In today’s economy it can be challenging to find ways to have fun on a budget. Luckily, there are plenty of free activities in and around Canada’s major cities. Here are 10 destinations to have a terrific time and not spend a dime!
1. Toronto Island Park
There is plenty to do on Toronto’s picturesque Centre Island completely free-of-charge. The picnic park offers a beach, trails for walking or biking, two softball diamonds, three wading pools, two volleyball courts and a disc golf course. Visitors can check out the Gibraltar Point Lighthouse, Far Enough Farm, which offers a petting zoo full of barnyard animals to befriend, or Franklin’s Garden, a new attraction for children. Amenities on the island include water fountains, washrooms, snack bars, public phones, first-aid stations and fire pits. If you wish to spend money, Centreville Amusement Park is located on the island, and there are boat and bicycle rentals available. There is a nominal fee for the ferry to the island.
Centre Island, Toronto, ON. Hours: Ferries run daily 9am–8pm; Admission: Free
2. Riverdale Farm
There is no admission cost to sample a little bit o’ country in the middle of the big city! Set in downtown Toronto’s Cabbagetown district, the delights of the farm are numerous. Gardens, meandering pathways, and several ponds, grace the 7.5-acre property, which is also home to barnyard favorites such as donkeys, sheep, goats, pigs, chickens, turkeys, ducks, geese and rabbits. Riverdale Farm has an indoor playroom area for kids during cooler months, and there is always a special event or festival happening too.
201 Winchester St., Toronto, ON M4X 1B8. Hours: Daily 9am–5pm; Admission: Free.
3. Riverview Park & Zoo
Only a 1.5-hour drive from Toronto, Riverview Park & Zoo is a fabulous spot to spend the day. Set on 55.5 acres, the park offers walking trails along the Otonabee River, a disc golf course, picnic areas, a splash pad, and a large modern playground area for the children. The zoo has 27 exhibits representing over 48 species, including wildcats, swans, squirrel monkeys, river otters and an entertaining group of meerkats. The Riverview Park & Zoo also boasts a miniature train ride, which takes visitors on a scenic tour across the river and through a tunnel – don’t forget to scream! There is a small fee for the train ride, but everything else is free.
1230 Water St. N., Peterborough, ON K9H 1A1. Hours: Daily 8:30am-dusk. Admission: Free
4. Happy Rolph’s Bird Sanctuary
Happy Rolph’s is set on 15 acres of parkland on the banks of Lake Ontario. On offer is one of Canada’s most exotic collections of flowering rhododendrons, and a natural pond that is home to waterfowl and migratory birds – the kids will delight in feeding them. The 9/11 walkway is located in the park to commemorate the Canadians who perished in the World Trade Center Tower attacks, and visitors can enjoy strolling through the trees and near the lake. A petting farm can also be found at Happy Rolph’s, where children can get up close and personal with chickens, pigs, horses, rabbits, sheep and goats.
Read Rd., St.Catharines, ON L2R 7C2. Hours: April 30 to Mid-October 10am-dusk. Admission: Free
5. Old Port of Montreal
Declared a historical district in 1963, the Old Port of Montreal is a wonderful spot for a self-guided tour down cobblestone streets filled with street artists and entertainers. The Old Port offers quite a range of outdoor activities including an extensive network of trails for bicycling and roller-blading, and the Bonsecours Basin skating rink in the winter season. There are boutiques, art galleries, and markets to browse, or visitors can go take a look at the Clock Tower Pier. Additional attractions such as museums, boat cruises, and river rafting are available for a fee.
333, rue de la Commune West, Montréal, QC H2Y 2E2. Hours: no restrictions. Admission: Free
6. Parliament Hill Tour
Visitors to the Parliament Buildings can take advantage of this opportunity to see how the Canadian government works. Guests can tour the West Wing, which houses offices, and the East Wing during summer, which is the location of the first Prime Minister’s office. Visitors will see the rooms, halls, chambers, and galleries. The Centre Block can also be seen, with tours lasting from 20 minutes to one hour, and dependant on whether or not parliament is in session. Summer time is the best chance for an extensive tour. Also onsite is a shop called the Parliament Hill Boutique, and, oddly, the Parliament Hill Cat Sanctuary, which over one dozen kitties call home! Outside there are many monuments and views to admire.
Wellington Street Ottawa, ON K1A 0A6. Hours: Daily 9am-varies, see website. Admission: Free
7. Redpath Museum
The Redpath Museum is one of Canada’s oldest freestanding museums, and functions as part of the McGill University Faculty of Science. Its permanent collections include ancient and modern organisms, minerals, and artifacts from world culture. Some of the interesting exhibits visitors will see are marine vertebrates, minerals from Quebec, a diorama of the sea floor, biodiversity in Quebec, the Abe Levine Shell Collection, and a world culture section containing about 1000 artifacts, including Egyptian mummies, ceremonial items, and musical instruments. There is also a geological garden outside. The museum houses a variety of temporary exhibits, and hosts events and activities such as dinosaur tours.
859 Sherbrooke Street West, Montreal, QC H3A 2K6. Hours: Monday through Friday 9am-5pm; Saturday closed; Sunday 12pm-5pm. Admission: Free, donations welcome.
Vancouver, British Columbia
8. Granville Island
Granville Island boasts a constant mix of festivals, theater, street performers, musical shows and art exhibits. The vibrant public market will entice visitors to indulge in delectable fresh fish, meant, baked goods, and farm produce. The market is chock full of arts and crafts, and has a waterfront courtyard area to sit and relax. Buskers enliven the atmosphere. The Kids Market offers an indoor adventure play area, children’s entertainment, even a water park! There is a nominal fee for the ferry to the island.
1661 Duranleau St., Vancouver, BC H3A 2K6. Hours: Daily 9am-7pm; Admission: Free
9. Stanley Park
A world-renowned park set in the center of Vancouver, Stanley Park is 1000-acres of outdoor family fun waiting to happen. Biking, walking, or roller-blading through the park, visitors will be treated to an array of landmarks, gardens, playgrounds, even a lighthouse. As you make your way around, vistas of the city and mountains will please the eye, as will the sight of totem poles, and the Lion’s Gate Bridge. There are several beaches on offer, as well as a lagoon. Stanley Park also offers a children’s farmyard and miniature train, for which there is a small fee to ride.
2099 Beach Avenue, Vancouver, BC V6G 1Z4. Hours: Daily, no restrictions. Admission: Free
Victoria, British Columbia
10. Beacon Hill Park
A beautiful park in the city of Victoria, Beacon Hill was named for the two masts set atop the hill to help mariners navigate, or to act as beacons, for Victoria’s harbor. Featuring lush gardens, a rock garden, ponds, waterfowl, and wildlife, the park also offers horse-drawn carriage rides, outdoor concerts, a putting green, walking trails, and has colorful peacocks strutting around! For families with children, there’s an onsite farm/petting, ball diamonds, picnic areas and playgrounds! Beacon Park also hosts special events such as Victoria Luminata.
1 Centennial Square, Victoria, BC V8W 1P6. Hours: Daily, no restrictions; Petting Zoo 10am-4pm; Admission: Free
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