Winter isn't everyone's favorite season in Toronto. Between the snow, wind, and sub-zero temperatures, it's tempting to hunker down indoors and avoid being outside. But that would mean missing out on some fun (and budget-friendly) cold-weather activities that make the most of Toronto's chilly climate. Embrace the season while also saving money with some of the best free and cheap things to do in Toronto, adapted for the winter.
See a Holiday Movie at the Drive-In
The drive-in theater at the massive entertainment complex Ontario Place hosts a variety of holiday-themed movies throughout December. You can see all-time Christmas favorites like "Elf," "Love Actually," "How the Grinch Stole Christmas," and many more, all from the comfort and warmth of your own vehicle. Whether you're going with friends, family, or on a romantic night out, it's one of the best holiday experiences in the city. And at just 10 Canadian dollars per person, or about $8, it's one of the most affordable, too.
See Some Public Art by the Lake
Bundle up and head to Toronto’s East End district to check out Winter Stations, where teams of artists and designers transform lifeguard stations along the waterfront (from Woodbine to Victoria Park avenues) into temporary interactive art installations. The theme for the 2021 edition of Winter Stations is "refuge," and while the dates haven't been announced yet, this free exhibit usually opens in mid-February and runs until April.
One of the most fun free things to do in the winter has to be busting out a sled and heading to a snowy hill for an afternoon of tobogganing. There are numerous spots to choose from in Toronto no matter what neighborhood you’re in, since pretty much any snow-covered park makes for great sledding. Some good options include Trinity Bellwoods Park, Cedarvale Park, Centennial Park in Etobicoke, and Christie Pitts Park.
Enjoy Some Music at Winterfolk Blues & Roots Festival
The annual Winterfolk Blues & Roots Festival is back for another year, albeit in a completely redesigned format. The festival takes place February 19–20, 2021, and instead of the usual venues across the Danforth—or Danforth Avenue—artists will be performing via live stream. The event usually brings out over 150 blues, folk, and roots artists to perform, although the details for the 2021 event have yet to be released.
Tour Steam Whistle Brewery
Tours of the Steam Whistle Brewery are not operating as of December 2020 until further notice. However, the taproom is open from Wednesday to Sunday to try the beer.
If you’re a beer fan, why not escape the cold and learn something new about your beverage of choice with a brewery tour. Steam Whistle Brewery offers 30-minute tours where you can learn all about the brewing process and chat with employees behind the scenes, and, of course, taste the finished product.
Explore an Indoor Garden
As of December 2020, the Centennial Park Conservatory and Allan Gardens Conservatory are closed until further notice. The Cloud Garden Conservatory is closed for renovations until 2022.
Pretend winter doesn’t exist for a couple of hours with a visit to one of Toronto’s indoor gardens that help keep summer alive year-round. Three free indoor gardens to explore in the city this winter include Centennial Park Conservatory, Allan Gardens Conservatory, and Cloud Garden Conservatory. All three offer a chance to forget about the cold for a while and check out some beautiful tropical foliage inside a heated greenhouse.
Learn Something at Your Local Library
Library events in Toronto are canceled as of December 2020 until further notice.
Curling up with a good book is a great way to while away some winter hours but there’s more to your local library than checking out a few bestsellers. Stay out of the cold, and learn something new with a trip to a branch near you. Toronto’s libraries offer a slew of free classes covering everything from crafts and hobbies to technology, health, and job search skills among many other topics.
Escape to an Indoor Pool
All municipal indoor recreation facilities in Toronto are closed as of December 2020 until further notice.
You might not think about swimming when you think about winter, but diving into an indoor pool can be an easy way to stave off the winter blues and make it feel as if it’s still summer. The City of Toronto operates 60 public indoor pools in the city so you have lots of options in terms of where to take a dip. Admission to the pools is free for leisure swimming.
Check out the Toronto Light Festival
The Toronto Light Festival is canceled in 2020.
Toronto’s Historic Distillery District will once again be transformed into a wonderland of lights courtesy of the Toronto Light Festival. The free event comes from the creators of the popular Toronto Christmas Market and features light-based installations from both local and international artists.
Head to a DJ Skate Night at Harbourfront
The Harbourfront Centre Ice Rink is closed for the 2020–2021 season.
One of the city's most popular winter events takes place at Harbourfront Centre on Saturdays for DJ Skate Night. This iconic rink turns into one of the biggest winter parties in the city, complete with local and international DJs getting skaters moving and grooving on the ice.