Few cities can claim an island paradise merely a 10-minute ferry ride away from the bustling concrete canyons of downtown. Fortunately, Toronto is among those on this exclusive list. This serene area, easily accessible from downtown, offers an enjoyable visit for virtually anyone.
Upon disembarking at any of the three landings, you will discover four beaches, an amusement park, a petting farm, splash pads, a maze, playgrounds, restaurants, and expansive open spaces perfect for picnics. Comprising 15 individual islands of various shapes and sizes, Toronto Island Park, commonly known as the Toronto Islands, provides a tranquil escape. The canals between these islands serve as excellent locations for paddling a canoe, kayak, or stand-up paddleboard (SUP). For those who prefer a more relaxed activity, the canals are some of Toronto’s finest fishing spots.
Plan your outing with the help of our list of the best things to do in Toronto Islands.
1. Lounge on the Beaches
Toronto Island Park proudly holds the distinction of hosting four Blue Flag beaches, a prestigious certification for beach excellence that promises soft golden sands, crystal-clear water, and enjoyment for all ages. Lifeguards are stationed at each beach to ensure the safety of bathers.
Spread across the island, the four beaches, considered among the best beaches near Toronto, face south, east, and southwest. On hot days, Centre Island Beach is the most bustling and offers a range of services, including a concession stand, a restaurant with a spacious patio, bike rentals, lockers, changerooms, and washrooms. Thanks to its large offshore breakwater, the water at this beach remains calm and warm.
For those seeking tranquility, Gibraltar Point Beach or Hanlan’s Point are ideal choices. Ward’s Island beach, while busy, boasts the advantage of proximity to the best restaurants and easy access to the boardwalk.
It is important to note that there are three ferry routes, all departing from the Jack Layton Ferry Terminal in Toronto: Centre Island, Hanlan’s Point, and Ward’s Island. Choose the appropriate route to minimize your walk to the selected beach.
Centre and Gibraltar beaches are approximately a 10- to 15-minute walk from the Centre Island ferry terminal. Ward’s Island beach is even closer, requiring only a five- to 10-minute walk from the Ward’s Island ferry terminal. Hanlan’s Point Beach is about a 15-minute walk from the Hanlan’s Point ferry terminal. Regardless of your choice, be prepared to walk or bike, and consider bringing a small cart for transporting additional gear.
2. Far Enough Farm
More than 40 diverse animals eagerly await your visit with your children at Far Enough Farm. Accessible by strolling through Centreville Amusement Park, you’ll easily recognize it by the prominent large red barn and antique tractor.
In operation for over 60 years, this complimentary tourist attraction offers a delightful opportunity to engage with amiable farm animals and birds. Broad pathways wind around the animal pens, and the animals are always eager to receive a pet or two. Among the most beloved residents are the pot-bellied pig, Duke the buckskin horse, a Jersey cow, Billy Gruff the pygmy Billy goat, and Huacaya, the friendly alpaca.
Far Enough Farm functions as a fully operational farm, with real farmers attending to their daily chores. If you have any questions, they are typically more than willing to provide answers.
3. Paddle the Canals
Toronto Island Park encompasses 15 islands with tranquil canals and narrow waterways between them, offering an ideal setting for exploration at the water level. Bring your canoe or opt to rent a canoe (suitable for three adults or two adults and two children), single or tandem kayaks at the Boat House.
Hourly rentals are available, with discounts for longer durations. Paddling experience is not required, and the canals typically have shallow waters. Stand-up paddleboarding is another popular activity, with board rentals, along with kayaks, offered by Toronto Island SUP near the Algonquin Bridge.
Venturing through the waterways provides an excellent opportunity to observe wildlife, including wading birds like herons, ducks, geese, and even swans. Keep an eye out for turtles basking in the sun on partially submerged logs as you explore the scenic surroundings.
4. Centreville Amusement Park
What could be more enjoyable than combining a ferry ride with a day at an amusement park? Well, the answer might vary based on your age, but for those under 10 years old, the response is likely a resounding nothing! Centreville has been delighting children with shrieks of joy for over 50 years and remains a popular destination.
Designed as an old western-style town with winding streets beneath a large canopy of trees, Centreville welcomes visitors to roam freely or visit any of the 14 eateries without an entrance fee. However, if you wish to enjoy the rides, purchasing tickets is necessary.
The park features over 30 rides and amusements, ranging from a log flume and a historic carousel to spinning teacups and leisurely chairlift rides on the Sky Ride. To gain an overview of the entire area, take a ride on the narrow-gauge train departing from Centreville Train Station.
Feeling inclined to spend some money? Test your skills and attempt to win a plush toy prize at one of the midway games in the game’s booth area. Do not forget to bring your bathing suit for the impressive splash pad in the park’s center; it is considered one of the best in Toronto, and admission to the splash pad is free.
5. William Meany Maze
Allow your children to frolic through the William Meany Maze or try navigating its twists and turns yourself. Paths bordered by more than 1,200 black cedar trees wind in various directions within the maze. Surprisingly tall, some trees exceed seven feet, effectively concealing all participants from one another.
