Skip to content
Ultimate Packing List for Women Get it Now

Visiting the Toronto Islands: a local’s guide

Posted inCanada Toronto

Escape the city with a 15-minute boat ride to Toronto Islands, a car-free urban park

I recommend visiting the Toronto Islands to everyone—but not everyone is looking for the same things to do on Toronto Islands.

This guide is for figuring out the best beaches on Toronto Island for you, how you should get to the Toronto Islands, and where to find the kinds of activities you’ll most enjoy (which may not even include beaches—don’t worry there’s plenty of other things to do). I try to go several times every summer and have explored the entire park solo or with friends. I’m going to cover the basics, but also share some more hidden gems.

Note that this guide is for visiting the Toronto Islands in the summer, approximately May to September.

Toronto Island map
Know Your Island

Before we get to the fun details, first-timers should know that the Toronto Islands are several separate islands, but they are all connected. You can easily walk or cycle from end-to-end, it’s about 5km. You just need to decide which part you want to visit, or at least start at, because they each have their own ferry docks—and their own vibes.

The three largest islands, and what you’ll see on the ferry boats, are: Ward’s (the furthest East, and where people actually live), Hanlan’s (on the west, site of the famous clothing-optional beach), and Centre in, yeah, the centre (which has most of the activities).

Just looking for information on Toronto Island ferries and water taxis? See here!

Disclosure: My blog contains links from Affiliate programmes. At no extra cost to you, if you make a purchase from these links, I earn a small commissionThank you for supporting my work and the site!

Lake Ontario Views, photo by Justin Ziadeh via Unsplash

Why the Island is the best day trip from Toronto*

*that isn’t Niagara Falls

Toronto is a great city but sometimes you need to get away. Cool down. Hit a beach. Have a lazy picnic. Maybe ride a tiny roller coaster (if you’re a kid, anyway).

Just 15-minutes away by ferry or water taxi from downtown is the largest urban car-free community in North America. It’s got great beaches, gorgeous views, fun attractions, and lots of green space. There are hidden gems to discover on repeat visits. Or just hit the highlights in a day.

Toronto Islands Beaches Explained

Four of Toronto’s 10 official beaches are on the Island. These are checked regularly for water quality and are almost always safe to swim in. (View the latest reports before you go.)

Each beach has its own scene. Here’s what you should know before visiting the Toronto Islands to pick the best one for you and your crew.

Rainbow Road on Toronto Islands
Follow the Rainbow Road to Hanlan’s beach

The LGBTQ+ beach: Hanlan’s

Hanlan’s Point Beach is Toronto’s clothing-optional beach. No, that doesn’t mean “nude beach.” Optional means not everyone is naked. But many people are. Don’t be that creep who goes to gawk. Just keep walking to the other side of the beach which is not clothing-optional. (It’s all well marked with signs.)

Hanlan’s is one of only two beaches like this in Canada and one of the only places in Toronto you can suntan or let loose in this way. So don’t spoil it.

More importantly, Hanlan’s is an important space for the queer community. It was actually the site of the city’s first Gay Pride gathering, in 1971. Many LGBTQ+ citizens of Toronto still gather here, and if you can expect to see a variety of gender expressions and sexualities on display here. Be respectful or move along.

In 2024, the city unveiled “the world’s largest Rainbow Road” on Hanlan’s. A 2,000-foot paved path leading to the beach has been painted in the rainbow colours with trans flags at either end, a piece called “The Long Walk to Equality,” that was apparently a collaboration between Pride Toronto and Skittles!

There’s often a party atmosphere on Hanlan’s especially on weekends. Line ups for water taxis on hot days can get quite long. Pack your patience.

Centre Island Beach picnic table beneath a tree
Centre Island Beach before the crowds arrive

The Family Beach: Centre Island

The main beach, with the most amenities like change rooms, food, etc. is at Centre Island. Get there early to grab a prime spot, like a picnic table, or shade.

Nearby is a splash pad. And the Island’s signature fountains. A great place to cool off if you’re not getting in the water.

