Planning the ultimate kid friendly weekend getaway this summer? Head to Canada’s Wonderland or the Canadian National Exhibition. Here’s what you’ll find, and where.
From iconic fair foods to hair-raising midway rides, Toronto’s top amusement parks have plenty to offer visitors of all ages. Wondering which one you should go to? Read on and judge for yourself. (Our advice? Hit both.)
The vibe: chill retro vibes and state-of-the-art thrills
Sure, its official name is the Canadian National Exhibition (August 18–September 4, 2023), but most locals call it The Ex. Founded in 1879 as an industrial fair, it transformed over almost a century-and-a-half into what it is today: a 78 hectare (192 acre) hub of bright lights, fast rides, trending foods, epic entertainment and diverse agriculture, animal and technology showcases. It’s like a bustling county fair amped up to the power of 1,000—and boy, is it a blast!
Tip: The Chelsea Hotel is the official hotel partner of the CNE, so be sure to check out their offers.
Canada’s Wonderland (summer season runs to September 4, 2023), on the other hand, is THE premier park for thrill seekers, boasting the third-most roller coasters among amusement parks in the world. With 200+ attractions, including 18 rollercoasters and an 8-hectare (20-acre) water park across 121 hectares (300 acres)—with one man-made mountain in the middle—it’s a top-tier amusement park for serious ride aficionados.
The rides: fun favours the brave!
Part of the charm of The Ex is that the retro rides feel kitschy-cool. Brave the speeding, spiralling, pop-music blaring Polar Express; the topsy-turvy spinning Zipper and the Skyride, a tour of the park via gondola, some 12 metres (39 feet) up.
Wonderland is where you’ll ride record-breakers like the world’s longest and fastest dive coaster (the Yukon Striker stretches 1,105 meters and hits 130 km per hour) and the tallest and fastest roller coaster in Canada (the Leviathan peaks at 93.3 metres and speeds up to 148 km per hour). New this year is the Tundra Twister, a one-of-a-kind 360-degree pendulum thrill ride, that spins, swings, twirls and goes fully upside down at speeds of 75/km per hour.
Thrill-ride lovers should seek out the Vortex (a suspended coaster), the Bat (loops forwards and backwards) and non-coasters like Drop Tower, Psyclone and the SlingShot. Hot? Dip into Splash Works, complete with plunging water slides, cliff jumping performances and a lazy river.
The food: forget the doctor’s orders!
While the brave-hearted take on the rides, the strong-stomached tackle food chock full of cholesterol, carbs and calories. In fact, food’s one of the major hallmarks of the CNE experience—so much so, there’s an entire Food Building devoted to it.
Past classics include Beaver Tails and Tiny Tom Donuts, but most talked about are the over-the-top treats debuted each year. Think S’more Fried Chicken Sandwiches, Deep-fried Mars Bars and Cheese-stuffed Doritos.
Meanwhile, Wonderland has become foodie-friendly with international cuisine, craft burgers, cheesy indulgences and ice cream galore. But it’s also known for the ol’ standbys: footlong hotdogs (we dare you to eat the whole thing), bulk candy (the best accompaniment to long waits in line), and the park’s signature treat since the day it opened: funnel cakes—deep-fried dough smothered in strawberry sauce and vanilla ice cream.
The kid zones: yes, the little ones are invited!
Touring with tykes too small to ride with the big kids? You’re in luck! The CNE Kiddie Midway boasts more than 30 experiences for tots under two feet tall, including the merry-go-round and Dragon Coaster.
And then there’s the performances: buskers, action-packed dog shows and an entire stage devoted to children’s programming.
Between Planet Snoopy and KidZville, Wonderland will thrill the kids, too, with mini coasters, go carts and two carousels with more than 100 horses to ride! There’s plenty of entertainment, too, including Charlie Brown’s Jungle Journey and Snoopy’s Symphony of Water.
For inquiring young minds: yes, you can meet (and dance with!) the whole Peanuts gang at the Peanuts Block Party.
Beyond the rides: so, what else is there?
You’ve braved the rides and conquered the craziest foods. What’s next? Lots, actually.
The CNE has a plethora of programming to tickle any fancy. Like jet engines? At the Canadian International Air Show (September 2–4, 2023)—now in its 73rd 74th year—you’ll witness the Canadian Forces Snowbirds perform aerial stunts in formation.
Fancy cats? The Cat Show (2023 dates TBA) is pawsitively purrfect for you. Love music and comedy? Check out dozens of shows across the park’s five stages. This year, Dionne Warwick, Kim Mitchell and Amanda Marshall are scheduled to headline the CNE Bandshell. But that’s not all! There’s a casino, horse show, historic ghost tours and much more.
Beyond their offering of circus and stunt performances—don’t miss Tundra: A Cirque Experience—Canada’s Wonderland is all about the special events, like the Taste of Portugal (August 12 & 13, 2023), Taste of Brazil (August 19 & 20, 2023), and Taste of the Caribbean (August 26 & 27, 2023), or festivals.
The Labour Day fireworks display (September 3, 2023) ranks among the city’s best, with 11 firing positions and 6,000 explosions reaching heights of almost 245 m (more than 800 feet)!
Oktoberfest (September 8–10 and September 15–17, 2023) promises beers and brats (natch!). And for those who want to amp up the fear factor, head to Halloween Haunt (select dates, September 22–October 29, 2023) when hundreds of monsters descend to petrify park-goers nightly.