Winter break is on and school is out—now what? There are plenty of amazing shows to see and museums to visit in Toronto during the Christmas break, but if you’re looking for something more budget-friendly—as in, completely free—look no further. These fun events and activities don’t cost a penny!
Note: Many of these family-friendly New Year’s Eve celebrations are free, too!
Head over to the West Island of Ontario Place for a free fun-filled winter program, with the Winter Light Exhibition featuring 18 dazzling light exhibits, skating, and roasting marshmallows and s’mores by the bonfire. Skate rentals are available on weekends.When: Nov. 23–Mar. 17; most activities 3–11 pm, but check for specific start times
Where: Ontario Place, 955 Lake Shore Blvd. W., Toronto
Play outdoors in the children’s garden, skate on the Koerner Gardens rink (rentals available), or give street curling a whirl. Shop local food vendors and the Holiday Market and make some s’mores over the open fire.When: Dec. 1–22 weekends only (10 am–5 pm), Dec. 24 (10 am–3 pm), and daily Dec. 26–31 (10 am–5 pm)
Where: Evergreen Brick Works, 550 Bayview Ave., Toronto
More than 80,000 Christmas lights decorate the Boardwalk and The Beach from the Leuty Lifeguard House to the Balmy Beach Club through the winter season. Take a walk along the shores of Lake Ontario to see the illuminated oak, maple and willow trees.When: Nov. 30–late Feb., nightly
Where: At the foot of Leuty Ave., Toronto
Every year since 1965, the City of Toronto has presented a free Christmas concert in the City Hall Rotunda. Beginning at noon, this year’s concert features the Toronto Mass Choir, the Pan Fantasy Steelband, Tower Brass, and the Toronto Beaches Children’s and Youth Chorus. Special guest appearance by Santa Claus.When: Dec. 20, noon–1 pm
Where: Toronto City Hall, 100 Queen St. W., Toronto
The longest, darkest night of the year becomes one of the brightest at this annual event (28 years running!) in Kensington Market, one of the city’s most beloved neighbourhoods.When: Dec. 21, from 6:30 pm (parade at 7 pm)
Where: Departs from St. Stephen’s Community House, 260 Augusta Ave., Toronto
Parks Canada volunteers lead themed walks through Canada’s first urban national park. Learn about plants, the Mast Trail, First Nations, archeology, and more, all in the context of Rouge Park, in Scarborough.When: Saturdays, Sundays, and Wednesdays (Dec. 22, 23; Jan. 2, 5, 6); times vary Where: Rouge National Urban Park; each walk has a different meeting point — see the website for details
See animated art on a massive scale projected onto the exterior walls of the Aga Khan Museum, and enjoy a hot drink and free art installations.When: Dec. 27–30, 5–9 pm
Where: Aga Khan Museum, 77 Wynford Dr.
If you’ve heard of the polar bear dip, you’ve got the idea! Participants will strip down to their knickers to skate at this first-ever event at The Bentway Skate Trail under the Gardiner. Brrr! Registrants can warm up with free hot chocolate and are entered to win a special prize pack.When: Dec. 30, 1:30–3 pm
Where: The Bentway Skate Trail, 250 Fort York Blvd., Toronto
Warm up at an indoor botanical garden whose six greenhouses are filled with tropical plants, palms, and arid desert plants. The winter flower show features seasonal topiary masterpieces and more than 30 varieties of poinsettia.
When: December 2–January 9, 10 am–5 pm (to 7 pm on weekends before Christmas)
Where: Allan Gardens Conservatory, 19 Horticultural Ave., Toronto
Every year, some 500 people dare to dip by jumping into the frigid waters of Lake Ontario on New Year’s Day. Participate or cheer on or hold a towel for one of the brave souls or teams raising money. This year, the charity event supports Boost Child and Youth Advocacy Centre.When: Jan. 1 at noon
Where: Sunnyside Beach, Lake Shore Blvd. and Parkside Dr.
Free Events at the Toronto Public Library
In addition to being a valuable resource for an endless flow of books and movies, your neighbourhood library is likely also hosting special, kid-oriented events this winter break. These often free activities include everything from puppet shows to noon-time New Year’s Eve parties.When: Various dates Various TPL branches
Where: Find your local Toronto Public Library branch.
Just because it’s cold outside doesn’t mean you have to stay indoors! Grab the kids and head to one of the city’s 50 free outdoor rinks. Skate and helmet rentals are available at many rinks for a fee, and skate rentals are free on Thursday evenings at The Bentway.
Free Ice Skating Rinks
The Bentway Skate Trail – 250 Fort York Blvd., Toronto
Natrel Rink – Harbourfront Centre
Ontario Place Skating Rink – Ontario Place
City of Toronto outdoor rinks – see list of all locations
If the snow is falling and the sun is shining, get outside! Check out Toronto’s best sledding hills for some downhill thrills during winter break.