Toronto, a city more populous than my home state back in Australia. A contrasting city of modern skyscrapers and historic buildings. An internationally renowned city thick with history, and radiant with an upbeat future. We spent 2 weeks in Toronto and found a truckload of things to do with kids, from flying to floating, and squealing to swimming.
Housesitting At The Beaches
It all happened by accident. I was researching things we could for a few days in Toronto when I came across this handy blog post – 50 Things To Do In Toronto This Summer With Kids.
I mentioned to the blogger via Facebook Messenger that I would be heading to Toronto and suggested we catch up. She asked when, and when I proposed a date she woefully told me she wouldn’t be in town. But in the same breath, kindly offered her house for our stay.
Turns out this blogger was doing a couple weeks of travel of her own and in her utterly generous spirit offered us strangers to housesit her home in The Beaches. We love the serendipity that comes with travel and those seemingly random moments that birth new friendships.
We arrived the night before they left so we could have dinner together and get to know each other. My kids were devastated when they realised the next day they were leaving, the new friendships had concreted quickly.
Our new house was a magnificent location. Half an hour by streetcar to the city, a few minutes walk to the lake (also known as the beach) and minutes from several playgrounds.
We had our own vehicle to drive to places like Canada’s Wonderland and the all-important supermarket shopping. However for the days we went into the city it was a quick and easy walk to Queen Street to catch the streetcar.
Tickets were CA$3 per adult and kids (12 and under) were free. On weekends and public holidays you can get unlimited rides for 2 adults and 2 kids for just CA$11 in total. The only hassle was when paying on the streetcar, payment had to be in cash and using exact change.
Finally The Things To Do In Toronto With Kids:
Ok, with all the introductions out of the way, here are our favourite things to do in Toronto in summer. With just 2 weeks up our sleeves we attempted to cram in as many activities as possible… and ended up with 13. How lucky!
1. Skydive with iFly
When I was young I always wanted to jump out of a plane, but the older I get the more the idea is starting to terrify me. Do it while you are young! But there was one activity I wasn’t too terrified of and one of the top items on my husband’s bucket list… indoor skydiving with iFly.
The check-in was fairly simple and after a comprehensive training video, demonstration by our instructor, and technique preparation, it was time to get in our suits and head to the 45-foot vertical tube.
I admit I was surprised they had suits that even fit Josh. All jewellery was removed, earplugs inserted, and helmets strapped on, then we waited with baited breath in the antechamber. A TV screen showed reruns of the previous flyer, and I couldn’t wait to make my own highlight reel.
You can get a 2 or 4 package. A 2 package is made up of 2x 1-minute flights and the 4 are made up of 2x 2-minute flights.
First up was our 6-year-old who flew like a champion. Then it was my son’s turn. Kids as young as 4 can fly, and at 5-years-old he was a limp noodle being directed wherever the trainer gently guided him. His permanent smile could not have even been wiped off with industrial strength Windex.
Finally it was my turn. I nervously stepped up to the plate and fell face-first towards the ground before being caught by the extreme wind and lifted up. The instructor helped me with posture before letting go encouraging me to ride the breeze. As soon as I opened my mouth to smile drool whipped from the corners of my mouth and I giggled in embarrassment.
Two minutes is a long time to fly when the average skydiver (out of a plane) falls for less than 1 minute. And my body started feeling the pressure of lifting my head, my legs, and my hands.
Next, Josh’s lengthy frame filled the tank and took to the airwaves like a giant winged cherub. We all took our 2nd flight and the kids wanted to keep going, but after 4 minutes in total I was done.
The instructor finished the lesson by showing off with spins and twists within the chamber. It’s amazing to watch and something you can aspire to if you wish to take up further practice.
It was an incredible experience that fulfilled a life-long bucket list item for Josh. And if you are nervous at the thought of jumping out of a perfectly good plane then I highly recommend giving this thrill a go. Maybe I’ll be able to jump now.
