50 things to do with kids this winter in Toronto
Winter activities for kids in Toronto, predictably, revolve around how many layers are required to enjoy it - or if it can be somehow, someway be accessed exclusively by the PATH. Inevitably, you and your team are going to have to come up for some fresh air and embrace the best of the season. Some of Toronto's best attractions become almost ghost towns during the wintertime so bundle up, knock a few of these off your list and make the most of it.
Here are my picks for the top things to do with kids this winter in Toronto.
Go tobogganing at Riverdale Park
With panoramic views of the city, this is Toronto's top choice for tobogganing hills. Kids (and adults) alike will like the straight path down at pretty steep speeds, no Griswold magic potion required. Kids will tire themselves out trekking back up the hill and you'll no doubt get a decent glute workout in pulling them back up when they get stuck halfway. Go to nearby Rooster Coffee for a warm-up after, just leave the GT snow racers outside.
Hang out at the Art Gallery of Ontario
Tthe AGO keeps little hands busy with their steady line of programming aimed at babies and up. Head to the concourse centre and check out The Dr. Mariano Elia Hands-On Centre for puppets, rotating crafts and storytime. Bigger kids can grab an activity bag (free) on the way in. Drawing stations are dotted throughout, so if inspiration strikes, kids can do their best Colville copy. If you have bigger kids, cough up $2.99 for their new Time Tremors app, an interactive mystery based game. Peckish little ones (5 and under) score free food at the café.
Hit the ice
Whether you're looking for a local skating rink, an outdoor game for shinny or a plush locker room, there's a lsomething for everyone in Toronto. Skating at Maple Leaf Gardens (sorry, Mattamy Athletic Centre doesn't have the same ring) isn't always open to the public, so check their website for new dates and times. Eglinton Park has a quality rink with boards and lights for northern night time access, as does Greenwood, with their weather resistant roof and open air trail. Harbourfront has excellent programming for kids (or parents) learning to skate. Check City Rinks Toronto for a rink near you.
Score some points at the Hockey Hall of Fame
If you haven't taken your kids to the Hockey Hall of Fame yet, maybe you need to check your passport. If it still says "Canadian", then head down to the HHOF, test your reflexes at the hands on exhibits where you can take a shot at a goalie, see the Stanley Cup and drool over all the best hockey hardware this country (ahem, world) has to offer.
Get up and close with a croc at Reptilia
Creep your kids out with a visit to Reptilia's collection of over 250 things that I wouldn't want as a pet. If you come on a good day (or bad, depending on your gag reflex) you could witness the giant python at Reptilia eating his lunch, a 50lb euthanized goat. Reptilia functions like an indoor zoo just for scaly gross amphibians and reptiles, so spend a few hours slithering through to see all the creatures, and the obligatory exiting through the gift shop.
If Shark Week has you and your brood hungry for more, than a trip to Ripley's Aquarium is definitely in order. The best time to go to avoid the crowds is 9 or 10am, before the legions of school buses choke the sightlines out and you're stuck bottlenecked around a double stroller. After 3pm is also relatively empty, and if your kids can stay up late without turning into pumpkins, then book in for a night when the aquarium is open until 11pm.
Get a dose of science
The Ontario Science Centre is a perfect way to blow through a freezing cold day, with four floors to dazzle even the most fickle youngster. There's loads of hands on exhibits including KidSpark, almost a full floor dedicated to kids under eight including a makeshift grocery store, water lab, music maker and full on foam castle. Live demos explain the science behind electricity, physics, space and more, so you can feel smug about educating your kid, while secretly getting a little refresher.
Read at a local library
Toronto's libraries have your best bet for boredom busters, but it doesn't stop with the latest Captain Underpants novel. With matinee movie features, hands on science fun with drop-in experts and an ongoing roster of story time classes, your local libraries has the cure for the winter blues, even if it's just for a silent game of hide and seek. Check their website for deluxe new classes on everything from 3D printing to video editing, or learn how to write workshops for kids led by published authors.
