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12 Perfect Things To Do on the Toronto Islands

Looking for fun things to do on the Toronto Island? Here’s my dawn-to-dusk visitor’s guide.

Updated March 2024

Toronto Island is the best tourist attraction this city has to offer the world. Fifteen connected islands just off the shore of the city centre, here you’ll find our best hidden beaches, beautiful boardwalks, a kids’ amusement park, and stunning sunset views. The official name is Toronto Island Park, but you can do like the locals do and just call it The Island.

It’s all accessible by a short ride on the Toronto Island ferry, making a visit to The Island the cheapest, easiest way for Torontonians to “get away” on a holiday. 

The Toronto Island is where I go to escape the city’s heat waves, traffic congestion and overly commercial aspirations. To swim, ride my bike, lay under trees and watch the sun go down behind the CN Tower.

For party and sun lovers, Toronto Island is also a summer hot spot. Hanlan’s Point, a clothing optional beach and longstanding safe gathering place for the city’s LGBTQ community, is basically the most popular day club in town.

Whether you like to be alone, or are looking for action, whether it’s your first time visiting, your first time in a while, or you just want to explore more than Hanlan’s Beach, here’s my guide on things to do on Toronto Island to have a perfect day, and night!

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An empty picnic table on Centre Island Beach
Centre Island Beach

Come early and stay late

Make a day of it. A full day. Not to discount the appeal of a quick after-work Island swim, but arriving well before noon and staying until after sundown is the way to go. If you want a prime waterfront spot or the picnic table of your choice, you will need to beat the competition after all. And rushing to catch the last Toronto island ferry home is a local tradition.

Check beach water quality then go swimming!

The waters around Toronto island are some of the cleanest and safest places to swim in the area. Except when heavy storms or other environmental events mess with the ecoli levels in the water. Before you go, check Swimsafe for the latest conditions.

A ferry to the Toronto Island on the waterfront
Photo by City of Toronto, via Flickr

Buy your Toronto island ferry tickets in advance

Ferries to all Toronto Island destinations depart from the Jack Layton Ferry Terminal at the foot of Bay Street.

Schedules vary by season. In the winter for example ferries only run to Ward’s island. In summer, they run from around 6am to 11pm, as often as every 15 minutes. Check the schedules here.

Tickets may be purchased in advance online or in person at the ferry booth (cash accepted). The ticket is for a return trip and you don’t need to show it on the way back – they assume if you got over there, you didn’t swim.

Once you’re inside the terminal, you can choose your boat. There are three arrival points for the Islands: Ward’s to the east, Centre (obv.) and Hanlan’s to the west. The entire Island span is walkable, but for maximum “Time to Fun” pick the the ferry that will drop you off closest to the beach where you plan to hang out. Each beach has its own vibe.

Choose Your Beach

Centre Island is the main drag, popular with families. It has the most facilities (washrooms, splash pads, food, etc), shade, and the biggest beach to spread out on.

Ward’s Island is a residential neighbourhood, and its small beach just a short walk from the ferry is a chill place for quiet groups of friends, especially at night. It makes the ideal spot for discrete bonfires (not exactly legal, but common).

Hanlan’s is where the party’s at, and home to the clothing optional, LGBTQ-friendly beach. If you have ever used “Sun’s out, Guns Out” non-ironically, you enjoy suntanning naked, and/or watching a display of penises of every shape, age and size, this is your spot.  (Also good if you don’t care for kids.)

Gibraltar Point is, in the words of my friend Ben, the beach for people who hate people. This is my go-to spot because I’m the opposite of a nudist and prefer to swim where the least amount of people will see me. There are no facilities. The farthest walk from any ferry. Mind the fire ants.


Pack a Picnic

Food options aren’t great on Toronto Islands. A few corporate fast food chains dominate. For a sit-down meal or drink there are two nice restaurants on Ward’s Island, The Riviera and The Island Cafe.

Some families haul BBQs and coolers and throw a full cookout; I look at them with envy since I tend to pack light, with wraps or shareable fruit like plums or cherries. In any case, bring lots of water, as our city fountains may or may not be functioning and buying overpriced, single-use plastic bottles of Dasani is gross.

Bring (or rent) a Bike

I would never consider visiting Toronto island without a bicycle. Why not take advantage of one of the biggest car-free urban communities in North America, one that’s flat, well paved, and perfect for riding?

In the summer, there are bicycle rentals at Centre Island, including tandems and even quads, that are super popular with visitors. But you’ll walk a while to get there and it’s really more for a novelty/date/family experience than for exploring the island on wheels. It’s quite sad that the city’s bike share programme doesn’t operate here, so if you don’t have your own, I recommend renting a bike for the day on the mainland then bringing it over. If you’re planning to stay til late, don’t forget a front light. It gets dark over there.

A tiki bar sign aboard the Tiki Taxi
Spotted on the Tiki Taxi. (No actual bar aboard.)

Upgrade to a Water Taxi

Yes, the Toronto ferries are nostalgic and affordable. But you can get to the island much faster on a small water taxi. ($10 each way vs $10 return for ferry.) It’s easier for transporting your bike, and if you select the Tiki Taxi (as I often do) you’ll likely get a fun music soundtrack for the ride. It’s also your way back if you miss that last ferry, as they tend to run later. Seriously, I exclusively take water taxis now and every time I feel like a genius. They leave from different docks than the standard ferry, so check locations and schedules here.

Water taxis are first come, first served. Beware that if you show up on a sunny weekend afternoon there will be a wait and it might be very long. See my point #1 about getting their early!

A pathway of trees on Toronto Island.
Photo by Filip Maljković, via Fickr.

Get Lost

If you’re like me, you may need a break from the sun. So take a nice long ride or walk through the many forested paths. You may discover a lighthouse, a church, a maze, a boardwalk, bridges, or Snake Island.

Turn your phone off

Once you get to the far side of the island, cell signals are sketchy. So don’t count on meeting up with friends that way. Do use this as an excuse to turn everything off. You’re on vacation, remember.

Get out on the water

Rent a kayak or a Stand Up Paddle board and explore! In the winter, you can try ice skating on the frozen lake, with caution.

View of a Toronto sunset from Ward's Island ferry
View from Ward’s Island

Watch the Sunset

What if you only have a half-day to visit? Come for dusk. Both Hanlan’s beach and Ward’s ferry dock offer gorgeous views of the sun going down. And the boat ride home after dark illuminates Toronto’s waterfront skyline line like nowhere else.

Plan a Return Visit

If leaving the island makes you sad, I get it. The cure is to immediately make a plan for when you’ll come back. 

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