2. Canada’s Wonderland
We are huge fans of theme parks and Canada’s Wonderland, Canada’s answer to Disneyland, did not disappoint.
The 1-hour drive from the centre of Toronto was pretty straightforward (try to avoid the 407 ETR toll road), but parking came at a premium of CA$20.
Similar to our experience at La Ronde in Montreal, food and drink cannot be brought onto the premises (except water). It’s not ideal for kids that eat all day and for that I enjoyed the more lenient Calypso Waterpark who swung wide the doors to family picnics.
However that’s where the negatives stop. With over 200 attractions, 69 thrilling rides, this park has something for everyone. The kids enjoyed big roller coasters and small ones; rides that rocked, spun and twisted in all directions. While Josh and I took advantage of the parent swap system where one parent lines up for a ride and at the end receives a pass so the other parent can simply walk to the exit to ride immediately without the wait.
This was particularly useful for the 45-minute waits on the monsters Leviathan (8th tallest & 8th fastest roller coaster in the world) and Behemoth (reaches speeds of 125km/hr in 3.9 seconds), both of which were well worth the wait.
The park was so big we didn’t get to all the rides. It would take at least 2 solid days to experience the whole park unless you visit in off-peak season and avoid the crowds.
Tip: As you enter the park, get your kids measured up at “International Street” and a staff member will provide a coloured wristband. This means the child doesn’t need to be re-measured at each ride which will be a timesaver.
Tip: If the weather is warm, try heading to the waterpark (called “Splash Works”) in the morning as most visitors tend to flock there in the early afternoons.
Tip: Ride the Leviathan near the end of the day at sunset. The view over the whole park from the peak is absolutely spectacular. I’ll never forget that magical panorama.
3. Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada
After being to quite a few aquariums in recent months I didn’t have much interest in visiting another one. But after fellow blogger Corinne from Have Baby Will Travel invited us to meet up, I couldn’t resist meeting such a legend.
Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada exceeded my expectations. Finally, an aquarium built with education and entertainment in mind! Playgrounds, multiple touch pools, hands-on displays, plenty of crawl-through tunnels with close-up views inside tanks and well-presented pools filled with aquatic life of all sizes and colours – Ripley’s had everything you could ask for.
I was converted. A must visit with the kids.
Tip: If visiting on the weekend, get in early (as soon as it opens) as the crowds will throng quickly.
Tip: The aquarium is centrally located in the Entertainment District close to several other attractions so you can cover a lot of ground in 1 day: CN Tower, Miniature Railway, Steam Whistle Brewing, Rogers Centre (where the Blue Jays play), Queens Quay and one of the hop-on-hop-off bus stops.
4. CN Tower
This is one of the most popular attractions in Toronto receiving more than 2 million visitors each year. Funnily enough, it wasn’t until late in the design process that the planners changed their mind and converted it from purely a telecommunications tower to also a tourist attraction. Smart move!
Standing at over 553 metres (1815 feet) in height, the CN Tower dominates Toronto’s skyline. When completed in 1976, it was the tallest tower in the world, and held that title until 2007.
Ongoing additions to the CN Tower have kept it fresh and interesting, such as glass-panelled flooring sections and EdgeWalk. Our kids were glued to the glass-bottom and walled elevators. The view from the observation deck was spectacular and walking along the outdoor balcony was a breeze… literally!
If you have a fear of heights that you want to overcome, or just love a stunning panorama, this is the place to go.
5. Miniature Railway
Across the road from the aquarium in front of the Steam Whistle Brewery is a park filled with trains. Kids can climb on them, take a look around and even ride on one.
For CA$2 kids can ride the Roundhouse Park Miniature Railway, which is a 7.25" gauge passenger-carrying miniature live steam railway. Our kids loved their little journey around the park. Very cute!
