Canada

How to Visit and Discover the Toronto Islands


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The Toronto Islands, located just a short ferry ride away from downtown Toronto, is a gem of the city. They are one of my favourite places and I’ve been there countless times whilst living in Toronto as well as when visiting the city. With the beaches, lush greenery, and some of the best views of the Toronto skyline, the Islands offer a peaceful retreat from the hustle and bustle of the city. Whether you’re a nature lover, or simply looking for a fun day out, the Toronto Islands have something for everyone. Below we will guide you on how to visit and discover the Toronto Islands, from the best ways to get there to the top activities and attractions to explore.


Why visit the Toronto Islands?

The Toronto Islands are a must-visit destination for both locals and tourists alike. With their tranquil atmosphere and stunning natural beauty, the islands offer a perfect escape from busy city life. Whether you’re looking to relax on the beach, go for a leisurely bike ride, or simply enjoy a picnic with a view, the Toronto Islands have it all.

The islands are also home to a rich history, dating back centuries, with landmarks and attractions that tell the story of Toronto’s past. From the Gibraltar Point Lighthouse to the Centreville Amusement Park, there is plenty to see and do on the Toronto Islands. For those looking to capture images of the city’s skyline then the Islands offer some of the best vantage points and are a must for any first-time visitor to the city.

Someone taking a picture from the Toronto Islands
Taking photos of the city – Image by team / @mikecleggphoto

How to get to the Toronto Islands

Getting to the Toronto Islands is easy and convenient. The islands are accessible by ferry, which departs from the Jack Layton Ferry Terminal located at the foot of Bay Street. The ferry ride itself is a scenic experience, offering stunning views of the Toronto skyline and Lake Ontario.

The ferries run regularly throughout the day, with departures approximately every 30 minutes. For those just looking to explore the islands then it’s recommended to arrive early, especially during peak summer months, to avoid long queues and ensure a spot on the ferry. For those wanting some sunset/blue hour images then this is also possible and the queues may not be quite as bad “to” the island at this time, but the return trip may be a bit busier. During all my visits to the islands, I’ve never had any trouble.

If you’re travelling there later in the day then be sure to check when the last return ferry is, although it is generally quite late.

The ferry ride takes around 15 minutes and drops you off at the main island, where you can start your island adventure.

You can find all the ferry schedules and more information here.


Toronto Island tours

If you prefer a guided experience or want to learn more about the history and nature of the Toronto Islands as well as the city, then there are several tour options available. You’ll find tours that will show you around the islands, or simply take you on a nice cruise on Lake Ontario and around the islands but may not actually dock.

These tours are often led by knowledgeable guides who will take you on a journey through the islands, highlighting the key landmarks and sharing interesting facts along the way.

Whether you choose a walking tour, a bike tour, or a kayak tour, you’re guaranteed to have a memorable experience and gain a deeper appreciation for the Toronto Islands and the city.


Exploring the different islands

The Toronto Islands consist of a group of small islands interconnected by bridges and pathways. Each island has its own unique charm and attractions, making it worth exploring. The main island, Centre Island, is the largest and most popular among visitors. Here, you’ll find beautiful beaches, picnic areas, bike rentals, and even an amusement park. Ward’s Island, on the other hand, offers a more secluded and peaceful atmosphere, with quaint cottages and serene gardens. Hanlan’s Point is known for its clothing-optional beach, while Olympic Island is one of the best places to admire the city’s skyline.


Activities and attractions on the Toronto Islands

The Toronto Islands offer a range of activities and attractions to suit various interests.

If you’re a beach lover, you’ll be delighted to know that the islands boast several sandy beaches, including Centre Island Beach, Hanlan’s Point Beach, and Gibraltar Point Beach. These beaches provide the perfect setting for sunbathing, swimming, and picnicking with friends and family.

For outdoor enthusiasts, the islands offer numerous walking and biking trails, where you can enjoy the lush greenery and scenic views.

You can also rent kayaks, canoes, and paddleboards to explore the surrounding waters. History buffs will enjoy visiting the Gibraltar Point Lighthouse, the oldest existing lighthouse on the Great Lakes.

