Torontonians are a hardy bunch. After spending the majority of the year bundled up and hunkered down, they use the warmer months to be outside as much as possible. And by warmer, we merely mean the months that are above freezing. This large west-end Toronto green space bordered by Queen and Dundas on the south and north is the perfect space to enjoy the outdoors. It has has become a favourite gathering space for people of all ages. The park features an indoor pool and running track, volleyball and tennis courts, a playground and a designated off-leash area for dogs. The park is also home to the elusive white squirrel (an unusual sight, since most Toronto squirrels are black).
A massive indoor and outdoor nonprofit complex devoted to the arts, the Harbourfront Centre schedules a plethora of free or low-cost cultural festivals throughout the year as well as food, theatre, literary and music events. This 10-acre gathering space along Toronto's Lake Ontario shoreline attracts over 12 million visitors a year. Beyond the festivals, Harbourfront also features art and craft studios, several galleries, shops offering Toronto-made goods and imported items from around the globe, a restaurant, gardens, a seasonal ice skating rink, and a small shopping centre (Queen's Quay Terminal). You'll find classes and workshops for all ages, and summer camp experiences for kids, too.
Whether you are a former Toronto Maple Leaf or more like Bambi on the ice, it is always a stellar winter choice to attempt to stay upright on skates. Nathan Phillips Square is the perfect place to wile away a romantic hour or two or to try and recollect your long-lost hockey skills. Located right in front of City Hall and around the corner from the Eaton's Centre and popular restaurants, it is a great activity to sandwich between other downtown pursuits. Bring your own skates for free exercise or rent skates for $10 or less. During the holidays, the rink sparkles with lights and displays a large holiday tree for Toronto's version of the Rockefeller Centre.
Evergreen Brickworks is a former industrial site that has become a love letter to the green movement. Download a self-guided tour brochure or pick one up at the welcome desk and trod your own path along 40 acres of wilderness. Breathtaking nature is surprisingly accessible from the city centre and if you need more reason to go, National Geographic shortlisted this space as one of the world's top 10 geotourism hotspots. Evergreen Brickworks shows how we can transform urban spaces with the right intentions. The surrounding buildings uphold the principles of sustainable architecture and design. There are indoor plush gardens and a year-round farmer's market that is delightfully local. Bring a picnic and a bicycle for an amazing summer afternoon.
When you first find your way in between Spadina and Bathurst and then in between College and Dundas in Toronto, you may feel that you haven't found anything special at first. However, as you start your walking journey throughout Kensington Market, you quickly realize you have entered the realm of something unique. Kensington has quite a history, but today it stands as a multicultural community of noncomformists. Many Victorian homes retain some of their original architecture but have been transformed into shops that range from excellent cheesemongers to local designers. On a warm summer's day the patios are packed with happy beer-drinkers working hard to get their vitamin D. The beer isn't free, but it's a fair reward for all of that walking.
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 housing Canadian and international classics. Wednesday nights offers an opportunity to visit for free from 6 to 9pm. If you are a Toronto resident, pick up the Sun Life Museum + Arts pass using your library card at your local library. Check the library website for availability, but scoring one could let 2 adults and 5 children in for free - even on days other than Wednesday.
There are many advantages to living in Toronto, but a plethora of green spaces is not one of them. This is precisely why places like the Toronto Botanical Gardens feels so special. Not only is it easily accessible, free and gorgeous, but it is also the place to bathe in nature when the pace of the city feels a little too much. You can hike, you can bike, you can visit the farmer's market on Thursdays or you can take some sweet Instagram photos. There are also a host of educational opportunities and a modestly priced tour, should you wish to know more about the foliage other than "That's pretty." There is also a bookstore, a cafe and an app. Of course there's an app.
Toronto's Distillery Historic District began in 1859 as the site of the Gooderham and Worts whiskey distillery. 100 years later, the distillery was producing nearly half of the total volume of spirits in the province of Ontario, making it one of the country's most important manufacturing facilities (people like their spirits!). As war, prohibition and outsourcing changed the face of Toronto, it did its number on the distillery which closed in 1990. However, 13 years later this historic district got its second chance and became a charming pedestrian-only village. This area of Toronto today is like no other, with cobblestone pathways and Victorian-era buildings housing restaurants, boutiques and art galleries.
We are certainly not deluding ourselves by suggesting that the opera is suddenly gratis. However, there are a series of free concerts in the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre from September to May in jazz, piano, vocal, dance, chamber and world music categories. Walking into the Canadian Opera Company and viewing the majestic staircases and grandiose ceilings, it will be hard to believe that you have paid nothing for a fine arts experience. This is Canada's first and only custom built opera house, and the acoustics prove it, even in the smaller amphitheatre. Check the website for the free schedule, normally held from Tuesday to Thursday.
High Park is Toronto's version of Central Park in New York. Toronto's largest 400 acre public park has been the jewel in Toronto's park system with historical buildings, amazing hiking trails, a free zoo and playgrounds. A park highlight is Colborne Lodge, which is one of 10 historic sites operated by the city of Toronto. Colborne Lodge is a monument to John and Jemima Howard, the couple who founded High Park. This house, built in 1837 still has some original paintings of early Toronto. High Park is a walker's or runner's delight with pathways connecting the park's various natural habitats, picnic areas, ponds and landscaped gardens. From spring to fall, a "trackless train" (a tractor that pulls several wagons designed to resemble a train) takes visitors around the park, stopping at various points of interest.