Play at a kid friendly cafe
The best way to ease into your twelve hour (give or take) shift with your kid is to fuel the day with caffeine. Baby breeding 'hoods like Roncesvalles score with Smock, who cater to the babes-in-arms crowd and offer classes for kids up to 10. Red Fish Blue Fish is a stone's throw from Spadina station and across town is Play Creative Cafe, located on Bayview between Eglinton and Davisville.
Eat and dance at the same time
Musical brunch is a great outing for any age, but toddlers and preschoolers who are generally loud and lack any form of table manners should have their outside voices drowned out with some of the city's best musical meals. On Sundays, Lula Lounge on Dundas West serves their eggs up with a side of salsa, with their Latin themed breakfast and dance lessons. Nearby Dakota Tavern has their popular Bluegrass Brunch on both Saturday and Sunday and Free Times Cafe has their usual "Bella did you eat" Jewish Sunday brunch with live music.
Go beyond dinos at the ROM
The ROM is the ultimate mash up of art, animals, sculptures and history. The first stop should always be to the corpse mummy on the third floor, just to make sure she's still not breathing. Explore the world through their many galleries, or just hang out in the Michael Lee-Chin Crystal and wonder if this is what Superman's house looks like. Sign up for ongoing classes (ROM Moms or Tiny Tots) or drop in for one of their stellar exhibits like the upcoming Wildlife Photographer of the Year.
Jump in the pool
Swimming in winter seems like a contradiction, but at the sparkly new Regent Park Aquatic Centre a warm water pool promises to keep you and your tot toasty while you splash around. If bigger kids are in tow, the Tarzan rope and water slide should add a degree of adventure. Universal change rooms allow diaper doting dads a turn at the change, and drop-in classes keep things light and breezy.
Get musical with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra
Bring your kids down to take in the sights of Roy Thompson Hall and the beautiful sounds of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra. The TSO has special Young People's Concerts programming just for kids - shows are lively, encouraging lots of laughs and hopefully a love of music that doesn't involve auto-tune.
Indoor playgrounds are a perfect fit for an energetic kid on a cold day. While some city-run locations like Playground Paradise are cheap and easy, you can break the bank (and the rut) and front up the cash for a membership to a place like Sproutkids, TimBUKtu or Amazon Indoor Playground or Planet Fun. Kidville offers classes geared towards promoting independence and helping you survive separation anxiety on a more scheduled basis and Playloft has play based learning classes year round. For wee ones, check out your local Early Years Centres for free play and drop-ins.
Get a Rocky Mountain high
If you're stuck between a rock and a hard place, then you're likely trying to coax your kid (6 and up) off a wall at one of Toronto's indoor rock climbing gyms. Popular picks are Rock Oasis in Leslieville, Joe Rockheads in Liberty Village, Climbing Academy around St Clair and O'Connor and my fave - True North Climbing at Downsview Park, located in an old airplane hangar.
Visit Toronto's Hogwarts
Casa Loma has four floors of Toronto history, and winter is a great time to scope them all out. The historic home soon will undergo a massive transformation by Liberty Entertainment Group, so check it out before it becomes too modern. Originally built by Sir Henry Pellatt, this was once the largest private house in Canada, so kids will get a kick out of seeing all the massive rooms - and if that doesn't work, tell them it's haunted.
Get starry eyes
Winter night skies offer a stream of interstellar opportunities, and if lugging a giant telescope up to a frozen farm patch sounds like your idea of a good time, then you're probably reading this wearing a tin foil cap. For everyone else, there's the David Dunlap Observatory. Check their website for the latest news on comets, meteor showers and special family nights for Major Toms aged 7 and up.
See some live theatre
Solar Stage Kids Theatre is a mere underground pathway away from Sheppard station, so if the polar vortex is too much to tolerate take the kids uptown for a good dose of live theatre. New plays pop up throughout the year, all based on family favourites like Robert Munsch books or classics like Peter Pan. Skip the cash-grab raffle tickets during the pre-show and promise them a trip to the proper book store after.
Bounce up and down
Kids are super bouncy by nature, making jumping a pretty universal sport for any age group. Springy Leasiders rely on Sky Zone, a massive warehouse-style jumping gym slathered in padded walls designed to get you moving. Starting at $9 for half an hour, jumpers of all shapes and sizes can throw down at one of Sky Zone's trampoline rooms, like the popular foam pit or channel your inner Raptor and hit the SkySlam court.
