Toronto is the largest city in Canada, and the fourth-largest in North America. However, Toronto has a distinctly different feel than the large cities of the U.S. As the entertainment and tourism hub of Canada, there’s plenty of family friendly activities in our neighbor to the north.
The Humber Bay Bridge on the Waterfront Trail provides fine views of Lake Ontario and the city skyline, and is popular with both joggers and cyclists.
Where to Go
The capital of the province of Ontario, Toronto sits on the northwest shore of Lake Ontario. The nearest Canada-U.S. border crossings are at Niagara Falls, Fort Erie and Windsor, and it is approximately two hours to drive from Niagara Falls, N.Y. to Toronto. The major international airport is Toronto Pearson International, the principal airport for Canada with connections to every continent.
What to Do
As such a large city, Toronto has plenty of family friendly activities indoors or out. If your kids are into sports, there’s the Hockey Hall of Fame and Toronto Maple Leafs & Blue Jays. Like theater? The historic Ed Mirvish Theatre dates to the 1920’s, and regularly hosts family-friendly productions such as Disney’s Aladdin, The Wizard of Oz, Elf, and more. Below are highlights of notable family attractions in the Toronto metro area:
- CN Tower – Toronto’s cityscape icon is 1,815 feet tall, and was the tallest free-standing structure in the world until 2010. Visitors can take glass elevators to the observation deck of the 40+ year-old tower, and on clear days see all the way across Lake Ontario. If just gazing out at the view isn’t thrilling enough for you, clip into a harness and go for an open air walk outside, on the edge of the CN Tower, 1,100+ feet above Toronto.
- Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada – nestled beneath the CN Tower is the largest indoor aquarium in the country. The Ripley’s Aquarium features thousands upon thousands examples of underwater wildlife including one of the largest shark collections in North America (even sharks you can touch), 65+ year old giant lobsters and electric blue lobsters, jelly fish, eels, rays, and, of course, fish. However, the true star of Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada is the Dangerous Lagoon with its clear-glass viewing tunnel that zigs and zags through the football-field sized tank.
- Canada’s Wonderland – a theme park with 70+ rides is the largest and most popular amusement park in the country. Canada’s Wonderland is located just north of the Toronto boundary in Vaughn, Ontario. Owned by the parent company for Ohio’s Cedar Point, the roller coaster mecca of the world, Canada’s Wonderland is known for its 16+ roller coasters. Aside from the coasters, other standout attractions include Victoria Falls High Divers, Wonder Mountain’s Guardian, Camp Snoopy, and Cirque shows.
- Royal Ontario Museum – known as the ROM, here you’ll find an eclectic display that includes dinosaurs, a mastodon, and sabre-tooth cats. There are floors dedicated to natural history, world culture as well as many special, rotating exhibits. Don’t miss the totem poles carved by the Nisga’a and Haida peoples of Canada’s Pacific Northwest Coast, and be sure to touch the Tagish Lake meteorite in the Earth’s Treasures gallery. Kids (and adults) love crawling through the bat cave recreating the ROM fieldwork site of St. Clair Cave in Jamaica.
- Ontario Science Centre – the Ontario Science Centre is filled with active learning opportunities that are educationally electrifying, an appropriate metaphor for its hair-raising demonstration with the Van de Graaff static electricity generator. Each floor of this indoor playground offers new adventures. Physics lessons get fun at The Science Arcade, with its shadow tunnels and a soundproof room. A trip to The Living Earth offers the chance to touch a tornado, walk through a rainforest or meet Gary the black rat snake. Visit Space Hall with its planetarium and the opportunity to pilot a rocket chair. At KidSpark, kids ages 8 and under (with caregivers) can explore a play space filled with creative activities: inflating a hot-balloon and blowing bubbles, playing in the marketplace, exploring fantastical places, or building a roller coaster.
- Toronto Zoo – Pandas! The Toronto Zoo is currently home to two giant pandas, on loan from China, and their cubs. The leading zoo in the country, the Toronto Zoo has over 5,000 animals. In addition to the Giant Panda Experience, families can find a recreated African Savannah, Gorilla Rainforest (the largest indoor gorilla exhibit in North America), Great Barrier Reef, Tundra Trek (home to polar bears and Arctic wolves), and a large Canadian domain with moose, elk, bears, and eagles.
Toronto’s streets are laid out on a grid, and relatively easy to navigate. Although you can expect traffic volumes to be heavy typical for a large city. Many of the downtown tourist sites are within walking distance such as CN Tower, Rogers Centre (where the Blue Jays play), Ripley’s Aquarium, and waterfront. The Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) operates the public transportation options and include buses, subways, and streetcars.