So you’ve heard all about the Toronto Islands, and you are wondering what there is to do and how to plan your visit to one of Toronto’s top attractions, Centre Island.
Well, keep reading, because I’ve got you covered with this complete Toronto Islands guide.
Growing up in Toronto, our family went to Centre Island every year, and it continues to be one of our favourite summer activities in Toronto. For just the cost of the ferry, visitors can enjoy parks, beaches, bike rides, and more!
Having visited the Toronto Islands dozens of times, I have all the information you need to plan the perfect day trip to the Toronto Islands
What are the Toronto Islands?
The Toronto Islands are made up of 15 different islands in total. The main islands are Centre Island, Ward’s Island, and Hanlan’s Point. Centre Island is located on Lake Ontario, about 2 km from downtown Toronto.
The islands are all walkable and connected by roads and bridges, making it easy to explore the different islands while visiting. The Toronto Islands are also vehicle-free (other than service and delivery vehicles).
The park is over 560-acres and stretches 5 km wide. With a park this size, it is easy to spend an entire day here on any of the islands! Even returning year after year, I am amazed at all there is to do for all ages and during all seasons.
Getting to Centre Island
All the Toronto islands, including Centre Island, can be accessed by the Toronto Ferry, water taxis, or private boat.
Toronto Islands Ferry
The City of Toronto operates the Jack Layton Ferry Terminal, located at the foot of Bay Street at Queen’s Quay West. In the summer, you can catch a 15-minute ferry ride to Centre Island, Hanlan’s Point, and Ward’s Island.
There is year-round ferry access to the islands, but the schedule is significantly reduced during the off-season. It’s always important to check the ferry schedule before you go.
Ferry tickets can be purchased at the gate or online, and boarding the ferry is on a first-come, first-served basis. The return fare for an adult is less than $20. Children are less than $10.
In the summer, particularly on the weekends, the ferries can get very busy and crowded. In my experience, while the ferry can get busy, I have never known the Toronto Islands to reach capacity. The park is huge!
You may have to wait in line for the next ferry, but you will eventually make it over to Centre Island. Of course, arriving early will help with the crowds and lines, particularly in the summer.
Centre Island Ferry Ride: What to Expect
The short ferry ride to Centre Island is definitely a cool thing to do while visiting Toronto! The 2-kilometer ride takes just 15 minutes, and you will get to see some of the most spectacular views of the Toronto skyline from the boat.
The upper deck is perfect for capturing an amazing view of the Toronto skyline, and the lower deck is covered and protected from the wind and rain.
The ferries are wheelchair and stroller accessible, and there are washrooms on board. Dogs are also welcome on the ferry and on the islands, but must be leashed.
Bicycles are also allowed on the ferries at no additional cost. Please note that electric scooters, e-bikes, and motorcycles are not allowed on the ferry.
Helpful Tip: Head to the back of the boat on the upper deck to capture the best views of the Toronto skyline as you head over to the islands.
Taking a Water Taxi to Centre Island
Another option for getting over to Centre Island are water taxis. There are many water taxi options available, and tickets can be purchased online or at the boat.
Taking a water taxi over to Centre Island on a busy summer day can be one way to avoid the crowds. To get back to the city, you can either pay for a return ride or you can take the city ferry back for free!
Best Things to Do on the Toronto Islands
Once you arrive at Centre Island, there are more than enough activities to keep you busy from morning to night! Whether it’s riding a bike, visiting the amusement park, or relaxing on the beach, it’s easy to spend the entire day on the islands.
1. Visit Centreville Amusement Park
One of the most popular things to do at Centre Island is a visit to Centreville Amusement Park. With 30 rides, including bumper boats, a water log ride, and the iconic swan ride, it’s a fun thing to do with kids!
Of course, a visit to this amusement park will be an additional cost. In my experience, the best option for rides is to purchase an all-day pass online for $40.71 plus tax. Keep in mind that this online pass needs to be bought at least one day in advance.