Quieter Beach on Toronto Island: Ward’s

Ward’s Island is the only place on Toronto Islands with residential homes, and the beach here feels like a small-town community that’s open to all. It’s also the shortest walk to a beach from a ferry dock, so a great fun to effort ratio.

One thing to note is that the sun sets earlier here, on the east side.

Gibraltar Point beach entry on Toronto Islands
One entrance to swimming spots at Gibraltar Point

Peace and Quiet on Toronto Island: Gibraltar Point

My personal favourite beach is the one most people ignore. Gibraltar Point is the furthest walk from any ferry dock, has no washroom or change room facilities, and is sometimes crawling with fire ants. Why would anyone want that? Because it’s quiet! Couples and small groups each find their own spot and chill. I truly feel like I’ve left the city out here. (But for real, mind those ants.)

Gibraltar Point is between Centre Island beach and Hanlan’s ferry. Entry to the beach is less obvious, but you will see openings in the trees with a sandy path. Take that and the water is just on the other side.

While you’re this part of the Island, visit Gibraltar Point Lighthouse, at more than 200 years old the Lighthouse is the oldest stone building in Toronto and Canada’s oldest standing lighthouse. Across from that is an arts centre and you may find exhibits or installations but it’s not generally open to the public.

What the heck is Snake Island?

No, I have not seen any snakes there. But I have seen gorgeous views of the city here, which is one of the main reasons for visiting Toronto Islands. There is a beach, which is pretty secluded, and quite small. Just west of Algonquin Island, take the small foot path over and you’ll likely have it all to yourself.

Just beside Snake Island is the Sunfish Cut viewpoint—a perfect place to take a photo of the CN Tower.

Centre Island fountain
Centre Island fountain

Kids’ Stuff: Centreville Amusement Park

The main draw of Centre Island for kids and people chaperoning kids is Centreville Amusement Park. Ride the Scrambler and the Sky Ride, eat ice cream, and pet the animals at Far Enough Farm, which has more than 40 animals and exotic birds. Note Centreville is only open daily in the summer. In September it’s just weekends. October to May, they close up. I can’t say I’ve been here for years since it really is fully catering to families with kids but it remains ever popular.

Budget Tip: Admission is free to walk around, including the farm. Rides will cost you: individual tickets are $1.30 and each ride requires between 3 and 6 tickets per person. A Ride All Day Pass is cheapest if you buy online at least a day before your visit.

Bike on the Toronto Islands with view of CN Tower in Background
Toronto as seen from the SunFish Cut viewpoint near Snake Island

Cycling on Toronto Islands

I prefer to take my bike to the Islands, I can cover more ground that way. If you have a bike, you can take it on the ferries or the water taxis at no extra charge.

No bike? You can rent bikes on Centre Island. In fact, one of the most popular things to do on Toronto Islands is rent a tandem or quad bike as a couple or group. Bicycle rentals are open 11am to 5pm only, and you have to walk 1km towards the pier, to get there. My wish is that in future there are bike rentals right at the ferry docks.

Sporty Stuff to Rent and Do

So you don’t want to laze around on the beach, you want to keep active? There are canoe and kayak rentals on Toronto Islands. (Stand-up paddle boards, too.)

Between Centre Island and Ward’s Island you’ll find the Boat House, where you can rent solo or tandem boats for one or three hours. (Bring your ID to register.) You don’t need to go out onto the lake either, as there are many lovely lagoons to explore.

To learn about Lawn Bowling on the Island, visit the Ward’s Island Association. That’s more of a locals/membership thing, not a day visit activity. But it looks fun!

Budget tip for sports: Toronto Islands has an 18-hole disc golf course on Ward’s Island—start near the Fire Station. There are also two baseball diamonds (one at Hanlan’s Point and one on Ward’s Island), an outdoor tennis court and pickleball courts (Hanlan’s Point).

Centre Island pier in Toronto
Centre Island Pier, photo by Abhinna Patel via Unsplash

Date Night Ideas

Sunset and night views from the Toronto Islands are something special and make a nice date destination. You can watch the lights of the city come up from the waterfront at any of the ferry docks. On Centre Island, the pier is a lovely destination for a walk, and usually plenty of people around to make you feel safe. Along the way, you can get lost in William Meany Maze, a hedge maze in a winding design.

