Ten Free or Low Budget Things to Do in Toronto in Winter

I remember when I first came to Toronto, it was 2012. I went on a road trip to Montreal and I couldn't wrap my head around why it was snowing at the start of May. It was something I hadn't witnessed before. I'd seen snow in England and other places, but I'd never seen it coming down in May. Usually in England, we might get the last flurry in early March, but that would be few and far between and that's my memory going back. 

My favorite season in England is spring as it starts to warm up and all the flowers come out. That usually happens around the start of April. So for me to see snow coming down in May, caused me to shake my head to check I wasn't imagining it. 

You can always tell when someone is on day 1 in Canada. They'll try to record the snow on their phones. I remember 10 years ago when phones only had 10 pixels. Those videos were as much use as a chocolate teapot, or as some say, a helicopter ejector seat.

Fast forward to now, I'm going to share 10 free or low budget things you can do in Toronto in the winter. These are 10 things that you can do on a budget and to be honest, they're worth doing anyways, regardless of budget.  


1) AGO


Seriously, the Art Gallery of Ontario is really good. If you book a ticket on a Wednesday night, it is free. You do need to book a ticket online to get free admission. They release these tickets on Mondays. If you'd like to get up to 4 for free then Book your free tickets here. If you're looking to pair this with other options, across the street, there is the Village Genius which is usually quite lively on a Wednesday evening. This pub used to be called the Village Idiot which is a common expression in England, but changed it's name to fit in with modern political correctness. Another option if you're brave enough is to check out the lights at Dundas Square and people watch. That one is free and there's public transportation right there if you're heading onwards after. 



2) BATA Shoe Museum


General Admission to the BSM is free on Sundays. Repeat. Free on Sundays. I must admit, they do a great job of educating the visitor on shoes. When I think of shoes, my mind wonders to Christian Louboutin - those $1000 shoes that many gush over. However, the museum has a great curation that even touches on Nike Air Max. Their Dressed to Impress collection also includes Reebok Pumps! I might be giving my age away here, but I have fond memories of pumping those tongues up, just to release the air - rinse and repeat. The Bata shoe museum is a five story building on Bloor and St George. If you're looking to pair it with something, I'd say take a walk along Bloor heading west. You'll find plenty of neat little shops in the Annex, and if that doesn't tickle your fancy then grab some Pork Bone Soup in Korea Town. That'll warm you up. 

BATA Shoe museum


3) Riverdale Park


The City of Toronto literally has designated areas for tobogganing - You can find those here. If you're looking for sunsets (clear skies), City views or to get that adrenaline going then Riverdale Park East is worth a visit. I used to live nearby to this park and always enjoyed it when it snowed. Even if you don't own a toboggan, there are lots of people there with them if you want to people watch or in my case, if you ask, someone might lend you one. Just south of Riverdale Park East is ChinaTown east. This is a great place to get some food if you've found yourself hungry after a day on the slope. 

Riverdale park in winter


4) Distillery district


This one is allover Instagram and to be fair, rightly so as it's a gem for winter photos. I have to admit that I'm kind of a bit like a moth, whenever I see Christmas lights, or lights in general, I'm drawn towards them. The Distillery district is a great place to wonder around. If you're looking to stretch your legs further, there are great views of the City at the Polsen Pier skyline viewpoint. Just make sure to wrap up warm as it'll be mighty chilly on the waters edge. 

Cool little tidbit for you. The Distillery district was once home to Gooderham and Worts Distillery - if the name sounds familiar, perhaps you've heard of the Gooderham building near the St Lawrence Market. That was built by George Gooderham to act as the offices for the company. If you're unfamiliar with the building, it's Toronto's version on the Flat Iron Building in New York (see below)

Gooderham building


5) St. Lawrence Market


If you're heading to the Gooderham building, then you might as well pair it with the St Lawrence Market. Just over a decade ago, National Geographic voted the market the number 1 in the world. What does that mean? Well, if you like fresh food then this is a really good place to visit. Sometimes, I go just for the smells - the herb and spice store on the ground floor is an excellent way to slow time down. One of the famous staples here is a Peameal bacon sandwich. Peameal bacon is pork loin that is rolled in cornmeal. An important thing to note about the market is it's opening hours, I've visited once when the doors were locked and let me tell you, it crushed me. You can find the hours here.


