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Stellar Family Vacations: Experiencing Toronto

Why one of the world’s most diverse cities should be on every family’s list of vacation spots

View of downtown Toronto from the Toronto Islands. Photo courtesy of Cédric Blondeau on Unsplash.

Experiencing Toronto is a highlight for families, couples, and single travlers.

It’s a funny time of year in Toronto. Spring hasn’t fully arrived (oh hey, April snow, nice to see you again, please leave) and summer doesn’t yet feel like it’s around the corner.

Rest assured that it is coming. Your next block of vacation time will be here before you know it. So if you’re wondering where to take the kids for your next vacation or living here doing the staycation thing, LifeTales has you covered. 

Remember your vacation, no matter where you go

Here’s LifeTales founder and CEO Harvey Beck daring the Edgewalk at the CN Tower. Fun fact: the red skyscraper to the far right of the photo is the Scotiabank Tower, where our Toronto office is located.

Vacations almost always feel too short, but the memories they create can last forever—provided you jot the details down while they’re fresh

LifeTales Collections are the perfect perfect way to:  

  • Share your vacation memories with family and friends.
  • Duplicate those stories to your child’s special Child Journal collection. That way, you don’t have to upload everything twice. Add a few private moments here to capture personal details about your child’s experience that you might not want to share with everyone.
  • Collaborate with your family to effortlessly build a shared album of your adventures that you can all keep, share and enjoy. Here’s an example that our team member Aaron created with his mom and brother after their trek up Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania in December 2018. 

Anyway, back to Toronto spots you won’t want to miss. 

So, why Toronto? 

Walking is one of the best ways to see Toronto. Photo courtesy of Photo by Eloise Ambursley on Unsplash.

Okay, we admit it. We’re completely biased. Toronto’s undeniably one of the coolest cities in the world (even the New York Times says so). Whether you’re visiting in winter or summer, Toronto has a huge range of activities to offer to families with kids of all ages. 

We asked our team to kick in ideas for some fantastic Toronto family destinations, some mainstream and some a little off kilter. Here’s what they said.

Warm-weather activities: The Usual Suspects

Nathan Phillips Square in Toronto is a popular spot for outdoor skating in winter and food trucks in the summer. You might also spot HBO’s The Handmaid’s Tale filming in the area. Photo courtesy of Photo by Rachael Annabelle on Unsplash.

So let’s get the obvious stuff out of the way: 

Experience a neighbourhood

Graffiti Alley in Toronto’s Queen West neighborhood is a favorite backdrop for many the aspiring photographer. Photo by Julie Laiymani on Unsplash.

You can’t visit Toronto without experiencing a neighborhood.

  • The Beaches in the city’s east end. Enjoy a family stroll along the boardwalk. If you’ve got older, thrill-seeking kids, check out the Donald D. Summerville Olympic pool. Jump off the 10 metre diving platform if you dare!
  • The Annex, Kensington Village and Chinatown—a classic neighborhood cluster featuring old and new architecture, shops and markets. Check out official walking tours like Frommer’s, go with a local tour group, or wander. Near the Annex, Wychwood has a beautiful public park perfect for late evening strolls.
  • Queen West is home to great fashion, a slew of shops and restaurants, and many companies in Toronto’s growing tech sector. It also houses Graffiti Alley. In spring, visit Trinity Bellwoods Park to see some spectacular cherry blossom trees. For a peak experience, grab a cone at la Diperie, bring a picnic blanket and watch the trendy dog-walking, baby-toting masses. Bonus points for spotting the park’s infamous white squirrel.
  • Blood West Village’s High Park, Toronto’s Central Park, also has spectacular cherry blossom trees and formal gardens. If visiting during blossom season, be prepared for crowds. In July, the park hosts Shakespeare performances. For kids under 10, you’ll want to check out the petting zoo and Jamie Bell Adventure Park. The castle structure’s extremely popular with kids, but the poor sight lines make it a uniquely stressful Toronto experience. Grab coffee at Grenadier Cafe and embrace your inner helicopter parent. 
  • St. Lawrence Market and the Distillery District are great places to stroll. They’re popular with condo-dwelling families, young professionals and some of Toronto’s happening art scene.

Get rolling on a bicycle

Toronto’s parks include the city’s ravines and make for perfect places to cycle. Photo courtesy of Matthew Henry on Unsplash.

In spite of its hectic car traffic, Toronto has an ardent and growing cycling community. If you’re coming in from out of town, there are many places to rent bikes and gear.

Areas we recommend include:

  • Don Valley ravine system 
  • Humber Valley ravine system 
  • High Park—the ring road is very popular with cyclists, although the car traffic is heavy in summer. If you venture on the walking trials, be prepared for some steep hills.
  • The city’s Waterfront trail, which is broken into several pieces.
  • The Scarborough Bluffs also have spectacular views and some of the parks have cycling trails. 
  • Tommy Thompson waterfront park, also known as the Leslie Street Spit, is widely considered one of the best places to watch birds and other wildlife. It’s named for the Group of Seven artist Tom Thompson. 

Want to venture further afield? Try a self-guided cycling tour in Niagara on the Lake to sample wineries or the mountain biking trails in Halton Parks

Cold-weather activities

There are several Ontario ski hills within driving distance of the Greater Toronto area, including Hidden Valley. Photo courtesy of Hidden Valley Highlands.

The skiing north of Toronto won’t impress visitors more accustomed to the Rocky Mountains or other notable mountain ranges. But, the hills in Barrie and Collingwood are as good as it gets for Southern Ontario. They’re perfect places to learn for kids and teens increasing their skills. Check out Blue Mountain, Mount St. Louis Moonstone and Horseshoe Valley. The resorts also offer warm-weather activities like hiking and golf.  

Don’t enjoy hurtling down a steep pitch on two fibreglass planks? No problem. Ontario’s ski destinations also provide cold-weather alternatives. Snow Valley has a tubing course. Blue Mountain has a figure skating ring at the top of the mountain through a wooded trail. And, you can opt for snowshoeing or cross-country skiing, weather permitting. 

Albion Hills is also within day-trip distance of Toronto. The conversation area is known for its cross-country trails.

If you’re in town, skating in front of the Toronto sign at City Hall or Evergreen Brick Works are sentimental favourite destinations. 

Season depending, you can also try the skating trail under the Gardiner Expressway, check out the holiday lights at Ontario Place or visit the Christmas Market in the Distillery District (December only). 

Nah, I’d rather be warm, thanks

More of an indoor person? We get it.

Visit Toronto in late January and early February during Winterlicious. You can eat your way through the best restaurants the city has to offer as part of this annual gastronomic celebration.

Toronto’s also known for its sports teams. Grab a jersey or a t-shirt in fan colours and see the Toronto Raptors, Toronto Maple Leafs or Toronto Argonauts play.

Missing summer days in the water? Try your Tarzan skills with the rope swing at the Pam McConnell Aquatic Centre (also known as the Regent Park pool). 

Got stories? Get in touch

Want more suggestions for experiencing Toronto? BlogTO has a great list to get you started.

Have more suggestions? Get in touch at hello@lifetales.com. We’d love to feature your vacation destination or hear about other topics we should explore.