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Toronto's Top 10 Free Attractions

By Hilary Maissner

Ideas and tips for budget conscience visitors to Toronto, Canada

Toronto is an exciting and lively city where you can uncover countless things to occupy your time. Below are some of the top free things to do in Toronto all year long.
  1. Kensington Market - Between Dundas and College Street, West of Spadina Ave is Kensington Market, known for its multicultural mix of shops, restaurants, thrift stores, pubs and eclectic cafes. At Kensington Market you can find imported goods from Asia, Europe, the Caribbean and the Middle East. Kensington Market is pedestrian friendly so if you visit during the warmer spring/summer months it�s a great way to become familiar with the nooks and crannies of the neighborhood. December is also a great time to visit; as it�s the month the annual Kensington Karnival takes place. On this night the neighborhood dresses up in colorful and elaborate costumes and parades through the market area. Best time to get there is late afternoon.
  2. Toronto Islands - With over 600 acres of open spaces, the Toronto Islands make up one of the world�s most spectacular urban parks. From biking, blading and boating to picnics, festivals and special events, the Islands offer a full range of activities for all ages and budgets. Highlights include Centreville Amusement Park, Far Enough Farm, the Carousel Caf�, The �Maze� (cedar hedge labyrinth), Toronto Harbour Tours, Island Tram Tour, 10km run course, jogging trails, supervised wading pools, the boardwalk, bike and boat rentals, and numerous picnic areas. There are a number of baseball diamonds, volleyball courts and wading pools to enjoy as well.
    The Toronto Ferry Docks are located at the foot of Bay Street and Queen Quay. Fares are nominal and range from $6 for adults, $3.50 for students and seniors and $2.50 for children. There is no winter service to Centre Island. For more information on ferry schedules call (416) 392-8193.
  3. The Beaches - The Beaches area is a great spot for walking along the boardwalk, cycling, playing beach volleyball or sunbathing near the waters of Lake Ontario. Queen Street East lie at the heart of The Beaches community where you will also find trendy shops, restaurants and cafes. The side streets are mostly lined with picturesque large-scale Victorian homes and is one of the few neighborhoods in the city to have held-off the construction of high-rise condominiums, giving it a unique small-town feel in a massive city. In the month of July, the Beaches Neighborhood is host to an annual outdoor music, food and fun event called The Beaches International Jazz Festival. The festival is a four day event celebrating the best of Canadian and international jazz music. The Main Stage performances are the core of the festival, and are always held at the bandshell in Kew Gardens on the Saturday and Sunday afternoons of the event. Streetfest runs the Thursday to Saturday evenings of the festival, where bands line the streets for over 2 kilometers along Queen Street East, running from Woodbine AvenueWoodbine Avenue to Victoria Park Avenue. In recent years almost one million people have come to the festival as a whole. More info about the festival can he found at Beachesjazz.com
  4. St. Lawrence Market and Market Gallery - From 1845 to 1899, this building served as Toronto's first City Hall. Since 1901, the South St. Lawrence Market has become a vivacious marketplace known for the variety and freshness of its fruit, vegetables, meat, fish, grains, baked goods, dairy products and restaurants. It is a great place to wander and visit, or just sit and watch people interact. The gallery located on the second floor, in what once was the council chamber is now host to exhibits of paintings, artifacts and furnishings that display the history and culture of the area. Admission to the market and the gallery are free.
    Open Tuesday through Saturday, the South Market has over 50 specialty vendors offering all manner of foodstuffs, as well as unique non-food items for sale. Tuesday � Thursday: 8 am-6 pm; Friday:8 am � 7 pm; Saturday: 5 am � 5 pm.
  5. China Town - Toronto has the one of the largest Chinatowns in North America. It is centered around the intersection of Dundas Street West and Spadina Avenue, and extends outward from this point along both streets. It has grown significantly over the years and has come to reflect an assortment of Asian cultures through its shops and restaurants. This vibrant area of town makes it an excellent place for window shopping and exploring. Walk along the streets and see what the vendors crowded onto the sidewalk are selling. Find everything from straw mats to incense to a sticky rice pastry wrapped in banana leaves. Most shops open early and close late, until 9 or 10 p.m. daily.

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  • Harbourfront Centre - The Harbourfront Centre is a key cultural facility on Toronto�s waterfront, situated at 235 Queen's Quay. The Harbourfront Centre, a 10 acre site which attracts over 12 million visits each year is an ground-breaking non profit cultural organization which creates events and activities that educate and entertain a diverse public. During the summer months the Harbourfront area is a wonderful place to stroll around and experience live music, festivals and educational camps, many of which have free admission. The walk along the waterfront is peaceful and relaxing if you would prefer to escape the commotion. All events and programmes are offered at reasonable prices or are completely free of charge.
  • Edwards Gardens - Edwards Gardens is a display of contemporary gardens spanning nearly four acres designed to inspire the people of Toronto and its visitors. The outdoor botanical garden is located on the southwest corner of Leslie Street and Lawrence Ave East. Edwards Gardens is one of several parks located in Toronto's ravines, many of which are connected by hiking and cycling trails ending on the shores of Lake Ontario. The park's manicured lawns and well-kept flowerbeds make it a popular destination for wedding parties to take photographs. Edwards Gardens are open year-round and admission is free.
  • Art Gallery of Ontario - Wednesday Nights - Housing over 36,000 works of art in its collection, the AGO is an excellent gallery worth visiting. Every Wednesday evening between six and nine o�clock pm, the museum drops its admission fee for the night. The AGO is located at 317 Dundas Street West, at the corner of Dundas and McCaul streets.
  • The Distillery District - The Distillery District is a national Historic Site and represents the largest and best-preserved collection of Victorian Industrial Architecture in North America. The Distillery District is Toronto�s first pedestrian only village and is also the host to one of the largest and most unique festival line-ups in the country. The summer months are filled with everything from music festivals to arts festivals, farmers markets to beer tasting events.
    A great way to spend an afternoon would be to stroll the District, window-shop, grab a coffee and people watch. The stores and boutiques at The Distillery District are well known for their distinctive retail concepts and their intriguing array of upscale merchandise. The retail boutiques specialize in fashion, home furnishings, custom furniture, jewellery, alcohol and beverage related paraphernalia, flowers, crafts and much more.
    The Restaurants in The District range from intimate to grand and specialize in everything from tasting menus to casual fare. The Distillery has something for everyone whether you are looking for fine dining, fresh seafood or traditional Italian. Also worth checking out are the unique caf�s and bakeries. Onsite roasting and baking create fabulous aromas and magnificent tasting opportunities.
  • Riverdale Farm - Located in the midst of Toronto�s Cabbagetown in the downtown area, this 7.5 acre farm has wooded paths, flowered vegetable gardens and a number of animals, including cows, horses, donkey, sheep, goats, pigs, chickens, turkeys, ducks, geese and rabbits, which you can view for free in the barns or outdoor paddocks. There are many events that take place at the farm including planting activities with the Grounds Committee and craft making.

  • Enjoy your visit!




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