Having been to Centre Island many times with children, if you do not plan on going on the rides, I recommend avoiding Centreville all together. With so many great things to do on the island, avoiding the rides may help you save some money.
On the other hand, Centreville is often considered a better alternative for younger children than the larger Canada’s Wonderland. The rides are fun, and the park is much more compact, so it’s easier to spend just a short time in this amusement park.
2. Relax on the Beach
The Toronto Islands are home to four of the best beaches in Toronto, including my personal favourite, Gibraltar Point Beach, and the popular Centre Island Beach. These beaches are perfect for swimming, building sandcastles, or simply lounging in the sun with a good book.
You may also want to wander over to the Centre Island Pier for an impressive view of the CN Tower and then grab a famous BeaverTail from the refreshment stand.
☞ See Also: Toronto’s Best Beaches: 16 Must-Visit Spots
3. Rent a Bike
Exploring Centre Island by bike is a fantastic way to get around and see even more of the islands. You have the choice to bring your own bike on board the ferry or rent one on the island.
The Toronto Island Bicycle Rental provides various bike rental options, from single bikes to tandem bikes, catering to all preferences. Keep in mind that you’ll need a valid ID to rent a bike on the island.
During the tourist season, it’s worth noting that bike rentals operate on a first-come, first-served basis, so there might be a wait for bikes.
Additionally, if you’re taking the ferry to the Islands, you’ll find ride-share options for bikes just outside the ferry docks terminal, offering you another bike rental option.
4. Catch the Sunset
Personally, my favourite activity is to watch the sunset on the Toronto Islands. Centre Island offers one of the best views of the city skyline. Scattered throughout the islands, there are several spots to capture an iconic view of Toronto.
While a prime spot is located on the south side of the island, close to the Centre Island Ferry Dock, I find the views near Ward’s Island Ferry Dock to be even more spectacular and much less crowded.
☞ See Also: 25 Best Sunset Spots in Toronto
5. Walk the Boardwalk
Taking a relaxing and scenic walk or bike ride along the Toronto Islands’ boardwalk is a simple yet beautiful experience that allows you to enjoy the amazing views of Lake Ontario.
This 1.5-kilometer boardwalk stretches from Ward’s Island to Centre Island, providing a picturesque pathway for visitors to explore.
6. Explore all the Islands
Visiting other islands, such as Ward’s Island and Algonquin Island, is a unique opportunity to delve into the rich history of the Toronto Islands. With a history spanning over 150 years, these island communities offer a fascinating glimpse into the island’s enduring appeal for its 700 residents.
While over here on Ward’s Island, you may want to check out Ward’s Island Beach. This beach is a little more secluded than the beach at Centre Island and is therefore usually a little less crowded.
Additional Island Activities
Of course, the list doesn’t end here! Additional Centre Island activities include playgrounds and a splash pad, an 18-hole disc golf course, Franklin Children’s Garden, a hedge maze, and even a petting zoo at Far Enough Farm for younger children. There is truly something for everyone on this beautiful island.
Where to Eat on the Toronto Islands
No trip to Centre Island is complete without trying some of the delicious food options available on the island. These locations offer a range of food choices, but do keep in mind that they can get quite busy, especially during the summer season, and many of them close after Labour Day in September.
If you’re on Centre Island, the Carousel Café is a great option with it’s fully licensed restaurant and patio beside Centreville.
On Ward’s Island, the Island Cafe, located near the Ward’s Island Ferry dock, offers delicious coffee, tasty treats, and impressive meals with an excellent menu. They also have a charming garden patio and occasionally host live music.
For a different experience, visit The Riviera: Ward’s Island Kitchen, which includes a large patio and is just a 5-minute walk from the Ward’s Island Ferry Dock. They welcome reservations for groups of 8 or more and have seasonal hours.
Throughout Centre Island, there are lots of opportunities to buy ice cream, pizza, BeaverTails (a fabulous Canadian treat), and several licensed patios.
