Toronto is Canada's largest city and a very popular tourist destination. If you're visiting Toronto for the first time, it can seem overwhelming, with a myriad of neighbourhoods and tons of attraction choices. No one guide could ever cover everything to see and do in the city (especially given the number of seasonal festival and weekly events). Rather, this guide is designed to give you a starting point if you are travelling with small children to the region for the first time.

 

 

 

 

Toronto has two major airports (Pearson International, one of the busiest hubs in North America, and Billy Bishop Airport, on the Toronto Islands). If you arrive at Pearson you can either rent a car from one of the many in terminal kiosks, take a (very long) city bus, grab a cab, or take the UP express, which will take you directly downtown. The options range in cost, with the lowest being the city bus ($3.25 per person) to around $50 for a cab.

If you are arriving at Billy Bishop airport, there are frequent (free) shuttles that will take you to the city's transit hub of Union station. This is a great option if you aren't comfortable driving in Toronto, or if you are planning to spend most of your stay in the downtown core.

 

 

 

There are countless options for accommodations in Toronto, ranging from top-of-the-line hotels to basic AirBnB basement suites. Before deciding on which one to book, you should evaluate where you'll be spending your time and your comfort level with driving, parking, or transit. Most downtown hotels charge quite a lot for parking, and it is likely that you will also need to pay for premium parking at the attractions you visit. If you stay in a suburb, you can likely avoid a parking charge at the hotel, but will need to allow for a lot of time (and potentially stress) in getting to downtown attractions. 

Here are a couple of hotel options that work well for families looking to explore Toronto:

Sheraton City Centre

The Sheraton City Centre hotel is located less than a block from the Toronto Eaton Centre and right beside the Four Season Centre for the Arts (which is the home of the National Ballet of Canada and the Canadian Opera Company). It also connects directly to the underground PATH system, so you can travel most of the downtown core without having to put on a heavy coat. The rooms are updated and modern, although the washrooms can be a little small. The hotel has a wonderful indoor-outdoor pool with lots of lounge space. It also has a good club that features breakfast and evening offerings, as well as a full (pay) bar.

Westin Harbour Castle

The Westin chain has two locations at Toronto's waterfront, both of which are excellent. The Harbour Castle is a little further from the Jack Layton ferry terminal that connects to the beautiful Toronto Islands, but it is an easy walk to the Rogers Centre if you're in town to catch a game. Many rooms have lovely views of the harbour and the spinning restaurant at the top is a great splurge if you aren't planning to dine at the CN Tower.

Delta East

This hotel is relatively far from the downtown core and would require you to drive to all the attractions. However, the rooms are large and have a mini fridge and microwave which can be handy for snacks. There is also a wonderful pool area that has a large twirly slide and a smaller toddler slide. Be aware though that despite their relatively suburban location they charge a parking fee.

 

 

 

Toronto has something for everyone and a constantly changing slate of events and festivals. It's always worth checking the city's events calendar to be sure you're not missing out on something perfect for your family. In addition to festivals and events, there are many family attractions that operate year-round. Here are some of our top picks:

 

 

 

 

Ripley's Aquarium

Although this aquarium doesn't look huge from the outside, it is actually quite large. With many rare species, a huge shark tunnel, and a great indoor playground, your kids will absolutely love it. There is even a crawl-through shark tank, which you will likely need to find a seat near as your kids' circle around and around.

 

 

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The ROM offers a solid range of children's options, including an area devoted to allowing a more hands-on experience for kids. With period costumes to try on, a pretend dinosaur dig, and a shriek-inducing bat cave there's lots to keep your clan entertained. If you have older kids be sure to check out the gem room, which offers some amazing rock displays.

 

 

 

 

Ontario Science Centre

The science centre is located uptown and can be a bit of a pain to get to. However, it guarantees a great day for the whole family. KidSpark (designed for kids under 8) has a huge water area, a foam tile home construction zone, musical instrument lab, and a mini grocery store. The space area has a small planetarium that runs programs throughout the day - be sure to arrive well before show time as there is very limited seating capacity. The somewhat outdated science arcade in the basement remains a fun choice, with its classic static hair demonstrations and large plasma ball. In the summer there is even an outdoor exploration area where kids can explore some of the valley's ecosystem. 

 

 

 

 

CN Tower

The CN Tower is a Toronto icon and if this is your first trip to the city you should not miss it. A good approach to avoid the lines and congestion is to book a dining reservation at Restaurant 360. Although the menu is by no means inexpensive, dining there gives you access to a private elevator/line bypass and admission to the tower's observation floors after your meal. Plus, the spinning restaurant provides an incredible view of the city.

 

 

 

 

Toronto Island Parks

The Toronto Islands are an oasis of calm in a busy city. With kilometres of bike trails, several beaches, and a number of restaurants they are a great way to escape the hustle and bustle for a day. The islands are also home to Centreville, a small amusement park that is perfect for kids aged 3-8. There is also a large wading pool for smaller children, a petting farm, a hedge maze, and a great view of the city skyline.