Free Things to do in Toronto

Toronto! My town! Canada’s largest city, and one of the most diverse cities in the world.

Tourists flock here from all over the world on an annual basis. Last year alone, Toronto saw a record 43 million visitors, who contributed just under $9 billion dollars into the Canadian economy.

As a traveller myself – especially a solo traveller – I understand the importance and desire to save a few bucks whenever possible.

So, let’s look at what this great city has to offer you, my fellow traveller, this summer…for free (mostly)!

Distillery District

Toronto’s Distillery District is a beautiful, natural historic site. Buildings date back to the 1800’s, with the most notable being the Gooderham and Worts Distillery, which was once the largest whiskey producer in the world. Cheers!

Today, the area is hugely popular, and is considered Canada’s most iconic areas for arts, culture and entertainment. This quaint neighbourhood is pedestrian traffic only, and is located just east of downtown. You’ll be greeted with cobblestone streets, a lot of character, and plenty of art galleries, boutiques, cafes, and restaurants. In such a fast paced, bustling city like Toronto, visiting the Distillery District is like stepping back in time.

The District is very easy to get to, whether you take public transit, walk, or drive. If you do drive, note that parking is paid, and depending on the day, spots may be difficult to find.

It is a neighbourhood full of creativity and creative people. With a calendar full of events year round, this is an area definitely worth spending some time in.

 

Street view of the Distillery District in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

The Distillery District

 

High Park

Basically, this is Canada’s version of Central Park in NYC.

Located in the west end of the city, High Park is approximately 400 acres, and is a nature lover’s best friend. There are hiking trails, an off leash dog park, playgrounds for the little ones, picnic areas, gardens, sports fields, greenhouses, and even a zoo (and yes, the zoo is free to enter).

Various events are held throughout the year. Make sure you check the website to see what’s happening during your visit to Toronto.

If you are here in the Spring, be sure to check out the cherry blossoms. It’s really pretty, and draws quite the crowd.

Also, there are free walking tours, year round, on Sundays. Click here for the brochure and schedule. You can also find out more, by following them on Twitter.

Getting to the park is easy, whether you drive, bike, or take public transit. Although, if you are going to see the cherry blossoms in the Spring, a word of advice…don’t drive. Trying to find parking during this event is basically an event itself. I learned that one the hard way.

And, if you get hungry, Grenadier Restaurant is right in the park, and has a nice patio. I haven’t eaten there myself, but it seems popular.

Spend a day here, and you’ll forget that you’re in a city of just under 3 million people!

 

Free Things to do in Toronto - cherry blossoms in High Park

Cherry blossoms in High Park

 

Caribana

To avoid any confusion, let me first say, that this event was originally named Caribana, but had to be renamed in 2011, due to trademark legalities. It is now called “Scotiabank Caribbean Carnival Toronto“.

No one calls it that. It’s Caribana.

Just know that if you see either name, they are talking about the same event.

Caribana celebrates everything Caribbean. Think music, friendly people, amazing food and some of the most elaborate costumes you’ll ever see.

Though there are events held in late July, the main part of Caribana is always the first weekend in August (which is a long weekend for us here in Ontario). This weekend alone will attract over a million visitors to the city.

Make sure you book your hotel as soon as you know you will be in the city on this weekend. Prices skyrocket, and will sell out fast.


Events over the weekend include boat cruises, day parties and nightclub events. There’s also a junior Carnival parade for the little ones, which is more family friendly than the grand parade.

Tickets are required for all of these events, of course, but the biggest, main event of Caribana is free to attend…

The grand parade.

This parade is like nothing you’ve experienced, and it’s my absolute favourite event of the year. A massive parade exploding onto the Lakeshore with costumes, dancing and music so loud, your teeth will rattle. People set up camp early in the morning, and the party doesn’t end until the sun sets.

Wear comfortable shoes, stay hydrated and be prepared to dance in the sun for hours. It’s an event you will not soon forget.

Jump up!

 

Free Things to do in Toronto Caribbean Festival Caribana

Costumes of the Toronto Caribbean Festival (Caribana)

 

Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO)

If you are an art lover, listen up! Even if you’re not, still listen up, because the AGO often has special exhibits running that will impress even those who are not art enthusiasts.

Located downtown at University and Dundas, The AGO is one of the largest art galleries in North America. Dust off those comfortable shoes – with a collection of over 95,000 pieces, you’ll be on your feet for a while.

