The biggest city in Canada, Toronto boasts an endless list of things to do – but sightseeing here doesn’t have to break the bank. A lot of Toronto’s best attractions are completely free. From colourful street art to fascinating galleries, this lakeside city has something for everyone. You can catch a free show, chill out on the beach, and explore Toronto’s parks and markets. Then, with all the pennies you’ve saved, you can splurge on a day trip to Niagara Falls – this incredible waterfall is just a 90-minute drive away.
Travelling to Canada on a budget? Take a look at 10 free things to do in Toronto.
Gawp at Graffiti Alley
Edgy Toronto has some truly incredible street art, but Graffiti Alley is the jewel in the crown. Officially called Rush Lane, this narrow passageway runs for three blocks from Spadina Avenue to Portland Avenue – and every inch of it is bursting with colour. This bright canvas is covered in gigantic murals, pint-sized scribbles and everything in between. Be sure to take plenty of photos, but also remember to put down your phone and simply admire the view.
Join a free walking tour
If you’re visiting Toronto in the summer months – June to October – why not get your bearings with a free walking tour? Tour Guys offer 90-minute walks around the city, taking you to the top sites and giving you the lowdown on Toronto’s history. You can tip your guide at the end if you want to, but it’s not compulsory.
Stroll through High Park
Spanning 400 acres, Toronto’s largest park is a must-visit all year round. See the pink cherry blossoms in spring, or crunch through the fallen leaves in autumn. In summer, meanwhile, High Park has lots of free events, including outdoor theatre shows. Why not pack a picnic and while away a sunny afternoon watching al fresco Shakespeare?
Wander the Art Gallery of Ontario
Boasting more than 9,000 pieces of art – ranging from contemporary works to indigenous treasures – the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) is a must-visit. If you’re lucky enough to be aged 25 or under, simply show some ID to get in for free. But if your early twenties seem like a distant memory, don’t worry – just head down to AGO on a Wednesday evening, when entry is free after 6pm.
Browse St Lawrence Market
If you’re a foodie, St Lawrence Market should definitely be on your list of things to do in Toronto. The stalls here sell sweet and savoury snacks – expect local cheeses and freshly-caught fish – and several give out samples, so can fill up on freebies if you’re on a budget. There’s also a weekly farmers market on Saturdays and an antique fair on Sundays.
Admire the skyline from the Toronto Islands
Okay, we fibbed. Technically, this one isn’t free – the ferry across to Centre Island costs $8 for adults – but it’s money well spent. And it’s much cheaper than going up the CN Tower, which would set you back $45. From the Toronto Islands, you’ll have a fantastic view of the city’s gleaming skyline, and the islands themselves are a lovely place to spend a day, with walking trails and picnic benches a-plenty.
Explore the Distillery District
Step back in time as you walk along the cobbled streets of the Distillery District. With beautiful red-brick 19th-century buildings – once home to Toronto’s whiskey distilleries – this pedestrianised area is filled with hip bars, diverse restaurants and artisan boutiques. Grab a hot drink from one of the delicious coffee houses and go exploring. There’s also a theatre and several art galleries, if you fancy a spot of culture.
Visit the Harbourfront Centre
The Harbourfront Centre always has something going on – and, more often than not, the exhibitions and events are completely free. Down on Queen’s Quay West, this cultural heart of Toronto hosts everything from music festivals and art shows, to kids’ craft sessions and ice-skating.
People-watch in Nathan Phillips Square
Sometimes, the best way to get to grips with a city is to simply chill out and people-watch. And where better to go than Nathan Phillips Square? Right in front of City Hall, this famous plaza is a hubbub of life. In summer, you can look forward to concerts and exhibitions, or go for a cooling paddle in the fountains. Later, in winter, the square gets a festive makeover with a huge ice rink and an enormous Christmas tree.
Relax on Sugar Beach
Looking at the highly Instagrammable Sugar Beach, you’d never know that it used to be a car park. Back in 2010, this industrial area was transformed into a stretch of powdery sand, complete with pink parasols and white deckchairs. After a busy day walking around Toronto, why not hit the beach, soak up some rays and watch the sail boats bobbing about on Lake Ontario? Those gorgeous views won’t cost you a penny.