Toronto isn’t a cheap city. Real estate prices are astronomical and dinner at some of the city’s popular restaurants can run you a cool 200…before drinks. That being said, you don’t need a shipping magnate’s bank account to enjoy all that Toronto has to offer, you just need to know where to look. Here are 6 things to do while you’re in Ontario’s capital that are a lot of fun but won’t cost you a dime.
The Art Gallery of Ontario
In 2004, the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) underwent a $276 million facelift designed by architect Frank Gehry. The results are breathtaking and make the museum worth visiting if only just to see the way the building looks from the sidewalk. Luckily, you can take in the exterior and all of the marvelous things contained inside for free every Wednesday from 6 pm- 8:30 pm. Admission grants you access to all of the permanent collection including works by the Group of Seven, Emily Carr, Picasso, Monet, and Degas. Word to the wise: expect lines to get in, especially in the summer. Your best bet is to get there early.
Easy to access by streetcar, bike, or on foot, Kensington Market is a treasure hunter’s dream come true. The community is a Toronto icon, fiercely protected by local residents intent on preserving their unique (and often quirky) home. Best to leave your car at home as Kensington features narrow, one-way roads that are geared towards pedestrians. Sundays are often designated car-free days which leave the streets open to performers, vendors, and usually lots of dancing children. Expect to find a mix of vintage boutiques, sidewalk cafes, ethnic restaurants, and live music venues. This is one of the only places in downtown Toronto where you can score a deal on a Betty Draper-style cocktail dress and pick up fresh fish for dinner, all on the same block.
Situated just a 10 minute ferry ride away from Toronto’s Queens Quay, Centre Island is an idyllic escape from city life that shouldn’t be missed. Whether you’re interested in strolling through the picturesque community of government-protected homes, picnicking on the shore of Lake Ontario or hanging out at Centreville, the island’s amusement park, you’re virtually guaranteed to have a wonderful time. You will also have to constantly remind yourself that you are, in fact, still in Toronto even though there is virtually no evidence of the skyscrapers and incessant traffic that plague the city proper.
The city of Toronto acts as a canvas to thousands of artists who display their work in creative (and often illegal) ways that appeal to even the most discerning critiques. If you’re looking for something more formal, you can always book an organized graffiti tour of Toronto (Tour Guys offer an option) but part of the fun can really be discovering hidden artwork on your own. Whether you venture down ‘Graffiti Alley’ or the wall at Keele and Dundas, you’re guaranteed to find some impressive street art worth posting to Instagram. Even Banksy had a hand in expanding Toronto’s graffiti scene; he painted a mouse on the wall of the Ocho Hotel. You know that if Banksy’s involved, it has to be cool.
Think of Yorkville as Toronto’s version of Rodeo Drive. Nicknamed ‘The Mink Mile’, it boasts an impressive number of luxury flagship stores such as Tiffany & Co, Louis Vuitton, Chanel, Prada, and deluxe department store Holt Renfrew. Spend the day window-shopping while trying to justify blowing a couple months’ rent on a handbag or sit back and people-watch while sipping on an almond milk latte. In early September, Yorkville becomes a hotbed for celebrity activity as Toronto plays host to TIFF. You can kick off your day checking out the teas at the Windsor Arms, celebrity stalk all afternoon and then try to get past the paparazzi camped out in front of the restauraurant of the moment, La Société. We can’t all be millionaires but it’s sure fun to act like one for the day.
St. Lawrence Market
Unlike Kensington, St. Lawrence Market is contained within two concentrated, albeit very large, areas. Situated close to the waterfront, St. Lawrence features a constant rotation of markets-within-a-market that guarantee that you’ll find something you love, even if it wasn’t what you had originally set out for. On Saturday, the farmers’ market features some of the freshest produce the city has to offer and Sunday is when the antiques are on display. Be sure to take advantage of the workshops, classes, tours and special exhibits that are always taking place and come hungry – there are usually pretty fantastic samples to be had.