Travelling and discovering new places has always been a big part of my life. I’ve visited 23 countries so far and hope to double that number in the next 20 years. Having two young kids has not slowed down my wanderlust ways in the least. In Isabelle’s first year alone, I flew with her 18 times (most of those by myself) and travelled to 9 different countries. Although we’ve slowed down since then (mainly due to the fact that we moved back to Canada and travel is just more expensive outside of Europe), I still love to travel with my kids every opportunity I can.
Even though I still travel lots with my kids, the way in which we travel has changed significantly. I learned a lot through trial and error in that first year of being a travel-loving mom of a very fussy baby, but the two most important things I’ve learned to make a trip with young kids successful is: (1) do less and (2) have at least one activity per day that is catered towards your kids.
Having lived in Toronto for most of my life and now raising two kiddos in this wonderful city, I wanted to share my top 10 things to do with babies, toddlers, and preschoolers in Toronto. Whether you’re planning a trip to Toronto in the near future or you live here and are looking for some new ideas, these are sure to keep your kiddos happy and entertained.
[ 1 ] Toronto Islands
It’s hard to top a trip to Centre Island, the (aptly named) centre of a group of islands just south of downtown Toronto. The ferry ride alone is enough to keep young kids happy. Once you get there, a trip to Centreville Theme Park is a definite highlight. Plenty of rides for even the youngest of guests (with or without an accompanying adult) – with the train and antique cars being a favourite in our family.
Once you’ve had enough of the rides (or if you’re visiting in the off-season), head on over to Far Away Farm, a little petting farm with 40 different specifies of farmyard animals and exotic birds. And when it’s time for a nap, let your kids sleep in the stroller as you walk (or bike) through the beautiful green spaces while you take in the gorgeous views of the Toronto skyline. My favourite place to stroll is on the east end at Ward’s Island. So many adorable cottages!
In the afternoon, make your way to one of the many sun-filled beaches lining the south side of the islands. (There’s a clothing optional beach on the west at Hanlan’s Point, if that’s your jam.)
[ 2 ] Ontario Science Centre
If your’e visiting in the winter and looking for a place to escape the cold, look no further than the Ontario Science Centre. Their KidSpark learn-through-play space is geared towards younger kids (8 and under) and is by far the best indoor playground in Toronto. Kids can build their own rollercoaster, rock out in a music studio, play at the giant water table (with a moveable dam, waterwheels, and bubble makers), go shopping at their amazing miniature market, and so much more!
[ 3 ] Roundhouse Park
If you’re basing yourself in downtown Toronto, the Roundhouse Park is absolutely worth spending a few hours. There are always several locomotives and passenger cars on display outside and, if you want to learn more, the Toronto Railway Museum is housed in the fully-restored locomotive roundhouse and even has a full-sized 1950s diesel cab simulator. But the absolute highlight for any little kid is sure to be the miniature railway, a 7.25″ passenger-carrying live steam train that takes you around the entire park. There’s also a fun playground on the south-east end of the park that includes a mini steam engine play area perfect for younger toddlers.
[ 4 ] Local Farm or Conservation Area
If you’re in Toronto between June and October and want to get out of the city for a day, hit up one of the many local pick-your-own fruits + veggie farms in the Greater Toronto area (GTA). Lots of them are geared towards a younger crowd, with wagon rides, playgrounds, and picnic areas for a mid-day break.
My favourites are Applewood Farm Winery for strawberry picking, Whittamore’s for summer berries and vegetables, and Chudleigh’s for apple picking (and the obligatory corn on the cob + hot dog eating). The latter two have amazing play areas for kids once the little ones are tired (or bored) of picking.
[ 5 ] Toronto Zoo
Another great day trip is the Toronto Zoo. It’s the largest zoo in Canada, set on 710 acres in the beautiful rouge valley east of Toronto. It is such a great place to walk around and enjoy the animals as well as nature in general. And the Kids Discovery Zone is perfect for younger visitors! There’s an amazing splash pad, a petting zoo, a giant slide and sand box, and plenty of little play areas at every corner.
[ 6 ] High Park
If the zoo is too far away or just too pricey, the High Park Zoo is a great alternative. Enough animals to keep your kids interested but everything is close enough to keep little legs from getting too tired. And right next to the Zoo is the Adventure Park playground, arguably the best playground in the whole city. If you’re in Toronto in early spring, make sure to check out the park’s gorgeous cherry blossoms as well.
[ 7 ] Toronto Beaches
If you want a great daytrip spot without actually leaving the city, look no further than The Beaches (also known as “The Beach” or “Beach Village”). It feels more like a lakeside resort town than a big city neighbourhood and (as the name implies) is home to some of Toronto’s best beaches. Walk along the 3km-long boardwalk, play in the sand, and shop + dine at one of the many cute storefronts along Queen Street. And make sure to stop by the Kew Gardens playground, complete with a castle play structure built around an old tree (how cool is that?) as well as the obligatory summer wading pool.
[ 8 ] Sugar Beach
If you’re looking for some sand closer to downtown, Sugar Beach is your place. It might be manmade but the pink umbrellas, white sand + mini splash pad are sure to be a hit with your kids. And, if you’re lucky, you’ll get to watch the Redpath Sugar Factor’s giant ship be loaded / unloaded (bonus toddler entertainment).
[ 9 ] Ripley’s Aquarium
Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada, conveniently located at the foot of the CN Tower and across from Roundhouse Park, is Canada’s largest aquarium and the perfect indoor playground for young kids. Besides all the colourful fish (and Isabelle’s favourite – the shark lagoon), there are little play stations every few metres as well as the huge Discovery Centre, which features several slides, a cool water play table, and a horseshoe crab touch pool. Avoid the aquarium during the summer holiday season, however, as it is packed to the brim and your mini humans won’t be able see the fish as well through the crowds.
[ 10 ] Distillery District
My personal favourite spot in the city, the restored Distillery District features North America’s best-preserved collection of victorian industrial architecture. It’s a pedestrian-only area (one of only a few in Toronto) with plenty of local restaurants, cafes, art galleries + design shops to satisfy locals and visitors alike. Toddlers can run around whilst parents enjoy the stunning red-brick buildings. And for Canadian-made organic kids clothing, make sure to check out Mini Mioche. Also nearby (a 5 min walk) is the Corktown Commons playground, one of the best in the city with stunning views of downtown Toronto.
[ Where to Stay ]
Where you stay with kids is just as important as what to see. The Radisson Admiral Hotel is such a great waterfront location, within walking distance of many of the attractions on this list as well as several modes of public transportation to get you everywhere else, including the UP Express from Union Station, the best and fastest way of getting from the airport to downtown Toronto. (It’s actually just across the street from where we used to live until we moved last year, so I can attest to its amazing location, especially if you’re visiting the city.)
With free wifi, two queen beds per room (or adjoining rooms if you need the space / quiet), and cribs available upon request, the Radisson Admiral Hotel is perfect for families with young kids. Plus they have an amazing pool with Lake Ontario and CN Tower views for when you just want a relaxing day (or half day) at the hotel.