Cure a Case of Boredom with These Family-Friendly Toronto Museums

If it were up to the kids, their ideal vacation would look like the movie Home Alone, presumably without the burglars. However, they are stuck with family time, so why not make the most of it and choose museums that will please everyone, from your texting-addicted teenager to your world-weary tween?

Toronto is filled to the brim with great museums that keep the entertainment metre on high no matter what the weather. From Canada's largest museum, the elaborate ROM, to the hockey-fan essential, The Hockey Hall of Fame, Toronto has terrific options. The cool and cosmopolitan city can also add the word "cultural" to the mix.

The museums we have chosen vary in size, so some are suitable for a day of boundless appeal while others are an hour of entertainment to sandwich between other activities. Toronto aims to please and its world class museums are the perfect stops for family fun.

Whether cultural, educational or related to a hobby, children are not expected to be mini-adults. They are invited to play, to touch and to imagine. Even the coolest of kids won't be able to help being awe-struck from time to time. Happy kids, happy parents, and one hell of a vacation.


Montgomery's Inn
Photo courtesy of Montgomery's Inn Facebook page

Montgomery's Inn was built in 1830. It is worth visiting just for the fact that there are not many historical buildings in and around Toronto. Montgomery's Inn once served as a shelter, community hub and restaurant right up until 1850 when one of the original owners, Margaret Montgomery died. Now it is a great place to go with the kids to get a glimpse at a yesteryear when life was not entirely dependent on technology. Visitors can take self-guided tours for a low price, walking through the open-hearth kitchen and the sitting area. It is like stepping through the pages of a Jane Austin novel, which is a shocking contrast to the very modern city that surrounds.

High Park/Roncesvalles

Taking your kids to the historic home of one of Toronto's first architects may seem laughable. Have we met your children? Gazing at watercolours is hardly a hobby of theirs. However, we are almost as interested in the environs of this historical site as we are the kid-friendly activities within it. Besides the requisite birthday parties and day camps, there are a ton of seasonal activities attached to this home, including Easter egg hunts in Toronto's verdant High Park. John and Jemima Thomas, the original owners of the house, decreed that the park remain free for the enjoyment of "the citizens in Toronto." Even though your kids may have a free ride, it is good for them to recognize that it is historical kindness that leads to low dollar experiences.

Gardiner Museum of Ceramic Art
Photo courtesy of Gardiner Museum

At first glance, ceramics might not seem like your kid's idea of a good time. However, workshops provide the tactile pleasure of clay for all ages. Squishy, slippery clay running through your kids' fingers may spark appreciation for the extensive ceramic art, from pottery to porcelain. Although this art is delicate, the collection impressively showcases work from the Mayan and pre-Columbian period without many cracks. The work is now well protected from butterfingers, and the striking design of the building has won architectural awards. It is a first-rate experience in a small space, with a great cafe to take a hot chocolate break in the middle of your day.

Bata Shoe Museum
Photo courtesy of Bata Shoe Museum Facebook page

Your kids already spend an inordinate amount of time trying to figure out how to tie their shoes. Take a couple of hours with them to stare at shoes together. If you need to convince your tweens, the words "Justin Bieber's shoes" should do the trick. Adults can be wistfully entertained by John Lennon's Chelsea style ankle boots, or Marilyn Monroe's sexy red stilettos. On weekends, small children are encouraged to try on shoes and participate in shoe-themed arts and crafts. Your princess lover will be enthralled by the fairy-tale inspired area in "All About Shoes." We know that clothing makes the man, but it may instead be the shoes that can take the glory.

Step into another world in the 19th century by visiting Black Creek Pioneer Village. This heritage museum is a welcome alternative to screaming at the kids "Get some fresh air!" You can collectively breathe in a simpler time. There are 35 restored buildings from the 1860s, showcasing dying arts such as milling, quilting and hearth cooking. The butcher, the baker and the candlestick maker prove how modern life may be busier than ever, but in may ways, we have it good. Every week there are kid's programs that involve tours, baking, and during the holidays, even chestnuts roasting on an open fire. Literally.

A hall of fame as much as a museum, The Hockey Hall of Fame is a must for any lover of hockey (or lover of Canada, for that matter). There is nothing quite as cool for a player as being "hall called" and the 400 inducted members are a thrill to see. Visiting this museum will help to clarify the die-hard passion of Torontonians over their beloved (but often poorly performing) Maple Leafs. Like a sports magazine come to life, there are exhibits about players, statistics and some NHL trophies, including the Stanley Cup (with a replica Stanley cup available for a photo opportunity). There is also a replica of the Montreal Canadiens' locker room and a space to practice your slapshot. Enjoy taking lots of pictures: it is encouraged!

Come with your family to Family Sundays, which happen most Sundays from 1-4pm. From collaborative painting workshops to bilingual French/English weekends, it is a great way to help your kids to develop an artistic side. Tweens and teens will love the "Free after Three" program, which is as it sounds with weekly workshops from breakdancing to Aerosol Art (if you want to actively encourage graffiti).The Art Gallery of Ontario, with its high ceilings, light spaces and spiral staircases would be enough art even without the paintings on the walls. However, the art is indeed amazing, from the exhibitions to the galleries. The Group of Seven are a must see. The gallery also impresses with its wide range of programming, from free tango lessons to weekly art classes of all styles.

The Royal Ontario Museum is not to be missed, and you also literally cannot miss it. The main entrance reopened in 2007; a stunning piece of architecture resembling a crystal by David Libeskind. It reinvented the previously tired facade of the ROM (as the museum is often abbreviated) and put a fresh face on this house of ancient artifacts. Inside, the spacious grounds include featured exhibitions of world-renouned art, dinosaur bones that will dwarf your tallest friend and even a Ming tomb. Kids are welcomed with open arms with a "Hands-on Gallery of Biodiversity" on Level 2. Parents can finally stop saying "Don't touch that!" and kids will eat through some of their energy by crawling in and out of a fox's den. Do also make sure to take the little ones to the Bat Cave, which has a simulated natural habitat with a dramatization of bats.

We may classify The Children's Discovery Centre as more child-friendly than family-friendly, but happy kids mean a smoother bedtime and a sooner happy hour. This children's museum has been designed by a team of early childhood development professionals, meaning that learning sneaks into fun activities. The activities are designed for the young in mind (between 0 and 6) with 20,000 square feet of space where kids can dress up, paint, sing, read and more. Currently a grassroots project, they are searching for a permanent home but will be open in this location until July 2016 at the earliest.

Visiting the Ontario Science Centre is a great way to connect with your inner Bill Nye, the Science Guy. Even kids who don't seem keen on science will be enthralled by over 800 interactive exhibits. This museum of science is designed to spark curiosity and even spark you with high-voltage electricity (pain free) to make your hair stand on end. Visit a simulated rain forest, examine a real human brain and take a visit to the Moon and Mars. During the week, the Science Centre can be busy with a lot of school trips, but it is definitely a great time for the kids, who are even taught to make their own short films by taking scenes of objects. Bring the kid who likes to ask the question "Why?" He or she will get a whole lot of answers.


Meet Courtney Sunday

Courtney Sunday has lived in England, Switzerland, Canada and the US, finding her way into the professions of freelance writing and yoga teaching in between travel opportunities. She learned...  More About Courtney