Toronto is an expansive metropolis with an endless array of things to do and see, but it can get expensive – especially if you are here for more than just a couple of days. I have been here for the past two months, and this post is a compilation of my favourite things to do and see in Toronto without breaking the bank.
These are a few of my favourite budget-friendly things to do, see, and experience around Toronto (I am still exploring, so there are many things that I have not yet had the chance to discover). Enjoy!
Explore an Art Gallery
Personal preference, I suppose, but while some people really enjoy exploring a museum, I much prefer to wander around an art gallery. The Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) is home to a lot of Canadian artists and excellent travelling exhibitions. Tickets cost $19.50 for adults, but if you enjoy a good art gallery and are interested in Canadian artwork, then I absolutely suggest spending a day at the AGO. There are also a number of independent art galleries scattered along Queen Street West, and many are free to visit.
Take in a Show
I highly recommend grabbing a meal and taking in a show in the Entertainment District. Toronto has an amazing theatre scene and there are lots of choices depending on your preferences. Personally, I have managed to get great last minute tickets right at the door for The Sound of Music and Beautiful: The Carol King Musical. Beautiful is playing all summer, and I can’t recommend it highly enough!
Outside of the main theatre productions, you can also find a number of fantastic comedy productions and clubs for cheap tickets. We went to a Second City Production called ‘Everything is Great Again’ which combines sketch comedy and improve; and with tickets starting at $26.00, it is definitely worth taking in a show.
*Tip – Tickets for larger shows can get quite expensive, but if you are willing to sit separately, and in the balcony area, then you can get some great prices last minute at the ticket booth. Our tickets for Beautiful were $55.00 each, in the balcony but with great visibility, only one row apart (you aren’t talking during the play anyways!).
Sip Something Cold at the Distillery District
Speaking of grabbing a drink, check out the Mill Street Brewery at the Distillery District for some local flavour. A protected heritage site, the Distillery District is filled with artists, cafes and restaurants, and is definitely worth a visit.
Cheer on the Home Team
I have never been much for a baseball game (I prefer catching a hockey or a soccer match), but it is hard not to get in the baseball spirit in Toronto. It seems like every other day or so you are surrounded by devoted fans in blue jerseys on their way to or from Rogers Centre! So, for Canada Day, I decided to buy a token baseball ticket and head to a game. While the Blue Jays (the home team) lost, I still had a blast! Once again, we found same-day tickets online for around $35.00 each (though be careful buying online because third party sellers can whack on a load of service fees).
Take Advantage of a Free Tour
I highly recommend taking advantage of the free walking tours that are offered by Tour Guys (while it is technically free, it is appropriate to give a good tip). They have several walking tours available, including the Downtown Walking Tour, the Old Town Toronto History Tour, and the St Lawrence Market Tour. They have a few others, both paid and free, but these are the three that I have taken. I would suggest taking the Old Town tour first, as it dovetails neatly into the St Lawrence Market tour. The tour guides are fantastic and incredibly helpful with recommendations on where to go in Toronto.
If you are staying in town a bit longer, I also recommend checking out meetup.com for stuff to do. I have gone on a couple of fun walking tours through different meetups, and it is also a great way to join other activities around the city.
Have a Day at the Beaches
If you are visiting during the summer, then I would suggest heading to the Beaches, east of downtown, to catch some sun. There is also a terrific boardwalk along the lake, and an adorable street village on Queen Street East, a couple of blocks north. When we visited, the Beaches Arts & Crafts Show was also going on, which was filled with some amazing local vendors. After you have spent the day on the beach, there are some great patios along Queen Street to enjoy a glass of wine and a bite to eat.
Aimlessly Wander Queen Street West
My favourite street to explore is Queen Street West, with a plethora of independent shops, cafes, galleries and character. For any sewing nerds visiting the city, I especially love the expansive fabric shops that can be found around here. A couple of streets up, you can also find Kensington Market, which is a quirky, multi-cultural neighbourhood, filled with an eclectic mix of hipster cafes, vintage clothing shops, grocers and unique restaurants.
Get Fresh Produce at a Farmers’ Market
During the summer, it is great to explore Toronto’s farmer’s markets to buy local produce and products. While it is a bit farther out, I recommend checking out the farmers’ market at the Evergreen Brick Works. A former quarry and industrial site, the Don Valley Brick Works operated for nearly one hundred years and the bricks from the site are found in much of the city’s infrastructure. The site has now been transformed into a city park and an environmentally-focused community and cultural centre. After leaving the farmers’ market, I recommend taking a walk through the Don River Valley, a 200-hectare park connecting vibrant city neighbourhoods.
Another market to check out (though not a farmers’ market) is the St Lawrence Market in downtown.
Built in 1850, St Lawrence Market is now home to 120 vendors, merchants and artisans. It is fun to wander around, grab some lunch, and take in the bustling atmosphere.
Recommended for any beer connoisseurs: A couple of doors down from the St Lawrence Market is an underground pub called C’est What, which has an extensive and ever changing variety of excellent craft beers.
Eat a Beavertail
Seriously, have one, they are delicious. A beavertail is a fried-dough pastry stretched to resemble a beaver’s tail. My personal favourite has chocolate hazelnut spread on top. You can get them at their store down on the waterfront, and then eat it while strolling along the lake. Fair warning though, they can get messy!
I hope you have found this post helpful, if you have any other suggestions or favourite things, please share in the comments below! You can read my other blog post about Doors Open Toronto this year, and find more places in the city to visit by clicking here!
*Note: Everyone recommends going to the Toronto Island, however due to extreme flooding, it has been closed since I’ve been here and I haven’t had chance to visit.