12 Top-Rated Things to Do in Barrie, Ontario

Written by Bryan Dearsley
Updated Feb 21, 2023
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Author Bryan Dearsley lived in Barrie for many years and revisits often to enjoy its excellent dining and entertainment scene, as well as to enjoy a stroll around its beautiful lakefront.

Only an hour's drive north of Toronto's Pearson International Airport and less than 90 minutes away from downtown Toronto, the city of Barrie makes for a great weekend getaway or day trip destination.

Barrie sign
Barrie sign | Photo Copyright: Bryan Dearsley

In addition to its attractive waterfront on Lake Simcoe, popular places to visit in Barrie include its large public beach and historic downtown core, which is chock-full of interesting shops and restaurants.

Set on the shores of one of Ontario's best lakes, Barrie is ideally situated for outdoor activities. While Lake Simcoe has long been a popular destination for boaters in summer and ice fishers in winter, the hills to the northwest of the city continue to draw hordes of skiers for their high volumes of snow.

This is particularly true of Horseshoe Valley. This popular ski resort within easy reach of Toronto benefits from heavy snowfalls caused by the unique "lake effect" from nearby Georgian Bay.

Plan your sightseeing adventures with our list of the top attractions and things to do in Barrie, Ontario.

1. Enjoy Year-Round Adventures at Horseshoe Resort

Horseshoe Resort
Horseshoe Resort

Its handy location relative to the densely populated Greater Toronto Area makes Barrie and its surrounds one of the best places to visit in Ontario for skiing and other outdoor pursuits.

Leading the way is the popular Horseshoe Resort. Set in the picturesque Horseshoe Valley just 20 minutes' drive from Barrie's city center, Horseshoe Resort is especially popular with new skiers and has over 100 ski instructors based in their ski school.

Not that die-hard skiers and snowboarders won't have fun. Boasting a 91-meter vertical and plenty of lifts to get you quickly to the top of the slopes, the resort also offers excellent night skiing.

Horseshoe Resort
Horseshoe Resort | Photo Copyright: Bryan Dearsley

Add to this other adventures like cross-country skiing, snow tubing, the increasingly popular fat snow biking option, and plenty of on-site accommodation options, and there's lots to keep the whole family entertained.

Summer resort activities at Horseshoe include mountain biking, ATV-ing, and day camp activities for kids. Horseshoe Valley is also a popular hiking destination, with the over 4,400-acre Copeland Forest featuring dozens of trails to explore. The area is especially nice to hike during the fall, when the spectacular foliage colors peak late September to early October.

Other nearby ski opportunities are also available. Two of the most popular are the Snow Valley Ski Resort in Minesing, which features three ski lifts and plenty of family-friendly runs, and Mount St. Louis Moonstone, with a vertical of 168 meters, six chair lifts, and night skiing.

Address: 1101 Horseshoe Valley Road W, Barrie, Ontario

Accommodation: Horseshoe Resort

2. Stroll Waterfront Barrie and Centennial Park

Centennial Park
Centennial Park | Photo Copyright: Bryan Dearsley

Barrie's waterfront is definitely among the most attractive of any city in Ontario. Wrapping around Lake Simcoe's Kempenfelt Bay, Barrie's mostly-manicured waterfront has been a decades-long project that stretches six kilometers from Johnsons' Beach on the north shore, all the way to Minet's Point Park on the south shore.

It's joined end-to-end by mostly paved, level footpaths and walkways. Along the way, you'll pass plenty of green space to in which to stop and relax, including quieter parks on the extremities, as well as the attractive Heritage Park with its gazebos and ponds.

Heritage Park in Barrie
Heritage Park in Barrie

Much of the action centers around Centennial Park. With its newly expanded beach area, it's a delightful spot to spend time in while the kids splash around and play. And, although there are snack concessions here, you can easily head off to the downtown core for a meal.

Barrie's waterfront is also a popular gathering spot for cyclists. From here, you can pick up the Oro-Medonte Rail Trail. This nearly-40-kilometer-long trail connects Barrie with Orillia to the north. Perfectly flat the whole route, it's as popular with families with young kids as it is those who like to push themselves.

Along the way, you can stop off at picturesque Shanty Bay, a small lakeside community that's a perfect spot for a rest or a picnic.

Address: Lakeshore Drive, Barrie, Ontario

3. Soar with the Spirit Catcher

Spirit Catcher sculpture in Barrie
Spirit Catcher sculpture in Barrie | Photo Copyright: Bryan Dearsley

Barrie also just so happens to be home to the iconic Spirit Catcher sculpture. A backdrop for many-a selfie, wedding shoot, and family group photo, this iconic landmark graces the waterfront between Heritage Park and the city's marina boardwalk.

