vibrant, diverse city and I want my kids to experience as much of it as they can. That said, it can be super stressful to take little ones around, make sure they're safe, having fun, and you're not getting glares from the people around you. We've been taking day trips all around the city since we moved here so here are a few of our favourites.
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One of the first family trips we did in downtown Toronto was to take the ferry to Toronto Islands (it also gave me a chance to scope it out for my Toronto family photography). My kids loved that we started out in the middle of downtown Toronto and then were quickly in a beautiful park, and then the beach. It was so many fun adventures in just a few hours. I've heard good things about the little Centreville Amusement park there but so far we've opted to let the boys run around and skipped the lines.
Our Favourite Things
- The ferry trip over is a definite hit for the whole family. It felt so adventurous for my boys to be on such a big boat and see the city from a totally different angle.
- Walking on the trails is a great way to explore some out of the way spots like the Gibralter Point Lighthouse, and the Art Center too.
- After getting off the ferry, we head straight across the big lawns to the swings and picnic tables by the water. After the travelling, kids are getting hungry so it's a great place to stop and eat your picnic lunch. (There is also a Pizza Pizza and Subway by the ferry entrance if you need it. ?)
- Swimming and playing on the beach is always the highlight of the trip to Toronto Islands. The beach to the right of the pier, Centre Island Beach, is great for little ones since it's shallow and a rock wall out in the water prevents that section from getting choppy.
- There are a few really great playgrounds on centre island that we always spend a lot of time at.
How to get there
Address: Jack Layton Ferry Terminal 9 Queens Quay W, Toronto, ON M5J 2H3
Ferry: There are three different ferries you can take but you want the Centre Island ferry.
Cost: The tickets for the ferry vary depending on age but you can purchase them online HERE.
Parking: There are a bunch of different lots near the ferry but the closer you get, the more expensive too. We usually park about a 10 min walk away at the Royal Bank Plaza public parking (53 Wellington St W, Toronto, ON M5J 2T6)
Map: The island is such a big park so a map is helpful. My favourite is this one from Toronto Parks.
- There is a lot of walking so I would recommend either biking or bringing a stroller so younger kids can rest their legs.
- There are so many fun beach spots on the island but there is also a nude beach at Hanlan's Point on the far side of the island that's not as family friendly. ?
Royal Ontario Museum
One of the perks of Toronto being such a huge city is that the museums here are world-class. The Royal Ontario Museum, or ROM as most people call it, is really diverse in the types of exhibits, everything is so artfully displayed, and it's enormous! We bought passes after our first visit and now when we go, we pick 3 main areas to visit and then see how everyone is feeling after that. There are always new things to see so the kids never get bored with it, which is always a bonus. It's also a perfect indoor winter activity when everyone is getting a bit of cabin fever.
Our Favourite Things
- DINOSAURS! My youngest is pretty obsessed with dinosaurs so we're never allowed to leave without visiting the dinosaur section of the museum. It could easily take you an hour to look at every part of the exhibit and read all the information.
- Basically the entire second floor is my boys' favourite. There's a huge exhibit on biodiversity, birds, local Ontario wildlife, mammals, etc. I'm partial to the section called Earth's Treasures that's full of so many beautiful rocks, minerals, and STUNNING gemstones (Oh I definitely drool over that bit. )
- Like I mentioned earlier, it's a great spot for a winter adventure because you can walk and explore for hours minus the snow and wind chill.
- It's a great way for kids to engage with history. Learning about the Egyptians might be a little stale in a textbook, but my boys were in awe seeing real mummies and stone pieces of tomb walls. No matter what location or time period my boys have been studying, we've been able to find a piece of it at the ROM.
- Outside of their regular collection, the Royal Ontario Museum also has visiting exhibits. They recently had a great one all about whales (complete with a real whale heart that my boys loved. The grosser the better right?) and they have a Harry Potter themed collection right now combining props and stories from the movies with real life animals.
How To Get There
Address: ROM 100 Queen’s Park, Toronto, ON, M5S 2C6
Cost: General admission for adults is $23 and children are $14 (See the Museum's website for the latest pricing) With our family of five, we've found the cheapest option to be a family pass.
