For decades people have referred to it as Hogtown in reference to North America’s second largest pork processing plant which once dwarfed the City’s waterfront in the 1860s. But don’t let the nickname fool you. Toronto is no pig pen–it’s a beautiful, dynamic city with an array of free things and stuff to do that will make your tail curl.
Bond Place Hotel , close to Dundas Square.
Hotel Victoria Downtown, excellent location.
Super 8 Downtown Toronto, comfortable and value-packed.
Holiday Inn Express Toronto – Downtown, free hot breakfast bar.
Take a trip to the tropics for free visiting Toronto’s Allen Gardens Conservatory. Inside the over 16,000 square feet of greenhouse space you’ll see lush tropical plants from all over the world including bamboo, palm, banana and citrus trees; all kinds of cacti and stunningly beautiful flowers such as hibiscus, orchids, bromeliads, datura, cuca and more. At 400 acres, High Park is the largest park within the city of Toronto. This beautiful park is a TripAdvisor Traveller’s Choice Winner. It’s jam-packed with free stuff to do—gorgeous gardens, a 35-acre pond for fishing, hiking trails, playgrounds, playing fields–even a zoo, complete with American bison, emu, llamas, wallaby and yaks to name but a few. Imagine a farm located in the downtown core of a city. Why imagine it? Just visit Riverdale Farm located smack dab in the middle of the downtown Toronto community of Cabbagetown. This 7.5 acre facility is a working farm, complete with stuff like cows, horses, sheep, pigs and chickens, vegetable gardens and a farmer you can chat with as he does his chores. If the kids are tagging along, there’s a free wading pool for them to cool off—just tell them to make sure the animals don’t mistake it for a watering hole. Best of all you don’t even have to exchange a chicken or a dozen eggs to get in because Riverdale Farm is an absolutely free thing to do in Toronto.
Founded in 1832, The Gooderham and Worts Distillery was once the largest distillery in the world, producing more than 2 million gallons of whisky per year. Today it’s a pedestrian-only village known as The Distillery Historic District. Here, at the TripAdvisor Certificate of Excellence winner, you will find 40 buildings that represent the largest collection of Victorian Industrial Architecture. Restored by tradesmen skilled in working with 19th century timber, planks, stone and brick, these buildings are now home to stuff to do like one-of-a-kind boutiques, galleries, studios and restaurants. Stroll along the cobblestone streets and spend the afternoon discovering this National Historic Site; and don’t be surprised to hear the word “action”–The Distillery Historic District has played the role of film set on hundreds of occasions, including for the movies Chicago, X-Men and Cinderella Man. Along the shores of Lake Ontario you will find the Habourfront Centre. This 10-acre area boasts a boardwalk along the lake, a marina, a music-themed garden designed by internationally-acclaimed cellist Yo Yo Ma and a variety of free concerts throughout the summer months.
Another great free thing to do is to check out the bustling atmosphere of the St. Lawrence Market, the city’s largest market. Walk the aisles and take in the sights, sounds and irresistible smells as over 120 vendors display everything from fresh fruits and vegetables, to meats, fish, cheese and scrumptious pies and breads at this TripAdvisor Traveller’s Choice Winner. A market of another kind is Kensington Market. Dating back to the 1790s, it was originally a British settlement. Today it is an incredibly diverse neighbourhood made up of over 30 different cultures and a TripAdvisor Certificate of Excellence Winner. A great place to wander and people watch, it is a cornucopia of unique shops, thrift stores, fruit stands, food spots and pubs. Another free thing to do is to explore Toronto’s Chinatown area, one of the largest in North America. Wander up and down Spadina Avenue and take it all in: restaurants displaying authentic cuisine like barbecued duck; shops showcasing medicinal herbs, clothing, books, videos and bargain sunglasses; sidewalk stalls hawking fresh vegetables and people buzzing about everywhere.
If you have a foot fetish one of the free things to do in Toronto you can’t pass up is a visit to the Bata Shoe Museum. Here you will find over 10,000 shoes. Everything from Chinese bound foot shoes and ancient Egyptian sandals to footwear of the famous, including: Elton John, Marilyn Monroe, John Lennon, Terry Fox, Roger Federer, Justin Bieber and even a pair of socks worn by Napoleon. Every Thursday between 5:00 and 8:00 P.M. admission is pay-what-you-can. Another museum with a unique focus is The Gardiner Museum. It’s home to over 2,900 striking ceramic pieces of art collected from all over the world. Entrance is free every Friday from 4:00 to 9:00 P.M. Looking for something truly arresting? Drop by the Toronto Police Museum and Discovery Centre. Check out stuff like old weapons, uniforms and a paddy wagon from 1914. Study your fingerprints. Test your knowledge of law and order. Get behind the wheel of a police car or hop on a Harley-Davidson police bike. It’s all yours to discover, free of charge (pardon the pun), seven days a week, even on holidays.
