The CNE (Canadian National Exhibition, or The Ex!) has marked the end of summer for families in Toronto since its inception way back in 1879. But naturally, prices have risen quite a bit since then! Between admission, rides, food, entertainment and shopping, a day of fun can put quite a dent in your wallet if you’re not careful. But you can have an amazing time at the Ex without going broke! Therefore, after many years of attending, we have pulled together the different ways we have learned about how to save money at the Ex and compiled our list of CNE Family Budget Tips…

CNE Family Budget Tips — Admission Deals

Advance Tickets
Buying your tickets before the Ex starts is definitely cheaper than purchasing at the ticket booth. Advance sales are also not time-specific, which is handy if you know you’re going to attend but haven’t decided on a particular time.
Note: A $2.99 per ticket processing fee applies to all online purchases.

Advance Free School Tickets (Ages 5-13)
Kids in the GTA used to receive a free admission pass to the CNE in the envelopes of their end-of-year report cards, but now it is all online. On their School Tickets page, select the school board that your child attends (located across Toronto, GTA and Southern Ontario) to access the School Kids Pass. From there, you can either print it or display it on your phone at the gate.
Note: Downloading is only available until August 17 at 11:59 p.m. The kids’ pass includes grounds admission, and access to all shows and exhibits on any one day of the 2023 CNE, but not rides.

Ticket Specials

  • Kid’s Toonie Monday (13 & under) — On August 21 & 28 and sold only in-person at the gates, this deal includes grounds admission, and access to all shows and exhibits, but not rides. Note: Kids must be accompanied by a paying adult.
  • $11 Evenings (all ages) — Available Monday-Thursday after 5:00pm, except Labour Day Monday. Note: This ticket is only valid on the date it is purchased.
  • Opening Day Deal (all ages) — For Friday, August 18 and sold only in-person at the gates, this deal for $13 includes grounds admission, and access to all shows and exhibits.
  • EXcelunch Special (all ages) — If you want to have a visit that’s short and sweet, this deal is for grounds admission from 11:00am-1:00pm only on weekdays, excluding Labour Day Monday. If you leave by 1:00pm, present your ticket at the gate for a refund!

Presto Perks
Many public transportation users have Presto cards for everyday travel, but did you know that you can save on advance CNE tickets? Just enter your Presto card number on the CNE’s ticket page and buy directly online for both general admission and ride-all-day passes.

CNE Family Budget Tips — Entertainment

This is not only a tip for budgeting but also for keeping your sanity: there is so much to do that you should definitely check out the daily schedule and try to make a basic plan based on your favourite interests. We like to pick out a few shows and then add other activities and exhibits in between. Bonus: most of them are free with admission!

Kids’ World

  • Kids’ World concert stage: Characters like Bluey & Bingo from Bluey, Dorothy and Wags from the Wiggles; Team T&J, The Magical World of Majinx, CIRQUE: The Greatest Show!
  • Storybook Nook with authors and performers
  • Reptilia interactive shows
  • Activities: arts & crafts, pizza-making, Dino dig, Under the Little Top, Little Explorers area

Free Performances

  • New this year: skateboarding shows, drone shows, Sparkling Symphony Spectacular, Silent Disco
  • SuperDogs is always a hit with animal lovers of every age!
  • The new “Time Flies” Ice Skating and Acrobatics Show with figure skating legend Elvis Stojko
  • Outdoor buskers, International Stage, Rising Star Talent Competition

Free Attractions & Exhibits

  • HorseCapades is open before the CNE starts, then these exhibits move to the Farm Building during the fair.
  • Classic pinball machine and video games of past and present keep gamers busy at the Gaming Garage’s Retro Arcade.
  • Check out cute kitties and impressive natural specimens at the Annual Cat Show and Flower & Vegetable Competition.
  • At the permanent fire station on the Ex grounds (between Kids World and the Food Building), kids can hang out on a fire truck and learn about fire safety.

CNE Family Budget Tips — Rides & Games

Ride Ticket Specials

  • Advance Sale Ride All Day Pass (all ages) — There’s no need to buy lots of ride tickets when you purchase an all-day bracelet, which not only gives you unlimited midway rides but also includes grounds admission.
  • Kid’s Toonie Monday Ride Special (all ages) — Coordinating with the kids’ admission deal on August 21 & 28 only, anyone can pick up 30 ride coupons in person at the ride ticket booth for $22.
  • Opening Day Ride Special (all ages) — Instead of buying a wad of tickets, each ride only needs one ticket on opening day! Get eight ride ticket coupons in person at the ride ticket booth for $22.

More Tips on Rides and Games

  • Plan your day — Again, it’s a good idea to think about which rides you really want to go on if you’re trying to fit a lot of activities over your visit. You can also check up on ride height requirements ahead of time here to avoid disappointment. Also, if you don’t like long lines, go on the rides earlier in the day, and if you tend to get queasy, go before lunch just in case!
  • Sky Ride is a good deal — The aerial gondola ride gives amazing birds-eye views over the Ex grounds and lasts longer than other rides.
  • Kid-appropriate Games — Search out the “everyone’s a winner” style of game, which is great for kids so they can all go home with a prize.
  • Use your talents to your advantage — Find games that fit your special skills. For instance, my kids take archery lessons, so they do well in games that involve having good aim. Or, if your kid has lots of frenetic energy, try out the whack-a-hole!
  • Don’t forget about the Express Train — The Express Train is free and fun, and is especially helpful for family members with mobility issues (both young and old).  Not only does it help to get you from one end of the grounds to the other, but you also get to see some of the sights and sounds along the way.

CNE Family Budget Tips — Food & Drink

There are always delicious food options available at the Food Building and around the grounds, and while we look forward to snacking on our favourite treats, it gets expensive quickly. Here are some yummy tips…

  • Water Refill Stations — Bring water bottles to fill up at 10 refill stations located throughout the grounds. There’s one  located in the kids’ ride area, convenient for thirsty families.
  • Bring in your own food! — You might not realize this, but can actually bring your own food into the CNE, except alcohol. Coolers are fine but be aware that they are subject to search.
  • Stick to Fairground Favourites — As fun as the new crazy food selections are, they’re never cheap. So, pick tried-and-true favourites that are there every year for that classic fair experience, such as mini donuts, pogos, sno-cones and funnel cakes.
  • Share with Family & Friends — As usual, food items are cheaper when you buy in bulk. For instance, a huge blooming onion can feed 4-5 people, easily. Refillable pop drinks can also be a good deal if you’re really thirsty!

CNE Family Budget Tips — Travel & Transportation

Whether you live in the city, around the GTA or are coming in for a special visit, here are some ways to make your visit less stressful from travel:

  • Travel Deals — If you’re coming in from out of town, the CNE has a package deal with the Chelsea Hotel. It’s centrally located just off Yonge Street. Want to be right in the action? Hotel X is even on the Exhibition Grounds and has an ongoing family deal.
  • Take Public Transportation — Try not to drive! Parking is expensive and roads are busy. The best routes are on GO Train (Exhibition station), and TTC: Bathurst & Lakeshore streetcars (stopping at the east side of the CNE grounds), and Dufferin Rocket Bus & King Streetcar at the west end of the fairgrounds, which is extra handy for families since it’s by the entrance at Kid’s World.

CNE (Canadian National Exhibition)

When: August 18 – September 4, 2023
Time: Daily 10:00am-12:00am, September 4 only 10:00am-9:00pm
Where: Exhibition Place, 210 Princes’ Blvd, Toronto

Save some money with our list of Cheapies & Freebies in Toronto and the GTA here!