On the shore of Lake Ontario, Toronto is a sprawling metropolis with a green, open feel. Its beautiful parklands and focus on community are a huge draw for visitors hoping to experience the famously hospitable Canadian attitude. While visits to major cities around the world could be expensive, you can actually spend a day in Toronto without spending a dollar. You can visit its stunning heritage buildings, explore vibrant multicultural neighbourhoods and even take in world-class art for free. If you’ve booked your flights to Toronto and are looking for tips on how to explore the city on a budget, this guide is for you.


1. Visit the Distillery District

What - Architecture, shops & markets

Where - East Downtown

When - Free all year

Visiting one of Toronto’s most picturesque districts is completely free, and a wonderful way to get to know the city. The Distillery District, east of downtown, is home to some of North America’s best-preserved 1800s-era industrial architecture. In a bid to regenerate the once derelict national historic site, the city transformed the area to incorporate farm-to-table cafes, independent boutiques and outdoor markets. While you might be tempted to splash some cash, visiting the Distillery District is free-of-charge and is a delight to wander around.


2. Experience rural life at Riverdale Farm

What - Gardens, ponds, animals

Where - Downtown Cabbagetown

When - Free all year

Riverdale Farm

Get a taste of rural life in Toronto at Riverdale Farm. This 7.5-acre property offers a first-hand experience of farm life, from raising livestock (pigs, goats, cows, chickens) to the year-round handwork and crafts. The farm offers a unique opportunity to see adorable farm animals and learn about what goes into running the place. And it’s completely free! If you’re visiting Riverdale Farm in the springtime, look out for the new-born lambs, while in the winter, see the farm animals roaming through the snowy grounds.


3. Marvel at the Art Gallery of Ontario

What - Modern Art to Old Masters

Where - Downtown Dundas Street W

When - Free Wednesday night admission

Browse over 95,000 works at the Art Gallery of Ontario – one of the largest museums in North America. Although founded in 1900, the gallery’s futuristic hub was created by renowned architect Frank Gehry in 2008. Visitors can admire contemporary works by Canadian artists, masterpieces of European art such as Peter Paul Ruben’s The Massacre of The Innocents and work from iconic artists such as Andy Warhol. Keen photographers won’t want to miss seeing collections of work by renowned photographer Diane Arbus.

We spoke to Herman Lo, director of visitor experience at the Art Gallery of Ontario, to find out what people need to know about visiting the gallery for free: “The AGO offers free admission to the public every Wednesday evening starting at 6pm. This is a very popular night out in Toronto, and there are often lines at the AGO’s front entrance on Dundas Street. To avoid the line-ups, it’s best to arrive after 6pm.

Free Wednesday night admission includes access to the entire AGO, including great works by European, indigenous and Canadian artists, with the exception of some special exhibitions. Check out the newly renovated, renamed and reopened J.S McLean Centre for Indigenous & Canadian Art. Stop by AGO Bistro for delicious snacks and drinks from 4pm to 7pm.”


4. Take a free tour of Toronto Botanical Garden

What - Themed gardens, cafes & events

Where - Don Mills, north of Downtown

When - Free all year

Providing the perfect picnic spot in the city, Toronto Botanical Garden is a beautiful green space designed to educate and inspire visitors. Covering four acres in Toronto’s Don Valley Ravine, the gardens - made up of waterfalls, rivers, terraced gardens, courtyards and woodland - are well worth a visit on a sunny day in Toronto. If you’d like to learn more about the gardens, why not join a free summer garden and ravine tour? Volunteer tour guides will lead you through the grounds on a 90-minute tour to give you a greater understanding of the plants, landscapes and history of Toronto Botanical Garden. Throughout the year, the gardens are open daily and access is always free.


5. Get eco-friendly at Evergreen Brick Works

What - Markets, cafes, events

Where - Don Valley

When - Free all year

Evergreen Brick Works Toronto

In the heart of Toronto’s Don Valley, Evergreen Brick Works is a stunning environmental centre, focusing on community projects, supporting local farmers and food producers and teaching Canadians about sustainability. The site is run by Evergreen, a not-for-profit organisation that aims to connect people with their surroundings and shape their cities for the better.

