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How to plan a summer full of Toronto family fun in ‘The Six’

Last updated 24th April 2024

When its favorite rapper christened Toronto, ‘The Six’ (6ix) in 2014, he didn’t just give his hometown a catchy nickname, he sparked a sense of pride. Jennifer Merrick discovers six of the city’s best bets for summer with your crew.


Canoe Landing Park © Destination Toronto

The numeric moniker refers to both the original area code (416) and the amalgamation of six municipalities in 1998. But despite Toronto’s mega size (the fourth largest metropolis after Mexico City, New York City and Los Angeles in North America), it feels smaller with safe, thriving, multicultural neighborhoods and an abundance of green spaces.

Thanks in part to ambassadors like Drake, Toronto has stepped out of the shadows and shined, spotlighting its talent, diversity, communities and culture. So as the summer heats up, it’s time for families to grab their shades and dive into Toronto’s summer scene.

Here are the six best bets in the 6ix for whatever your crew is into.


St. Lawrence Market, Toronto © Destination Toronto

Summer in Toronto is a smorgasbord for foodie families

Begin your culinary odyssey at the St. Lawrence Market, where locals and tourists alike nibble, sample and bargain their way through mazes of butchers, fishmongers, bakeries, and cheese and specialty food stalls. Try Toronto’s signature dish, the peameal bacon sandwich with its salt-and-sugar-cured ham rolled in cornmeal, at Carousel Bakery.

The Distillery District, a 13-acre cobblestoned pedestrian enclave in downtown Toronto, was once the largest producer of whiskey in the British Empire. Now its preserved Victorian buildings house restaurants, cafes and galleries. Check out tasty treats like microbatch chocolate at Soma, Cornish pasties at Brick Street Bakery and Mexican tapas at El Catrin.

Tour a neighbourhood through your tastebuds with one of eight outings offered by Culinary Adventure Company. Their guides, who all have a background in the culinary industry, lead small groups on tasty adventures that explore the history and traditions behind the dishes and the people who create them.


Kensington Market, Toronto © Destination Toronto

Toronto neighborhoods you need to explore this summer

Kensington Market could be called point zero when it comes to multiculturalism in Toronto. Jewish, Portuguese, Hungarian, Vietnamese, Caribbean and South Americans are among the many groups who have made this downtown neighborhood their starting point. Each culture left their mark, and the result is an eclectic bustling bazaar packed with restaurants, cafes and shops. Diverse eateries (no big chains allowed) serve up global cuisines, like Chilean street food at Jumbo Empanadas, Jamaican beef patty sandwiches at Golden Patty or a decadent sour cherry pie at Wanda’s Pie in the Sky.

Bordering Kensington Market is the Downtown Chinatown (one of six in the Greater Toronto Area). Indulge in bowls of steaming noodles, beef brisket, congee (rice porridge) and BBQ chicken and duck at King’s Noodles or head to Mother’s Dumplings for their namesake speciality.

Splurge on a fancy Yorkville restaurant. In the 1960s this downtown neighbourhood was a hippie hangout, but that changed decades ago as designer boutiques, luxury residences and upscale restaurants moved in. For a taste of the glitz and glamour, treat yourself to a Michelin-starred meal at Alobar or Enigma.  Other stylish choices are Sassafraz, STK and Cibo Wine Bar.


Graffiti Alley, Fashion District © Destination Toronto

Where to find cool culture for your artsy crew

Do a photoshoot in Graffiti Alley or just watch one unrolling. It was in these colourful passageways, located in the Fashion District near Queen Street West, that Canadian Comedian Rick Mercer did his rants for 15 years.

Browse the 110 galleries and more than 4,000 pieces of art on display at the Art Gallery of Ontario. The works encompass everything from European masterpieces and avant-garde contemporary art to significant works by Indigenous and Canadian artists.


Royal Ontario Museum © Destination Toronto

Also iconic is the Royal Ontario Museum. Housing more than six million artifacts in 40-plus galleries, it’s not a place you can quickly run through. Treasures include 2,500-year-old ancient mummies in the Egyptian Gallery, an albatross with a 9-foot wingspan in the Gallery of Birds, and 15th-century suits of armour in the Samuel European Galleries. Kids will especially enjoy the Dinosaur Gallery — say hi to Gordo the Sauropod, the largest dinosaur ever to go on display in the country — and the Jamaican Bat Cave.

