How to have the perfect family-friendly trip to Toronto, Canada

Photo credit: Tourism Toronto

Canada’s largest city is also the world’s most multi-cultural. Over 140 languages are spoken in this teeming metropolis, allowing families a rare opportunity to explore several different cultures within a few blocks. Each neighbourhood has a pulse of its own and there’s always something vibrant going in Toronto.

Whether you’re looking for the cultural escapades a big city affords, a chilled back day at the lake, a spine tingling theme park ride or to take in a major sporting event, you’re sure to find here in Hogtown. Here’s how to craft the perfect family trip. 

family fun toronto

Photo credit: Tourism Toronto

Sightseeing tours in Toronto

Get your bearings by going on one of those red double decker sightseeing buses. Sounds cheesy, I know, but City Sightseeing Toronto stops at all the major attractions, allowing you to hop on and off to your heart’s content. The ticket is valid for three days and we ended up saving money, using it more than the TTC, plus it includes a harbour and Toronto Islands cruise.

Best was that the guides dish out those little tidbits that make a city more interesting. Who knew that the movie Wolf of Wall Street was filmed on TO’s Bay Street or that no buildings can be erected in front of this one section of The Fairmont Royal York lest the Queen’s view of the harbour gets spoiled. Before you hop on you bus though, you’ll want to grab a cup of joe. These are some of Toronto’s best coffee shops.  And there’s plenty of good vegan restaurants in Toronto, too!

double decker red bus

Photo credit: City Sightseeing Toronto

Is the Toronto Zoo and Aquarium worth it?

There’s so much to see here, you’ll likely have to pick and choose unless you’ve got a full week. Here are some not to miss attractions.

Toronto Zoo panda

Photo credit: Toronto Zoo

Want to see a polar bear, a penguin or a giant Panda? Or how about a gorilla, lion or lynx? They’re all here, plus 5,000 other animals from more than 460 species at the Toronto Zoo. Besides an impressive collection of animals, birds, reptiles and amphibians on display within the 710-acres park, the kids Discovery Zone worth your time. Just be sure to bring towels, as the splash park is a great way to cool off.

ripley's aquarium

Photo credit: Tourism Toronto

If the underwater world is more your brood’s bailiwick than diving into Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada is sure to please. Canada’s largest indoor aquarium has 17 curated habitats that highlight the diversity of the world’s oceans and lakes.

Journey along a moving walkway as stingrays float overtop you and sand tiger sharks show off their menacing teeth, while they patrol the all-glass Dangerous Lagoon. Highlights also include a touch tank, indoor play set and crawling through a glass tunnel as the shark swim around you.

modern building Canada

Photo credit: AGO

Best Family museums and Galleries in Toronto

The Kids’ Gallery inside the Art Gallery of Ontario is a happy space that opens minds and invites conversation. Children encounter paintings, sculptures and photographs within the Pets and Me exhibit on until November, 2015.

There’s a dress up station which allows kids to become a work of art themselves by posing behind a super big frame, and there’s lots of colourful story books and materials to create their own works of art.

To make your visit more engaging, download Time Tremors app before your visit. It’ll allow you to explore the galleries on an interactive treasure hunt designed for ages 7 and up.

kids playing at ROM

Photo credit: ROM

From a massive T-Rex to bat cave to a 100-million-year-old amethyst, the Royal Ontario Museum is another museum worth sussing out. Hands-on displays give children a chance to investigate treasures from around the globe.

Artifacts in the Roman and Egyptian galleries are sure to wow, especially when seeing a partially decomposed mummy circa 600 B.C. There’s even animal mummies, in addition to richly decorated tombs and elaborate mummy masks.

The Discovery Zone is set up just for kids. Dress Henry VIII in his armor (or try some on yourself), play in a tipi or guess which meteorites are oldest by touch. There’s an enclosed toddler play area with seating for caregivers, and preschoolers will have a blast gently sweeping away sand (and a lot of glitter), while uncovering fossils with a paint brush – just like a real archeologist!

roller coaster

Photo credit: Canada’s Wonderland

Toronto Theme Parks

If your kids need to burn off some energy, a visit to Canada’s Wonderland, a 300-acre adventure park could be just the ticket. Both wet and dry experiences are available (for the price of one), so plan to spend an entire day here. Big kids will want to battle Leviathan, Canada’s longest wooden coaster, while the younger set can get milder thrills inside KidZville.

At the water park, there are tube rides, carpet rides, a lazy river and a wave pool. Wee ones can can plunge into the kiddie pool, splash pad and gentle water slides inside Splash Island.

Legoland Toronto

Photo credit: Legoland Discovery Centre

If expectations are inline, you’re sure to have a grand time at LEGOLAND Discovery Centre Toronto. This indoor play space is situated inside Vaughn Mills Mall, and is best suited for children aged 3 to 10-years.

Besides impressive model displays and a factory tour, you’ll find a 4D Cinema playing several mini-movies each hour, a LEGO Racers build and test zone, plus loads of opportunities to create and build.

The city’s most iconic structure, the CN Tower was once the tallest freestanding structure in the world. It isn’t any longer, but the views are still spectacular – unless it’s foggy, which is often the case being mere blocks from Lake Ontario and all. If it’s foggy, give this a miss. If you do go, stand on the trippy glass floor and peer 1,122 ft (342 m) straight down if you’ve got the nerve.

Getting Around Toronto

The TTC is fast, efficient and free for kids under 12-years-old.

Best Hotels for Families in Toronto

If you’re hitting up Canada’s Wonderland, there are several family-friendly hotels offering shuttle service. We stayed at Aloft Vaughan Mills, conveniently located across the street from LEGOLAND Discovery Centre Toronto and within walking distance of Wonderland.

Though sleek and contemporary, there’s enough room for a family of four to sling suitcases around and an in-room fridge makes mealtimes easier (especially with their grab and go options in the lobby and Vaughn Mills Mall food court mere steps away). Complimentary parking, bottled water and wifi makes it easy on the wallet.

double bed hotel room

Photo credit: Aloft Vaghan Mills

Situated downtown, just off Yonge-Dundas Square, Chelsea Hotel caters to families just as much as they do their corporate clients. Children receive an age-specific welcome gift after saddling up to their own checking-in area and strollers are offered free of charge.

The indoor pool boasts a 130 ft corkscrew water slide, plus there’s a Family Fun Zone that’s home to two bunnies! Older kids can play old school video games in the Teen Lounge and if you need more space than your standard hotel room, opt for a two-bedroom Family Fun Suite that has its own creative corner, plus DVD and Xbox.

family suite

Photo credit: Chelsea Hotel

Have you ever visited Toronto? What are your favourite family spots there?

You may also enjoy reading:

Family fun on the Toronto Islands

5 Must visit spots in Vancouver with kids