Originally constructed for the Vancouver Expo in 1986 by artist Ron Baird, this massive steel structure was dismantled and shipped to its new home overlooking Kempenfelt Bay in 1987. Part of the MacLaren Art Centre's outdoor artwork collection, this huge sculpture stands 21 meters tall with a span of 25 meters, and weighs in at some 20 tons.

Believe it or not, it also actually moves. Well, at least part of it does. The 16 large, dangling "quills" hang freely from its outstretched wings and, when the wind blows, they move gently back and forth, making for a surprising effect.

Address: 15 Lakeshore Drive, Barrie, Ontario

4. Explore Downtown Barrie

Downtown Barrie
Downtown Barrie | Photo Copyright: Bryan Dearsley

Stretching a few blocks from east to west and roughly following the gently curving shoreline of Kempenfelt Bay, downtown Barrie has become a fun place to explore. Here, you'll find plenty of great things to do, from shopping to dining.

If you're peckish, check out the Indian-inspired dishes at Tara or the fine dining experiences at Groovy Tuesday's Bistro, both of which have been an integral part of the city's food scene for over two decades. Great lunch spots include Homestead Artisan Bakery + Cafe and Sigrid's Cafe & Fine Bakery.

View of downtown Barrie
View of downtown Barrie

Downtown Barrie is also a hub for entertainment and cultural activities. For culture hounds, the MacLaren Art Centre at the east end of the downtown area offers a mix of permanent and temporary exhibits, not to mention a great café and gift shop.

At the other end of town, the state-of-the-art Five Points Theatre offers an eclectic mix of music and theater. There's also a modern amphitheater in Memorial Park, used year-round for events such as the popular summer Rib Fest, Canada Day festivities, and concerts.

Address: 93 Dunlop Street E unit 102, Barrie, Ontario

5. Take in Local Art Displays at MacLaren Art Centre

MacLaren Art Centre
MacLaren Art Centre | Photo Copyright: Bryan Dearsley

Able to trace its roots back to 1986, the MacLaren Art Centre got its first permanent home after a local collector donated his Victorian home and art collection to the group. Fast forward to today and it has since become one of central Ontario's most important art galleries.

Now housed in the city's former library, an attractive heritage building just steps from the waterfront, this art gallery-come-museum is not only the owner of the city's iconic Spirit Catcher sculpture, but also numerous works from some of Canada's best known artists, not to mention many local artists.

Tours and workshops are also available, along with fun summer camps for kids. A great café is located on-site, along with a gift shop selling items related to exhibits and collections, as well as locally made arts and crafts.

Address: 37 Mulcaster Street, Barrie, Ontario

6. Get Back to Nature at Arboretum Sunnidale Park

Arboretum Sunnidale Park
Arboretum Sunnidale Park | Photo Copyright: Bryan Dearsley

Barrie's Arboretum Sunnidale Park is another pleasant green space to explore. Occupying a former golf course and close to the city's "Golden Mile" shopping district on Bayfield Street, Sunnidale is the city's largest park. In addition to its arboretum, the park offers plenty of other activities, from sports to gardening at the community garden.

A two-kilometer trail loops around the park, circling around the over 14 acres of the arboretum with its rich collection of 1,800 shrubs and trees. The site also features numerous flower beds — most of them are labeled so you can learn about them as you go. In addition to summer activities held elsewhere in Sunnidale, including picnics and enjoying a stroll, winter brings fun of its own, including snowshoeing and cross-country skiing.

Other popular areas to explore in Barrie include the Tiffin Centre for Conservation and Bear Creek Eco Park, both of which offer year-round trails and activities.

Address: 227 Sunnidale Road, Barrie, Ontario

7. Take the Kids to Chappell Farms

Chappell Farms
Chappell Farms | Photo Copyright: Bryan Dearsley

Just two minutes north of Barrie by car, Chappell Farms is a must-visit for anyone with kids in tow. This family-run working farm has been a fixture on the Barrie tourism scene for decades, offering visitors from across central Ontario and beyond a variety of fun-filled themed events and festivals to participate in.

Things kick off each year with the Spring Festival, a fun excuse for families to get the kids outside after those long winters to enjoy everything from Easter egg hunts to wagon rides. Come autumn, it's the turn of the farm's Fall Festival. Coinciding with Halloween, highlights include pick-your-own pumpkin experiences, a corn maze, and the "Haunted Barn."

A petting zoo is also available, offering the kids some hands-on animal experiences. A produce stall is open offering seasonal produce, and the "Gift Barn" features a variety of farm-grown items and local foodstuffs and sweet treats.

