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Not The Biggest Attractions: Sights To See & Things To Do That Are Less Well-Known And Less Expensive
Toronto is a great city for walking. One terrific way to discover it on foot is to follow the city's Discovery Walks. Self-guided tours, the Discovery Walks are mapped out in free brochures. They cover various areas throughout the city and the brochures describe the history, culture and social life along the route. You can download the maps for free from the website. There's also explanatory plaques along the different routes.
ROMWalks are free, guided walks that take place in the summer, courtesy of the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM.) Exploring different parts of the city, some are more suitable for children than others. There's more details online at http://www.rom.on.ca.
In the summer, older children might enjoy free historical walking tours of the beautiful downtown University of Toronto (U of T) campus. (http://www.utoronto.ca and plug in "walking tours.")
Established in 1803, the St. Lawrence Market is in one of the oldest parts of Toronto. Packed with vendors selling delicious and fresh foods, the market also features craft and clothing vendors in the south building basement and a bustling farmer's market in the North building, but only on Saturdays. Going to the market is a sensual experience, but also a crowded one unless you go quite early; it opens at 5 a.m. on Saturday, 8 a.m. the rest of the week. www.stlawrencemarket.com. There's also a little-known Market Gallery that mounts historic exhibits; admission is free.
Many tourists might not visit Allan Gardens, but it is a little jewel in the heart of the city, as well as an enchanting place for younger children and adults who love greenery and it's particularly lovely when it's cold and miserable outside. It's also free! Located at 19 Horticultural Avenue downtown, the conservatory is comprised of six greenhouses that total 16,000 square feet. To quote the website: "Of botanical importance since 1858 the conservatory boasts the "Palm House" (1910) modeled after similar structures in the United States and England."
Children love to smell and see the many varieties of plants and flowers and to discover hidden treasures found here and there, such as a water wheel or an exotic plant in bloom. Great for a relaxing, quiet outing.
Harbourfront is a bustling area on Toronto's waterfront. Just west is the Toronto Music Garden, a small garden designed by Yo Yo Ma and a landscape designer. The garden was built "to interpret in nature the music of Bach's first suite." A pleasant little spot beside the water to sit and enjoy this beautiful piece of inspired greenery.
The best part of this quaint location in east downtown is that staff will help visitors write a letter in the manner of the 1830's using a quill pen and sealing wax for a charge of $1. Hand-canceled by the Postmaster, the letter can then be mailed from Canada's oldest working post office. There's also tours and exhibits. Open seven days a week.
A small park, by Toronto standards, but built on a bluff with a gorgeous water view and featuring formal gardens with a water fountain. The park is very wheelchair and stroller friendly, too. Located in the east end of the city, near Kingston and Birchmount Roads.
Catering to young people, this small theatre is buried in a north Toronto shopping mall, but the plays are fun and the price is right!
High Park may be the biggest, but Dufferin Grove park is one of the funkiest parks in Toronto. Home to a shaded playground that includes a HUGE sandpit (with water) for the kids to dig in, plus a wading pool, it's a great place to while away a hot afternoon. Home to a farmer's market weekly in the warmer months and many events too numerous to mention (check the website), the park is a hopping place supported by a strong and vibrant community. Southeast of Dufferin and Bloor streets, just west of downtown.
Riverdale Farm is small and quaint; it doesn't try to compete with the bigger zoos and attractions. It's run like an old-fashioned, working farm and there's plenty of animals for the kids to watch and enjoy. There's also a perfect spot for a little hike on the 7.5 acres of the site. Nestled amid the bustling, urban neighbourhood of Cabbagetown, it's a lovely oasis; there's a large park adjacent, as well, with a wading pool in the summer.
Okay, the Toronto Islands ARE well known, but most people flock to Centreville in the summer. Full of rides, restaurants and games, Centreville is a charming, small amusement park. But the Toronto Islands offer so much more! Getting there is half the fun: you take a ferry to one of three destinations among the string of islands. Some of the islands -- Algonquin and Wards -- are home to a small population. The houses are charming and the streets are car free! Bring or rent a bike (no bikes allowed on the crowded Centre Island ferry) and you can explore most of the islands. Rent a canoe and you can explore small, virtually deserted islands unreachable on foot. Just south of Centreville, there a shrubbery maze (free), water fountains that captivate little ones, a Franklin children's garden and a lovely playground, all right beside the lake. Swimming in the lake is sometimes allowed, sometimes not; look for the signs posted waterside. Bike or walk the length of the islands to discover secluded additional beaches; the "haunted" lighthouse; the odd play structure; and so much more. A magical place, all for the small cost of a ferry ride, which in itself is a treat for the kids.
Casa Loma and Fort York might steal Toronto's historical thunder, but the city of Toronto operates several historic sites that offer free (or cheap) admission. Small and quaint, the historic homes like Colborne Lodge (in High Park) and Gibson House often have an event happening to make your visit fun and lively.