Top Things To See and Do on Toronto's Waterfront
Published: June 4, 2023
Toronto’s waterfront is the perfect getaway spot and it’s just steps from bustling Union Station.
A conveniently short walk away but also accessible by streetcar, the waterfront neighbourhood is the go-to place for a bit of nature in the heart of downtown Toronto. With waterfront trails and harbourfront watersport rentals, picturesque beaches and parks with spectacular views, there are plenty of activities to fill a day of discovery.
Toronto Waterfront Trail
Put on your walking shoes or hop on a bike to enjoy the Martin Goodman Waterfront Trail – the place to tour Toronto’s waterfront. Running adjacent to the route used by the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon, the popular pathway stretches 22km across the city along the shores of Lake Ontario. With views of the Toronto Islands, the trail hits all of the waterfront’s highlights including the Simcoe Wavedeck near Lower Spadina Avenue – a wooden boardwalk designed to represent the undulating waves of the lake. Reaching well-beyond the city limits, the Martin Goodman Trail represents just a fraction of the Great Lakes Waterfront Trail which covers 3600km of shoreline on Lakes Ontario, Erie and Huron, and on Georgian Bay. In all, it connects 155 towns, villages and First Nations communities.
Toronto Bike Rental Made Easy
No bike? No problem! Wheel Excitement adjacent to HTO Park offers a range of hybrids, cruisers and road bike rentals along Toronto’s waterfront. There are also several easy-to-use Bike Share Toronto locations located right at UP Express Union Station. With multiple docking stations scattered throughout the waterfront, you have a number of options to explore the sights either on foot or on two wheels as you take in all that the waterfront neighbourhood in Toronto has to offer.
Toronto Waterfront’s Best Beaches
Get some sand and sun at one of downtown Toronto’s free beaches. The city’s public beaches feature amenities including playgrounds, washrooms, fixed barbeques and picnic shelters with water access. Closer to downtown Toronto, the waterfront’s urban beaches do not allow water access and do not have public washroom facilities. Changing restrictions mean not all amenities may be open. Check with your destination before heading out.
Downtown Toronto’s Sugar Beach And HTO Park
There’s no need to leave the city for some sun and fun! Located in the East Bayfront neighbourhood, the urban Sugar Beach’s free playful pink umbrellas make the perfect selfie backdrop while lounging on the powered sand. Decked out with white Muskoka chairs that are ideal for watching boats cruise the lake, Sugar Beach features a tree-lined promenade with mature maples offering shade from Toronto’s summer heat. Plus, this sandy spot makes for a superb place to take in the waves at sunset.
With its eye-catching yellow umbrellas and sandy beach, HTO Park is another of Toronto’s best and busiest free urban beaches. Located in the Harbourfront area on Toronto’s inner harbour, the unique man-made site’s grassy hills and beach areas make the perfect spot for a picnic, echoing its counterpart in East Bayfront. HTO Park makes a great jumping off point for exploring the Toronto Islands too – with private water taxis adjacent to the park as well as Toronto waterfront kayak and canoe rentals located on the park’s western edge – available for anyone who loves seasonal water sport activities.
Downtown Toronto’s Cherry Beach Public Park
Nestled in the Port Lands, nearby Cherry Beach Public Park is a vibrant, Blue Flag-certified spot that offers private enclaves along the shore, and both a bathing area and a recreational sports beach. Unlike HTO Park and Sugar Beach, Cherry Beach is a rugged natural beach – attracting both local wildlife and city dwellers looking for respite from the bustling city centre. With two Bike Share Toronto docking stations located here, you can reach Cherry Beach with a 4 km bike ride along the Martin Goodman Trail from Queens Quay Station via Sugar Beach.
Popular with picnickers, windsurfers and stand-up paddleboarders alike, Cherry Beach offers a little for everyone with a host of shade, sand and sun options. Cast iron grill pits dot the grassy area but it’s Mr. J’s Deli On The Beach food truck that has been feeding beachgoers hot dogs and French fries since 1984. And no need to leave the pups at home! They’re welcome in the off-leash dog park area.
Make Some Waves: Toronto Kayak, Canoe & Paddle Board Rentals
There’s plenty of places to make some waves along Toronto’s waterfront. Kayaking, canoeing and stand-up paddle boarding in Lake Ontario has never been easier. Located adjacent to HTO Park, Harbourfront Canoe & Kayak Centre offers convenient private and group rentals. Try your hand at stand-up paddleboarding with a lesson or opt for a guided tour that covers parts of the 13 archipelagoes that make up the Toronto Islands. Each rental offers a safety overview and life jackets to keep you safe on the water.
Ship Shape: Toronto Boat Cruises
There’s no shortage of boats along the shores of Lake Ontario either but one of the most impressive is the Tall Ship Kajima. Docked seasonally from May through September in Toronto’s Harbourfront, the three-mast schooner dates back to 1930. It spent decades as a cargo ship and sailed through Western Europe, Scandinavia and above the Arctic Circle. Now used for public day sails, the ship is a stunning piece of history docked right at the foot of Bay St. in Lake Ontario, making for a sea-worthy photo stop.
The Tall Ship Empire Sandy is another one of the city’s majestic ships that can frequently be spotting sailing the waters of Lake Ontario. The 740-tonne schooner is docked seasonally in the marina and offers public sailing tours when in operation.
Toronto’s Enchanted Waterfront Garden
Did you know Toronto has its very own secret garden? One of the city’s hidden gems is the enchanting Toronto Music Garden, floating on Toronto’s inner harbour. Inspired by Bach's First Suite for Unaccompanied Cello, each of the garden’s beautiful sections is designed to correspond with a different dance movement. The result is a garden full of charming surprises. Follow the winding pathways, walk under a beautiful canopy of trees, and make your way out to conifer groves and wildflower pastures that attract a host of birds and butterflies. Giant grass steps offer relaxing views of the harbour and, in the summer months, form a natural amphitheater for free open-air classical music concerts featuring performers from around the world.
Enjoy The View
With several lookout points perfect for nature, and people-watching, Toronto’s waterfront is the place to rest and relax – from the Port Lands in the east to Bathurst Quay to the west. On a clear day, it’s possible to glimpse the Niagara Escarpment across the lake and take in views of the Toronto Islands and local wildlife. But don’t forget to turn around and look up to take in the cityscape and Toronto’s iconic CN Tower. In the evening, catch the landmark tower – the tallest free-standing structure in the Western Hemisphere – all lit up at night.
After a day of exploring the waterfront, connect with the 509 Harbourfront or 510 Spadina TTC streetcar for an easy ride back to UP Express. Make sure you check the revised schedule for UP Express Union Station prior to travelling. If you need to catch the GO train, check the GO Transit departures schedules.