In 2017, Toronto hosted an estimated 43 million tourists. For perspective, the total population of Canada in 2017 was 36 million.
There is plenty for tourists to see and do here, of course, and in some parts of the city, locals are clearly outnumbered by visitors. If you’re within 200 metres of the CN Tower, you’re likely to see lost-looking families hailing from all corners of the world, from Russia to Red Deer, craning their necks towards the tower or trying to figure out where Union Station is.
Travelling with a family is never easy, and it can be exhausting trying to hit up everything on a city’s tourism checklist. Sometimes, you just need a playground for your kids, and a bench for your weary behind.
So whether you’re a tourist or just a local pretending to be one, here are Danforth Dad’s five favourite playgrounds in close proximity to some of the most popular Toronto attractions.
300m from the Art Gallery of Ontario
This is a no-brainer: one of the city’s best playgrounds right next door to one of the country’s best art galleries. The playground at Grange Park, nestled behind the huge blue mass of Frank Gehry’s 2008 AGO addition, currently has the top score according to the (mildly scientific) Danforth Dad rating criteria. It’s got a variety of equipment, plenty of shade, washrooms, and a small splash pad. Meanwhile, the gallery itself has more family-oriented programming than you might expect; the Hands-On Centre is included with general admission, and a variety of extras throughout the year. Full review here.
Taddle Creek Park
400m from the Royal Ontario Museum
The ROM can be a busy place, and as much as my kids love it, I always feel like they’re moments away from breaking something. Sometimes it’s best to burn off a child’s rocket fuel by taking them for a bit of a run-around before visiting a place like this. Taddle Creek Park, small as it is, is very nearby, and will help a toddler run their sillies out before being surrounded by dinosaur bones, which might help put a parent’s mind at ease. Full review here.
1.5km from the Ontario Science Centre
Okay, 1.5km isn’t exactly close, but considering the Science Centre’s location, you will likely be visiting by car, and Playground Paradise, a city-run (aka FREE) indoor playground, is a wonderful way to follow up a Science Centre visit. In addition to the indoor play space, there is an outdoor climber, and a decent splash pad beside a small but shady picnic area. Truly an all-season option. Full review here.
500m from Ripley’s Aquarium, Rogers Centre, Railway Museum, and CN Tower
When the CN Tower opened in 1976, it was situated in a post-industrial wasteland of disused train tracks and weed-filled parking lots. Now, this area is tourist central, visited constantly by locals and international visitors alike. At the south end of the grounds, near the Steam Whistle Roundhouse, you’ll find a cute, railway-themed playground where your kids can play while you contemplate which attraction to empty your wallet on next. Not a big playground, but worth knowing about. Full review here.
City Hall Playground
500m or less from the Eaton Centre and Nathan Phillips Square
With the 2015 addition of the Instragram-friendly “Toronto” sign, Nathan Phillips Square has become a bit of a stopping point for tourists. Events are frequently staged here, from art festivals to winter festivals to NBA championship rallies. The playground (sometimes used by the City Hall daycare, which gets priority) is hidden at the foot of the west tower of City Hall, and I’ve never seen it particularly busy. Ideal for 4-and-unders, this is a good place to leave the kids with one parent if the other has to go tend to a shopping addiction at the Eaton Centre. Full review here.
BONUS: Allan Gardens
I’m adding this one because the Allan Gardens Conservatory isn’t likely to be at the top of many families’ Toronto checklist, but it should be, especially if you’ve got young kids who are still impressed by fish and turtles. Allan Gardens can be a good all-seasons spot to take a toddler, and the playground directly behind the conservatory is new and quite good. If the Aquarium or the Zoo are too much for your wallet and/or your young child, consider going here. It’s free and it’s fun. Full review of the playground here.