6. Hop-On-Hop-Off Bus
Our kids are getting better at walking longer distances as they get older, but not to the point where they can see a whole city by foot. One of our favourite experiences is the Hop-On-Hop-Off Bus where we can hear a live commentary from the top of an open-air bus.
My 5-year-old slept the entire journey, while my 6-year-old sleepily watched the passing sights. Which meant Josh and I could soak up an insightful overview and entertaining history without any complaints or interruptions.
These buses were a little worn and being the midst of summer, it was a very busy tour, however the guides were entertaining and we enjoyed the experience.
7. Toronto Islands Via Ferry
A short CA$7.50 ferry ride from Queen’s Quay had us arriving on Toronto Islands, a chain of small islands in the western part of Lake Ontario, just a short distance from the mainland.
We visited on a public holiday and it was super busy, but we still enjoyed the atmosphere and vibrancy of the islands in the Toronto summer.
You can easily walk around the vehicle-free island to visit the playgrounds, beaches, parks, mazes and other activities. Our kids got completely soaked when they spontaneously decided it was a good idea to cool off in the free splash pad.
You can hire bikes on the island or visit the mini amusement park, but our primary reason for visiting was to sail with Pirate Life.
8. Pirate Life: Search For Buried Treasure
On Centre Island you will find Pirate Life, a 45-foot pirate ship that takes kids on a 1.5-hour adventure on the high seas, um, lake.
The kids dressed up as pirates using vests and bandanas before getting face painted moustaches, scars and of course, scull and cross-bones.
Brilliant actors, interactive songs, water canons to spray unassuming pedestrians, and a full program had our kids enthralled the entire time. And us adults soaked up the stunning views of the Toronto skyline.
The kids’ quest for pirate treasure was a highlight we all talked about long after we departed. Highly recommended for visitors to Toronto and locals alike.
9. Niagara Falls
Toronto is only 1.5-2 hours from Niagara Falls via road, so we took the opportunity to venture south to show our kids one of the most popular and spectacular waterfalls on the planet. Instead of driving ourselves we took a Viator tour so we could relax and be driven around. Loved it. Read more...
10. Take The Kids For A Free Play
Our suburb was filled with playgrounds complete with summer splash pads. We spent several days watching the kids whizz around the playground expending their exuberant energy.
The perfect summer day activity. Remember to bring a change of clothes – we often came home with very soggy children.
Oh, and don’t forget… it’s free.
11. Swim At The Beaches
Situated along Lake Ontario, an area known as The Beach has a beautiful, calm shoreline where you can watch stand-up paddleboards, splash in the water, enjoy a leisurely bike ride or just stroll down the boardwalk.
It’s so relaxing and who doesn’t love beach time in summer? While it’s not powdery white Caribbean sand, kids will still have a ball making sand castles and splashing in the shallow water. Or if you prefer to skip the sand, the Donald D Summerville public swimming pool is completely free.
12. Eat A Donut At Tim Hortons
This Canadian coffee shop, dare I say institution, can be found all over Canada, but we had our first taste with a good friend, Brock, in Toronto. He introduced us to sour cream donuts. Surprisingly delicious!
13. Cool Off In The Cinema
Cheap Tuesday at the cinema meant we were able to take the kids to see the Minions movie for CA$5 each. Another handy way to cool down on a warm summer day.
BONUS: Hang Out With Friends (Or Find New Ones)
Canadians are friendly and we met several new friends and old ones while in the city (you’ll find great travel tips for Canada on their blogs too):
Long summer days are perfect for outdoor BBQs followed by walks on the beach with friends, or perhaps ambushing them with unusual foreign food (like Vegemite chocolate).
Canadians really are so darn friendly that if you don’t have any friends yet in Toronto, you’re sure to meet some new ones before you leave.
That’s A Wrap
There you have it - 13 easy ways to enjoy your summer in Toronto with kids. Make sure you take a handful of those sour cream donuts with you to Toronto Island for me. I will be dreaming about it.