What are the best things to do for free in Toronto?

There is no such thing as a free ride, “they” say. Well, “they,” listen up. Toronto does not want to ride you for every last dollar. It is also filled to the brim with activities that don’t cost a thing. 

Toronto is indeed one of the most expensive cities to live in. It is also true that there are ample opportunities for those people who are swimming in coin. But even if you have not yet cast your teeth in gold, there are options for you (beyond stress eating on your couch). 

Some of our choices provide built in exercise, such as a walk through High Park. If you get into the bowels of the park, you will find yourself gloriously alone. From chirping birds to small museums to a free zoo, Toronto’s largest park grants you time to correspond with nature and throw your worries to the wind. It will remind you of when you were a kid when all you had to hear were the words “free time” to get exuberantly excited. And how much money did you have when you were a kid?

Even the Art Gallery of Ontario offers a free evening on Wednesday. Soak up culture without digging into your pockets. Hey, if anyone is going to understand, it is those starving artists.

Get out there. For the sake of your life, your sanity and your health. Nothing should hold you back from your curiosity…including an expensive city.

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 amphitheater. Check the website for the schedule, normally held from Tuesday to Thursday.

Recommended for Free Things to Do because: A world class performing arts venue with emerging artists, all for free while you enjoy your lunchtime sandwich.

Courtney’s expert tip: Admission is on a first-come first served basis. Join the lineup early if you want to get in on some free entertainment, as you certainly won’t be the only one.

Read more about The Canadian Opera Company →

Trinity Bellwoods Park

Photo courtesy of amber dawn pullin

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 become a favorite 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).

Recommended for Free Things to Do because: Trinity Bellwoods is situated in the heart of Toronto’s designated “coolest” area. It is a perfect location for a nap or a great conversation.

Courtney’s expert tip: Grab lunch to go from one of the great restaurants along Queen Street West, and picnic and people-watch in Trinity Bellwoods park.

Read more about Trinity Bellwoods Park →

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 while 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 Rockefeller Center.

Recommended for Free Things to Do because: Even if triple axels are out of your reach, there is serious charm to a skating rink in the center of the city.

Courtney’s expert tip: Buy your own skates at a second hand shop and you can enjoy a winter filled with free exercise. Perhaps you will be left with a brand new skill. Or perhaps not.

Read more about Nathan Phillips Square →

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 center and if you need more reason to go, National Geographic shortlisted this space as one of the world’s top 10 geo-tourism 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.

Recommended for Free Things to Do because: Verdant gardens, striking heritage buildings and a whole lot of green space make you realize that the best things in life really are free.

Courtney’s expert tip: Although it is not as centrally located as other attractions, Evergreen Brickworks couldn’t be easier to get to. There is even a free shuttle bus that departs from the parkette on Erindale Avenue just east of Broadview.

Read more about Evergreen Brickworks →

Kensington Market

Kensington Market

Photo courtesy of Andrzej Wrotek

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 nonconformists. 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.

Recommended for Free Things to Do because: No place in the city quite like Kensington Market, whether you spend a loonie or a lot.

Courtney’s expert tip: Hit Bellevue Square Park with a picnic for some truly unique people watching.

Read more about Kensington Market →

Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO)

Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO)

Photo courtesy of DGriebeling

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 offer an opportunity to visit for free from 6 to 9 pm. 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. If you are under 25, enjoy free unlimited admission to the AGO just for your youth.

Recommended for Free Things to Do because: This world-class art gallery has beautiful architecture on the outside and beautiful art on the inside. And you can see it all for free.

Courtney’s expert tip: If you are a high school student, you can go for free Tuesday-Friday after 3 pm. Just bring your student ID.

Read more about Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) →

Toronto Botanical Gardens

Toronto Botanical Gardens

Photo courtesy of flic.kr

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.)

Recommended for Free Things to Do because: Having a city and a great park is kind of like having your cake and eating it too.

Courtney’s expert tip: In the summer, check out their summer music series on Thursday nights. Rain or shine and craft beer makes for an amazing and calming night out.

Read more about Toronto Botanical Gardens →

Distillery Historic District

Distillery Historic District

Photo courtesy of Kevin Cabral

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.

Recommended for Free Things to Do because: The distillery offers a unique history of Toronto and is truly one-of-a-kind. Walking through this district feels like visiting a free outdoor art gallery.

Courtney’s expert tip: The Christmas market every year is a must, with a giant tree, an outdoor market and enough holiday spirit to win over the most dedicated Scrooge. And hey, it’s always free to browse.

Read more about Distillery Historic District →

High Park

High Park

Photo courtesy of The City Of Toronto

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.

Recommended for Free Things to Do because: Toronto’s biggest urban park offers cost-free nature and relaxation for fans of the great outdoors.

Courtney’s expert tip: Every year, High Park hosts a pay-what-you-can outdoor Shakespeare in the Park, run by the esteemed Canadian Stage Company. Bring a picnic for a suburb evening under the stars.

Read more about High Park →

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 center (Queen’s Quay Terminal). You’ll find classes and workshops for all ages, and summer camp experiences for kids, too.

Recommended for Free Things to Do because: Going by the water in Toronto not only soothes the soul, but also enlivens and entertains. See Harbourfront’s website for their detailed schedule.

Courtney’s expert tip: Take a picture by a boat to trick your friends into thinking that even with your meagre salary, you can go yachting on the weekends. Vaguely tell them “I’m on a boat.”

Read more about Harbourfront Centre →

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