What to do on the Toronto Waterfront with kids

The Toronto skyline sits comfortably on the shore of Lake Ontario, which families should put to good use while visiting this urban, multicultural city. If you’re spending the morning at Rogers Centre or the CN Tower, or even St. Lawrence Market, pair it with an afternoon and evening along the Toronto Waterfront. This part of the city is currently undergoing a revitalization project (as of 2013), but don’t let construction deter you. Here’s what to do on the Waterfront with kids:

Toronto waterfront

Harbourfront Centre:

Access the Waterfront from Kings Street (at Sincoe or John), then explore the harbor side walking and biking path that connects to Harbourfront Centre. To one side, you’ll find the ice skating rink (which is converted to a pond with paddle boats in summer) and outdoor concert facility, and to the other, a large collection of waterfront shops and restaurants. Adult-sized bikes can be rented at convenient coin-operated kiosks in several locations (also throughout the city), or bikes can be rented at local shops. If you have bad weather, duck indoors to peruse the shops, but otherwise, stay by the harbor to check out the historic ships (you can go into the largest to see free exhibits inside), watch the ferry boats, and see planes land at the unique Centre Island airport.

Toronto harbor tours


Harbour Tours Toronto:

If you feel like going out on the water yourselves, you have two options. Ferries depart from the main ferry terminal at 9 Queens Quay West on a regular schedule for Centre Island for only $6.50 per person, or you can opt to take a ride with Harbour Tours Toronto. This harbor and islands tour also departs regularly (it was every 30 minutes at the time of my visit in early summer), will drop off passengers on Centre Island if desired (and pick them back up!) but otherwise cruises between the Toronto Islands and through the harbor on a one hour tour. Tickets are steeper at $25 for adults and $15 for kids (with online booking discounts available), and for the price, families get a somewhat silly, entertaining for kids narration from a guide, plus many photo opportunities as the glass window and open-air boat tours the harbor. Along the way, I learned quite a bit of history about the islands as well as what they’re used for today (recreation, residences, and wildlife preservation, depending on the island) during my tour.

tour Toronto harbor

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Sugar beach:

Located on Lower Jarvis Street, south of Queens Quay, Sugar Beach is in comfortable walking and biking distance of Harbourfront Centre and offers beach atmosphere for families without the time or inclination to head over to Centre Island. Imported white sand and playful pink beach umbrellas make Sugar Beach a great place to let kids play in the sand, and a creative water feature allows for cooling off. (Swimming is not allowed in the harbor.) There are plenty of restaurants nearby, as well as picnic tables, and event space for seasonal festivals and entertainment.

Roundhouse Park

Roundhouse Park:

Created in the 1990s, Roundhouse Park is located above the Waterfront by approximately two blocks, en route to the CN Tower (head up Simcoe). A great place to let kids loose before waiting in line for the tower or taking in an event at Rogers Centre, Roundhouse Park is the home of the Toronto Railway Historical Association, which operates a live steam miniature railway, displays engines and other train cars, and replicas of early train station offices. Kids can see a full roundhouse featuring a fully restored locomotive turntable, and adults can grab a brew at Steam Whistle Brewing. There are additional green spaces and park squares with benches and room to run around, though this is open to streets. Roundhouse Park is a great last stop of a fun family day at the Waterfront before heading back to a downtown hotel or getting on the subway.