Address: 617 Penetanguishene Road, Barrie, Ontario

8. Relive the Past at Historic Fort Willow

Fort Willow
Fort Willow | Photo Copyright: Bryan Dearsley

Located an easy 20-minute drive from Barrie in the wonderfully named hamlet of Utopia (population 100) is the site of Historic Fort Willow. Established as a supply depot for British forces during the War of 1812, this once strategically important area had for centuries prior been used by First Nations' people, and later European explorers and fur traders who referred to it as Nine Mile Portage.

A visit today reveals much about the storied past of the old fort. Though nothing remains of its original structures today, a number of interesting displays and exhibits provide details of the buildings that once stood here, and the people who would have lived and worked here. It's also rich in wildlife, and is an important summer home to countless monarch butterflies before they head south for the winter.

If possible, try to plan your visit to coincide with the annual Festival at Fort Willow. Held each September, this fun event features costumed reenactors portraying the lives of British soldiers and pioneers from this time in history. Plenty of picnic tables are also located on-site.

Fort Willow also serves as a great jumping-off point for numerous hiking routes. Among the most popular are the North Simcoe Rail Trail and the Trans Canada Trail.

Address: 2714 Grenfel Road, Utopia, Ontario

9. Learn about Local History at Simcoe County Museum

Simcoe County Museum
Simcoe County Museum | Photo Copyright: Bryan Dearsley

Twenty minutes away by car in the other direction (this time northwest, and just past the Snow Valley ski area) brings you to the tiny community of Minesing, Ontario.

It's here you'll find the Simcoe County Museum, a repository of information and artifacts for a large region that encompasses Barrie north to Orillia, west to Collingwood, and all the way south to the outskirts of York Region.

Highlights of a visit to this 300-plus-acre site include a collection of 16 preserved heritage buildings dating from the 1800s, including a church, a log home, and a train station. There's even an old schoolhouse dating from 1900, which starred in the hit TV show Anne of Green Gables.

Also worth seeing are the five galleries housing displays of artifacts including tools and machinery. There's also a reproduction of a Wendat longhouse, and reproductions of old storefronts.

Address: 1151 ON-26, Minesing, Ontario

10. Meet Canada's Armed Forces at Base Borden Military Museum

Base Borden Military Museum
Base Borden Military Museum | Photo Copyright: Bryan Dearsley

Thirty minutes due west of Barrie is one of Canada's largest military bases: Canadian Forces Base Borden. Established in 1916 and rapidly expanded to become Canada's largest military training base, CFB Borden played a huge role in Canada's efforts during WWII, with 50 percent of Canada's troops spending time here.

This history, along with Canada's military involvement overseas, is celebrated at Base Borden Military Museum. Along with its large collection of military vehicles, including tanks and aircraft located at various points around the base and in its "Tank Park," the museum is open year-round and contains numerous fighting vehicles and weapons indoors. Highlights include displays of uniforms and other war-related items.

Base Borden also has a long aviation history, and some of its original WWI-era aircraft hangars have even been preserved. A great time to visit is during the base's air and military shows, when kids can clamber aboard some of the more modern machines, chat to military personnel and soldiers, as well as watch Canada's famous Snowbird display team perform their thrilling aerobatics.

Address: 27 Ram Street, Borden, Ontario

11. The Grey & Simcoe Foresters Regimental Museum

Grey & Simcoe Foresters Regimental Museum
Grey & Simcoe Foresters Regimental Museum | Photo Copyright: Bryan Dearsley

One of the top free things to do in Barrie, the Grey & Simcoe Foresters Regimental Museum is another must-visit for history buffs interested in learning more about Canada's military. Located on Mulcaster Street directly opposite the MacLaren Arts Centre, this fascinating museum is actually located in the regiment's historic old armory, which was built in 1889.

In addition to displays of artifacts, useful accompanying details paint a picture of the regiment's history, since it was founded in 1866 right through to the present day. Highlights include original uniforms, rare medals, weapons, scale models, and documents, as well as artifacts from the regiment's overseas and domestic military engagements including both world wars and Afghanistan.

Guided tours are available, and the museum's research library is available for public use.

Address: 36 Mulcaster Street, Barrie, Ontario

12. See a Performance at Five Points Theatre

Five Points Theatre
Five Points Theatre | Photo Copyright: City of Barrie

Culture vultures are well catered to in Barrie, too. The newest addition to Barrie's rich and diverse cultural scene is Five Points Theatre. Located in the downtown core, this modern, state-of-the-art facility hosts a broad repertoire of entertainment and events throughout the year.

A local theatrical group to regularly make use of the facility is Theatre by the Bay. This professional theater company has staged everything from Shakespeare to contemporary musicals here and in other locations across the city since 2002.

Another notable venue, Georgian Theatre is located in Georgian College and hosts professional theater and performances year-round. The Park Place Theatre in Barrie's south end also hosts a number of popular events and shows.

Address: 1 Dunlop Street W, Barrie, Ontario