Did you know that Toronto has a small group of islands that are easily accessible by boat and ferry? Here’s a complete guide to Toronto Islands – how to get there, where to eat, and the top things to do. Read this guide BEFORE you visit for a great experience.
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Where are Toronto Islands?
Toronto Islands are just a 10-minute boat ride away from Toronto harbourfront. As I said before, there is not just one island, but a small group of them. Centre Island is the largest of the group and the most popular among tourists. The other islands in close vicinity are Ward’s Island, Algonquin Island, Snake Island, and Muggs Island. All the islands can be easily visited on a single trip.
Map of Toronto Island
You can find the map of Toronto Island here.
How and When to visit Toronto Islands
There are three ways to visit Toronto Islands: by ferry, guided tours, or water taxi.
Visiting Toronto Islands by Ferry
You can catch the ferry from Jack Layton Ferry Terminal at the corner of Bay Street and Queens Quay. There are three ferry destinations to choose from: Centre Island, Hanlan’s Point, and Ward’s Island. All three destinations are connected by bridges or walking pathways. So, you can choose any destination. As a first-time visitor, you should pick Centre Island as the service to this ferry point is frequent and it takes you closer to Centreville, bike rentals, and other attractions.
Ferry service to the islands is seasonal. In Summer, there are departures to the Centre Island every 15 to 30 minutes from 8 am to 11 pm. During Spring/Fall, there’s a ferry every hour on weekdays starting from 9 am to 11 pm. The ferry service is closed for the winter. Check the ferry schedule for updated information.
Pros of picking the ferry
- There are frequent departures from the terminal so there’s no need to buy a ticket in advance. Buying a ticket in advance doesn’t get you priority boarding anyway.
- It’s the cheapest option for visiting the islands. Return tickets cost $8.19 for an adult, $ 5.37 for teenagers and seniors, $ 3.95 for children, and free for children under two.
Cons of picking the ferry
- The ferry is a popular way to travel to the islands among locals and visitors. This means that the ferry can be very crowded. Line-ups and wait times to board the ferry are long. Buying the ticket in advance won’t get you priority boarding.
- Since the ferry is usually crowded, and seats are limited, be prepared to stand for the journey. It’s difficult to get the best views of the Toronto skyline as you set out on the lake due to the crowd.
- The ferry service is not guided. It’s a pickup and drop-off service. There is no narration about the islands’ rich history and the role it played in native First Nation tribes. For a better understanding of the history of the islands, choose a guided tour instead.
Use Water Taxis
If you don’t want to travel by ferry, an alternate way to get to the islands is by water taxis. You can find a number of taxi providers at Queen’s Quay terminal. Note that, this is not the same as the ferry terminal. As you can see from the map, Queen’s Quay terminal is just a short walk from Jack Layton’s Ferry terminal. You can find the ticket booths on Queen’s Quay.
The tickets to the water taxis are slightly more expensive at approx $12 for a one-way ride to the islands. You can hitch a free ride on the ferry on your return or pay again for the return ride on the taxi. Like the ferry, this is a drop-off service only. However, it’s more comfortable than the ferry as the taxi takes a small group of people on board and everyone can be comfortably seated and get a view of the Toronto skyline. The taxi has services to Centre Island, Ward’s Island, and Hanlan point.
Guided Tours to Toronto Islands
Toronto Harbor and Islands Sightseeing Cruise
This tour is a short 1-hour guided tour of Toronto Harbor and the Toronto Islands. On this tour, you will see the historic Hanlan’s Point, the Island Yacht Club, and the woodlands of the Island Bird and Wildlife Sanctuary. The tour also features live narration by the guide, who’ll tell you interesting historic facts about the islands and the buildings on Toronto’s Harbourfront.
Check out more details about this tour
Toronto Islands: Morning or Twilight 3.5-Hour Bike Tour
In my opinion, this bike tour is by-far the most interesting option to sight-see. The islands are best experienced by bike and this tour nails it on the head. Since it’s a guided tour, you’ll get to know not only the sights but also the history and the fun folklores of the islands. You don’t need to worry about get the bicycles as they are included in the cost. You can choose from the morning bike tour or the evening bike tour
Top 20 Things to do on Toronto Islands
Toronto Islands is so fun-packed that you can easily spend an entire day there and entertain yourself and your family with a myriad of activities. Here are the top 20 things to do on Toronto Islands:
1. Bike and Sightsee
Biking is the best way to explore the islands. It takes approximately two to three hours to bike the entire length of the island at a leisurely pace. Either bring your own bike by ferry or rent it at the bike rental shop for an hourly rate. Since the four-seater and two-seater Quadricycles are the most popular, they get rented out quickly. For the best chance to rent them out, arrive early. Please note, that you need a piece of identification to rent out the cycles. So, make sure you get one of the approved pieces of id listed on the FAQs page on this website.
