Toronto Waterfront, ON, Canada

Toronto is a gorgeous city. What elevates it to spectacular is Lake Ontario. Your tour of Ontario’s capital is not complete without spending time on the waterfront. This guide shows you places to visit and things to do along a five-mile walk.

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1 Waterfront History in Toronto, Canada

Lake Ontario forms 28.5 miles of Toronto’s shoreline. In 1750, the French built Fort Rouillé along the waterfront. In 1793, the town of York was established on present-day Front Street in downtown. For generations, the Toronto Harbour prospered while the shore was extended as a landfill. By 1970, this heavy commercial, industrial, shipping and railway area was in severe decline. This prompted a major urban redevelopment. The Harbourfront Project has already cost billions with more planned for the decades ahead. The results so far are amazing. The Entertainment District was created (including CN Tower and Rogers Centre). New high-rise condominiums were built (with more on the drafting table). Slips were added for recreational boats. And a host of people-friendly attractions were built along the Central Waterfront in the shadows of downtown. This walking tour starts at Canada Square near Queen’s Quay Terminal (now a condo and retail complex) and extends west for about five miles. Lace up your walking shoes. Start exploring and enjoying Toronto’s waterfront.

235 Queens Quay W, Toronto, ON M5J 1A7, Canada

2 Power Plant Art Gallery at Harbourfront in Toronto, Canada

The Government of Canada committed to develop ten acres of waterfront extending from York Street in the east to Bathurst Street in the west. Harbourfront Centre is now filled with parks, gardens, performing arts venues, shops and galleries plus incredible views of downtown and Lake Ontario. An example of the transformation is The Power Plant. In 1987, this former heating and refrigeration building for the Toronto Terminal Warehouse reopened as a contemporary art museum. Rotating exhibits include Canadian and international artists. Admission to The Power Plant Contemporary Art Gallery is free.

231 Queens Quay W, Toronto, ON M5J 2G8, Canada

3 Sightseeing Cruises along Harbourfront in Toronto, Canada

Several boat operators offer sightseeing tours along Toronto’s waterfront and the 14 islands just off shore. One of the most popular since 2018 is the Serendipity Princess. This triple-decker passenger vessel berths at Harbourfront Centre. The 45 minute cruise is available during the prime tourist season of May through October. Other options along Queens Quay West are the Oriole (operated by Mariposa Cruises), Toronto Harbour Cruises, Jubilee Queen Cruises and the three-masted schooner Kajama (operated by Tall Ship Cruises Toronto).

207 Queens Quay W, Toronto, ON M5J 2G8, Canada

4 Concert Stage at Harbourfront in Toronto, Canada

Harbourfront Stage is a fan-shaped, outdoor venue for 1,300 concert goers. A long list of national and international musicians have performed here. Among the most famous Canadian artists have been Celine Dion (from Quebec), Anne Murray (born in Nova Scotia), Gordon Lightfoot (Ontario native) and current Toronto resident Jim Carrey.

235 Queens Quay W, Toronto, ON M5J 2G8, Canada

5 Amsterdam Bridge View from Harbourfront in Toronto, Canada

Now walk over the Amsterdam Bridge connecting York and John Quays. The arched, steel-cable footbridge spans over a small harbor designed for docking yachts. There is a sister bridge in Amsterdam named the Torontobrug. If you want to experience more of Amsterdam, stop for a craft beer at the Amsterdam Brewhouse. In the background are a few of Toronto’s impressive condominium high-rises. Those located along Queens Quay West are collectively called the Waterfront Communities. Imagine the panoramic views of Lake Ontario these people must have from their living rooms.

Amsterdam Bridge, 235 Queens Quay W, Toronto, ON M5J 2G8, Canada

6 Canoe and Kayak Rentals at Harbourfront in Toronto, Canada

Admiring Lake Ontario while strolling along Waterfront Trail is a wonderful way to spend a few hours. The only way to improve the experience is by paddling along Lake Ontario and its offshore islands. Consider renting a canoe, kayak or paddleboard from the Harbourfront Canoe & Kayak Centre. Their seasoned staff also provide lessons, group tours and a day camp for youth.

283 Queens Quay W, Toronto, ON M5V 1A2, Canada

7 Toronto Music Garden at Harbourfront in Toronto, Canada

Parallel to the Waterfront Trail is a beautiful oasis from the bustle of downtown. The Toronto Music Garden was designed by landscape architect Julie Moir Messervy and famous cellist (and 18 time Grammy Awards winner) Yo-Yo Ma. Why was a cellist involved? The flow of the garden represents the six movements in Johann Sebastian Bach’s First Suite for Unaccompanied Cello. This section portrays the third movement named courante. The maypole, created by Anne Roberts, punctuates the middle of a swirling pathway encircled with wildflowers.

