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How To Explore the Toronto Islands

Centre Island Park's sandy beach on Lake Ontario, Toronto
Centre Island Park's sandy beach on Lake Ontario, Toronto | © Bert Hoferichter / Alamy Stock Photo
The Toronto Islands are a magical spot in the city. A short hop on a ferry and the downtown core feels a million miles away. It’s the sort of place that leaves you wondering why anyone does anything else with their summer. Culture Trip is here to guide you through the different ways you can get to the islands and what you can see while you’re here.

It isn’t so much about what’s there that’s exciting; it’s how you experience it. How you get between the historic sites, artistic retreats and beaches will depend on your mood and interests, as there are a lot of different ways to move around the island – and it’s a decision that is best made before you’ve even set foot on the shoreline, so that you can make sure you pack your day bag with the right equipment. From getting there to getting around, picking the right mode of transport is the first step to designing your ideal day. Here’s a guide to help you do it.

Canoe or kayak over

The place to start, for most people, is the ferry. An early start there means you’ll avoid the lines that build up when it begins to get busy; or you can always pay extra for a water taxi. But for those looking to begin their exploration before they land on the island, canoeing or kayaking over is not only allowed, but recommended.

Rental canoes and kayaks are available at the Harbourfront Canoe and Kayak Centre and setting off on your own steam for your day’s adventure is a great way to see all around the islands, as you aren’t restricted to landing at the busy docks.

Toronto Islands with the Toronto city skyline in the background, Canada. © A.P.S. (UK) / Alamy Stock Photo

Jog along the Ward Island boardwalk

The best way of getting around the islands is to throw on a pair of running shoes, make way to the numerous boardwalks and run with the lake on one side. Hanlan’s Point and Ward’s Island offer the best boardwalks for running on and offer the feeling of seclusion that is necessary for really focusing on your body.

Best of all, running on the island means you’re never too far from the water when you need to cool off. Be sure to pack a towel, a snack, some water and a bathing suit to experience a day of perfect balance between active adventure and beach vacation.

Runner in the distance on a waterfront boardwalk, Toronto. © Matthiola / Alamy Stock Photo

Cycle around Centre Island

If you do go over on the ferry, you can rent a bike from a rental company on Centre Island. And with so much to do here, cycling is the best way to see it all.

Start by heading to Centre Island Pier to take in the grandeur of Lake Ontario. After that, head to grab a bite to eat at either the Carousel Café or Toronto Island BBQ & Café to get yourself fueled up for the day. Next stop should be the frustrating or gratifying (depending on your level of success) experience of the William Meany Maze, which is like stepping into a labyrinth out of a children’s book. After finding your way out, hop back on the bike and head over to Centreville Amusement Park, hopping from ride to ride or enjoying a round of minigolf.

Couple taking in the view after biking to Centre Island Park with Skyline in back ground, Lake Ontario. © Bert Hoferichter / Alamy Stock Photo

Stroll to Hanlan’s Point and relax the day away

Hanlan’s Point is the best spot on the islands for a quiet day of strolling. You can very easily walk from the Mermaid Café to the Gibraltar Point Lighthouse and the shifting sand dunes of Gibraltar Point Beach.

However, Hanlan’s Point’s is most famous for its clothing-optional beach. It might not be an experience for everyone, but whether you’re from the city or just visiting, it is an amazing opportunity to allow yourself to feel completely liberated and swim naked in one of the Great Lakes. With fewer people on this island, the atmosphere of the place makes you feel a little freer than normal, and taking a dip after a day of strolling makes for a memorable day.

Hanlan's Point Beach at Onatario Lake © BYUNGSUK KO / Alamy Stock Photo

Paddleboard through the neighborhood

The Toronto Islands have a permanent community of people who commute to the mainland for work. Almost all of the homes are situated on Ward’s Island, and hiring a paddleboard is a great way to gain an intimate view of what life on the island is really like.

The waterways snake across Ward’s Island, and it’s easy to meander through without a guide. If you’re confident on the board, packing a lunch and enjoying a bite while bobbing on the water is advisable. It’s the best way to find a quiet spot on a busy day.

Wards Island Beach on Toronto Islands, Ontario, Canada © A.P.S. (UK) / Alamy Stock Photo