If regular admission prices keep you away, not to worry, the AGO has you covered. On Wednesdays, from 6pm-9pm, admission is free. This is one of the gallery’s busiest times, of course, so go early, and expect a line up.

The area surrounding the AGO is ripe with restaurants, diners, cafes, and everything in between. Fuel up before you spend an afternoon wandering this modern, beautiful building.

 

Free Things to do in Toronto - AGO Art Gallery of Ontario

The Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO)

 

Kensington Market

An area popular to those who would rather not conform to societal rules, Kensington Market is where people from all communities and cultures come together, creating a unique and nonjudgmental vibe unlike anywhere else in the city.

Nestled between Spadina and Bathurst, Kensington is full of locally owned shops housed within original Victorian buildings, creating a unique blend of old school charm and today’s eclectic mindset.

On Sundays in the summer from 12pm-10pm, the streets of Kensington Market become pedestrian only. Expect crowded patios, live entertainment, vendors, and an overall buzzing vibe.

(Note that the AGO and Kensington Market are in the same area. It wouldn’t be a bad idea to try to hit both on the same day.)

 

Free Things to do in Toronto - Kensington Market neighbourhood

Kensington Market

 

Taste of the Danforth

There’s more to Greek culture than smashing plates. There’s also amazing food, energetic music, great dancing, and friendly people.

Held in August on ‘The Danforth’ – Toronto’s infamous Greek neighbourhood – Taste of the Danforth is Canada’s largest street festival, drawing in a crowd of about 1.5 million each year.

With three stages, there is no shortage of live entertainment, in addition to a sports zone, and a kids zone. Though this is a Greek festival, the event also celebrates multiculturalism. Don’t be surprised if you see Bollywood dancers, hear Latin American bands, or have the chance to sample famous Asian dishes.

if you are a foodie, this is one event you definitely won’t want to miss. Vendors mostly offer ‘tasting menus’, meaning you can get a small serving for only a couple bucks, making this a walk-and-eat-on-your-way-to-the-next-booth kind of day. It’s awesome!

Come hungry, wear comfortable shoes, and pack your patience. The lineups are long, and the crowds are big, but I promise you, it’s worth it.

Also, if you’ve rented a car, I highly recommend that you do not drive here, you will have a very hard time finding parking. Luckily, the Bloor-Danforth line of the TTC runs right along the Danforth. Get off at either Broadview, Chester, Pape or Donlands stations.

Opa!

 

Free Things to do in Toronto - Taste of the Danforth Greek Festival

Taste of the Danforth

 

Nathan Phillip’s Square

Located downtown, in front of Toronto’s iconic City Hall buildings, Nathan Phillip’s Square is a famous landmark that every tourist must visit. It’s almost a rule.

The Square is Canada’s largest city square, and is named after Mr. Nathan Phillip, who was Toronto’s mayor in the late 1950’s.

In the summer, expect crowds standing on, in and around the infamous “Toronto” sign. It’s right in the middle of Nathan Phillip’s, you can’t miss it, and you definitely shouldn’t.

Because it’s such an awesome space, there’s always something going on here during the summer. Click here for a calendar to see what’s happening on your dates.

There are always food trucks parked out front, and the area is fantastic for people watching. Grab a bite, and a seat, and you have as much free entertainment as you can handle.

Note that Nathan Phillip’s Square is right beside the Eaton Centre. Maybe take a break, grab lunch and sit outside for some fresh air before your shopping marathon continues?

 

Free Things to do in Toronto - Nathan Phillips Square - Toronto sign

Nathan Phillip’s Square

 

The Harbour Front

This is one of my favourite areas of the city. Popular year round, but even more so in the summer, crowds flock to the Harbour Front because there’s always something going on.

Covering about 10 acres (both indoor and outdoor), expect a wide variety of culture, food, theatre, and musical events, as well as crafts, galleries, patios and shopping. From here, you can also take a water taxi, or the ferry over to Toronto Island.

There are so many nooks and crannies, you’ll find something new each time you visit. I’m from Toronto, and am still surprised every time I go. For me, visiting this area means comfortable shoes, sunblock, a lot of walking, and stopping along the way when something catches my attention. An awesome way to spend an afternoon.

Take the subway down to Union and walk towards the water from there, or take the streetcar from Union and get off anywhere along Queens Quay.

Free Things to do in Toronto - Harbour Front Centre Island

Toronto skyline

 

Pride

June is a good month to be in Toronto. The entire month is dedicated to Pride, with the grand finale being the Pride Parade, taking place this year on June 24. Attracting over a million people each year, Toronto Pride is one of the largest Pride celebrations in the world.