Enjoy the challenge of finding your way to the center and recalling the route back out as you follow trails that initially appear promising but ultimately lead to dead ends. The William Meany Maze is conveniently located a short walk from the Centre Island ferry terminal.
6. Walk the Pier
Unlike many cities built on a lake, Toronto lacks piers, but the one extending into Lake Ontario at Centre Island Beach, while not comparable to Chicago’s Navy Pier, has its appeal.
The pier, accessible for free, offers the most picturesque views of Lake Ontario and is an excellent spot for a selfie. Stroll to the end where it branches into a Y, and marvel at the panoramic view of the lake. To your left, Cherry Beach and the Port Lands come into sight, while to your right, the towers of Etobicoke and Mississauga can be seen in the distance.
7. Dine on the Patios
If your exploration of Toronto Island Park has left you hungry or thirsty, it’s probably time to seek out the nearest patio. Numerous restaurants offer food and refreshing drinks on sunny patios.
One excellent choice for lunch and a drink is the Toronto Island BBQ, located right next to the Centre Island ferry terminal. The breathtaking views of the city will captivate you, leaving you in awe and prompting continuous photo-snapping. The arrival and departure of the ferry add a pleasant distraction to the scene.
For a serene garden setting beneath leafy trees with partial views of Cherry Beach, consider heading to the patio at The Riviera Ward’s Island Kitchen. Enjoy light meals, cold drinks, and delightful desserts at well-spaced tables, where quiet conversations and birdsong provide the acoustic backdrop to your meal. A short distance across the lawn from the Ward’s Island ferry terminal awaits the charming The Island Café.
8. Franklin Children’s Garden
Parents of young children are probably acquainted with the Franklin the Turtle book series. At Toronto Island Park, these books spring to life. A cherished attraction for the little ones, the garden offers numerous interesting and exciting activities, including Franklin’s Pollination Station, the Snail Trail, Little Sprouts Garden, Turtle Pond, and more.
On any given day, special programming is available for children; simply drop in during your visit to discover what exciting activities might be happening, and you might even catch a glimpse of Franklin himself!
9. Gibraltar Point Lighthouse
Presently nestled back in the trees, the Gibraltar Point Lighthouse’s significance as one of Lake Ontario’s most crucial lighthouses has faded, much like its now-decommissioned light. Nevertheless, it’s a worthwhile discovery as you cycle or stroll along the pathways of Toronto Island Park.
Initially erected in 1808, the lighthouse, standing 25 meters tall, is constructed from limestone. The original light was fueled by sperm whale oil. Legend has it that the lighthouse is haunted by the ghost of its original lightkeeper, John Paul Radelmuller, who was tragically murdered by drunken soldiers on January 2, 1815.
While it would be wonderful to ascend to the top and enjoy panoramic views across the island and back towards downtown Toronto, regrettably, this is not an option. The lighthouse remains securely locked, with no current plans to open it to the public.
10. Bike around the Islands
Biking stands out as one of the most popular activities on the Toronto Islands, with over 20 kilometers of paved pathways crisscrossing the island and passing by all the main attractions. Toronto Island Park surprises with its considerable size, spanning 4.5 kilometers from one end to the other, making exploration on two wheels the most efficient way to make the most of your time.
Bicycles are welcomed on the ferries without an additional fee. If you prefer to rent one, you can find rentals at the concession at Centre Island Beach, offering various options, including traditional bikes, tandem bikes, or the unique and enjoyable four-seater quadricycles.
A couple of highlights during any biking excursion on the islands include a ride along the boardwalk from Centre Island Beach to Ward’s Island Beach. Another popular route involves a leisurely pedal around the distinctive homes on Algonquin Island, with a stop to capture pictures of the Toronto skyline. If you’re biking from one end to the other, make sure to pause and explore the haunted Gibraltar Point Lighthouse dating back to 1808.
11. Go Fishing
Given the abundance of canals and waterfront areas, it’s unsurprising that fishing enjoys popularity in the park. A diverse array of fish, ranging from small panfish like sunfish and pumpkinseed to sizable northern pike, catfish, and largemouth bass, inhabit the waters below.
You can engage in fishing from the rocky shoreline, a boat, docks, or along the edges of the canals. The debate over which lure to use persists (as is common in fishing), but there’s a consensus that live bait under a float, on a spinner, or a reliable jig is likely to yield a catch.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Toronto Islands: Best Areas & Hotels
Q: How do I get to Toronto Islands?
A: Access to the islands is primarily by ferry. Ferries operate regularly from the Jack Layton Ferry Terminal.
Q: Are there accommodations on the Toronto Islands?
A: No, there are no hotels on the islands. Most visitors stay in downtown Toronto and take a ferry for a day trip.
Q: Can I bring my bike to Toronto Islands?
A: Yes, you can bring your bike on the ferry, or you can rent one on the islands.
Q: Is there an entrance fee for Centreville Amusement Park?
A: Yes, there is an admission fee for Centreville Amusement Park. Check their official website for current pricing.
Q: Are there restrictions on fishing in the Toronto Islands?
A: Yes, there are fishing regulations in place. Make sure to obtain the necessary permits and follow local guidelines.