Free or cheap things to do in Toronto this winter

By José Gonzalez

With the holidays over your bank account could probably use a break from all the lavish gift-buying and fine dining. If you’re feeling the pinch, there’s no shortage of cheap things to do in Toronto, and some of them are totally free! In addition to the affordable favourites, there are some new events and sights that will help chase away the new year blues. Take the time to enjoy some of the thrifty attractions and things to do in the city, so you can make the most of the winter season without breaking the bank! [Photo credit: José Gonzalez]

Free or cheap things to do in Toronto this winter

Toronto's new light festival

Toronto's newest winter festival lights up the Distillery District making the long nights feel a little bit shorter, and hopefully a bit warmer too! More than just strings of light strewn throughout the area, this festival features artwork created using lights, with colours and shadows complimenting the luminous effects. This free festival begins at sundown throughout the Distillery District, and ends at 10 p.m. Sunday to Wednesday and 11 p.m. Thursday to Saturday. The event runs January 27 to March 12.

Free outdoor art exhibits

The parks and beaches along Lake Ontario include a touch of artistic flair this winter with the return of the Winter Stations series at the Beaches, and the debut of Ice Breakers along Queen's Quay. Both exhibits feature installations by artists from around the world.

Ice Breakers inspires pedestrians to break the ice with one another, running along Queen's Quay West from Yonge to Bathurst. There is even a special app for your phone giving you the chance to vote for your favourite piece. Ice Breakers runs from January 21 to February 26.

Winter Stations builds artwork around life guard stations on Balmy, Kew and Ashbridges Bay beaches.  You can visit the installations February 20 to March 27.

Strap on your skates

Lace up your skates and take to the many rinks throughout the city! There are more than 50 outdoor rinks, 50 indoor rinks and 20 to 30 natural ice rinks (depending on the weather) throughout the city. Many of them also host free programs, teaching kids and adults the basics of skating, or helping you brush up on any skills that might be rusty after the warmer months. For something a little different, the Harboufront Centre's Natrel Rink also hosts free DJ Skate Nights every Saturday night from 8 p.m. to 11 p.m. DJ Skate Nights run until February 18.

Get tickets to a Marlies Game

It wouldn't be a Canadian winter without some hockey, and while the Leafs are having a decent season for a change, you may not be interested in mortgaging your house to afford some tickets. You can still get in on some Hockey Nation action with tickets to a Toronto Marlies game, which start as low as $12!

Hang out in a novelty cafe

There are few things that warm you up like a great hot beverage, and Toronto has a number of fun and interesting ways to enjoy an inexpensive cuppa. If you've got a few friends you can try out some of the board game cafes around the city, such as the always popular Snakes & Lattes, or For the Win Board Game Cafe if you're on the north end. Animals lovers can enjoy their tea with a feline friend at the Tot the Cat Cafe. And if you're feeling a bit eccentric, you can try out the toilet-themed Poop Cafe.

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Check out IceFest

Lovers of ice sculptures can rejoice, the Bloor-Yorkville Ice Fest is scheduled to turn artisans out into the cold once again to compete in the 17th annual Ice Carving Competition. In addition to the frozen art sculptures guests can enjoy a maple syrup taffy station, ice kiddie cubes and a 'Shop with Heart’ fundraising event with goods from local Yorkville retailers. This free festival runs February 25 from noon to 8 p.m., and February 26 from noon to 5 p.m.

Explore the Winter Village

Evergreen Brickworks opens the doors once again to its annual family-friendly celebration of all things winter. A number of activities fit into the categorizes of eat, shop and play, from delicious festive treats at the street food market to fun games in the snow in the Children's Garden. The village is open every weekend until February 28 from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Admission is free, but food and shopping is individually priced.

Go for a winter hike

Believe it or not, a brisk walk in the winter air doesn't have to be an afternoon of cold misery, in fact, you can take the opportunity to learn all about the beauty of the Canadian forests that still exist in our city. Tommy Thompson and Rouge Parks both offer free guided tours of their grounds in family-friendly groups.

Free classical concerts

You can add a touch of sophistication to your daily routine with six different free classical music series run by the Canadian Opera Company at the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre. Classical music lovers can attend various programs including vocal, piano, jazz, dance, chamber and world music. Concerts are held most Tuesdays and Thursdays at noon, and some Wednesdays at noon as well. Just try to arrive early, because are first come, first serve. The series runs until June 1.

Visit the new exhibition at Art Museum

A different vision of Canada's history than you might have seen in school, this new exhibition from Kent Monkman (which he also curates), includes artwork that depicts scenes from the New France fur trade to the severe living conditions of north end Winnipeg. Held at the Art Museum at the University of Toronto, this exhibition is on right now, and runs until March 4.

Winterfolk Festival

Fans of folk music can enjoy concerts at venues along Danforth as this annual festival celebrates its 15th year. While some of these concerts are ticketed, you can purchase wristbands that get you into as many non-ticketed concerts as you can handle over the three-day run. Wristbands cost $15 in advance and $20 at the door. The festival runs February 17 to 19. Click here to buy tickets & wristbands

Fine dining at a discount

Restaurants around the city are once again offering price-fixe menus at a discounted price, giving you a taste of some of Toronto's top dishes for less! This year’s Winterlicious has more than 220 restaurants are participating, with lunch menus ranging from $18 to $28 and dinner menus ranging from $28 to $48. Although one of the more expensive options on this list, most of the menus cost a lot more per dish for the rest of the year.

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