I am naturally a high energy person, and am never one to turn down a huge, fun event, so I go to the parade every year, and have never had a bad time.

Want to wear a tutu? Go for it. Want to rock a wild wig? Awesome. Feel most comfortable in regular shorts and a t-shirt? Do you! Doesn’t matter who you are or where you came from, Pride celebrates inclusivity and acceptance on a grand scale, and it does it well.

Keep your footwear comfortable, your mind open, and leave your judgment at home. You won’t regret spending the day in The Village (the area surrounding Church and Wellesley Streets downtown).

Be sure to book your accommodations as soon as you know you will be in Toronto during the Pride parade weekend. Prices will skyrocket, and will sell out very fast.

I’ll see you there!

 

Free Things to do in Toronto - gay pride parade

The pride parade

 

Botanical Gardens

Green space is usually not the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Toronto, or any big, bustling city, for that matter. So, when we get a place as beautiful as the Botanical Gardens, we like to tell people about it.

Located midtown at Leslie and Lawrence, the Gardens cover about 4 acres, and are easily accessible by taking a bus from Eglinton Station. If you drive, the Gardens have a large, free parking area.

The Gardens are open dawn to dusk every day, except for statutory holidays.

Guests are welcome to explore the Gardens on their own for free, or, if you are interested in knowing what you’re actually looking at, there are guided tours available, for a small fee.

Also, something that’s pretty cool about the Botanical Gardens, is that they have their own app – GROWIT! Download it to your phone, and it will guide you through the park and tell you about the various foliage. Great option if you are interested in learning, but want to go at your own pace.

And finally, if you like organic farmer’s markets, be sure to visit on Thursday’s, from 2pm-7pm year round.

Lots to see and do in this beautiful, peaceful space within the city.

 

Free Things to do in Toronto - Botanical Gardens flowers

The botanical gardens

 

Just the Beginning

This list is just a small sample of free things to do in Toronto this summer. This city absolutely comes alive once the warm weather shows up! There are numerous festivals, events and other areas of the city to explore. No matter your interests, Toronto is an awesome city, and is amazing in the summer.

Planning a budget trip to Toronto, Canada? Read this guide, written by a local, for FREE things to do in Canada's largest city.
Planning a budget trip to Toronto, Canada? Read this guide, written by a local, for FREE things to do in Canada's largest city.
Planning a budget trip to Toronto, Canada? Read this guide, written by a local, for FREE things to do in Canada's largest city.
Planning a budget trip to Toronto, Canada? Read this guide, written by a local, for FREE things to do in Canada's largest city.
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12 Comments

  1. December 12, 2018 / 2:27 pm

    Love this! I’ve always wanted to go to Toronto! Thanks for the informative post.

    • NurseBackpacker
      Author
      December 12, 2018 / 3:02 pm

      Awesome, Toronto is a great city (in the summer!) Thanks for reading Hayley! 🙂

  2. July 16, 2018 / 10:09 pm

    Great post! Love pedestrian Sunday’s! ?

    • NurseBackpacker
      Author
      July 16, 2018 / 10:53 pm

      Yes – pedestrian Sundays have such a cool vibe, I love it! thanks for reading, Elle! 🙂

  3. Allen Rodi
    June 10, 2018 / 5:00 pm

    Great Tourism work NBP! Love your stats on economic vitality!

    • NurseBackpacker
      Author
      June 10, 2018 / 5:14 pm

      Awesome, thanks for reading Allen!

  4. June 9, 2018 / 5:32 pm

    This makes me want to visit Toronto. I’m in Florida so we have a lot of rain almost every day. When it stops beach here I come!

    • NurseBackpacker
      Author
      June 10, 2018 / 12:55 pm

      I’ve been to Florida a few times. I saw it rain only once – it was an insane 3 minute downpour in South Beach, and then all went back to normal in a couple minutes. I had no idea you guys got rain every day. I suppose it depends on where in Florida though.

      • June 10, 2018 / 3:33 pm

        Well just this year it’s been downpours and sunshine

        • NurseBackpacker
          Author
          June 10, 2018 / 4:04 pm

          Interrupted sunshine is better than no sunshine at all!
          Thanks for reading, your website looks great as well! 🙂

  5. melisvida
    June 7, 2018 / 3:31 pm

    Great post! Can’t wait for this summer.

    • NurseBackpacker
      Author
      June 7, 2018 / 4:44 pm

      Thanks for reading! I’m excited for the summer, too! 🙂

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