Contemporary art lovers will enjoy spending time at the Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art where you’ll find stimulating, provocative works by both Canadian and international artists that poke and prod at challenging issues and themes of today. Admission is free. Continue to push your personal boundaries by stopping by the Power Plant Contemporary Art Gallery. Billed as Canada’s foremost contemporary gallery it is home to ambitious thematic and solo exhibitions. The Toronto Free Gallery is another interesting free thing to do. Here artists from different disciplines–visual artists, architects, film-makers, and more–collaborate to create eclectic works that explore and address everyday issues. A trip to Toronto wouldn’t be complete without visiting the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO). On Wednesdays between 6:00 to 8:30 P.M. admission is free. The gallery is home to over 40,000 works, including the largest collection of Canadian art. Lots of cool stuff here. Enjoy your time reflecting on works by The Group of Seven, Picasso, Monet, Cezanne, Salvador Dali, Jackson Pollock, van Gogh and Matisse, plus be sure to visit the gallery’s thrilling Henry Moore Sculpture Collection.
A walking tour is one of the great free things to do in Toronto. Get your bearings by taking a Free Toronto Tour hosted by the Tour Guys Company. A TripAdvisor Certificate of Excellence winner, this tour is a great intro to Toronto as you will discover the downtown core and the stories behind its famous landmarks. Adventurists offers a Free Toronto Tour as well. What makes this tour unique is they size up your group beforehand and then customize the tour around the elements they figure you would most enjoy learning about. This could result in a custom tour that includes things like discovering famous TV/movie shoot locations, checking out world famous graffiti or stopping at favourite local eateries. Feel like a good scare? Embark on a self-guided Ghost Tour of the City using the free guide provided by the Toronto Ghosts & Hauntings Research Society. Toronto City Hall is regarded as an architectural masterpiece. Learn all the reasons why by grabbing yourself a free self-guided Toronto City Hall tour brochure.
Since you’re in the mood for walking, why not stroll over to Graffiti Alley. Aficionados consider Toronto to be home to some of the best graffiti art in the world. Graffiti Alley is a great example of why. It’s also where Canadian comedian Rick Mercer films his ‘rants’ for his popular Canadian TV show “The Mercer Report”. The entrance to the alley of this free thing to do is between Queen St. and Richmond Street and runs west from Spadina Ave. to Portland St. In total, Graffiti Alley is almost one kilometre long.
Who says culture don’t come cheap? It does in Toronto where you will find a variety of free cultural stuff to be had. What about music you say? Free concerts and performances are hosted at various locations throughout the City. Yonge & Dundas Square is always a great spot to check out. Located in the heart of Toronto’s downtown it has played host to concerts by name acts, cultural celebrations and events and much more. But this isn’t the only happening hot spot for a free concert. The Canadian Opera Company, Harbourfront, and Mel Lastman Square are three more locations in the city that invite tourists and citizens to enjoy complimentary entertainment and events.
Grab a blanket or a lawn chair, a bag of popcorn or some other snack, a cold drink and settle in for a night watching a movie under the stars. Free outdoor film screenings take place in Toronto on Tuesday nights at Harbourfront Centre (where the screen floats out on the waters of Lake Ontario) and at Yonge and Dundas Square. And on Wednesdays the Toronto International Film Festival presents free outdoor screenings too.
The Amsterdam Brewery began brewing craft beer in Toronto back in 1986. For many Torontonians “The Amsterdam” has been the go to place for stouts, ales, lagers and seasonal beers ever since. When patio weather returns in the spring, “The Amsterdam” is one of the first places they think of to kick back and enjoy the rays and a cold one. Amsterdam brews are crafted by hand, made fresh daily and you can see how it happens for yourself by taking a free tour of the Amsterdam BrewHouse. Tours take place Monday to Thursday at 5:00 P.M. and on Fridays at 11:00 A.M. Tours include a free tasting and are about 30 minutes.
If you’re visiting Toronto in the summer and you need a chill day to recover from all that walking you did the day before; a day at the beach will do the trick and it won’t cost you a dime. Two of the cities most popular beaches are Cherry Beach and Bluffers Park Beach. Cherry Beach is located at the foot of Cherry Street and is accessible during the summer months by the city’s bus service. The sunsets are awesome here too. If building sandcastles and burying your travel companion in the sand is on your agenda, a trip out to Bluffers Park Beach should be on your list. Located in the east end of the city at the base of Brimley Road, Bluffers Park Beach boasts an expansive beach with lots of room for playing frisbee, volleyball or catch. The water is clean and inviting. The view of the Lake uninhibited and the backdrop features the Scarborough Bluffs–spectacular, white sandy cliffs. There’s a marina next door to explore complete with a restaurant. Both of these complimentary beaches usually earn blue flag certification each year which is the international recognition for beaches that meet high water quality and environmental standards.
A great way to enjoy almost-free things to do in Toronto is to check Groupon, the money-saving website that features local discounts in 150 cities. Visit the Toronto Groupon page and you’ll find savings of anywhere from 40-90% on tours, boat cruises, theatre tickets, comedy clubs, activities, events, dinner spots and accommodations. The Groupon Toronto page is a smart place to check out when you’re first planning your trip and even when you’re in the middle of your Toronto visit because new deals get added weekly and even daily many times.
Be thrifty and practical! This information was accurate when published, but can change without notice. We recommend you confirm all details with the provider in question before planning your excursion.
Photo credits: Benson Kua, Jim Crocker, Aasen Ryan Family, cphoffman42, ChodHound, Madimem43, Flaming Lips @ Yonge-Dundas Square, watching the movie, Chopp + Chopp, ONTARIO-00681 – The Beaches, TripAdvisor, Market | Spain and -bartimaeus-.