St Lawrence market


6) Grafitti Alley


Keeping on the track of free things to do in Toronto, Grafitti alley is something I enjoy. Let's rewind the clock for a moment and explore the history of Grafitti. I was on a tour in New York in years gone by where it was explained that Grafitti was a form of expression for urban youth, as a way to mark territory or convey social and political messages. One example is a tag, you might have seen these out and about, which is usually a name, sometimes followed by a number in usually one color and style. 

Let's pretend there is someone who is called Jack and they live on 110th street, New York. Jack would tag trains and write Jack 110 so when those trains went allover New York, people would know who Jack from 110th street is. 

Other forms of grafitti are called burners. This is where someone might take their tag, but make it into a high quality, elaborate design. You've likely seen these where a word is drawn in larger letters with colors and design. Burners are like the top-tier of graffiti art, showcasing the artist's talent and style.

Then there is the art itself, many artists graduate from tagging, to burners, to formal training. Art - that is what Rush Lane (Grafitti Alley's real name) is covered in. I personally love seeing the art work and have respect for the artists who are expressing themselves. My favorite building in Toronto is 530 R Richmond Street West. If you've been there, you'll know the one - It's a giant sea that spans the whole building. 

Rush Lane is approx 1 km long and sits just off Spadina and Queen. If you'd like to learn more, there are walking tour companies that can guide you through the streets. 

Grafitti alley


7) The Beltline


Sticking with the outdoors, next up on the free things or the low budget list is the Toronto Beltline. A few cities around the world have converted their old train tracks into park areas, look at the High Line in New York City. The Beltline in Toronto is the same ilk. If you're looking to escape the City without leaving the City then walking the Beltline is a good option. If you're really looking to stretch your legs then Mount Pleasant cemetery and the Evergreen Brickworks have plenty of walking space. 



8) Toronto drop in programs


This one is often overlooked, but honestly, there are so many great programs in Toronto that are free. Whether you want to play indoor pickle ball or get some swimming time in, there are programs that can be found to keep you active. It's a great way to keep your winter weight in check (speaking for myself here). Click here to see which programs are offered on the City of Toronto website.

Ice skating


9) Allen Gardens Conservatory


While it may get cold outside, a visit to the conservatory can warm you up. The conservatory is divided into different climate zones, such as tropical, arid, and palm house, creating a unique and lush environment. While the weather outside is frightful, besides the cactus, it's delightful. It's a perfect spot for nature lovers and those seeking a peaceful retreat in the heart of the city. My favorite part of the botanical gardens is that it is free! Making it a place to spend time, save money and looks at plants. According to researchers Stamatakis and Mitchell, nature contributes to your physical wellbeing, reducing blood pressure, muscle tension, heart rate and the production of stress hormones. 

Allan gardens


10) The ROM


It's the final thing on this list. I hope you've found some inspiration or at least something free to do in the city. Whether you're looking for a date spot, a place to hang with friends or even to fly solo! Please let us know if you have any questions. 

Time for the final thing, the ROM. Usually the ROM has an entrance fee, however on the third Tuesday of each month (as of Dec 2023) they have free entry. You can Find out what nights are free here. The ROM is short of the Royal Ontario Museum. It is one of the largest museums in North America. If you like history or culture, it'll be sure to wow. If you'd prefer something a little different and don't mind spending some money, they do have parties at the ROM which are called RAD (ROM after dark). Being able to walk the dance floor with dinosaurs and a drink is something a bit different.