I like to remind Torontonians – and city dwellers everywhere – that you don’t have to spend much for entertainment, if anything at all, when the summer sun is high. Take Toronto as an example of where the opportunities for free summer fun and activities are practically boundless. From concerts, galleries and movies, to beaches, parks, and cultural urban adventures, Toronto, like most big cities, has tons to offer those who’d rather keep their dollars in the cool shade of their purse or wallet.
Here is a list of things to see and do in Toronto this August. It is by no means the whole story, which is why I encourage you to get your fingers in gear and surf the net to explore other free offerings (especially applicable to Torontonians in light of the city’s diverse ethnic diaspora).
• Relax with a free movie in the great outdoors.
• Free outdoor movies are a beloved Toronto tradition, which only seems to be getting better with each passing year. Along with popular venue such as Yonge-Dundas Square and Harbourfront, the Sail-In Cinema is set to return to the Corus Quay area in August. Catch four to five films if you like, just check the screenings, which you will find listed here.
• Enjoy a free concert by the Canadian Opera Company (COC).
Go to the heart of downtown Toronto and take in free lunchtime performances by a variety of artists who perform in The COC's Free Concert Series at the Four Seasons Centre and R. Fraser Elliott Hall. The centre's amphitheatre is a compelling venue given its glass facade, which offers views of busy University Avenue.
• Perk up your ears for concerts at the Harbourfront Centre and Mel Lastman Square.
Through September, Toronto’s Harbourfront Centre is a lively venue for music, with live shows at Mel Lastman Square featuring everything from orchestras and jazz ensembles, to pop and rock and rock acts, and more. Google Harbourfront Centre for listings.
• Explore Toronto’s museums.
Toronto has splendid museums, which generously offer free admission once a week. The Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) offers free admission to post-secondary students on Tuesdays, as well as free general admission every Wednesday from 4:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. The Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) does the same on Wednesdays from 6:00 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Meanwhile, pay-what-you-can nights are held at the Bata Shoe Museum on Thursdays between 5:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m. and the Textile Museum of Canada on Wednesdays between 5:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m. The Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art (MOCCA) is always pay-what-you-can.
• Keep your cool at Woodbine Beach.
A pleasant streetcar ride from downtown will take you east along Queen Street all the way to the Beach. Here you can swim and frolic with friends and family, breath in the Beach neighbourhood’s charm, and tickle your toes in the sand, playing volleyball, chasing Frisbees, picnicking, or simply soaking up the sun and catching up on some summer reading.
• Stroll or cycle the paths of Toronto Islands.
Sometimes people need to be reminded that Toronto is blessed with a wonderful set of islands just offshore its downtown. The islands are great for strolling, hiking, and biking – and they are ideal for family outings. Explore hidden beaches and wild groves; take in the charming surroundings of the rustic cottages on Ward Island, or enjoy sports and recreation facilities on Centre Island. Then picnic as you take in a glorious view of Toronto’s downtown skyline.
• Bath in the scent of beautiful blooms at Allan Gardens Conservatory.
Allan Gardens is a beautiful thing to behold, with six Victorian-style greenhouses containing flowers and plant species from around the world. Whatever your level of interest in gardening, you will appreciate the diverse selection of blossoms.
• Stargaze at York University's Observatory.
You ought to see what the heavens look like from Earth on a clear night - they are spectacular. Do so through August by visiting the observatory at York University, with free public stargazing sessions on Wednesday nights. You can even snap photos of the stars with your own camera.
• Stubble jump at Riverdale Farm.
A visit to Riverdale Farm in the heart of Toronto’s Cabbagetown neighbourhood is always fun, especially for families with little ones. It’s an authentic farm covering several acres within which you will find forested paths and trails, farm animals – including horses, cows, pigs and chickens – as well as vegetable and flower gardens. Every Tuesday, from mid afternoon into the early evening, the park adjacent to the farm also hosts a farmers’ market.
• Explore the Don Valley.
Toronto’s Don Valley amounts to a vast, mostly wild urban park that is a treasure for a big city. A paved trail, as well as natural trails, make it a pleasure to experience by foot, bicycle, or roller blades. Beech trees, maple trees, and a lush undergrowth of foliage – along with verdant groves and lovely meadows - flourish alongside the deep green waters of the Don River. Visit Toronto's Discovery Walks program online for information about routes for exploration.
• Take in the Distillery District.
There is a splendid ambience to the national historic site that was once a whiskey distillery in the 1800s in east downtown Toronto. The Distillery District is now a cultural enclave, allowing for pedestrian traffic only along charming cobblestone streets, which are lined with galleries, restaurants, and boutiques. Special events are scheduled throughout the summer. Get online to check them out.
• Spend a day with the National Film Board (NFB).
Come noon each Saturday, the NFB in downtown Toronto opens its doors for family fun with free animation screenings. As well, a number of short films are selected each week and each program is a family-friendly 30 minutes. While you're there, or on a separate visit, check out the NFB's digital viewing stations. You can choose from over 5,000 documentaries in English or French.
• Feast your eyes on local artwork at Toronto Free Gallery.
See interesting exhibits about social, cultural and environmental issues at The Toronto Free Galley. You’ll find a sometimes eccentric, but always engaging, collection of work by artists concerned about issues that affect us all. The displays are always changing, so drop in for free anytime.
There you go. A few fun options to consider to round out a summer of free fun.