See how many clowns you can fit in your minivan and ramble up to Downsview Park for the Toronto School of Circus Arts. While art seems like a loose term here, there certainly is a gracefulness required to execute some of these intense moves like the daunting trapeze or aerial floor work. There's lots of space in this 15,000 square foot facility, so you can spend a day soaring to new heights.
Pretend it's August and you're at the CNE
Fantasy Fair Woodbine Centre is open year-round, but winter is a great time to check out the antique carousel, bumper cars or indoor Ferris wheel. After your kids are all puked out, settle them in for a free magic show, or hit the midway.
Take them for a memorable meal
Where else but Medieval Times can you get a dose of historical inaccuracies combined with the joys of eating a full four course meal with only your bare hands? Kids will get a kick out of cheering on their favourite knights, and you can "pfft" your way through all the over-choreographed fighting scenes while imbibing your favourite mead (OK, domestic beer). For something similar, Famous People Players Dinner Theatre is also dinner and a show, or just hit up one of Toronto's best kid and family friendly restaurants.
Show them the other Gardiner
Gardiner Museum has some serious competition from that other museum across the street so odds are your kids will light up when they're actually allowed to touch stuff while taking part in one of their many hands-on pottery and clay classes. Cruise around the gallery itself and take in the sights of some very cool ceramic collections. Then tuck in for lunch at the nifty Gardiner Bistro. Sundays are family days, so admission is free for kids.
Get political at Queen's Park and City Hall
The dust has settled and the scandals are now safely at bay, so if your kids were asking about subways, subways, subways, then a self-guided trip to city hall may be in order. You can download a pretty sweet map (PDF) containing lots of educational info from their website, or just bust in there after an afternoon of skating to warm up. Queen's Park may be less of a lowbrow affair, depending on what's on the agenda that day. You can check in with the Special Constable at the main entrance to see what's open when you visit.
Take a trip to the island
While most people populate the island during the summer, this is the exact reason why it's such a great place to check out in winter, without the crowds and packed ferries. Ward's Island is business as usual, with Far Enough Farm open 365 days a year and nearby Rectory Cafe churning out the hot chocolates. If you're in a sporting mood, pack your skis and hit the trails - there are no cars on the island, so you can rule the roads. If skating is more your game then check the ice conditions in the harbour, it reliably freezes every year and the views of the city can't be rivaled.
Cheer on the other local teams
While We the North is a common chorus in Toronto, other teams still have tickets for sale that won't make you choose between eating this month or entertaining your kids for a night. Toronto Rock games are some of the liveliest matches; even if they're losing, the crowd doesn't really show it. Tickets start at a slim $15 for upper bowl and with ballsy proclamations like 'guaranteed win nights' you may be able to convert this to a 2 for 1 deal. Cheering on the boys in blue (farm team) start at a svelte $13, so you can see the latest Leafs acquisitions before they get ruined by the media circus.
Hit the slopes
Skiing in Toronto may sound like a contradiction, but Centennial and Earl Bales parks run some cute hills that will still prove to be slightly daunting to the novice skier. Private course Uplands is a quick jaunt north of Finch station and offers some decent runs as well. Choose between skiing or snowboarding and sign your kids (or you) up for lessons with a pro, or meander down the bunny hill at your own pace. Buy a season pass for only a few hundred bucks, or pay per go at pretty accessible prices.
Give them the sound of music
Toronto Institute for the Enjoyment of Music, located practically in Trinity-Bellwoods makes music fun, offering lessons for pretty much any instrument you can imagine, and super accessible drop in classes (starting at $15) for the commitment-shy. The Royal Conservatory on Bloor is a beautiful building with music for any age group and interest too, including parent and tot classes for wee ones.
Perfect that forehand smash
With the city sprinkling ping pong tables throughout parks all around our city, table tennis is certainly becoming more accessible - but when the sunny skies turn bleak, you'll lose your precious ping pong ball pretty quick in a pile of snow. Bring the game ind oors at Top Spin - they'll teach kids (and you) the finer points of the game.