475 Queens Quay West, Toronto, ON M5V 3G3, Canada

8 Jubilant Man Sculpture at Ireland Park in Toronto, Canada

Ireland Park along Éireann Quay is small and easily overlooked but worth seeing. The main feature is the haunting statues named The Arrival by Rowan Gillespie. They portray a sample of the 38,000 beleaguered immigrants who escaped Ireland’s Great Famine and landed in Toronto in 1847. This silhouette is the Jubilant Man. The ensemble is similar to another one in Dublin called The Departure. That grouping by the same artist shows famine-stricken people stumbling toward ships to escape their plight. You can see those sculptures in the Dublin travel guide on the Encircle Photos website.

Ireland Park, Queens Quay W, Toronto, ON M5V 3G3, Canada

9 Cityscape from Waterfront in Toronto, Canada

The most picturesque vista of the downtown skyline can be savored next to Ireland Park on Éireann Quay. The dramatic centerpiece is the CN Tower at an incredible 1,815 feet. Toronto has over 65 skyscrapers exceeding 500 feet. This qualifies as the most of all Canadian cities and number three in North America (behind New York City and Chicago). More impressive are the future plans. An additional 36 skyscrapers should be finished by 2023. There are about 50 more in the planning stages. In the foreground is Marina Quay West.

627 Queens Quay W, Toronto, ON M5V 3G3, Canada

10 Tank at Fort York Armoury in Toronto, Canada

You are going to leave the waterfront for a while in order to explore several Toronto landmarks worth visiting. Head north on Bathurst Street, turn left on Lake Shore Boulevard West and veer right on Fleet Street. Your first stop is the Fort York Armoury. You will know you arrived when you see this light armored vehicle out front. The monument is a tribute to the 40,000 Canadian Armed Forces personnel who served in Afghanistan. Inside the old drill hall are three military museums. The 1933 building also houses units of the Primary Reserve and the youth program called Canadian Cadets.

660 Fleet St, Toronto, ON M5V 1B7, Canada

11 Firing Cannon at Fort York in Toronto, Canada

Behind the armoury on the other side of a freeway overpass is Fort York. It was built by the British in 1793. The garrison’s mission was to defend the town of York, the former capital of Upper Canada (today’s Toronto). On April 27, 1813, the fort was attacked and seized by about 1,800 Americans during the Battle of York. The victors then plundered and burned the town before retreating. Fort York continued to house soldiers until the 1930s. The National Historic Site of Canada displays the country’s largest collection of buildings from the War of 1812. They also provide an array of military exhibits and educational programs. Most popular are the demonstrations by the Fort York Guard. These performances include drumming, marching, shooting muskets and firing a cannon. Cover your ears. The cannon blast is very loud.

250 Fort York Blvd, Toronto, ON M5V 3K9, Canada

12 Princes’ Gates at Exhibition Place in Toronto, Canada

The first agricultural fair was held in Toronto in 1846. The end-of-summer festival then moved to a different Canadian city each year. In 1879, Toronto decided to permanently host its own annual fair. It was named the Canadian National Exhibition in 1912. By 1920, it became the world’s largest annual fair. Today, about 1.5 million people attend the 18 day event held at Exhibition Place. At the east entrance is this 65 foot high triumphal arch. On top is Nike, the winged goddess of victory. The sculpture was created by Charles McKechnie. This flamboyant archway is called Princes’ Gates because of the inauguration by Edward, the Prince of Wales, and Prince George in 1927.

11 Princes' Blvd, Toronto, ON M6K 3C3, Canada

13 Enercare Centre at Exhibition Place in Toronto, Canada

Exhibition Place consists of almost 200 acres parallel to the waterfront (although it is difficult to see the lake most of the time). The grounds contain a mix of heritage and contemporary buildings. They all come alive during the Canadian National Exhibition from mid-August to Canadian Labour Day (first Monday in September). The rest of the year, many of them are used for sports, plays, concerts, special events and trade shows. The largest venue for the latter is Enercare Centre. This exhibition complex built in 1997 has about one million square feet of space. Adjacent is the Coca-Cola Coliseum. This is home ice for two Toronto-based hockey clubs (one professional, one farm club). The arena also hosts other sporting events and concerts.

100 Princes' Blvd, Toronto, ON M6K 3C3, Canada

14 BMO Field at Exhibition Place in Toronto, Canada

There have been four successive stadiums at Exhibition Place. The most recent, opened in 2007, is BMO Field. The naming rights belong to the Bank of Montreal. The outdoor stadium is home for two teams. The Toronto FC is in the Eastern Conference of Major League Soccer (MLS). The Toronto Argonauts are in the East Division of the Canadian Football League (CFL). The stadium has also been used for rugby, lacrosse and outdoor hockey.

