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We are self-proclaimed Canada lovers and have had our eye on Toronto for a very long time! I think it wasn’t at the top of our list because we dismissed it as a big city that doesn’t have as much history as New York or Chicago. I don’t know why I do that! Why prejudged place you have never been? But I did it and I apologize Toronto! You are way cooler than I imagined.
Toronto is a big city, the 4th largest in North America to be exact. It recently beat out Chicago to make it the 4th largest, but I would compare it in size and feeling to Chicago. They are both built along a Great Lake, they both have walkable down towns, and they are both cooooold in the winter!
Toronto is also an expensive city. If you are coming from the U.S. like we are you will find that restaurants and admission prices are significantly more than their counterparts in the U.S. Even with the stronger U.S. dollar it will be pricier.
That’s where CityPASS came in for our family. We looked at what we wanted to do in Toronto and saw that we could save 36% on admissions to the top sites.
My oldest son had the entire week of Thanksgiving off from school, and this year the rest of us decided to take the week off as well and go to Toronto! My cousin and her 4 kids joined us, so our crew was much bigger than normal.
CityPASS enabled us to skip a lot of ticket lines and with 7 kids between us that was a big bonus!
Ripley aquarium was our very first stop using our CityPASS. We chose to go here first because it is next door to the CN tower, and therefore we could see two big attractions in one day.
We have been to more aquariums than I can count, and this one was on a par with the Atlanta aquarium or the Boston aquarium–large, but not too overwhelming for younger kids.
Beautiful, unique and some gruesome looking fish are in tanks all around you. Most have some interactive learning displays so your kids can do things other than just look.
Our favorite was an arched tank that had a moving walkway running through it. You could ride along while looking at sharks, sting rays and other fish. Sharks swim over your head and you feel immersed in the tank.
The Jellyfish were another highlight. The lighting in the jellyfish tanks made the jellyfish glow different colors and appear to be ever changing sculptures.
There are two touch tanks for your brave little ones. One features small sharks and the bigger tank has sting rays.
Tips: Don’t make the mistake we made and think that you have reached the end when you get to the cafe. There are still lots of exhibits. We thought we were finished and the kids were getting cranky, then we saw there was more aquarium!
Plan on 2-3 hours
The CN tower is the tallest tower in North America and, until 2007, was the tallest building in the world. There is an observatory at the top of the tower that gives you a great view of the city of Toronto. Plus it is part of CityPASS. This was the surprise hit with the whole gang! All of the kids said it was their favorite attraction in Toronto.
We wanted good pictures from the top, so we chose to ascend the tower at 3:00 in the afternoon when the sun was a bit lower in the sky.
Keaton (our youngest) was terrified to go up so high. We stood outside the tower and looked up, and I will admit it does seem ridiculously tall. We talked him up until he meekly agreed to go. The fact that his cousins were there and weren’t afraid seemed to help him.
We picked up our tickets and took the elevator up 1,122 feet. The wait for the elevator was only 5 minutes but there was a lot of space for a very long queue. Some of the elevators have a window so you can watch the rapid ascent (or descent, as the case may be). Keaton kept his head buried in my side. When we reached the observation deck, he relaxed quite a bit.
The observation floor has floor-to-ceiling windows and offers a 360 degree view of the city of Toronto. We picked out interesting buildings, looked for cool cars, and generally enjoyed the view.
A staircase leads down to another observation deck. This one has an outdoor platform (really windy) and the terrifying glass floors. These glass floors can hold up so much weight that multiple elephants could march across them, but I couldn’t make myself do it!! My kids delighted in jumping on them and laying face down on the glass, even Keaton!!!
There is a cafe for snacks and a bathroom on the observation floor.
There’s a larger cafe in the basement with several phone chargers, which came in handy. My phone died just before we were to ascend, and I had to charge it in order to access our CityPASS tickets.
Strollers can go up the elevator easily and would be a great idea.
Plan on 2 hours during the off season and longer in the summer.
I can’t say for sure that we would have spent the money to go to Casa Loma if it hadn’t been included in CityPASS. The entrance fee is $30 and kids are $20, but as we wanted to get the most out of our CityPASS we went and truly enjoyed it! Casa Loma was a private residence built in Gothic Revival style in 1911 for Sir Henry Pellet at the price of $3.5 million dollars and has 98 rooms! To us it just looks like a castle.
The tour of Casa Loma is a recorded device that allows you to go at your own pace. The tour heavily features the Pellet family and the architecture of the house. My older boys enjoyed it a lot. My youngest was only mildly interested, and my cousin’s youngest kids were downright bored. I wish they could find a way to make it more kid friendly like the recorded tours at the Breakers in Newport, RI.
Please don’t think that the younger kids didn’t enjoy it at all. The tour was just not for them. They loved walking up into the turrets, looking at the flowers in the conservatory, and climbing up and down all of the staircases.
Ontario Science Center
I will start by saying I was so underwhelmed by the Ontario Science Center at first. We entered the museum and started on entrance level floor. It was a display on quantum physics that was over the heads of all of the kids. It wasn’t kid friendly at all!!!
What we discovered was that we were doing the science center all wrong! You need to take the escalators to the lowest level and work your way up. The very lowest floor had so many fun hands on science projects!
So start at the bottom floor!
Your kids will love racing paper airplanes, recording funny voices, making stop motion videos, climbing a rock wall, racing each other, and creating their own experiments.
Bata shoe museum
Multiple people told us to go to the Bata Shoe museum in Toronto and I am now one who will tell everyone to go! This is such a unique museum. It tells the history of footwear through the ages and in different countries. The display of footwear both plain and ornate is impressive.
In addition to the history of footwear, the Bata shoe museum has rotating displays. I loved the Manolo Blahnik shoe exhibit. The attention to detail on each pair of shoes is remarkable. I found myself oohing and aahing over each pair.
And the kids loved the museum too! They liked tracking down the strangest looking shoes, the most expensive, and the most decorated shoe.
This museum celebrates footwear as sculpture and art and I will confess I will never look at a pair of shoes the same way again.
Plan on 1-1.5 hours
St. Lawrence Market
This market is thought to be one of the best food markets in the world and I have to say that we were thoroughly impressed! Lots of delicious food stalls that are some of the most highly rated in Canada.
Jason was so excited by the cheese and chocolate. The produce was gorgeous! The kids bought teeny tiny apples and thought they were delicious.
Plan on 30 minutes to walk through the market but more time if you plan on eating there.
Toronto Christmas Market
One of the best things about traveling to Toronto over American Thanksgiving was that Canada was already in Christmas mode! The Toronto Christmas market is based on the European Christmas markets and has many of the same sights and smells. This one is located in the Distillery District of Toronto-a Victorian part of town. This pedestrian only neighborhood, is the perfect setting for a Christmas market.
We loved the performances by carolers, eating Hungarian sausages, eating chimney cakes, shopping for stocking stuffers at the wooden stalls, and riding the Ferris wheel.
Plan on 2-3 hours
Toronto Eaton Center
Because it was Christmas, we decided to take a trip to visit the tallest tree in Canada. The tallest tree is in fact artificial. My kids were super bummed that it wasn’t a live tree, but I was still in awe of how tall it was. The Eaton Center had a beautiful tree and enormous reindeer and was definitely worth the stop!
Plan on 30 minutes or more if you want to shop!
Overall, CityPASS saved us time and money and I would use it again in any major city. It save money, but it also saves time in lines. I was impressed that it covered all the attractions the average visitor would be wanting to see. CityPASS is available in New York City, B0ston, Chicago and many other cities in the United States. For more info click here!
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