Five-pin bowling gives kids the challenge of throwing a ball that's bigger than their hands, and bumpers will keep the game action-packed. Cosmic bowling with black lights adds that disco feel, and coming up with names for the big screen that don't have "butt" in them will only add to the challenge. Most five-pin locations will feel like you stepped back in high school, with Newtonbrook, Bathurst Bowlerama, Danforth Bowl and Thorncliffe Bowlerama seemingly unchanged since they opened decades ago.
Indulge their sweet tooth at the Sugarbush Maple Syrup Festival
Not to be missed is the Sugarbush Maple Syrup Festival, replete with wagon rides, arts and crafts and long walks in the cold woods. Head up to Kortright or Bruce's Mill conservation areas for top notch kids' activities, a solid education on the production of maple syrup, and of course, the nectar of the gods itself. No need to smuggle pancakes in your pockets, flapjacks are for sale onsite.
Get flexible at kids yoga
Kids dig yoga - not only do they get to roll around on the floor or hoist their butts in the air, but phrases like "downward dog" and the chorus of "ommmmm" are guaranteed giggle-inducers. What kids don't know is how yoga is a stress buster and sadly our kids carry more weight around (literally and figuratively) than they should. Many studios now offer some scheduling time for tykes; Stellar Kids Yoga offers storybook-led yoga, where kids use their imagination to bring the story to life through movement, while YogaBuds at Bathurst and Eglinton has a slew of programming for kids up to teens, including parent and child yoga classes.
Discover their inner Van Gogh
With three locations (in Little Italy, Leslieville and Markham), Paintlounge offers not only kiddie classes for your mini Monet, but the superb concept of actually (gasp!) creating art together. Paintlounge has a few different motifs for you to attempt, like Kandinsky Circles, Birds on a Wire and Drip art. Prices run cheaper than a canvas and paint, with no mess to clean up after.
Get artistic at 4Cats
With 4 locations scattered around the GTA, 4Cats art studio specializes in kid's art - and not just gluing some googly eyes to some paper, either. Careful attention is paid to their creative line of classes, including artist focus series where kids recreate work from the masters like Emily Carr, Andy Warhol or Renoir. Other inspired choices include Magna, graffiti and drawing classes.
Crack a spine or two
Exploring your local bookstore is the perfect way to get kids addicted to a lifetime of reading. Mables Fables has two storeys of books tucked into every nook and cranny, making it a great place to hunker in during snowmaggedon. Ella Minnow in the Beach is also a top choice, with nearby Dufflet being a logical stop after to grab a hot chocolate. While not technically a bookstore, Treasure Island Toys on the Danforth has a decent selection of books for babies and up.
Mix up some fun at Action Potential Lab
This Christie St. spot bills itself as "Toronto's first science and art lab for kids and adults".
While the adult classes have a slight advantage (molecular gastronomy, lectures and cocktails), the kids' classes allow young ones to explore the universe around them in a hands-on lab. Upcoming classes, which cater to six-year-olds up to high schoolers, include cow eyeball dissection (insert the requisite "eeewwww" here).
Dinner and dancing for the whole family
If your idea of dining out comes with a good dose of whining then switch things up with a family dinner in a fun party atmosphere. Lazy Daisy's Café is once again hosting their family dance parties for an evening of frolicking fun. No one puts baby in the corner; here kids are the centre of attention while the DJ plays music that doesn't suck (sorry Raffi). So far, there are plans for a Valentine's-themed dance, check their website for more dates.
Take in culture at TIFF Kids
While most of the weekday programming is geared towards adults, TIFF reels the kids in every Friday for their family movie programming, (upcoming picks include the Japanese animated movie Ponyo). Workshops and camps run throughout the year with this winter's Holiday Camps offering sought-after skills like 'Prosthetics and Special Effects Make-Up' or the more traditional 'How to Make a Film in a Day'.
Make magic at Toronto's oldest magic shop
Mini magicians in training should check out Browsers Den, a Yorkdale-area shop that's been pulling bunnies out of hats since 1975. On the first Saturday of every month they host a free magic meet up for wannabe magicians and experts alike to show off their tricks and share magical tips.
