How well do you know the area you call home? Wouldn’t it be fun to be a tourist in your own city? Visiting quirky neighbourhoods and neat stores, tasting food from around the globe, taking in exciting attractions and exploring the great outdoors. Would it surprise you to find out that there’s so much that’s available in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA), either free or on a reasonable budget?
Here are five ways to start exploring and be a tourist in your own backyard!
1. Museums and attractions
The GTA is home to world-class attractions like the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) and Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada (both offer discounts for older Canadians and complimentary visits are available). It’s also full of other, less well-known surprises like the Aga Khan Museum and the Textile Museum of Canada.
Did you know Ontario’s heritage treasures are open with free events every April to October? Doors Open Ontario has a number of locations opening their doors for you to explore. Visit the Doors Open Ontario website for a complete list of events.
While there is an entrance fee to visit Casa Loma in Toronto, a guided tour at Spadina Museum right beside Casa Loma is always free. There are a number of free museum and cultural events in Toronto to explore.
The Toronto Public Library offers the Museum + Art’s Pass (MAP) program. With a Toronto Public Library card, you can borrow the pass and get into many Toronto museums and attractions free. Mississauga offers a PAMA Family pass that lets families (bring the grandkids!) get into art galleries and museums free. Check out if your public library offers the same — most libraries offer this type of pass!
Hot Docs is celebrating 30 years this year and begins April 27 in Toronto. Patrons 60+ can take advantage of free tickets to watch an amazing selection of documentaries from around the world before 5 pm daily.
2. Markets and festivals
You’ll never run out of markets, festivals and fairs to visit in the GTA and surrounding area. To taste international cuisine at great prices, the St. Lawrence Market and its Market Gallery (always free) is a natural destination. That’s just the beginning, because farms such as the Brooks Farm in Mount Albert have seasonal festivals and events worth a visit.
A number of farms in the GTA offer a fun day of exploring and strawberry picking. Most charge a small entry fee which includes the cost of the strawberries. To Do Canada offers a good list of farms to get you started.
Why not take in a free movie or concert at various parks, including the Regent Park Film Festival, Toronto’s longest-running, free community film festival. Visit To Do Canada for an updated list of festivals near you. Don’t forget the Toronto International Festival of Authors, where browsing is free, and you can meet the authors.
3. The great outdoors
The GTA has about 12 million trees covering beautiful trails, neighbourhoods, and attractions to visit and explore. A great place to start is ROMWalks, free guided tours of Toronto that include historical facts, and no registration is required. The Tour Guys offer inexpensive walking tours of various exciting Toronto spots. Along the way you can stop at some of the unique food trucks the city has to offer. Or you may want to check out a food truck festival. Canadian Food Truck Festivals lists upcoming festivals near you.
You may decide to take an always-free stroll through the GTA’s many parks and gardens. Apart from popular destinations like Edwards Gardens or Toronto’s largest public park, High Park, consider visiting the fully accessible Rosetta McClain Gardens in Scarborough and the Humber Bay Butterfly Habitat along the shores of Lake Ontario in the west end.
4. Natural wonders
Further afield, there’s an abundance of natural wonders and beautiful towns to experience. One of the most charming is Elora, and its most famous attraction, the Elora Gorge. It’s made up of 350 acres of riverside trails, scenic overlooks and some of the best trout fishing in North America. Another stunning area is the Cheltenham Badlands, one of the few places you’ll see rolling red soft rock, devoid of vegetation. The Elora Gorge and Cheltenham Badlands open for the season in May.
Toronto Field Naturalists is a volunteer-run, non-profit nature conservation group that offers over 140 guided nature walks and you can participate in various conservation efforts. The Toronto Ornithological Club has regular field trips and funds bird-related projects in the GTA. Check out Senior Toronto for more nature groups like these.
5. Lesser known
The GTA also has some unique attractions in its nooks and crannies you might not know. The Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library, part of University of Toronto, holds around 700,000 fascinating rare books and manuscripts, including a publication from 1551. A mainstay of the Toronto skyline is the Redpath Sugar Refinery, where you can tour the active factory and visit the museum.
There’s so much to see and do in the GTA — and so much of it is right in our own backyard. We hope you can get out and explore some of these amazing places and find some new ones too.