Parking: Sometimes you can get lucky with street parking on Bloor St to the west of the museum, but we usually park at the closest Green P parking lot (208 Bloor St W, Toronto, ON M5S 1T8)
Food: We usually get to the museum around ten, and by the time we're done everyone is ready to eat. My kids' choice is usually the McDonalds right across the street from the museum, but when I get my way, I love going to the Okonomi House that's about a 10 minute walk and just the cutest Japanese diner. There is also a cafe in the museum, and so many great spots up and down Bloor St. (LA LA Bakeshop is still on my list to try.)
When to go: We typically go on weekdays to avoid the weekend crowds. In the summer it's busy most days but the museum is well laid out so it's still enjoyable even when it's busy. That said, if you're looking to go on a quieter day, Mondays, Wednesdays or Thursdays are your best bet.
- As of 8/2022, you have to reserve your ticket ahead of time. The ROM website does mention being able to buy on location as well but you're not guaranteed entry without a timed-ticket.
- It is a really large museum so if you have little ones, I would definitely bring a stroller and don't try to squeeze the whole museum into a day. Have everyone pick the areas they really want to see, and come back another time for the spots you missed. I always like to prioritize quality over quanity to make trips more fun for everyone.
- The visiting/special exhibits are NOT included in general admission so you will have to pay a little extra if you want to see that as well. This is a big reason why we bought a family pass that includes the special exhibits. It's a lot cheaper for us in the long run.
Whenever we've moved to a new place, the first thing we do is get to know the zoo. And we LOVE the Toronto Zoo! It's so beautiful, with lots to do, and the animals are so well cared for. Every time we go, we see something new, like giraffes seeing bubbles for the first time (I included the video because it's so cute!), a Jaguar being trained to do a breathing treatment, or a baby tiger getting her first glimpse at the outdoors. It's magical every time and I would say definitely worth getting an annual pass.
Our Favourite Things
- The natural setting of the zoo is so relaxing and we love getting to see beautiful Canadian forests mixed in with all the animal exhibits. I always get some of my favourite fall pictures here because the trees are so beautiful.
- The pavilions are one of the best parts of the Toronto Zoo (I'm partial to the Indo-Malayan while my oldest loves the Americas pavilion best). They're really well designed so it's like a botanical garden visit added to your zoo trip. And when it's super chilly out, it's so nice to walk around a warm, tropical rainforest.
- There is a lot of space so you don't feel crammed in while you're walking around (unless everyone wants to see the polar bears doing something exciting). The park really is massive so my boys never get bored.
- The keepers do so many enrichment activities for the animals and it adds another layer of education and fun for the boys. You never know what you'll see so it encourages my boys to pay attention at each animal exhibit instead of blazing through the park looking for Beavertails. ?
- The great thing about the zoo is that it's so big AND the bad thing about the zoo is it's so big. lol We do find our legs getting tired after awhile and the Zoomobile is a great way to take a break, plus the kids feel like they're on a jungle safari. ?
How To Get There
Address: Toronto Zoo 2000 Meadowvale Road, Toronto, Ontario, M1B 5K7
Cost: Currently Adult admission is $28 and kids are $18.30, and a family membership is $186. You can check out their website for current pricing. (For a family of five like mine, it's already $110 just to visit once so a pass really makes sense.)
Parking: Currently, parking costs $14, or $50 for a 1 year parking pass.
Food: I would say food is the only thing we found underwhelming at the Toronto Zoo, though we usually grab some Timbits on the way out. The lines are really long for the cafes, and it's not very good considering the price. BUT there are so many beautiful picnic spots (I like the one outside of the African Pavillion, which often has peacocks roaming around) so just bring a great lunch with you and enjoy nature instead of paying for stale pizza. ?
When to go: As with most popular Toronto city attractions, weekends are busier, but since the zoo is so big, I think you could still be comfortable, you just may have to wait a little to get into the indoor spaces. Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays are usually the quietest days to go, with Saturday being the busiest.
- A few of the exhibits and attractions are seasonal, like the penguins, splash pad, and zoomobile, so check ahead of time or at the information kiosk to see what's open.
- If you plan to see the Canadian portion of the zoo, go there first and take the zoomobile to the entrance. It's WAY out there with a lot of hills so trying to fit it into the end of your zoo trip will just lead to a lot of whining. ?
- If you have kids under the age of 6, definitely bring a stroller or rent one at the entrance (you'll see them by the gift shop on the right as you enter the park) because there is a lot of walking.
- If you plan on going more than once, buy a family pass AND the parking pass. Knowing that you can come back anytime helps your zoo visits be less stressful since you're not trying to see everything in a day.
Ripley's Aquarium of Canada
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