For those wanting a guided experience, you’ll find options such as cycling tours.


Best viewpoints of the city on the Toronto Islands

One of the highlights of visiting the Toronto Islands is the stunning panoramic views of the city skyline. From various points on the islands, you can capture breathtaking photographs of Toronto’s iconic landmarks, such as the CN Tower, the Rogers Centre and the many skyscrapers lining the skyline.

The best viewpoints can be found at the Centre Island Pier (in particular Olympic Island), as well as at Hanlan’s Point, and Ward’s Island. You’ll often find spots offering unobstructed views of the city, especially during sunset when the skyline is bathed in golden hues.

Be sure to bring your camera or smartphone to capture these memorable moments and share them with your friends and family. A good tripod is also a good idea for long-exposure photography.

Toronto skyline at night
The Toronto skyline – Image by @mikecleggphoto / team

Best times to visit the Toronto Islands

The Toronto Islands are a year-round destination, with each season offering its own unique charm.

The summer months, from June to August, are the most popular time to visit, as the weather is warm and the beaches are perfect for swimming and sunbathing.

However, if you prefer a quieter experience, consider visiting in the spring or fall when the crowds are smaller, and the foliage is at its most vibrant.

Winter can also be a magical time to visit, especially after a fresh snowfall when the islands are transformed into a winter wonderland. Often during the winter you’ll be travelling through an icy pathway to the islands as most of the lake is frozen. This is quite cool and surreal. Just remember to dress warmly and check the ferry schedule, as service may be limited during the colder months.


Where to eat on the Toronto Islands

Exploring the Toronto Islands can be a long day and work up an appetite. During certain times of the year there are several dining options available.

On the islands, you’ll find several restaurants, cafes, and snack bars, including Toronto Island BBQ & Beer Co, Carousel Café and The Riviera.

You can also pack a picnic and enjoy a meal in one of the many picnic areas available throughout the islands.


Tips for visiting the Toronto Islands

To make the most of your visit to the Toronto Islands, here are a few tips to keep in mind:

  • Dress comfortably and wear appropriate footwear for walking or biking on the islands.
  • Pack sunscreen, hats, and sunglasses, especially during the summer months when the sun is strong.
  • Bring a refillable water bottle to stay hydrated throughout the day.
  • Consider bringing your own food and snacks to keep you going.
  • Don’t forget your camera or smartphone to capture the beautiful scenery and memorable moments. Plus your tripod if you’re taking long exposure photographs.
  • Check the ferry schedule in advance and plan your visit accordingly to avoid long wait times.
  • Ensure that you know when the last ferry is if visiting in the evening.
  • Respect the natural environment and wildlife on the islands by disposing of trash properly and following any posted regulations.
Toronto Sunset Silhouette with canoeists in the water
The skyline at sunset – Image by @mikecleggphoto / team

Other ways to see the Toronto Islands

A few other ways you could simply “see” the Toronto Islands is by going on a boat cruise on Lake Ontario, getting a helicopter tour which will help you to discover the city from above or heading up the CN Tower to enjoy aerial views. With the helicopter tour and the CN Tower you won’t be getting up close but you will still be able to get an appreciation of the islands and see how they relate and are an integral part of the city.

Lake Ontario from Toronto
High views towards the Toronto Islands – Image by @mikecleggphoto/team

Summary

Visiting the Toronto Islands is a truly magical experience that offers a chance to escape the city and immerse yourself in nature. From the stunning beaches and lush greenery to the panoramic views of the city skyline, the Toronto Islands have something for everyone. The islands are some of our favourite places in the city and whether you’re looking for relaxation, adventure, or a bit of history, the islands won’t disappoint.

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Author

Written by

Mike Clegg

Mike is a traveller, photographer, WordPress developer and the creator of TravelAndDestinations.com. He started this website so as to share his experiences and tips with travellers. He is from the UK and has travelled to many places around the world. He loves to shares his pictures and stories through Instagram and this website... [Read full bio]

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