Applaud a performance at one of Toronto’s over 200 theatre venues. Families can find their thespian fix at a big-name musical, a fringe production, or at a theatre designed to enchant and inspire children. Young People’s Theatre is Canada’s oldest and largest theatre that caters specifically to kids.

Ogle flashy shoes that have adorned the famous feet of Pablo Picasso, Marilyn Monroe and Princess Di at the Bata Shoe Museum. Nearby is the Gardiner, where your family can sculpt their own clay masterpiece or throw a pot on the wheel at this museum dedicated entirely to ceramics.


Centreville © Destination Toronto

Toronto is a summer playground for younger children

Take a Zoomobile around the world at the largest zoo in Canada. With stops in the Africa (Rainforest and Savanna), Americas, Australasia, Canadian Domain, Eurasia Wilds, Indo-Malaya and Tundra Trek, it’s the best way for families with young children to get around the 700-acre Toronto Zoo. For a truly wild experience, bring your pajamas for a sleepover at the Serengeti Bush Camp.

Little ones adore Centreville Amusement Park on Centre Island. Not only will they get a kick out of the vintage Ferris wheel, rides, games and petting zoo, but the ferry ride to reach the pedestrian-only island is a real treat, too.

Hover in a rocket chair, visit a rainforest and have some hair-raising fun at the electricity demonstration at the Ontario Science Centre. Or stare in wonder at sea turtles, sharks and manta rays gliding over your head as you move through a glass tunnel at Ripley’s Aquarium.


Shakespeare in High Park © Destination Toronto

In the city’s west end is the 400-acre High Park with trails, flower gardens, picnic areas, a splash pad, a touring train, duck pond and even a castle playground. The Jamie Bell Adventure Park is a medieval, imaginary wonderland with turret passageways, ropes, ladders and slides. The park is easily accessible by subway, but it’s also the final stop of the 506-streetcar route, which traverses the city from east to west, if you’re looking for a local way to see the city.


CN Tower Observation Deck © Destination Toronto

Spend summer thrill-seeking with your older kids

If your squad is all about the rush, give them a thrill to remember at CN Tower’s Edgewalk, where they’ll lean forward 116 stories above downtown’s busy streets.

Get locked up (and possibly) escape a castle at Casa Loma’s Escape from the Tower. Based on the landmark’s real history (During During WWII, the Royal Navy began assembling Sonar, the newest top-secret weapon, in its stables) and using live actors, it’s the most immersive and nail-biting escape game in the 6ix.


Paddleboarding, Toronto Island © Destination Toronto

Catch the ferry for a summer day out on Toronto Island

Paddleboard, kayak or bike around Toronto Island. Time the ferry ride back with the sunset, and your family will have an Instagrammable shot of the city skyline.

Cheer on Canada’s only Major League baseball team, the Toronto Blue Jays, at the Roger’s Centre. On a sunny day, the massive retractable dome opens and fans can eat their peanuts and enjoy the game with a view of the CN Tower.

Also right in the heart of downtown is The Rec Room, a 40,000-square-foot entertainment and dining complex with everything from retro pinball games and pool to high-tech racing simulators and live concerts.

Hear the screams before you even hit the entrance at Canada’s Wonderland. With over 200 attractions, 65 rides and a massive waterpark, it’s a theme park for all ages, but its heart-stopping mega roller coasters are what really set it apart. Rides include the Yukon Striker with speeds of 130/km per hour and one of the world’s largest drops, the legendary Behemoth and the Tundra Twister, a newer pendulum ride that spins, twirls and flips riders completely upside down at gravity-defying speeds.


Swimming pool, Chelsea Hotel

Toronto digs for the whole family

The Chelsea Hotel is located smack in the middle of downtown, next to the Eaton Center and Yonge-Dundas Square, and it’s a hit for families.

The 130-foot corkscrew waterslide will tire out even the most energetic. And if that’s not enough there’s an activity centre complete with the hotel’s very own rabbits, a teen lounge for older kids to hang out in and babysitting services.

Although a true favourite feature for adults are the room balconies; perfect for enjoying the city buzz and the glowing skylines when the kids (hopefully) drift off to sleep.

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