Here’s a travel tip! Viator has one of the bestguided bike tour. The bikes and other equipment are included in the tour and everything is ready to go when you arrive. So, you don’t have the hassle of bringing your own bikes or renting them out on the island.
2. Sunbathe on 4 different Toronto Islands beaches
Toronto islands has 4 different beaches. The Centre Island beach also called the Manitou beach, is the the first beach you’ll see as you follow the paved path from the Centre Islands ferry drop-off point. This beach is generally more crowded than others. There’s a bike rental shop, a pier, snack/drink shacks, and washrooms close by.
If you want a quieter, less-crowded beach, try Gibraltar point beach. This beach is located close to the Gibraltor Point lighthouse and the Artscape Gibraltor Point, artist residencies.
There are two more beaches – Ward’s Island Beach located on the east end of the island and Hanlan’s Point beach on the west. Towards the east end of the island, there’s a pretty boardwalk that leads to Ward’s Island beach. Hanlan’s Point beach is well-known for its Clothing-optional Beach. However, the entire beach is not clothing-optional, there’s a clothing-mandatory section as well. Some people tend to avoid this beach because of the clothing-optional section, however, this beach has spectacular views of the West Toronto Skyline. So, it’s worth a visit.
No matter which Toronto Islands beaches you visit, you will enjoy gorgeous views. So, take your pick!
3. Visit the Haunted Gibraltar Point Lighthouse
Visit the oldest existing lighthouse on the Great Lakes – the Gibraltor Point Lighthouse. The lighthouse is also one of Toronto’s oldest buildings with its construction beginning in 1808. According to local lore, the Gibraltor Point lighthouse is said to be haunted by its first keeper, German-born John Paul Radelmüller. The story goes that John Paul Radelmüller was murdered in 1815 by some soldiers who were looking for boot-legged beer. There was a quarrel between the keeper and the soldiers resulting in his death. This local lore, whether true or not, gives the lighthouse an eerie feeling. Go and check it out for yourself.
4. Take your kids to Centreville Amusement Park
Your kids will have a blast at the Centreville Amusement Park, located on Centre Island. There are over 30 amusement rides to choose from. While your kids amuse themself on the rides, you can snack on hotdogs, funnel cakes, Toronto’s famous beavertails, and plenty more. You can buy tickets to individual rides or buy an all-day pass for all rides.
5. Enjoy brunch at Toronto Islands restaurants or cafes
After spending an active day checking out the sights, going on a bike ride, etc, you are bound to get hungry. Toronto Islands has cafes and restaurants at convenient locations throughout the island. At the center, you have the Carousel Cafe, Beach Bar, and Snack Bar which are licensed to serve drinks as well. To the east, near Ward’s Island beach, you have the Ward’s Island Clubhouse and Island Cafe, and Island Riviera. To the west, there’s Mermaid Cafe. At Centre Island ferry dock, you also have some fast food options along with a BBQ and Beer Garden.
I would highly recommend packing a picnic; Toronto Islands is the perfect picnic spot. You can sprawl out under a tree overlooking the lake with a picnic basket, a blanket, and a book. The scenery is straight out of a romantic movie!
6. Photograph the Toronto skyline
Capture panoramic views of Toronto Skyline at Toronto Islands. The best spots to capture the complete Toronto Skyline are at Olympic Island, Snake Island, and Algonquin Island. The picture posted above is from Olympic Island. To get to Olympic Island, take the first bridge to the east when you get off the ferry. Check this map for the location of the different islands.
7. Rent a canoe or kayak
To explore the islands by water, rent a canoe or kayak at the Boat Houseboat rentals. You can find the boat rental place just east of the formal garden promenade. Check out the spot numbered 14 on the map posted in this article for the exact location.
The lagoons and ponds surrounding Centre island are very peaceful and full of aquatic life. It’s a calming experience to canoe or kayak here. If you are lucky, you’ll spot some wildlife like turtles, herons and swans. Our trusty Canadian geese will always give you company.
In order to rent a boat, you’ll need a piece of identification like a Driver’s license or some form of id. Canoes rentals cost $30/hr, a solo kayak is $19/hr, and Tandem kayaks are $38 for the first hour.
8. Play a Round of Disc Frisbee Golf
Enjoy a game of disc frisbee golf with your mates on the island. If you are unfamiliar with disc frisbee golf, it’s similar to the game of golf, except that you throw the disc at a target. Find the disc golf course from the boardwalk on the way to Ward’s Island beach to the east of Centre Island.
9. Visit the St. Andrew-by-the-Lake Anglican Church
The St. Andrew-by-the-Lake Anglican Church is a wooden church that was built in 1884. The church looks pretty as a picture with its white exterior and small-town church feel. As you see from the message on their website, they are very welcoming. So, give them a visit.
