After living in Toronto consistently for about a year now, and realizing how much it has to offer for free to little ones, I decided I needed to start making a list for other parents to benefit from.
I’ve been coming to Toronto for almost 10 years now. I spent a lot of time here while Waseem and I were just dating as well as while we were married and now after we’ve had Zayd. Since Zayd was only born 2 and a half years ago, I’ve only been discovering things to do around downtown with a child in my recent relationship with Toronto. In the last year or so I’ve learned so much about where to take him, including a bunch of places that are free! The longer I live in Toronto with a kid, the more I see why people live here with kids. It really does just have so much to offer even for those who don’t want to be constantly spending an arm and a leg to keep the kids busy (which is all of us, right?)
Below are our favorite places to visit in downtown Toronto. These are all the free options we frequent often. I’ll make another list of places that are also great to visit but come with a cost.
This has by far been Zayd’s favorite place to visit since he was about a year old. Riverdale farm is a beautiful farm with animals in the heart of downtown. It really is hard to believe that just a few minutes down the road you’re back in the hustle and bustle of it all. The grounds are just stunning. It’s amazing that it can look so different with each season.
They have an adequate number of farm animals inside barns and out in stables that are always fun to watch. Unfortunately there isn’t a petting zoo aspect, but there are a couple barns that can be visited when it’s a little colder. One of the barns houses sheep, goats and an occasional kitty. The other barn is where you’ll find chickens, ducks, turkeys, pigs, and even bunnies.
Outside the landscape is adorable, like something straight out of a children’s book. Wooden fences around the horses and cows, several vegetable gardens and even a windmill. At the end of one of the paths there’s a pretty pond where you’ll sometimes see ducks, there are a few picturesque spots too with lots of flowers in the spring/summer months.
I could go on and on about this farm and all it offers to its community but I’ll let you discover the rest of its hidden gems (as well as a Halloween event they put on every year with a boo barn. so cute!) They also have a kids room that’s got some toy farm animals and books that’s only open when they have special events but a great spot to visit.
Did I mention I’ve been coming to this farm for almost 10 years now and that includes coming several times with Waseem while we were still dating. Yes! This is an awesome place for a date!
Last thing, if you walk through the farm and out the other end, you will end up at the bottom of Riverdale park East. This in my opinion, is one of the absolute BEST parks in all of Toronto. The most stunning view of the city you will ever see! Once you get to the top of the hill on Broadview Ave, enjoy the view and get a great cup of coffee or a snack from Rooster Coffee House.
(Totally worth keeping the image this size!)
Ladies and gentlemen I want to introduce you to our second most favorite spot in the city, Allen Gardens. I think this is my favorite, Zayd I think would still choose the farm as his but this is definitely a runner up (they have fish and turtles!). Another place Waseem and I have been coming to forever. I have pictures of us when we were so young, wild and free in here, as well as pictures of us while I was pregnant and now some with Zayd of course.
(I’ll just leave these right here 🙂 )
Allen Gardens is one of the oldest parks in Toronto. It’s got a beautiful plant conservatory that sits on a great park with a fenced playground and two significantly large dog parks (One is for big dogs, the other is for smaller ones). The conservatory has several different climate controlled rooms and so much greenery in a very concrete jungle part of the city. It is an oasis. Humble in its size compared to other botanical gardens, it is tastefully landscaped. Each room has a different feel to it with totally different plants and flowers. They have the tropical room that is quite humid (this is where the pond and the turtles are), a couple of rooms that have a similar temperature to what’s outdoors (a little warmer so no need for your jacket when you’re inside the gardens at all), a center palm room and my favorite, the desert room.
The fish and turtles are a huge draw for Zayd but I think he subconsciously loves being surrounded by all the greenery and flowers. He also gets pretty excited to visit during the winter months because they set up a little train that’s constantly moving around in one of the corners that he just loves to watch. The playground is right behind the conservatory so I usually take Zayd to both when we plan our visit. A great way to spend a couple of hours!
Keep an eye out for events the garden holds by checking the bulletin boards at the entrances. During the summer they have a weekly event where you can bring your kids to play in one of their gated outdoor gardens. Kids get to water the plants, do some muddy play and make art with volunteers, all completely free (donations appreciated). We only got to it once last year but Zayd really enjoyed it!
The Children’s Book Bank
Book Bank can be found here.
When to visit: Daily from 10 am onward. Closed on Sundays and most holidays.
The children’s book bank is a place we totally stumbled upon last summer. My cousin Nour and her son Badr were visiting us for a month so we were always out and about exploring. One day when we were on our way back from our favorite farm, we walked right past this place and decided to check it out. The book bank looks like it used to be someones home and has now been converted into this absolutely adorable space that we loved just as much as the kiddos did!
There are three separate rooms filled with books, a couple cozy places to sit and read with your little’s, a table to do some coloring and finally every kids favorite, a fish tank! The books are all organized really well by age (books from birth to 12 years) and category and we always find books Zayd’s interested in exploring.
