When people visit Toronto, they’re often drawn in by all of the metropolitan features of Canada’s largest city. From the restaurants to the shopping to the museums, the vibe here is definitely that of an action-packed urban jungle.
But if you’d like to get back to nature, head to the Toronto Islands. Toronto has islands, you say? Yes, we do! The Toronto islands are so rustic and peaceful, it’s hard to believe they’re right next door to downtown (well, except for the CN Tower sticking up in the skyline as a reminder.)
Getting there is easy. From Union Station, walk south down Bay Street to the ferry gates, where $6.50 will get you a round-trip ticket. Yes, the ferries can be loud and overcrowded, but it’s a small price to pay for a 10-minute trip to island paradise.
When you land, the first thing you’ll see is the Centreville Amusement Park, a small fair with rides and a petting zoo. It’ll remind you of all those amusement parks you went to as a child, because it hasn’t probably been updated since you were a child. Still, runaway swans and peacocks wandering around the island always make for good photo opps.
Once you pass the amusement park, the island is yours to explore. There are nature paths to wander, gorgeous gardens and beaches, including Toronto’s only “clothing optional” beach at Hanlan’s Point on the west end of Centre Island. Consider yourself warned!
If you forgot to pack lunch, there are plenty of concession stands around. This local expert’s advice? Skip them. If you’re willing to take a 15-minute walk east along the boardwalk, you’ll come upon The Rectory Café. Don’t worry about getting lost. Maps and signs are readily available.The islands are a no-car zone, though you’ll see plenty of bicycles wandering the paths. (You can bring your own on the ferry, or rent one while you’re there.) There are also more than 250 homes on the island, some used only in the summer, some year-round. Yes, they’re adorable hobbit-like cottages, but no, they’re not there for you to run onto the porch and take pictures. Respect for the residents is key.
Remember that island fun is seasonal. Nice weather is important, and the amusement park and restaurants reserve the right to close during the stormy season. Lastly, avoid going on major Canadian holidays if you can, because everyone else will be thinking the same thing and ferry line-ups will be long. And finally, even if you’re not planning to spend whole day, remember to pack suntan lotion and mosquito repellent. (Mosquitos are, after all, Canada’s unofficial bird.)
[ photo courtesy of Sebastian Bergmann ]