Royal Ontario Museum

Top choice in Toronto

October 15, 2013: Exterior of the Royal Ontario Museum on a sunny day.

©Javen/Shutterstock

Opened in 1914, the multidisciplinary ROM is Canada's biggest natural-history museum and one of the largest museums in North America. You'll either love or loathe the synergy between the original heritage buildings at the main entrance on Bloor St and the 2007 addition of 'the Crystal,' which appears to pierce the original structure and juts out into the street like a massive shard. 

Though filled with a dizzying number of artifacts and art, the ROM’s interior architecture itself is also notable. Look up as you enter the main hall: the ceiling is a dazzling mosaic dome made up of over a million Venetian tiles. Commissioned in 1933 by the museum’s first director, the mosaic has myriad patterns and symbols representing the breadth of the museum's collection. Look for the Mayan temple, the Egyptian falcon, the three-clawed Chinese dragon, the bison and more.

Galleries and exhibits

The permanent collection features more than six million specimens and artifacts, divided between two main galleries: the Natural History Galleries (all on the 2nd floor) and the World Culture Galleries (on the 1st, 3rd and 4th floors). The Chinese temple sculptures, Gallery of Korean Art, and costumes and textile collections are some of the best in the world. Expect to learn about everything from ice-age mammals and hardwood forests to religious masks.

The remarkable First Peoples Art and Culture  gallery provides insight into the works of art and cultural heritage of Canada’s indigenous people from precolonial times to the present. The 1000-piece collection includes ceremonial clothing, birch-bark canoes, fine art and more. A small theater screens documentaries and hosts live performances, adding a layer of depth and present-day perspective to the collection. Knowledgeable staffers are available on weekdays to answer questions.

Special exhibitions

Each year the ROM hosts a variety of big temporary exhibits from around the world (special exhibit surcharges apply). Keep an eye out for the Friday Night Live programs, when the museum opens its doors, stocks its bars and calls in the DJs for a makeshift dance party.

Dinosaur skeleton at Royal Ontario Museum
Dinosaur skeleton at Royal Ontario Museum © Corey Wise/Lonely Planet

Activities for kids

This is a remarkable place that keeps all visitors engaged. Younger visitors (and their parents) will appreciate the two interactive galleries at the ROM: the Discovery Gallery and the Family Gallery of Hands-on Biodiversity. Kids can touch shark skulls and beaver pelts, dig for dinosaur bones and walk through bat caves. The cedar crest totem poles carved by Indigenous tribes in British Columbia are also wonderful. Imaginative play has children hiding in foxholes and dressing up in clothing from other eras that has been sourced from across the globe. Facilitators are on hand to introduce youngsters to what's on offer and answer the many questions they’re sure to have.

Tickets and information

An adult ticket costs $23 and it's $14 for a child. Entrance to the museum is free on the third Monday of each month. The free docent-led tours are worth joining to help unpack the place. Whether you come for a day or spend a week here, there will always be something new to discover. The nearest subway stop is Museum station.

Top tips

  • Admission is free the third Monday evening of the month – arrive after 6pm to avoid the rush.
  • Audio tours to select galleries can be downloaded from the website.
  • Docent-led tours are offered daily in English and French.
  • Strollers are available for rent at the coat check.
  • Special exhibits are often excellent but cost extra; check the website to decide if you’re interested enough to commit the additional time and cash.