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Harbourfront and the Islands

The new century has brought renewed interest to Toronto's Harbourfront. Cranes dot the skyline as condominium buildings seemingly appear overnight. Pedestrian traffic increases as temperatures rise in spring and summer. Everyone wants to be overlooking, facing, or playing in Lake Ontario.

The lakefront is appealing for strolls, and myriad recreational and amusement options make it ideal for those craving fresh air and exercise or with kids in tow. Before the drastic decline of trucking due to the 1970s oil crisis reduced the Great Lakes trade, Toronto's waterfront was an important center for shipping and warehousing. It fell into commercial disuse and was neglected for a long time. The Gardiner Expressway, Lake Shore Boulevard, and a network of rusty rail yards stood as hideous barriers to the natural beauty of Lake Ontario; the area overflowed with grain silos, warehouses, and malodorous towers of malt, used by local breweries. In the 1980s the city began to develop the waterfront for people-friendly purposes, and the trend continues today.

Best Time to Go

If it's sun and sand you're looking for, you'll want to aim for a visit in June, July, or August. The cool breeze coming off Lake Ontario can be the perfect antidote to one of Toronto's hot and humid summer days, but in the off-season it can make things a little chilly if you aren't packing an extra layer.

Ways to Explore

Festivals and Events

The Canadian National Exhibition (CNE, or "the Ex") takes place the last two weeks of August and Labor Day weekend, attracting more than 3 million people each year. It began in 1879 primarily as an agricultural show and today is a collection of carnival workers pushing C$5 balloons, midway rides, bands, horticultural and technological exhibits, parades, dog swims, horse shows, and (sometimes) top-notch performances. Stick around for nightly fireworks at 10.

Throughout the year, the Harbourfront Centre hosts a dizzying array of festivals, covering cultural celebrations such as Kuumba (February) and the Mexican Day of the Dead (November), foodie-friendly fĂȘtes like the Hot & Spicy Festival (August) and Vegetarian Food Fair (September), and literary events such as the International Festival of Authors (October).

Updated: 2014-03-04

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