For more privacy you might enjoy a stroll on the boardwalk, 1.5km on the south side of the island with views of Tommy Thompson Park. The main entry and exit points are located on the north side of Ward’s Island Beach and just east of Centre Island Beach.

On Ward’s Island, you can grab dinner or drinks….

Line up for coffee at Runaway Cafe on Ward's Island in Toronto
The Riviera restaurant has opened a cafe on Ward’s Island

Eating on Toronto Islands

The first thing to know is that a lot of locals pack their own picnics when visiting Toronto Islands for a reason. The food choices are mostly fast food (like Pizza Pizza and Subway) with inflated amusement-park prices. If that’s not your thing, here are your options…

The nicest place to eat on Toronto Islands is on Ward’s Island at The Riviera. This is a lovely semi-hidden garden spot with good homemade salads, pizzas, burgers and vegetarian options, and alcohol. They also operate a take-away café out of a vintage trailer til 3pm when it’s not raining, and a Rum Shack bar on weekends til 9pm.

Centre Island has all the fun treats, like ice cream, Beaver Tails, etc. and a Greek Grill near the pier. There’s a BBQ & Beer place right at the ferry dock in a prime location that I’ve never actually been to. (Probably because I’m a vegetarian who doesn’t drink beer!)

Hanlan’s Point has the Mermaid Café, which isn’t really a café as you might expect, more like a snack bar, but it does serve alcohol. On the beach you may encounter unofficial vendors of boozy popsicles.

Sadly, the Island Café on Ward’s which was a long-time fave suffered a major fire and is closed until further notice.

Hot tip: if you have friends with a boat on one of Toronto Island marinas, ask them about the bars and restaurants for members and guests. They’re wonderful!

There are no grocery stores or convenience stores on the islands. So if you forget to pack water, yes, you’ll be paying $4.50 for a bottle.

View from a Toronto Island ferry, photo by Narciso Arellano via Unsplash

How to Get to the Toronto Islands

Ferries are the cheapest way to cross over, at about $9 per adult, $6 for under 19. Tickets are all return. You don’t pay to board the ferry on the way back.

All ferry boat depart from the Jack Layton Ferry Terminal at the foot of Bay Street at Queen’s Quay, heading to either Centre Island, Hanlan’s Point or Ward’s Island.

This is how the vast majority of people visiting Toronto Islands get there. That means ferries can be crowded, and lines long. To avoid frustration, a few tips:

Buy your Toronto Island ferry tickets on-line in advance. This does not guarantee you a time slot, but it does mean you don’t have to wait in line to purchase. Tickets are non-refundable.

Avoid peak times. By noon on weekends, the crowds have assembled. Ferries start as early as 6:30am so try to get there in the morning instead. Coming back, around dinner time is very busy. Wait times for the return trip from Centre Island can exceed an hour during these periods. If you have a bike or can walk to either Hanlan’s or Ward’s, it should be easier to get a ferry back anytime.

Don’t forget the last ferry back to mainland! 10:45pm from Hanlan’s, 11pm from Centre and 11:30pm from Ward’s.

Water Taxis are a convenient and fun option for visiting the Toronto Islands if you can afford it. (Tickets are between $10-$15 each way, depending on the company.) . Several private water taxi companies operate in Toronto’s harbour. These are great because they are faster, you’re riding with a dozen people or less, and they also leave from different spots like Spadina or York Quay if you want to depart from further west on the waterfront.

My faves are the two theme water taxis: Tiki Taxi and Pirate Taxi. Double check their last return times as they don’t always operate as late as the ferries.

Bonfire on Toronto island with view of the CN Tower at night
If you stay for night don’t forget the last ferry back! Photo by Cedric Blondeau via Unsplash

How to get to the ferry terminal?

Take the subway or GO train to Union station. It’s a ten-minute walk south. Or take the Bay St. bus and get off at the Queen’s Quay stop.

Parking around the ferry terminal is expensive, up to $30 for the day on weekends. Be prepared!

If I haven’t convinced you yet, here are more tips on having a Perfect Day on Toronto Islands

Now what are you waiting for? See you on the island….

Submit Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *