Grab a bike and pedal your way to the best island spots to swim, eat, paddleboard, take photos and sunbathe.
For the new Toronto resident, or visitor to the city, one of the first attractions locals will suggest visiting is the Toronto Islands. The talk of white-sand beaches is enough for most people to set their sights on the ferry boats gliding there from Queens Quay. This quiet oasis is a short 10-minute ferry ride, or even quicker if you take a Tiki Taxi. And although it’s right beside downtown, you’ll feel worlds away from the busy city streets, because the islands also happen to be a car-free community — North America’s largest, in fact.
The islands (15 in total) are all connected by paths and trails that are best explored by bike or foot. You can BYOB (bring your own bike) on the public ferry or rent wheels from Toronto Island Bicycle Rentals on Centre Island. For families, couples and friend-groups, there are even tandem bicycles and fun 4-seater quadricycles — complete with golf cart-style roofs to protect you from the sun.
Follow along below as we take you on a local tour of the Toronto Islands.
Set your sites
Head to photo-worthy spots like the (potentially haunted) Gibraltar Point Lighthouse. Built in 1808, it’s one of the oldest structures in Toronto and comes with a spooky backstory surrounding its first lighthouse keeper.
Delight the little ones
Toronto Islands have a number of stops that will keep the kids entertained. There’s Far Enough Farm, a petting zoo on Centre Island, which has llamas, pygmy goats and mandarin ducks. Plus, right beside the farm is Centreville Amusement Park, where you’ll find a Ferris wheel, and rides like a miniature roller coaster and bumper boats.
Stop for lunch
After a morning of pedaling, there are a number of spots to stop for a bite (If you didn’t pack a picnic, that is!). The Riviera (102 Lakeshore Ave.) on Ward’s Island has a popular patio. Situated under a canopy of tall trees, right on the lakefront, it’s perfect for sipping on a pint and has a range of summer salads, tacos and burgers. Another great option is the Island Cafe (20 Withrow St.), also on Ward’s Island, which is open from brunch through to sunset dinner. But if you’re just riding past, grab a take-out sundae or popsicle. You can pedal and eat, right?
Pick a patch of sand
There are endless beach options as you traverse your way around the islands, and each area draws a different crowd. The definite family favourite is Centre Island Beach. It’s an easy walk from the ferry and is close to takeout food options and bike rentals. Ward’s Island has more of a youthful, beach-club vibe. On weekends, it’s quite the happening scene. Hanlan’s Point Beach is the clothing optional choice. And Gibraltar Point Beach is a quieter stretch with endless views over Lake Ontario.
Seek out hidden surprises
Walk or ride along the boardwalk between Centre Island and Ward’s Island to see the cottage-like homes, which belong to members of the 600-strong community that live here year round. If you’d like to stay on the water though, rent a stand up paddleboard from Toronto Island SUP (13 Algonquin Bridge Rd.) and traverse the many calm waterways that flow between the different islands. Or if you’re feeling competitive, bring a frisbee and challenge yourself to an 18-hole round of disc golf.
Getting to Toronto Islands
- Union Station, then walk or take the 509 or 510 streetcar one stop to the Jack Layton Ferry Terminal
- Take the ferry from the docks (or grab a Tiki Taxi from Queens Quay)