The season of gift-giving is upon us. That means the pressure is on to find the perfect toy—for the kid whose toy bin is already bursting at the seams—and to find the time to run out and search for it.
Why not take a different approach to gift giving this year? Toys are broken or forgotten, but memories never fade. The gift of a meaningful experience can be used long after Christmas is over.
To get the ball rolling, here are some of the best local experience gift ideas for kids in the Toronto area. Of course, there are always the big-ticket experiences that you can surprise the kids with, too, like a weekend at Great Wolf Lodge or tickets to Disney World. But the locally focused ideas here are things you can enjoy right in or near the city.
Art and Science Museums
For a gift that’s educational, fun, and involves spending quality time together, consider museum tickets, gift cards (which can be redeemed for admission), or memberships. The Royal Ontario Museum, Art Gallery of Ontario, and the Ontario Science Centre are just a few options.
Zoos and Aquariums
The Toronto Zoo has more than 5,000 animals representing more than 450 species, as well as the interactive Kids Zoo, Splash Island, and the Waterside Theatre. Gift tickets and gift memberships are available. Reptilia Zoo (Vaughan and Whitby) has annual memberships for just $60 per child. African Lion Safari, in Cambridge, has season passes and gift cards.
If snorkelling with a stingray and a sleepover with sharks sound like fun, look no further than Ripley’s Aquarium. Exciting experiences for kids include the two-hour Stingray Experience, an Overnight Reef Adventure slumber party, and Aquarist for a Day (ages 14+), where budding marine biologists learn to feed sharks, monitor water quality, and more. You can also buy individual anytime tickets ($25 for ages 6–13).
As well as enjoying the spectacular views from the two observation levels of the CN Tower ($26 for kids ages 4–12), this former world’s tallest freestanding structure now offers the bone-chilling experience of the world’s highest hands-free external building walk, EdgeWalk (for ages 13+). Or you can purchase a Sea the Sky combo ticket for the CN Tower and Ripley’s Aquarium. Kids’ tickets $25, EdgeWalk $225/person, Sea the Sky kids’ ticket $36.
It’s always fun to tour Casa Loma, Toronto’s own castle, and tickets can be purchased for $17 for children ages 4–13. Exploring the building, stables, and gardens is a day in itself, but the venue also hosts events throughout the year, which have included archery lessons, gingerbread house decorating, and the Become a Knight workshop. Just check the website for Casa Loma’s latest events.
For a great gift involving most of the above attractions, a CityPASS ($58 for kids ages 4–12) is available for admission to the CN Tower, Casa Loma, ROM, Ripley’s Aquarium, and Toronto Zoo or Ontario Science Centre. The CityPASS booklet costs $58 for kids 4 – 12 and is good for nine consecutive days and must be begun within six months of purchase, so your giftee must be prepared for a whirlwind week-and-a-half!
Toronto Symphony Orchestra
Another way to get your kids that much-needed taste of culture is to buy them tickets to the Toronto Symphony Orchestra. You won’t have fidgety kids with the fun, family-focused Young People’s Concerts. From percussion performances using household objects to animated musical action, these 60-minute concerts are perfect for kids ages 5–12. And with the reasonable price point of less than $30, they are very accessible.
Instead of the kids climbing on the furniture, a great experience to give them would be a day pass or membership to a climbing gym like Boulderz. There are many different membership options, including monthly, yearly, and 10-visit packs. Day passes are usually under $10 and rental shoes and harnesses are available. Find kid-friendly climbing gyms in Toronto and the GTA.
A wonderful way to enjoy the great outdoors, no matter the season, is by taking part in organized outings with outfitters like Toronto Adventures. This company offers guided outdoor activities and day trips year-round, including dog-sledding, snowshoeing, kayaking, stand-up paddleboarding, horseback riding, and moose spotting in Algonquin Park. All trips are accessible either by TTC or by shuttle provided by the company. Adventures individually priced, from $30/person; a $20 membership offers major discounts.
Speaking of adventure, Helitours will take you and your family high above the city for an exciting experience among the clouds. It’s not cheap, but it is unforgettable! $99/person
If your kids are movie buffs, movie passes are a great gift. Cineplex is the obvious choice—with so many theatres in the GTA, there’s always a few kids’ movies to choose from. Gift cards in amounts from $10 to $200.
Sports fans are sure to appreciate a ticket to a game to cheer on the local team: you can score tickets for the Toronto Raptors (basketball), Mississauga Steelheads (junior hockey), Guelph Storm (junior hockey), Toronto Rock (lacrosse), and more. Find what’s coming up on Ticketmaster.
Yes, a spa day for kids! Kids can play grown-up at kid-specific spas like Glama Gal Kids Spa, which has seven locations in Toronto and southern Ontario, and Petite and Posh (Woodbridge) or get a mani/pedi at a “grown-up” spa that modifies treatments for children. Gift cards available in any amount; prices vary by treatment.
Event or Show Tickets
Take it from one who knows, kids will remember seeing The Phantom of the Opera for their entire lives! Whether it’s a splashy performance at Lower Ossington Theatre, Disney on Ice, a live kids’ band, a family-friendly classical music concert, or Medieval Times, a special afternoon or evening out is a memorable gift and a great way to spend quality time together. Prices vary by treatment.