Evergreen Brick Works opened in 2010 with its now award-winning community environmental centre and a year-round Saturday farmers’ market, the largest of its kind in Toronto with some 80 food producers and vendors. The team told us more about the work taking place at the centre: “Evergreen Brick Works is a test site for piloting and scaling projects that push the boundaries in low-carbon city building and create vibrant community spaces. The popular Children’s Garden, for example, is a prototype which has been scaled for schools and communities across the country.

“Today, the Don Valley Brick Works consists of 16 remaining heritage buildings and an adjacent 16-hectare public park known as Weston Family Quarry Garden that includes wetlands, hiking trails and wildflower meadows.

“In early 2017, Evergreen launched the Redevelopment of the Kiln Building, creating a new hub where for thought-leaders and citizen city builders to collaborate in building sustainable cities. The project is one of the first in Canada and set to strive for a carbon neutral target.”

There’s so much to see and do at Evergreen Brick Works, from seeking inspiration for your garden at home to feasting at the farmers’ market, cycling and hiking around the quarry to admiring the artwork. Best of all? It’s completely free.


6. Browse Kensington Market

What - Food, drinks, arts, crafts

Where - Just north of Chinatown

When - Free all year

ensington Market Toronto

Kensington Market has kept a wonderful cultural tradition alive, with a modern twist. This eclectic market is a maze of streets and alleys, lined with independent stalls and shops. During the 1920s, the area was predominantly a Jewish neighbourhood, where families set up stands in front of their houses to sell their wares. Today, the market stays true to its roots, with a fusion of cultures from Europe, the Caribbean, Middle East, South America and Asia. Kensington Market is the place to be if you’re seeking vintage items and antiques or if you’re looking to pick up some delicious street food. Throughout the summer, the area is pedestrianised on the last Sunday of the month, and welcomes street performers. Needless to say, browsing Kensington Market is completely free but we’re sure you’ll be tempted to make a purchase or two.


7. Walk through High Park

What - Trails, sports, playgrounds, zoo

Where - Between Sunnyside & Bloor West

When - Free all year

High Park Toronto

With a picturesque lakefront, a zoo, greenhouses, picnic areas and a couple of garden eateries, High Park is well worth a visit. In the springtime, the park is in full bloom, while in the autumn, gold, red and orange leaves fill the park with a warm glow. No matter which time of year you decide to book your flights to Toronto, you won’t regret spending some time here. With 339 acres to explore, you’ll find something new every time you visit!


8. Step back in time at Bata Shoe Museum

What - Museum full of shoes!

Where - Bloor Street West

When - Free Thursday night admission

Set foot in one of Canada’s most unusual museums – Bata Shoe Museum! With more than one thousand shoes and related artefacts, the museum’s impressive collection is housed in a stunning building designed by architect Raymond Moriyama. The museum celebrates the style and function of footwear in its spaces, with unusual displays including chestnut-crushing clogs, ancient Egyptian sandals and iconic designer shoes from the 70s and 80s. Bata Shoe Museum was the brainchild of shoe enthusiast Sonja Bata, who, since the 1940s, has searched high and low for shoes of every shape and size, building one of the world’s finest collections. In 1979, Sonja Bata’s collection had finally outgrown its storage space and the family decided to launch the Bata Shoe Museum Foundation. On Thursday evenings from 5-8pm, you can technically gaze upon this remarkable collection for free, though it’s considered a ‘Pay what you can’ evening, with a suggested $5 donation.


9. Get creative at the Textile Museum of Canada

What - Exhibitions, talks & tours

Where - Close to City Hall

When - Free Wednesday night admission

Housing more than 13,000 artefacts, the Textile Museum of Canada is the best place to learn about Canada’s cultural history. The museum’s exhibits span more than 2,000 years, and take the form of fabrics, ceremonial cloths, garments and quilts. Visitors can see curated exhibitions of contemporary textile works as well as ethnographic artefacts. For art and history enthusiasts, a visit to the Textile Museum of Canada is highly recommended. On Wednesday evenings between 5pm and 8pm, the museum offers ‘Pay what you can’ admission.

There are so many free things to do in Toronto, so you can see the very best of the city, even if you’re on a budget. Take a look at our flights to Toronto to start planning your dream holiday.


Image Credit: Kara, Benson Kua, Evergreen Brick Works

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