Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Tips for Visiting The Canadian National Exhibition (CNE) - How to Make the Most of your Visit

We are fast approaching Labour Day long-weekend which means there are only a few days left to attend the CNE. Being the fun-loving, patriotic Canadian that I am, I’ve developed an annual tradition of attending the Ex which began during childhood and has now transitioned into more of a girl’s weekend or date night.  

The CNE marks a bitter-sweet time here in Toronto. It is a whirlwind of thrilling carnival rides, interesting (and bizarre) food concoctions, games and star-studded entertainment mingled with the nostalgic scent of French fries and cotton candy.  It also signifies the end of summer vacation – the last hoorah before we grudging head back to school or work. Since I am somewhat of a CNE veteran, I’ve decided to share some tips to help you make the most of your day at the Ex.

1. Start early – If you are taking public transit (especially the Go Train which is always crowded and only stops every 30 mins) try to arrive early, before the crowd and stay late. This also ensures that you have time to see most of the shows and enjoy the vibrant, multi-colored lights as the fair comes alive at night!

2. Buy tickets in advance – Buying your passes in advance allows you to skip ticket lines upon arrival and if you plan to enjoy the midway, ride passes can save you money. There are additional discounts for opening day and booking online plus attending after 5 pm is usually only $9.00. For updated pricing visit the website at

3. Plan your day and meals – One of the most popular activities at the Ex (or any fair for that matter) is trying the delicious food and strange creations like deep fried Twinkies, Rainbow Grilled Cheese, crispy crickets, and colossal burgers sandwiched between 2 sugary donuts. Before you arrive, scope-out some of the best dishes online and decide what you’d like to try so the Food Building doesn’t seem so overwhelming and chaotic. There are maps inside to help you find specific restaurants and I highly recommend stepping outside of your comfort zone and trying something new!

Thanksgiving Waffle from (Fran's) - Waffle made of stuffing with turkey, gravy and cranberry sauce

Fresh Potato Spuds with garlic powder

4. Don’t miss the shows – Check the CNE schedule and decide which shows you want to see (there are usually several time slots for your convenience).The ice and acrobat show (which I highly recommend) is in Richo Coliseum and the Super Dogs Show is also very popular. Make sure to arrive at the auditorium at least 30 mins prior to show time for best seating.

There are also concerts, street performers and a small, family-friendly Mardi Gras Parade (bead necklaces and all). The International Stage showcases interesting cultural entertainment and talent competitions - but again, arrive at least 20-30 mins early for best seating. There are performances taking place all day so see as many as you can between stuffing your face with junk food.

Bao from (Far East Taco) stuffed with fried chicken, Kimchi, lettuce, cheese, onion, cilantro and hot sauce.

5. Visit the Buildings – Make time to pop into the Arts & Crafts building for a selection of local produce, interesting exhibits and a wide variety of Canadian goods. The International Building showcases decor and crafts from all over the world and don’t forget to check out the sculptures made from butter, sand and foliage! If you like to bargain hunt, head to the clothing and beauty booths. 

The Farm Building offers free educational activities for kids and a variety of adorable creatures (the baby llama was my favorite). At the back of The Farm Building you will find a pretty garden which is a great place to relax and take photos.
*Note: the buildings usually close at 10 pm (check the schedule and holiday hours for more details).

6. Special Events – There are usually special events like Food Truck Frenzy, The Air Show, The Cat Show and cool concerts, so plan your visit according to your interests.

Food Truck Frenzy - Butter Chicken Poutine

7. Bring a Water Bottle – Summer may be winding down but it can still get pretty darn hot on the midway so stay hydrated to keep your energy up (you’ll need it to battle the crowds). There are free water stations around the Food and Art Building so stop by and fill-up!

8. Wear comfortable shoes & clothing – People usually go to the Ex to eat, ride and play but there can be a lot of walking involved since the grounds are quite expansive. You may be on your feet for hours (unless you decide to plop down under the Beer Tent), so bring your walking shoes! If you feel fatigued, hop on the free CNE Train which stops at various points of interest.

Piri Piri Chicken Poutine 

9. Budget well – A trip to the Ex can add up fast so create a budget for food, shopping, casino, games, transportation etc (after you purchase tickets) so you know how much to bring and where your money is being spent. There are ATM machines on-site.

Chimney Stax Ice Cream

10. Use the CNE lockers – There are several locker storage locations at the Ex so you don’t have to lug around your bags and all the stuffed toys you win. They also come in handy if you want to enjoy the rides hands-free. Refer to the frequently asked questions section on the website for location info. 

11. Take the Ski Ride – This may not be the scariest ride at the Ex (unless you have a fear of heights) but it provides the best view of the fairground if you want to capture the perfect keepsake photo.

12. Have fun! – Unleash your inner kid and enjoy. If you don't have time to do everything in one trip, visit again!

For more information visit

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