Toronto on a budget: 5 activities that won’t cost a fortune

Toronto sign at city hall

Toronto is a vibrant youthful city, full of students and young graduates looking to get out of their comfort zone and to make a home in a new city. Relocating to another city, on a long or a short term basis, always incurs some expense and if you’re not careful, your costs can stack up quicker than you realise. However that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t enjoy yourself at the new place that you call home. Toronto is a city that feeds off its natural environment: on the banks of Lake Ontario, the city’s flat, open avenues are made for exploration. If you’re planning on spending some time in this Canadian city, here some tips for things to see and do without breaking the bank.

1Go swimming for free in Alexandra Park Outdoor Pool

outdoor swimming pool at dusk in Toronto, free of any swimmers

Image courtesy of Chris Brooker.

Canada is a country that is so often associated with the snow but don’t forget that they have some spectacular summer weather. Make the most of it while you can and take a dip in the Alexandra Park Pool, a really hidden gem of this neighbourhood, I only discovered it by accident when I was out for a Sunday stroll. Located just behind the community centre, the pool is free to all users with lane swimming as well as swimming lessons and aqua fit classes available. If you’d rather just chill by the pool rather than work up a sweat, there is plenty of space to sunbathe as well as a couple of small kiosk-style shops next door. If Alexandra Park is a bit far for you, check the city's website for a full list of their 57 outdoor swimming pools.

275 Bathurst Street

2Take a Trip to Centre Island

couple sitting on a bench on the beach at Centre Island looking out at Lake Ontario

Image courtesy of Derek Hatfield.

If you love to swim and feel that the confines of Alexandra Park are too small for you, you could go one better and swim in Lake Ontario itself! Centre Island can be reached by ferry from the port at Queen’s Quay and despite the crossing only taking around 10 minutes, it feels a world away. If you are going to Centre Island it’s best to make a day of it: the island has plenty of beaches where you can swim, as well as a children’s theme park called Centreville. As you have to pay-per-ride however, your costs here could end up spiralling. Pack a picnic to cut down on costs and rent bikes instead and explore the more tranquil parts of the island.

Ferry crossings take place every 15 minutes during peak season and costs $7 for an adult return and $4.50 for seniors and students.

3Go Ice Skating for Free at the Harbourfront Centre

People ice-skating at the Harbourfront Centre in Downtown Toronto

Image courtesy of Fiona Wen Hui C.

Swimming in Lake Ontario in the winter months, however exhilarating it may sound is really not advisable. A thrifty alternative however is to partake in another activity the Canadians seem to excel at: ice-skating. Ice rinks pop up all over the city during the winter months, but admission to the Natrel Rink at the Harbourfront Centre is free if you bring your own skates, or $8 to rent a pair. Night-time DJ sets regularly occur if you fancy a night of danicng on ice. There’s also a café/restaurant alongside the rink if you see ice-skating as more of spectator’s sport.

235 Queen’s Quay West

4Catch an Outdoor Movie in Yonge & Dundas Square

Yonge & Dundas Square in downtown Toronto lit up at dusk with the bright lights of the billboards while rain puddles can be seen in the foreground

Image courtesy of Larry Koester.

Toronto’s film industry has blossomed in recent years with the city attracting many big-budget film crews on a regular basis. Cinemas are pretty easy to come by and are a great wintertime activity to enjoy alone or with friends. During the warmer months, the cinema, much like everything else in Toronto, moves outdoors. Head to the city's central intersection of Yonge & Dundas with a blanket and some snacks to enjoy the evening. Summertime screenings also take place in the Harbourfront Centre and if you still want to be by the water, head to Sugar Beach near the Distillery District where a double-sided screen lets you watch from the dock or by boat from the lake.

5Step back in Time in Cabbagetown

shaggy-haired horse being petted by onlookers at Riverdale Farm in Cabbagetown, Toronto

Image courtesy of The City of Toronto.

The trendy Cabbagetown neighbourhood is a great place to base yourself for a stay in Toronto, with a great sense of community and lots of nice cafes for you to chill in. The Riverdale Park and Farm is a great, family-friendly place to spend the day. The working farm demonstrates farming and life in Toronto in the early twentieth century and has a weekly farmers market, walking trails and plenty of farm animals that you can get up close with. You can even stay with our friendly Cabbagetown hosts, Tim and Nick, while you're there.

201 Winchester Street

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