Holiday gift giving time is upon us. That means the pressure’s on to find the perfect toy or article of clothing—for the kid whose closets and toy bins are already bursting at the seams. Not to mention the pressure to have the time to run out and find it.

Why not take a different approach to gift giving? Toys are broken or forgotten, clothes are grown out of, but memories never fade. These experiential gifts are meaningful and can be used long after Christmas is over.

To get the ball rolling, here are some some of the best local experience gift ideas for kids. 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.

Museums

For a gift that’s educational, fun, and involves spending quality time together, consider museum tickets or memberships. The Royal Ontario Museum, Art Gallery of Ontario, and Ontario Science Centre all have tickets and family memberships available to purchase in advance. Kids’ tickets $11–$16; annual family memberships: ROM $161, AGO $145, Ontario Science Centre from $125.

Zoos

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. Tickets for the zoo are less than $30 for kids, and a family membership is less than $200. Kids’ tickets $14 winter, $19 summer; annual family membership $173.

Aquariums

If snorkeling 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, with a behind-the-scenes tour and in-water activities. Ripley’s also offers an Overnight Reef Adventure slumber party, where families can have some hands-on educational experiences and sleep in the Dangerous Lagoon shark tunnel. Budding marine biologists ages 14 and up can be an Aquarist for a Day, feeding the sharks, touring the animal care areas, monitoring water quality, and more. Regular visit tickets are $25 for kids. Kids’ tickets $25, Stingray Experience and Overnight Reef Adventure $99/person each (kids must be accompanied by a paying adult), Aquarist for a Day $175/person.

Local Attractions

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!

Kid-Friendly Symphony

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 5 – 12. And with the reasonable price point of less than $30, they are very accessible.

Climbing Gyms

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 kd-friendly climbing gyms in Toronto and the GTA.

Outdoor Activities

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. 

Helicopter Tours

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

Movie Passes

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.

Sporting Events

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.

Kids’ Spas

Yes, a spa day for kids! Kids can play grown-up at kid-specific spas like Glama Gals Tween Spa, which has six GTA locations, 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.

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