170 Princes' Blvd, Toronto, ON M6K 3C3, Canada

15 Queen Elizabeth Theatre at Exhibition Place in Toronto, Canada

This was the Women’s Building when it opened in 1957. For 57 years, it served as the administrative offices for the CNE Association. After an extensive remodeling, the Queen Elizabeth Theatre became a 1,250 seat auditorium. Shows are primarily small musical groups and single-artist concerts plus stand-up comedy acts. The facility also contains the Fountainblu Banquet Centre and an exhibition hall for private events and meetings.

190 Princes' Blvd, Toronto, ON M6K 3C3, Canada

16 Press Building at Exhibition Place in Toronto, Canada

Fifteen elaborate structures by architect George W. Gouinlock were constructed at Exhibition Place from 1905 through 1912. The five still standing are designated as a National Historic Site of Canada. The oldest is the Press Building. The Beaux Arts façade qualifies as the most handsome architecture at Exhibition Place. From 1905 until 1957, this was the headquarters for CNE, the association responsible for the annual Canadian National Exhibition. After occupying the neighboring Queen Elizabeth Building for more than a half century, the CNEA moved back into the Press Building.

210 Princes' Blvd, Toronto, ON M6K 3C3, Canada

17 Medieval Times at Exhibition Place in Toronto, Canada

Another landmark at Exhibition Place designed by George W. Gouinlock opened in 1911 as the Arts, Crafts and Hobbies Building. The Beaux-Arts structure was also the Government Building until 1926. Since 1993, tourists have flocked to the Toronto Castle to see fully-armored knights compete in a jousting tournament and sword fighting. Clap as the battles rage, the horses gallop and the royal flacon flies. You will dine like royalty as the guests of King Don Carlos and Princess Catalina. Don’t worry about the proper use of eating utensils; there are none. The Medieval Times Dinner and Tournament is a family-fun themed restaurant chain.

10 Dufferin St, Toronto, ON M6K 3C3, Canada

18 Former Ontario Government Building at Exhibition Place in Toronto, Canada

At the westernmost edge of Exhibition Place is the former Ontario Government Building. The ornate, Beaux-Arts design is spectacular and worth the extra walking. The triangular structure was built in 1926 for exhibits by various government departments. Notice the Ontario coat of arms above this southern entrance. The shield consists of three maple leaves. Above it is a black bear. The supporters are a moose and a Canadian deer. Since 2002, this is the Liberty Grand, a banquet and event venue.

25 British Columbia Rd, Toronto, ON M6K 3C3, Canada

19 Shriners’ Peace Memorial at Exhibition Place in Toronto, Canada

There is a one-mile promenade along the southern edge of Exhibition Place featuring tranquil parks and elevated views of the lake. The fragrant highlight is the Rose Garden with almost 3,000 plants. In the center of the gorgeous 2.3 acres is the Shriners’ Peace Memorial. The monument celebrates the relationship between Canada and the United States. Encircled by jets of water is the winged sculpture of the Goddess of Peace holding olive branches. Beneath her feet is the earth and two sphinxes. From here, use one of two footbridges to cross over Lake Shore Boulevard West and head back to the waterfront.

Rose Garden, Exhibition Place, Toronto, ON M6K 3C3, Canada

20 Cinesphere IMAX at Ontario Place in Toronto, Canada

The government of Canada financed the early stages of Waterfront Centre to attract new residents and tourism. In a similar fashion, the province of Ontario paid to create Ontario Place, hence the name. The 155 acre theme park opened in 1971 on three artificial islands south of Exhibition Place. After years of falling attendance and growing deficits, the park closed in 2012. Future plans are pending. One of the original attractions still open is the Cinesphere. Inside this 115 foot triodetic dome is an IMAX movie theater. The massive screen measures 80 feet wide by 60 feet high.

955 Lake Shore Blvd W, Toronto, ON M6K 3L3, Canada

21 Budweiser Stage at Ontario Place in Toronto, Canada

Another entertainment venue still operating at Ontario Place is Budweiser Stage. The outdoor amphitheater regularly hosts concerts during the summer months. Up to 16,000 music lovers can be accommodated for each performance. Nearly 7,000 seats are positioned on the grass.

909 Lake Shore Blvd W, Toronto, ON M6K 3L3, Canada

22 Lake Ontario Shoreline in Toronto, Canada

Your walking tour of Toronto’s waterfront is complete. Your feet might be tired but your smile isn’t. It is time to sit back and relax while enjoying more of Lake Ontario. There are three adjacent shoreline greenspaces very near Ontario Place and Exhibition Place. They are Toronto Inukshuk Park, Trillium Park and Coronation Park. Pick one, find your spot and savor the view while remembering all of the fun you had during your trip to Toronto, Canada.

789 Lake Shore Blvd W, Toronto, ON M5V 3T7, Canada