Do some fantastic gymnastics
Padded walls and floors make natural surfaces for precocious kids defying gravity and physics, and Kidnasium on Mount Pleasant has a well-stocked variety of obstacles to keep your kids active during the sloth-like winter months. The Danforth is home to Mini-nastics, who follow a similar approach and program with classes for wee ones aged 6 months up to seven-year-olds.
Choo-choo-choose a model train exhibit
Model trains and their collectors are a strange breed; it's equally as fun checking out the choo-choo's as it is the conductors. There are a few model train events each year, including open houses at Scarborough Model Railroaders -check their website for dates and times. If mini ain't cutting it then up the game and take them to a real train museum - the Toronto Railway Museum also has a miniature train ride operating on weekends ($3 for adults and $2 for kids).
Go on an indoor cycling Joyride
If the training wheels have long been taken off then maybe it's time for your kid to up the ante with a trip to Joyride, a massive 102,000-square-foot indoor biking facility in Markham. Joyride has something for everyone, with half-pipes, jump lines, dirt jumps and pump tracks (plus gear rentals if you don't want to truck your own up there). Working on new skills always gains more traction if you're actually doing it with them, so instead of hovering over them like a soccer mom, show them your best Hoffman air.
Be an escape artist
While most parents would balk at paying money to get trapped in a room with their kids, escape room games are a worthwhile experiment. Parents learn kids can problem solve without relying on Google and kids realize that their parents aren't as stupid as they thought. (Hopefully.) At Escape on Sheppard even has a 'Toy Room' geared at mini problem solvers, while the straightforward Mystery Room has a good beginner option in the Prison Break room. A few new options have recently opened downtown.
Check out the Aga Khan Museum
A glimmering thing of beauty shimmering off the DVP, the Aga Khan Museum opened in the fall after dropping $300 million on the build-out of their 10,000-square-foot museum. With rotating displays of their extensive collection of Islamic art, the Aga Khan also hosts concerts and movies in their jewel-like auditorium, so plan ahead and make a day of it.
Knit up a storm
If your crafty kid has expressed an interested in woolen arts and your knitting skills resemble a game of cats cradle, hook them up with some pro knitters like the staff at The Knit Café in Roncesvalles. A four-week scarf-making class is $76, and classes progress from there. If you're in the market to learn at the same time then try The Purple Purl's private lessons. For $32 an hour you and your kid will learn from the pros - they can teach you pretty much any project you want to learn.
While you really wouldn't want to take your toddler to most karaoke joints (think of the time of day), many private karaoke bars welcome kids and even host birthday parties for your wannabe Katy Perry types. Kids get a soundproof room to torture and test their vocal skills and you can serenade them with your favourite rendition of Bohemian Rhapsody. Call ahead to book a private room and then brush up on the latest pop songs to impress your little diva in training.
Go indoor skydiving
Daredevils 4 years old and up can take in the thrills of skydiving, without the splat, at iFly Toronto (technically located in Oakville). Prices are a little steep, but so is the experience of freefalling for 60 seconds. Instructors show you the ropes and then you leap into a tube that's 45 feet tall. You'll need the goggles for this one - the wind whips you around at 175km an hour. Book ahead for this one, as they often sell out on weekends.
Fly a plane (sort of)
Threshold Aviation lets kids 10 and up get behind the wheel, with younger siblings free to kick their chair from behind, just like in real life. Sitting in the actual nose of a Boeing 737, a brief tutorial gets you wheels up using a B737NG simulator, leaving 30 minutes to perform three takeoffs and three landings at an airport of your choosing. Located by the airport for that extra dose of realism, packages start at $123 and go up from there.
Take a trip to the theatre
Musical theatre is a hit with most kids, and this winter, Toronto has some fun picks that don't involve a Disney princess. Fun to say and even more fun to see is the Dr. Seuss inspired Seussical the Musical playing at Lower Ossington Theatre. Roald Dahl fans should check out Yonge People's Theatre production of James and the Giant Peach, playing only until the end of the year, while everybody's favourite crossdresser Ross Petty has a good one for little drama queens, with his version of Cinderella playing at the Elgin.
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