Insider tips on how to make your staycation amazing

Score a spa day for less, snag a seat at a hot restaurant and more cool ways to enjoy your city.

Score a spa day for less, snag a seat at a hot restaurant and more cool ways to enjoy your city

A couple wearing bath robes, sitting on a bench in a wood-panelled sauna, smiling at one another.
(Credit: iStock/Getty Images)

Need a break but don't have the time or budget to get away? Consider a staycation this summer. Even with limited funds or days off, it's possible to enjoy an exciting mini-break close to home.

With some planning, a staycation exploring your own city — and nearby attractions — can be just as relaxing or entertaining as a week away. Plus, you won't have to worry about flight delays, lost luggage or finding a pet sitter able to handle your lovable albeit slightly grumpy aging dog.

To help you plan a great staycation this summer (and beyond), we asked travel and hospitality industry experts to share their top tips for leisurely spa days, securing hard-to-get restaurant reservations, saving money on attractions and more. 

Book a guided tour of your town

You've probably been on walking or bus tours in foreign cities — why not in your own backyard? "We all think we know our own city like the back of our hands," said Emili Bellefleur, travel trade and media relations manager at Tourisme Montréal, "but certified guides will surprise you by their knowledge, expertise and ability to create memorable experiences." Bellefleur suggests hiring one to show you around for a few hours or even the day. "There's no better way to discover, or rediscover, the city."

Save money on attractions with city passes

Look up the offers available to tourists in your city — and use them. "They're a great way to stretch your dollar and to discover new attractions," said Bellefleur. "Montrealers can sign up for an Accès Montréal card for exclusive privileges and discounts on arts, recreational and sports activities in the city." There's also Passeport MTL, which both locals and tourists can purchase. It offers admission to attractions like the Montreal Biodome and the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts.

Similar passes exist across Canada. The CityPASS is available in Toronto, and the Winnipeg Attractions Pass includes access to the Winnipeg Mint, the Canadian Museum for Human Rights and more. 

Visit museums and galleries on free admission days

"Before heading out and paying full price at the door, check your local museum and art gallery websites to see if they offer free admission on specific days," suggests Solmaz Khosrowshahian, a food and travel blogger (a.k.a. @thecuriouscreature). 

In Toronto, the Royal Ontario Museum, Art Gallery of Ontario and Museum of Contemporary Art all offer free admission on certain days each week or month. Across Canada, the Vancouver Art Gallery, Montreal Museum of Fine Arts and the National Gallery of Canada also have free admission days.

Turn a massage into a spa day for less

Hotel spa treatments can be pricier than comparable services at a health clinic or facial bar but will also often include access to spa amenities, a pool and even a fitness centre. For example, Carlos Calvo Rodríguez, senior director at the Spa at Four Seasons Toronto, points out that guests can enjoy the indoor pool, whirlpool and steam room before and after their treatments. Also note that at the Four Seasons and many other spas, you may be able to take advantage of lower rates on certain weekdays. 

Go poolside with a day pass

"If you want to skip public pools and step up your staycation with an elevated pool experience, reach out to local hotels to see if they offer day passes," said Khosrowshahian. "In Toronto, you can lounge poolside with cocktail in hand at Hotel X Toronto, InterContinental Toronto Centre or the Sheraton Centre Toronto even if you're not staying at the hotel!"

Elsewhere, the Spa William Gray in Old Montreal offers three different pool packages, Parq Vancouver offers same-day passes for its rooftop Aqua Lounge, and in Ontario's Prince Edward County, you can enjoy the private beach at Wander with a Beach Club pass.

Dine at that restaurant you've always wanted to try

If you're flexible about the time and day of the week of your visit, it can be easier than you think to score a much-coveted table at a high-demand restaurant. 

"If I want to get into a restaurant where it seems fully booked, I'll try calling first, and failing that, I show up right when the restaurant opens," said Lexi Wolkowski, the sommelier and maître d' at Parquet, a restaurant in Toronto. "Restaurants always want to squeeze an extra turn out of the evening, so they are often willing to offer a shorter seating — 90 minutes instead of two hours [for example] — if you are there right at open. Let them know you're willing to be kicked out whenever and that open attitude usually goes a long way with the person at the door."

Ask about residents' rates

Sometimes the best part of a vacation is staying overnight in a luxe or amenity-packed hotel. For a staycation, you could look into locals-only room discounts and packages. "If you're staying local in your own city, oftentimes hotels offer special rates for local residents, so be sure to inquire whether a hotel offers a residents' rate — often that comes with extra perks such as a welcome amenity, parking or even a later checkout," said David Reid, concierge at the Fairmont Hotel Vancouver

You might have to call or email the hotel directly to ask about specials for residents since these promotions are not always listed online.


Truc Nguyen is a Toronto-based writer, editor and stylist. Follow her at @trucnguyen.

Add some “good” to your morning and evening.

A variety of newsletters you'll love, delivered straight to you.

Sign up now