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The 11 Must-Do Summer Activities On Toronto's Harbourfront

Picture of Katherine DeClerq
Updated: 9 February 2017
The Harbourfront, with its spectacular views, sits on the shore of Lake Ontario. It is one of the Toronto’s cultural hubs, featuring international cuisine, music, and activities. With something for everyone, here’s a list of the top must-see events and festivals to attend this summer.
Ontario Celebration Zone | © Harbourfront Centre/ Brian Medina
Ontario Celebration Zone | © Harbourfront Centre/ Brian Medina

Ontario Celebration Zone

Panamania has taken over every inch of the city, including Harbourfront. The Games may be over, but the celebrating has continued. Until Aug. 16, Harbourfront will be hosting the Ontario Celebration Zone with weekly concerts, cooking demonstrations, beer and wine tastings, and instructional fitness classes, as well as special activities daily. Torontonians will also be able to try different sports each day. The idea is to merge sport and art to create a place where Canadians can come together and enjoy themselves.

Harbourfront Centre WestJet Stage | © Harbourfront Centre/ Brian Medina
Harbourfront Centre WestJet Stage | © Harbourfront Centre/ Brian Medina

Free Flicks Wednesday

Going to the movie theatre is so passé; instead, head to Harbourfront on Wednesday nights for some free films. Now Magazine’s Norman Wilner has carefully picked the program, which has been dubbed as Toronto’s only summer-long free movie festival. The line up includes Boy, The Descendants, The Darjeeling Limited and True Grit. The final film, set to be shown on September 2, is the audience’s choice, which means that Torontonians can vote on what movie they wish to see.

Harbourfront festival installations | © Wladyslaw (Wikipedia Commons)
Harbourfront festival installations | © Wladyslaw (Wikipedia Commons)

Planet IndigenUS

Toronto is very proud of its cultural heritage, and it doesn’t shy away from exploring its past. Planet IndigenUS is a 10-day, international arts festival beginning July 31 that celebrates Indigenous stories and culture. The purpose of this festival is to break stereotypes and foster cross-cultural dialogue about the Indigenous peoples. Cree music legend Buffy Sainte-Marie and award-winning singer Holly McNarland will be one of the 300 artists performing over the festival’s duration. Planet IndigenUS has been labeled as the largest Indigenous festival of its kind.

Dancing on the Pier

Every Thursday throughout the summer, the waterfront transforms into an open-air dance floor. One of Harbourfront’s most popular events, Dancing on the Pier has been running for the past five years. From 7:00-11:00 PM, live bands and musicians will set the mood while hundreds of people, quite literally, ‘dance on the pier.’ Each week has a different theme, whether it’s salsa, ballroom, or jazz.

Toronto Music Garden | © Harbourfront Centre/ Gera Dillon
Toronto Music Garden | © Harbourfront Centre/ Gera Dillon

Summer Music in the Garden

If you enjoy more classical music, head to the Toronto Music Garden to hear the dulcet tones of Toronto’s Ton Beau String Quartet, the old-school Italian baroque from Quebec’s Ensemble La Cigale, or the fun rhythms of Japanese drummer Nagata Shachu. Concerts such as these will be taking place most Thursdays at 7 PM and Sundays at 4 PM at the Toronto Music Garden, a park designed by renowned cellist Yo Yo Ma and landscape designer Julie Moir Messervy. Get there early for a seat on the park benches, or bring your own lawn chair.

Try international foods by World Café | © Harbourfront Centre/Brian Medina
Try international foods by World Café | © Harbourfront Centre/Brian Medina

Hot and Spicy Food Festival

Prepare to challenge your taste buds at the Hot and Spicy Food Festival. Chefs, authors and artists will gather at Harbourfront to share their spice-inspired meals throughout the weekend of September 4-7. There will be food demonstrations, cook-offs and lectures on sourcing and preserving food. One of the chefs in attendance will be Vikram Vij, whose chicken curry dish is rumored to be worth a wait in line. You won’t be able to resist the international aromas floating through the air.

Hot and Spicy Food Festival | © Harbourfront Centre/Camille Allego
Hot and Spicy Food Festival | © Harbourfront Centre/Camille Allego

DJ Deep Fried Fridays

What’s better after a long week at work than music and fried food? The Harbourfront can hook you up with both. Until September 4th, Torontonians can visit the Stage in the Round — the circular stage near the Harbourfront Centre —and dance to the international rhythmic beats of Toronto’s DJs. Don’t forget to visit the World Café and try some delectable international cuisine first hand. There will also be specialized ‘deep-fried treats’ available for $2 a piece.

Vis and Ramin at the Tirgan Festival | © Mittimoe (Wikipedia Commons)
Vis and Ramin at the Tirgan Festival | © Mittimoe (Wikipedia Commons)

Tirgan

Labeled as the world’s largest Iranian arts and culture festival, Tirgan celebrates the very best of Persian dance, food and music. The festival, which will take place between August 21 and August 23, will showcase the Vancouver Pars National Ballet, who will be performing folk and traditional Iranian dances, and Scarlet Stone, a multidisciplinary dance-theatre performance based on ancient Persian mythology. The art presented throughout the weekend will study the past and look into the future of the Iranian Homeland.

Harbourfront Centre Stage in the Round | © Harbourfront Centre/ Brian Medina
Harbourfront Centre Stage in the Round | © Harbourfront Centre/ Brian Medina

Habari Africa

Between August 14 and August 16, Harbourfront will be consumed with energetic music. The theme for the Habari Africa festival is ‘new voices’ and will feature performances by African and African-Canadian musicians. Included on the line-up is international musician and humanitarian activist Rocky Dawuini, who will be playing at 9:30 PM at the WestJet Stage. There will be a number of family-friendly activities with one favorite being a drum installation where children can learn the song Toumkak using shakers, cowbells and African telephones. Visitors can also head to the World Café for some traditional African foods.

Taiwan Fest | © Harbourfront Centre/ Holmes_Pasiminio
Taiwan Fest | © Harbourfront Centre/ Holmes_Pasiminio

TaiwanFEST

Harbourfront will spend the last weekend of August celebrating Taiwanese culture and tradition, including its varied and rich history, at TAIWANfest. Visitors will be able to taste the best of Pan-Asian cuisine and listen to the captivating sounds of the TAIWANfest Symphony Orchestra. Of course, a Taiwanese festival would not be complete without karaoke, one of the most popular forms of entertainment. The sometimes off-key singing from OMG Karaoke can be heard throughout the Harbourfront— sometimes over the guest musical performers — and is worth visiting.

Vegetarian cupcakes | © Veg Food Fest
Vegetarian cupcakes | © Veg Food Fest

Veg Food Fest

The September long weekend wouldn’t be the same without one final festival at Harbourfront. The Vegetarian Food Festival will showcase local and international chefs, cooking demonstrations and new products that you may not have heard of before. There will also be a marketplace full of vendors offering free samples and advice to vegetarian wannabes. Even if you are a carnivore, there is a lot to enjoy at the Veg Food Fest. The program is packed with lectures, fitness classes and musical performances.