10. Take a Tram Tour
Other than cycling and walking, there’s another way to see the island – the tram. This tour is especially helpful if are visiting with young kids or elderly relatives. The tram tour can be fun for kids and relaxing for the weary. You can buy tickets to the tram tour at the ticket booth next to the fountain at the formal garden promenade. Check the spot numbered 12 on the map.
Note*: At the time of writing this article, the tram tour’s temporarily closed.
11. Visit the island community of Algonquin and Ward’s Islands
The Toronto Islands are home to 700 island residents. Almost all Toronto Island residents are located either in Alonguin or Ward’s Islands. You can find the bridge that leads to Algonquin Island a short walk away from Ward’s Island beach. When you visit the communities, please be considerate to the residents and keep noise levels to a minimum.
12. Watch a plane take-off from Billy Bishop Airport
Toronto Islands is home to Billy Bishop airport terminal. There are no jumbo jets at this airport which save the airport and the surrounding areas from loud noises. If you want to observe these airplanes take off and land, you can watch this from behind a protected gate and fence on the far-west side of the island. Please note that there is no direct access for passengers to the airport from Toronto Islands, you have to access the airport through the pedestrian tunnel from the mainland.
13. Play a game of Tennis
These are a couple of tennis courts on the west side of the island. You can find the tennis courts close to the Mermaid cafe and Hanlan’s Point beach. The tennis courts are free to use. However, there are some regulations. You can’t occupy the courts for as long as you like. The tennis courts have to be vacated on the hour regardless of your length of occupancy. This assures that everyone gets a chance to play.
14. Get lost in the William meany maze
I’ve always found mazes mysterious, and a lot of fun. How about you? Exploring the William Meany maze is a fun activity you can do with your kids or by yourself. You’ll find the William Meany Maze near the Centre Island fountain. Check the map for the exact location.
15. Go on a historic plaque hunt
Twelve historic plaques compiled by Heritage Toronto commemorating the island’s history and eminent people in Toronto’s history are scattered throughout the islands. You can make a game out of finding all these historic plaques. How many can you find?
Clue*: Find the historic plaque dedicated to Babe Ruth’s first professional home run near Ned Hanlan’s Statue.
16. Ned Hanlan Statue
Ned Hanlan or Edward Hanlan was a well-known and admired sculler who resided in Toronto Islands from 1855-1908. During his professional career, he won more than 300 races and had very few losses. He was inducted into the Ontario Sports Hall Of Fame in 2002. There’s a statue dedicated to him at Hanlan’s Point.
17. Check out the sailing clubhouses and marina
Toronto Islands has several yacht clubs. Whether you are a owner or not, it’s a delight to watch the sailboats and the floating houses line the coast of the islands. The most famous yacht club here is the Royal Canadian Yacht Club. Other places where you can see the sailboats are Queen City Yacht Club, Algonquin clubhouse, Toronto Marina, and Island Yacht club.
18. Pet the animals at Far Enough Farm
Farm Enough Farm is a petting farm located right next to Centreville Amusement Park. The petting farm is home to over 40 Different species including ducks, pigs, mini ponies, alpacas, llama, goats, horses, pheasants and more. I have to admit the alpacas and ponies are my favorite. Don’t go too close to the horses though as they are known to bite!
19. Rent a Paddleboard or Kayak from the SUP and Kayak rental shop
Have you tried Stand-Up Paddleboarding? If not, this is an excellent opportunity to try it. You can rent the paddleboards at the SUP rental place near Ward’s Island. If are looking for SUP tours, Viator offers a SUP or Kayak Eco Tour where you explore the flora and fauna of the island on an SUP. Another interesting option is SUP Yoga. Fine-tune your balance and strengthen your mind and body with SUP Yoga in the midst of beautiful nature.
20. Get creatively inspired at the Gibraltor Artscape residences
Are you an artist or writer looking for some peace and quiet, away from the city, to get creative inspiration? Then, the islands have a great option for you. The Gibraltor Artscape residences have artist residences that you can apply to. You’ll find these residences near the Gibraltor Point Lighthouse. You can either choose a self-directed residency or programmed residency. Let Toronto Islands bring out the greatness that’s already inside you.
Coming back from Toronto Islands
Coming back from the islands is simple. Board the ferry. You don’t have to pay for tickets again, you can board it for free. Even people who didn’t use the ferry to get to the islands can board the ferry for free. You can board the ferry at three locations, from Centre Island, from Hanlan’s Point and Ward’s Island. This is very convenient as you don’t have to walk all the way to the Centre of the island if you are closer to the east end or the west end of the island. Boarding the ferry from Hanlan’s Point and Ward’s island may be preferrable in some cases as generally these two pick up locations are not as crowded as the Centre Island. The last ferry from the islands is around 11 PM. Check the ferry schedule for updated information. Remember, you can’t camp on the island overnight.
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