Toronto: 5 Family Favorites
Toronto is Canada’s most densely populated city, but it doesn’t feel that way. From the air it’s all green spaces and endless water. The impression that holds up upon closer inspection, though the city is cosmopolitan and urban by turns too.
My daughter and I spent four days in and around Toronto in June, and came away very impressed. The same things that make the city so darn livable make it very visitable too. Here are five fun things to do there with kids.
1. Look down on other people
It takes just 58 seconds to travel to the 114th floor of the CN Tower, but try not to hold your breath. The glass floor on the 113th floor is the main attraction. Go ahead and stand on it—it’s allegedly strong enough to withstand the weight of 14 hippos and has a view straight down. After that, journey higher to the Sky Pod (147 stories up), or just grab lunch at Horizons Restaurant.
The CN Tower may not hold the title of “tallest building” (an honor that goes to a skyscraper still under construction in Dubai) or even “tallest freestanding structure” (a mostly-underwater oil platform in the Gulf of Mexico), but it was more than tall enough for us.
2. Get your science on
The Ontario Science Centre actually convinced me that educational museums can be fun—it’s that good. In fact, I might still be playing with the amazing hydraulaphone (a cross between a flute, a drinking fountain, and a pipe organ) near the museum’s entrance if duty hadn’t called.
My daughter and I also enjoyed goofing around with the 3-D pin toy in the KidSpark exhibit, reserved for children 8 and under and their caregivers. Other highlights included an interactive floor, a bobsled simulator, and the electricity show, in which a Van de Graaf electrostatic generator is used to demonstrate static electricity (not to mention really bad hair).
3. Go back in time
The impressive Royal Ontario Museum is Canada’s largest museum of world cultures and natural history. Try not to arrive tired, because you’ll run out of energy long before you run out of interest. With small kids, head straight to the second floor where the Natural History galleries are housed. The Gallery of Birds is absolutely fascinating with hundreds of diverse species mounted in mid-air in a single flock.
Other hits with kids are the dinosaur and mammal galleries (which feature 60 complete dinosaur skeletons and artifacts such as fossilized birds, insects, and the ever-popular dinosaur poop) and the first peoples gallery (with birch bark canoes, beautiful native North American bead work, and Sioux chief Sitting Bull’s headdress).
If your reserves aren’t tapped out, the Earth’s Treasures should be your final stop. The ROM’s collection of minerals, gems, meteorites and rocks will knock even the smallest socks off the most tired feet.
4. Get out of town
Toronto is a pretty leafy place, but if you’ve got an urge for wide open spaces you won’t have to go far. Just 20 minutes from downtown is the 200-year-old village of Unionville where you can browse the shops, have lunch and stroll down historic Main Street. Unionville often dresses up as small-town America for films, television, and commercials, and visiting is like stepping back in time.
Just up the road from Unionville are the Forsythe Family Farms (usually open May through October) which have everything kids love: animals, wagon rides, and plenty of room to play. Spring brings baby animals to feed and hold, and in the fall there are hedge mazes and pumpkins. Their Enchanted Forest is the antidote to modern life: a 25-minute walk through the woods punctuated by wooden storybook scenes.
Hikers will love the York Regional Forest, a lovely series of rustic tracts crisscrossed with paths, streams, and very little else. Owls, fox, deer, and turkeys make their homes here as does poison ivy (so stay on the trails).
5. Visit the falls
By far the best way to see both Bridal Veil Falls (on the American side) and Horseshoe Falls (on the Canadian side) is from aboard the Maid of the Mist boats. You suit up in blue disposable rain ponchos and cruise past both falls on a 30-minute tour.
There’s a running audio commentary, but we couldn’t really hear it over the shrieks and laughter of the passengers. The spray as you pass Horseshoe Falls is equivalent to standing under a cold shower, and the sound is a lot like thunder.
If time allows, hit the local IMAX theater (on the Canadian side) for a showing of “Niagara: Legends and Daredevils.” It’s predictably overwrought, but enjoyable. As you exit the show, you pass through the Daredevil Gallery which houses a historical collection of scraped and dented barrels that survived the plunge over the falls, though five of their numbskull passengers did not.