This place isn’t just great for all the reasons I listed above but also, everyone who takes a trip to the book bank, can leave with a book of their own for free! Yup, hard to believe I know. It really is an amazing concept and I really do find it helps build your child’s love for reading. Although you can’t just walk in as a Mom without your kiddo to pick out a book for him while he’s at daycare (I tried lol), they have a policy where adults unaccompanied by children are actually not even allowed to visit. Makes total sense. It’s actually kind of cute if you think of it, this is the one place in the city where your kid is the star of the show and your ticket to get you into that special “club” 🙂
Finally, the book bank will actually take back old books your child isn’t interested in anymore. I find this is a great way to teach kids the concept of donating what they no longer need or want. (Teach them how to live mindfully while they’re young and it will be something they can benefit from for the rest of their lives!) We highly recommend the book bank! Oh, and it’s not too far from Riverdale Farm so would be a great addition to your day out and about.
Toronto Railway Museum
When it’s warm out you can find us here! Zayd is a typical kid in a sense that he just loves his trains. We ride the subway on our way to and from school when it’s chilly out and he just can’t seem to get enough. Always looking to say hi to the operator as we get on and off the subway and always hoping they’ll honk the horn for him (a lot of the time they do and it just makes his day!).
This museum is totally free and really nice to check out. You can get on and off all the trains but can’t really go inside them. There are metal steering wheels the kids love to play with and I think just being able to be on an old train like these is fun.
A fun aspect of this museum is the mini train you can ride with your kid when it’s operating (Returns May 2020). The train takes a ride around the grounds and even honks its horn. A really fun ride for kids and parents as well. This is the only thing that costs a couple bucks to do but totally worth it.
Finally, after getting some train time in check out The Roundhouse Playground located right next to the museum.
Pam McConnell Aquatic Center
A really fun place to take the kids is the aquatic center. This is a stunningly modern looking facility that has three swimming pools and even an indoor water slide! We’ve only ever been here one time but I plan on going back in the near future. With lots of windows, it’s so bright and really aesthetically pleasing. The showers and locker areas are very clean and well managed. The pools are monitored with several lifeguards for peace of mind.
I think the reason we haven’t gone more often is because I actually need to go swimming with Zayd and I don’t always feel like it haha. I imagine we’ll be going more often now that he’s getting older and I would like him to learn how to swim before the summertime comes around.
The center has a bunch of swim classes (registered and drop ins) for kids from 6 months onward as well as programs for adults who want to learn how to swim. Aqua aerobics classes are also available. They also have programs for kids and adults with disability (therapy pools) which I think is just amazing.
After swimming make sure to visit the attached playground in Regent Park.
Jill & The Beanstalk
I discovered this great community based store while looking for a music class for Zayd. This place has a children’s store up front with tons of great products (free downtown Toronto delivery!) for your little ones including a couple awesome consignment sections. I really enjoy looking through their clothes and shoes for my little guy and have often scored some great finds.
The back end of this store has a room that is used for various community events and open play times. They’ve got a shelving unit with a bunch of kids toys and books and often have drop in times and song circle meets. We visit the store once a week for our music class that Zayd really enjoys called Music Together (this is a paid program but so worth it if you’re looking to do something fun with your kiddo. They have various locations too so if this store isn’t convenient for you check out their other spots). Find Toronto locations here.
Make sure to check out Jill & The Beanstalk’s website for a list of all the workshops and events they hold. Last week I attended a potty training workshop that was so great I was able to potty train Zayd in just three days!! Yes, you heard that correctly. Other programs they offer include a breastfeeding monthly support group, baby speech and language workshops, infant and child first aid and CPR, sleep workshops and much more!
Jill & The Beanstalk truly is a great gem in the community and I’m so glad we stumbled upon it!
The Menagerie Pet Shop
Pet shop can be found here.
When to visit: Weekly as early at 10:30 am
A really fun pet shop to take kids to (and adults!) is The Menagerie Pet Shop. This is one of the only pet shops in downtown Toronto that actually has pets (as opposed to just selling pet supplies, but they sell those as well). They have a reptile section with various tanks to check out, a bird room, a fish area and a section with hamsters and other little critters.
Zayd and I have been visiting this spot for about a year now and we truly enjoy it. One of the reasons we like visiting this pet shop as often as we do is to see our friend Josh. Josh is a character, is super informed about the animals in the shop and seems to really enjoy teaching people about them. He’s also really good at talking with kids.
I’ll never forget the first time we visited the store and Josh took out a snake to show Zayd. It was the first time he’d ever seen a snake up close and was pretty scared. After getting closer and closer to it (and me putting the snake around my neck) he eventually started to touch it and get more and more comfortable until he was so comfortable that he actually gave it a kiss! That was huge for me as a Mom. It just showed me that if my kid is afraid of something, I can help remove that fear if I show him that his own mother isn’t afraid. Josh helped with that. We take anyone who visits us to this shop and everyone enjoys it. Josh also has a few videos on YouTube worth checking out that you can find here.
High Park Zoo
Zoo can be found here.
When to visit: All year round. Open daily from 7 am to dusk
High Park Zoo is a free zoo in the middle of the beautiful High Park. There are 11 enclosed paddocks with various animals ranging from reindeer, sheep, capybara, bison, peacocks and even emu. It’s not as big as the Toronto Zoo and not half as hard to get to (you don’t need a car to get there like you do to get to the Toronto Zoo).
Besides the fact that there are no cars in the area and the kids can run free, they also open the Llama pen on the weekends where you can touch the Llamas! I call that a win win.
Hope you enjoyed my list of the best free things to do with your kids in Toronto. If there are places you’ve discovered that I missed please put them in the comments and help other families keep busy on a budget!