Bring a Picnic to Centre Island
Of course, sometimes the best dining option is to pack your own picnic lunch and enjoy a meal with stunning views of the Toronto skyline. There are plenty of picnic areas and picnic tables throughout the island, making it easy to find a spot to sit and relax for day trippers.
Visiting the Toronto Islands in the Fall
Visiting the Toronto Islands in the fall can be a great option if you’re looking for a peaceful getaway. The weather is still comfortable, and the islands are less crowded. Some popular fall activities include biking, hiking, and taking in the beautiful foliage.
Keep in mind that most amenities are closed, including Centreville and the bike rentals. Only a couple of restaurants are open, including the Riviera and Island Cafe, so you will need to bring snacks and drinks with you! That being said, it’s a fantastic place to visit in the autumn.
Visiting the Toronto Islands in the Winter
For a unique winter experience in Toronto, a visit to the Toronto Islands is one attraction to add to your list! While all of the activities and main attractions are closed, the islands offer a serene atmosphere to enjoy a winter walk and incredible winter views of the Toronto skyline.
If you do choose to come in the winter, however, be sure to dress appropriately! While beautiful, it can be very cold on the island.
Where to Stay Near the Toronto Islands
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If you’re looking for accommodations near Centre Island, you have a few great options to consider:
Westin Harbour Castle Hotel: This hotel is located right beside the ferry terminal on the Toronto waterfront. This large hotel offers stunning views, an indoor pool, and a newly renovated yoga and meditation studio.
Radisson Blu: This hotel is also located on the waterfront and is within walking distance of the ferry terminal. It also has a fantastic rooftop pool with awesome views of Lake Ontario.
Sheraton Centre Hotel: This hotel, while a bit further from the Toronto Islands, is my personal favourite.
It was recently renovated and is located across from the iconic Toronto sign at Nathan Phillip’s Square and the Eaton Centre Shopping Mall. Notably, it has an awesome year-round indoor/outdoor pool, which is a fantastic feature for guests.
☞ See Also: Honest Review of Sheraton Centre Toronto Hotel
Centre Island FAQs
Can I take my bike over to Centre Island?
Yes! You can take your own bike to the Toronto Islands. The Toronto Islands are bike-friendly, and many visitors enjoy cycling around the islands to explore the scenery and attractions.
You can bring your own bike on the ferry, and once on the islands, you can ride around and explore at your own pace. There are also bike rentals on the islands during the tourist season.
Are dogs allowed on Centre Island?
Yes! However, dogs must remain leashed at all times, as there are no off-leash dog parks anywhere on the islands.
Is there a clothing-optional beach on the Toronto Islands?
Yes! Hanlan’s Point Beach is a clothing-optional beach and is located on the west end of the island. As of March 2023, the entire beach is clothing-optional.
Are the Toronto Islands Worth Visiting?
The Toronto Islands are absolutely worth visiting and are one of the best things to do in Toronto! It is such a unique experience to venture across Lake Ontario and over to Centre Island by boat.
There is so much to do on the islands including some of the best beaches in Ontario, Centreville Amusement Park, many parks and trails. I highly recommend a day on the islands, particularly if you are travelling to Toronto with kids.
Final Thoughts: Building Memories on Centre Island
Visiting Centre Island is one of my fondest childhood memories, and I continue to love bringing my own family to explore the islands year after year.
Each time I visit, there is something new to see and do. I am constantly amazed that the Toronto Island Park exists just 15 minutes from downtown Toronto. Visiting Centre Island is definitely on my list of best things to do when visiting Toronto.
My only caution is to ensure you plan appropriately to spend a day on an island. Centre Island is the busiest and most popular of all the islands, so you will want to prepare for some crowds during the prime summer months, and you will want to pack accordingly for the weather and lots of walking!
If you keep all these tips in mind from this Toronto Islands guide, a trip to Centre Island will be an unforgettable experience for the whole family!