FTF's free-fun-loving columnist shows you how Ontario, Canada's most child-friendly city is offering a wealth of summer freebies.FTF's free-fun-loving columnist shows you how Ontario, Canada's most child-friendly city is offering a wealth of summer freebies.
Kids love Toronto. After all, the world's longest street, Yonge Street (1,896 km), starts here. And the biggest movie screen (the six-story-high IMAX at Ontario Place Cinesphere), the most entertaining museum (Metro Toronto Police Museum, admission free), the world's tallest free-standing structure (CN Tower), and the world's largest urban castle (200-room Casa Loma) are all here. During summer, when the city offers plenty of choices in the no-money-down category, Toronto is sure to be a hit with parents, too.
Here are Toronto's kid-friendly summer attractions that are easy on your wallet and on your stress level:
During the lazy hazy days of summer many Toronto families head to the waterfront's Harbourfront, a 10-acre, fun-filled complex where children can stroll, play, picnic, feed ducks, watch the boats, or just stretch out on the blanket. Young visitors and locals alike love to participate in Harbourfont's series of summer festivals offering free concerts and workshops. The waterfront also plays host to tall ships and naval vessels from all over the world. The public is invited, free of charge, to board vessels and meet crews. Don't forget your camera! With Lake Ontario on one side, and the city skyline with the CN Tower and financial district in the background, Harbourfront is a hot site to take a few postcard-like photos. My tip – a bridge over the marina is the best spot
Info: Check the above website for names and descriptions of visiting ships or call 416/973-4000 for details.
Dundas & Front Streets to University Avenue & Yonge Street.
Want to escape from the summer heat? Toronto has an underground city with six-and-a-half miles of passages with beautiful granite floors and marble walls, packed with 1,100 restaurants, food halls and shops. Start at the Union Station and follow the PATH directions throughout; most shop close evenings and weekends. Exit at the enormous Eaton Centre shopping mall and turn left. You will find yourself right at the heart of the city, on Queen Street West.
Caribana or Carnival
North America's largest street festival, Caribana, now called the Toronto International Carnival, takes over the city from mid-July to early August each year. Performances, food stalls, revues and other festivities, filling the summer air with the sounds of the Caribbean, attract over a million participants annually. The highlight of the festival is the colorful eight-hour Parade, a magnificent stream of costumed dancers swaying to the beat of calypso, soca, steel pan and reggae performed by live bands. To participate in Junior Carnival Parade, take your kids to the uptown Eglinton West district known as Little Jamaica.
Admission: Walk in along the lakeshore and it's free.
Ex, The Canadian National Exhibition
The world's largest annual fair, called Ex by locals, treats 1.5 million visitors every summer to a mind-boggling array of amusements and shows, from a tacky mile-long midway with games of chance to the Food Building where you can taste treats from around the world. There are nightly shows with top performers like Whitney Houston and Bonnie Raitt (schedule changes annually), roller coasters, bungee jumping and, during the last four days of the fair, the Canadian International Air Show.
Admission: Unfortunately, no freebies here, but Loonie Mondays is a sure winner in the next-to-nothing category — one Canadian dollar (this coin has a loon engraved on it) buys admission for a child 13 and under. Tips: Bring your most comfortable shoes and be prepared to walk for hours. Stroller rentals and babysitting are available.
City Hall & Nathan Phillips Square
100 Queen Street West
Toronto, ON M5H 2N2>
Nathan Phillips Square is located in front of the City Hall and offers kids-oriented events during the months of July and August. Not-to-be-missed are Toronto Kids Tuesdays offering lunchtime performances by top-notch children's entertainers. While you're there, walk in and take a free self-guided tour of City Hall (weekdays only, from 8am-4:30pm). The highlights: the sculpture mural Metropolis, by David Partridge, assembled from 100,000 nails, and the scale-model of Toronto, with each building in place. Need to put your feet up while the kids burn off steam? There is a great, fenced-in playground just behind the City Hall's west wall. It belongs to the building's Day Care Centre, but the public may use it from noon to 3pm daily and on the weekends. (Check hours posted on its gate.)
Making the Most of your Stay
Toronto is very much a family-friendly city: safe, clean and easy to navigate. Many city attractions that charge admission, including Toronto Zoo and Ontario Place, offer free admission to 3-year-olds and under (subject to time, height and safety restrictions).
In addition to the above-mentioned summer activities, there are numerous free adventures available in Toronto all year-round: exploring the city's mosaic of neighborhoods; hiking along the city's wild ravines; enjoying the wealth of outdoor art in the form of murals, sculptures and mixed-media installations scattered through the city; Riverdale Farm or Cadbury's Chocolate manufacturing plant; touring the city's museums (several are free to the public at certain hours on specific days).
Summer Specials at Hotels
Almost every city hotel I looked at had an excellent children's program and babysitters, all for a very small cost. In summer, some even give away complimentary tickets for the most expensive attractions. Past offers include these: The Crowne Plaza Toronto Don Valley Hotel has offered guests complimentary tickets to the Toronto Zoo or the Ontario Place Science Centre; the Fairmont Royal York Hotel has given away free tickets to Casa Loma.
To plan your outings ahead, look for a free copy of the City Parent, a monthly newspaper with events calendar, attraction listings and dining-with-kids suggestions, available in bookstores, libraries, anda in the Tourism Ontario Shop at the Eaton Centre, level one. Alternatively, you can contact Tourism Toronto toll-free at 800/499-2514.
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