Free Things To Do in Toronto
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When you're in need of a break from the hustle and bustle of Canada's biggest city, hop a ferry to the Toronto Islands. This collection of islands and islets offers a welcome touch of green to the city's skyscraper-speckled mainland. The three islands, Centre, Ward's and Algonquin, are all connected, so you don't have to worry about having to get on and off a boat to fully experience the area. Each main island offers something different. Centre Island lives up to its name, providing the most in terms of activities. There, visitors will find expansive picnic areas, beaches, sporting rentals and the Centreville Amusement Park, which features more than 30 rides, a petting zoo and a boating lagoon. Ward and Algonquin are more laid-back, dotted with 1920s-style cottages and English gardens. Hanlan's Point, located next to the Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport at the northeastern tip of the island, features the area's only clothing optional beach, as well as a lighthouse believed to be haunted. All of the islands are largely car-free, making them the perfect venue for a peaceful stroll, bike ride or picnic. And while the winter brings biting winds and lots of snow, the Toronto Islands are also a great place for cross-country skiing and ice skating.
Travelers and locals alike both take to the Toronto Islands. Recent visitors said it's a great place to take a long breather from the big city atmosphere of Toronto. Many say the incredible views of the city's skyline are reason alone to visit. However, some visitors found the area to be overrun, especially in Centre Island. Others also expressed disappointment with the inflated prices for amenities in and near the Centreville Amusement Park. Otherwise, the majority of visitors, especially those with families, thoroughly enjoyed their time on the island.
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Back in the early 1800s, this waterfront neighborhood was home to Canada's largest distilling company, the Gooderham and Worts Distillery. Today, this historic pedestrian-only neighborhood – flanked by industrial-style Victorian buildings and paved with cobblestone once tread on by horse-drawn carriages – overflows with art galleries, performance spaces, cafes, restaurants and yes, a brewery. For a true glimpse into Toronto's past, this is the place to go. Enjoy festivals and outdoor exhibitions throughout the year, join an art class or kick back, relax and enjoy an authentic Canadian brewski.
Travelers say the best part of this attraction is its ambiance. Yes, the food is tasty and the shops are unique, but simply visiting to take in the atmosphere of one of Toronto's most beloved hangout spots is worth a walk around alone. If you're not around in the summer don't fret – Torontonians and winter visitors alike say the Christmas Market is a gem, especially with some mulled wine in hand. Hours are 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Wednesday. Thursday, Friday and Saturday hours are extended until 8 p.m., but on Sundays, businesses are only open from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. You can find the Distillery District near downtown Toronto, a little more than a mile from the King subway station. For more information, visit the Distillery District's website.
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Located in Toronto's historic Old Town, the St. Lawrence Market has seen many faces since its construction in the 17th century. Along with being a marketplace, the St. Lawrence Market has served as the city's social center, as well as its City Hall. Today, the market sells goodies galore, from gourmet cured meats on one end to handcrafted jewelry in the other. The St. Lawrence Market is divided into three buildings: the South Market, the North Market and St. Lawrence Hall. The South Market features 120 vendors that sell a mix of food and retail items. There are also cooking classes held at the Market Kitchen as well as exhibitions on the city's art, culture and history held in the Market Gallery. The St. Lawrence Hall houses retail businesses, while the North Market is famous for its historic farmers market. Every Saturday since 1803, purveyors from Southern Ontario gather at the North Market to sell their seasonal produce. On Sundays, the farmers market converts into a flea market, where more than 80 vendors sell antique items.
The St. Lawrence Market is often regarded as one of the best food markets in the world by foodie experts, and travelers couldn't agree more. Not only were recent visitors impressed by the overwhelming amount of delicious food under this market's one roof, but they also loved how reasonably priced items were. According to some visitors, the food is only half the fun. Many strongly recommended holding out on a visit for Saturday, when the market truly comes alive with vivacious vendors hawking their fare to both hungry tourists and locals. If you're not one for big crowds, make sure to get there really early. Some visitors say you cannot leave the market without getting a peameal bacon sandwich at the Carousel Bakery. A signature dish in Toronto, the sandwich is simple – Canadian back bacon stuffed between a Kaiser roll – but packs a flavorful punch.
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Situated along the banks of Lake Ontario, this 10-acre attraction has transformed from a derelict shipping terminal to an upscale neighborhood bustling with hundreds of things to do. Abandoned warehouses have been transformed into theaters and an art gallery, giving it an atmosphere comparable to Pier 39 in San Francisco and Baltimore's Inner Harbor. There's also multiple eateries around as well as several small parks, including the Toronto Music Garden, designed in part by cellist Yo Yo Ma. And if you're around during the summer, you can kick back on Sugar Beach, a former parking lot transformed into an urban beach. What's more, Harbourfront Centre hosts upward of 4,000 events throughout the year to service the 17 million people that pass through the area annually.
Travelers and locals alike both agree that Harbourfront Centre makes for a pleasant visit, not to mention the perfect place for a peaceful stroll. Travelers loved the city and lake vistas, but some warned visitors to pack an extra layer to brave the lake winds, no matter what time of year you visit. If you happen to be around in the winter, locals strongly encourage an ice skating excursion here, simply for the views.
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If you don't mind a bit of chaos, the Kensington Market in a Toronto must-see. Previously a Jewish neighborhood, the market came to life around the 1920s when families would set up stands in front of their houses to sell one another goods. Today, this marketplace has grown in both size and diversity. Streets are lined with shops and restaurants selling a variety of goods from Europe to Asia and beyond. Note: Kensington Market is the name of the neighborhood in which these shops and restaurants reside, not an actual outdoor market. The last Sunday of every month, however, is the closest you'll come to having that traditional market experience. The area goes completely car-free and fills up with shoppers, along with some lively street performers.
Recent visitors lauded Kensington Market for its variety, with many saying the neighborhood truly has it all. Fashionistas will appreciate the plethora of vintage stores while foodies will salivate at all the delectable (but oftentimes pricey) options available. Even if you aren't much of a shopper, many say a casual stroll through the quirky, art-clad neighborhood is more than enough to satiate travelers.
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According to recent visitors, the Toronto Botanical Gardens is a great spot for visitors and families of all ages, as it offers free admission to the grounds and tours, nature camps, courses and a summertime farmers market. For those looking for a more in-depth look at the attraction's 17 themed gardens, guided tours run between 45 and 90 minutes (depending on the tour booked) and cost $10 for adults and $5 for seniors and children. If you want to walk around on your own, there's also an app-guided tour that'll take you around the grounds.
Recent travelers said the gardens are a great place to go to relax, walk and view gorgeous flowers, but that because the gardens are on the smaller side, you should plan on spending only an hour or two here. Recently engaged? This is also a popular spot to get photos taken.
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