A winter vacation in Toronto evokes images of fine dining, romantic evenings, nightlife at dance clubs or live music venues, and long leisurely trips to the museum or art gallery. There is everything imaginable for singles, couples or groups of friends to enjoy… but what about a week of winter holidays with the kids? Ontario’s capital has more to do than meets the eye when it comes to keeping the little ones out of trouble, without sacrificing the pleasure of the larger ones.
After a week-long winter vacation in Toronto, here are the activities that have charmed us the most.
Truly a sight to behold!
Top to bottom, to be visited over and over again, with or without children, day or night, any season of the year, this spectacle is more of a true British castle than (what was once) a wealthy Canadian residence. Built in the early 1920s by Sir Henry Pellatt, an energy tycoon and visionary with a big heart, Casa Loma had experienced a life of turmoil before becoming the beautiful museum and historic landmark it is today. After having endured serious financial difficulties at the turn of the recession, Sir Pellatt finally ceded his beloved castle, which then passed through several hands before becoming one of Toronto’s most spectacular attractions.
The children spent six hours completely absorbed by the history of the castle, its architecture, its two turrets in which they played knights in shining armour, the dozens of ornately adorned rooms and the beautiful evening lit gardens.
An absolute must. The aquarium, located at the foot of the CN Tower, will charm every member of the family. Budding marine biologists, curious children (and parents!), couples young and old, groups of friends… all will be pleased with this global display of underwater life. In addition to offering an assortment of experiences to its visitors, such as petting rays and certain crustaceans, or swimming among them (for an added fee), and even spending an overnight at the facility, the Ripley Aquarium offers lectures, day camps, yoga and photography classes, and Friday night jazz concerts.
We never tired of exploring its various displays, especially the tunnel which we navigated through on a moving walkway from where we could see dozens of impressive marine creatures including several sharks!
Art Gallery of Ontario
There are museums and galleries that we never get tired of, these havens of art and beauty in which we can completely immerse ourselves. The AGO is one of those galleries which draws you in with its surprising and meticulously prepared exhibitions such as the David Bowie exhibit after his death, or, more recently, the Guillermo Del Toro exhibit ‘At Home with Monsters’, which the kids loved. Not only did they gleefully discover the fantastic imagination of the Mexican filmmaker, but they greatly appreciated dozens of other galleries within the AGO.
But the biggest success of the day was the arts and crafts room for children, which allowed us to visit a few of the rooms… in peace!
The Royal Ontario Museum
The ROM has absolutely nothing to envy of the other great museums of the world.
Plan a good free day to visit here with the kids as there is not one activity that they will want to miss! Between the floor of dinosaurs to the Roman antiquities, Egyptian mummies and tombs, magnificent Asian works of art, and temporary exhibits that touch on subjects for all ages (the blue whale skeleton, the Vikings), your senses will be satiated. Having visited the ROM several times with the children, we can assure you that each visit is as pleasurable as the previous one. The kids learn something new each time, with greater appreciation for our planet and for the history of our civilization.
The Distillery District
This little gem of an historic neighbourhood in the east end of downtown Toronto plunges into the atmosphere of the late nineteenth century.
Once a whisky distillery, you can walk freely along cobblestone alleyways between its excellent restaurants, art galleries, designer clothing shops and quaint cafes. On many occasions, you can see live shows of various types in the large centre square, or catch a performance at one of the many theaters that are there.
During the holiday season, the distillery hosts a lovely Christmas market. Either way, this area, which is the largest and best preserved industrial site of the Victorian era, will charm you regardless of the season or the time of day.
What better than a long stroll on the sand at the edge of a lake that looks like a sea, while watching our kids run back and forth along the beach, splashing in the water, taking in the vast horizon only a few minutes from downtown?
Not much beats the sense of freedom that comes over us when we set foot on Kew beach, with a playground area, several jetties, a large open space for dogs to run freely, and fantastic views of the heart of Toronto with its colossal CN Tower. It’s free, it’s big, it’s beautiful, it’s outside, and it’s all it takes for children and parents to drop a few hours of their weekly routine.
The CN Tower
The most renowned effigy of Toronto the world over, the monument whose image is emblematic of the city, on postcards, and can be seen from the sky by plane, or from across the lake.
A stay in Toronto does not necessarily require a trip up the tower, but it is worth it at least once to be able to see such a large cityscape and across the vast Lake Ontario from such a height. The view is very impressive and the most daring of you can hang from its outdoor deck, 356 meters above the ground, if you purchase the “Edgewalk” package.
Expect long queues for the elevator, not only to reach the summit, but to come down.
This is one of the most beautiful activities to do with the family during the cold season, according to us. Toronto has a range of skating rinks nestled in various settings around the city.
At the Harbourfront ice rink we enjoy the great outdoors of the lake and the sunset. In that of Nathan Phillips Square we live the ultimate experience of urban skating right outside of Toronto’s City Hall. Then, at the brand new ice rink of the Bentway, located just below the Gardiner expressway, we outline figure eights with a smile, under the shelter of the traffic circulating overhead.
The Toronto Zoo
Any season of the year, the Toronto Zoo, one of the largest in the world, welcomes visitors on its many miles of trails. Located a little east of the city, the zoo is dedicated to preserving nature and raising awareness about the state of our planet. The five thousand animals from four hundred different species will certainly fascinate the little ones. The big ones will also likely enjoy themselves.
Legoland Discovery Centre
After two full days of criss-crossing the museums, the children asked us for an activity where they could “let off a little steam”. Little did we know, in the suburbs of Toronto, was nestled in the hollow of a huge shopping center, a franchise of the world of Legos, the Legoland.
Attention parents, the price seemed a little hefty, especially considering parents must also pay to enter the facility but likely do not benefit in the same way as their children. We did however enjoy the 20 minute film ‘4Dimensions’ projected in their small cinema, as well as the two rides in which the children made countless runs. A good place for those winter days when it’s too cold to leave the kids outside to play. They made loud cries of disappointment when we told them it was time to go home.
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