Written by Jim Bamboulis
Saving money is always in season. Whether you’re visiting Toronto or you’re a local who loves to explore, you’ll be happy to know that there are freebies to be found. Here are 6 AMAZING attractions in the city that will leave you a lot heavier in the wallet.
Allan Gardens Conservatory
This indoor botanical garden is located downtown and dates back to 1858. Open 365 days a year, it’s been publicly accessible and free of charge since the earliest days.
It features six greenhouses. Two Tropical Houses showcase a variety of plants including orchids and begonia while a Cool Temperature House features plants from Australia and the Mediterranean. The Palm House – a personal fave – is a dome that protects a collection of palms, bananas, and tropical vines while the Tropical Landscape House gives you a glimpse at the exotic, including gingers and hibiscus. Lastly, the Arid House features cacti and succulents, including agave and aloe.
A children’s conservatory opened in 2004 and although it’s closed to the public, it does offer horticultural programs for kids.
The most disappointing aspect of Ireland Park is the fact that it’s been around for over 10 years and even locals have a hard time finding it, much less know it exists. But once found, you’ll be humbled by the history and symbolism of this very small park.
Ireland Park commemorates the tens of thousands who fled Ireland during the Great Famine in the mid-19th century. This park is a tribute to all the Irish ancestors who came hoping for a new, better life in a promising country. Five bronze sculptures from Irish artist Rowan Gillespie are featured prominently. In fact, these Toronto sculptures mirror a similar Famine Memorial in Dublin at the Custom House Quays. The figures in Dublin represent The Departure with Toronto’s representing The Arrival.
One depicts a tall, elated man with arms raised at the prospect of Toronto before him. A few steps away is a figure of a pregnant woman, who condition speaks of the prospect of a new life, new hope in a new land. Another woman is collapsed to the ground in her last moments of life, while another one is of a young boy, whose hands suggest his apprehension about his future and whether to go back or to go forward. The fifth is of a male figure, ‘Pius Mulvey’, inspired by Joseph O’Connor’s book ‘Star of the Sea’.
Tommy Thompson Park
You can always spend the money to take the ferry or even a water taxi to the Toronto Islands. Or, you can make your way further east of downtown and take advantage of spectacular skyline views of Toronto – for FREE!
Tommy Thompson is a man-made park dubbed Toronto’s Urban Wilderness. Millions of cubic metres of concrete, earth fill, and sand were used to create a 250-hectare park that extends five kilometres into Lake Ontario. Construction started in the late 50s and has since become a space to enhance, restore and protect the natural features of the land all while providing recreational activities for everyone.
Open at 4pm on weekdays and all day on weekends, you can hike, jog, roller-blade or cycle the park trails. Birdwatching is huge here too and if you’re visiting the winter, try cross-country skiing or even snow-shoeing the trails. Just be cool and respect the habitats and the surroundings!
Rouge National Urban Park
The Rouge, as it’s affectionately called by locals, is located at the very east end of Toronto. Canada’s first national urban park is open year-round and offers visitors many points of entry and everything from hiking to cycling.
It combines nature, culture and agriculture and features 1,700 species of plants and animals, some of the last operational farms in the Greater Toronto Area, Toronto’s only campground, some of Canada’s oldest known Indigenous sites, and over 10,000 years of human history.
Since 2011, Parks Canada has been working to expand the size of this urban wilderness. It will still take some time but when the expansion is complete, The Rouge will span nearly 80 square kilometres (31 sq. miles)!
Geographically, The Bluffs is an escarpment in Scarborough, an eastern suburb of Toronto. In actuality, it’s a stunning natural wonder! Made up of nine parks, the bluffs stretch 15 kilometres (9 miles) along the Lake Ontario coastline east of downtown Toronto.
Bluffers Park is one of the main parks. With ample parking and a beach, it’s also one of the more popular ones to visit. Here, you get a clear, panoramic view of the sheer cliffs that rise nearly 300 feet straight up. It’s an incredible sight to see and an experience that is unlike anything else in Toronto. Just be cool and stay safe, y’all. Erosion is a major issue here and conditions can be dangerous. If you want to take pictures and enjoy the surroundings, do so responsibly. Watch for warning signage and stay safe at all times.
BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir
One word: MIRACULOUS!
Located in the northwest corner of Toronto, BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir is a traditional Hindu place of worship. Spread over 18 acres, it is home to the largest mandir in Canada. In fact, in an age when road and building construction seem to go on forever, the mandir was built in only 18 months, constructed according to ancient Hindu scriptures and consists of 24,000 pieces of hand-carven Italian Carrara marble, Turkish limestone and Indian pink stone.
In fact, during construction all 24,000 pieces were first shipped to India. There, they were carved and polished before being shipped back to Toronto. Here, 400+ volunteers helped to assemble them and construct the structure into what it is today!
The mandir’s cultural centre, the haveli, is an intricately carved wooden facade in the form of traditional Indian architectural style. Inside, you’ll find a courtyard surrounded by teak and rosewood columns with motifs that include mythological stories, the sun and the moon and various animals. The mandir is open daily to visitors and for worship. As always, respect the rules and the surroundings!
Here’s a map. Go!
Hey y’all. I’m Jim. That kid went on to spend 16 years in the broadcast media world before starting up Travel Mammal, a site dedicated to working with brands to promote travel, food and cultural experiences.
Travel Mammal isn’t about the selfie or checking things off a list. It’s about experiencing both the journey and the destination. To breathe, learn and really absorb what’s around you, in the moment and experiencing in a way that is both memorable and meaningful.
Happy travels, y’all.