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Just a short ferry ride from the city center is one of Toronto’s must-see gems, the Toronto Islands. Also called the Toronto Island Park or simply the Island, it is a chain of 15 islands in Lake Ontario and is about 5 km long. It is located directly across downtown Toronto, a few blocks away from the iconic CN Tower and Rogers Centre.
How to get there
The easiest way to get to the Jack Layton Ferry Terminal is by TTC or GO Train to Union Station. It’s a ten-minute walk south to the ferry docks at the foot of Bay Street. You can also take 509 Harbourfront or 510 Spadina streetcar south, or the Bay Street bus. Get off at the Queen’s Quay stop.
Enter the Ferry Terminal using the walkway between the Westin Harbour Castle Hotel and the Harbour Castle Condominiums.
If you are traveling by car, there are plenty of parking garages (municipal parking lots or in office buildings) around the Harbourfront area. Parking rates per hour vary and will usually have a cap of up to C$25 if you park your car for more than 3 hours.
Visitors of the Island can take the ferry to any of Toronto Island’s Ferry Docks: The Ward’s Island at the east end, Centre Island in the middle, and Hanlan’s Point at the west end. Most visitors take the ferry going to Centre Island and just use any of the three ferry docks to return to the city. All the ferry rides back to the city are free. No need to present any ticket for the return ride.
Fares (as of 2018):
Adults – C$7.87
Seniors and Students – C$5.16
Under 14 years old – C$3.80
Under 2 years old – Free
The Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport is also on the Island, however, there is no access from the island chain to the airport. Passengers would have to take a different ferry to get to the airport.
See my Suggested Tours in Toronto at the end of this post.
We left our Richmond Hill Airbnb around 10:00 AM and made a quick stop at Walmart before heading to downtown Toronto. It took us about 45 minutes to get to Harbourfront Centre and had to circle the block a couple of times before we finally settled into a parking garage inside an office building in Bremner Blvd. It was then a short 10-minute walk to Harbourfront Centre.
Toronto Harbour Water Taxi
Instead of the regular ferry, we took the Toronto Harbour Water Taxi to go to Centre Island, which is C$10 per adult and C$5/child (no charge for the stroller). The Toronto Harbour Water Taxi Station is right behind Beaver Tails at the foot of York Street. Coming from the Island Ferry Docks, just head over to the direction of the Harbourfront Centre and you’ll pass by the water taxi station. There were a total of 8 passengers on the water taxi and it took us only about 5 minutes to reach the Island.
If you are visiting the Toronto Islands during summer or the peak season, the water taxi may be a better option to go to the Island and back to the city rather than taking the regular ferry, which will most likely be crowded and have long lines. The water taxi doesn’t operate on a schedule and as long as they have enough passengers, they leave the dock. Plus it’s faster and a more private transportation option for Toronto Island visitors. However, the price of the fare doesn’t include a return ride to the city. You can pay for the water taxi ride back if you’re in a hurry or want to avoid the crowd (same ticket price) or just take the regular ferry like everybody else (it’s free for everyone!).
The main reason why you would want to visit the Island is to see the beautiful Toronto skyline, with the CN Tower as the main highlight of course! I don’t think anyone has ever visited the Island without taking an exact photo of this.
Centre Island and Ward’s Island
The Toronto Island is known for enjoying recreational activities with Centre Island being the most popular among visitors. Here you can find the Centreville Amusement Park, Far Enough Farm, Franklin Children’s Garden and several other activities for the whole family.
Toronto Island was at the very top of our Toronto itinerary and fortunately, we came just in time before they closed the Island for the season. Technically it’s not really closed because, in fact, there is a small community of residents living in Toronto Island, mainly on Ward’s and Algonquin Island. However, during the winter months, most facilities and main tourist attractions are closed for operation. The Ward’s Island Ferry Dock is the only one in operation to serve the residents of the island.
What makes the island extra special is that it is car-free with the exception of a few service vehicles. Biking and walking are your options if you want to go from one place to another. And it’s absolutely the perfect way to explore an island this charming!
The Island is bursting with activities for the family between the months of May to late September. You can have a picnic, enjoy a day at the beach, go to the amusement park, visit a farm, biking, running and even taking your dog for a walk. During the fall season, things slow down with many visitors (like us) just enjoying the view and a nice leisurely walk in the Island.
Upon reaching the north end of Centre Island, we took the suggestion of the water taxi operator and walked towards Ward’s Island for the ferry back to the city. This is the area where most Island residents live, so even though everyone is free to walk around and see this area, visitors should always remember to respect the residents’ privacy.
Ferry back to the city
The ferry departing from Centre Island departs every hour and the one from Ward’s Island is every hour on the half hour. Schedule varies depending on the season and passenger demand.
It took us longer than expected to reach the Ward’s Island Ferry Dock from the Centre Island Beach (about 45 minutes). But we arrived just in time to board the ferry. The ferry back to the city took about 15 minutes and we once again got to enjoy the nice view of Toronto’s skyline.
The Harbour Square Park is just right next to the Jack Layton Ferry Terminal, however, we were already so hungry at this point that we skipped wandering into the park. If you have the extra time, take a stroll in this park to enjoy the waterfront view from the city.
We spent a relaxed couple of hours in Toronto Island, which is exactly what we needed after a long flight the day before. We had lunch at Popeye’s before heading over to our next stop, the CN Tower.
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Check out my other posts about our Toronto, Quebec City, and Montreal Road Trip below:
Day 1: The Toronto Islands | CN Tower Experience
Day 2: Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada | Must-See Sights in Downtown Toronto for First-Time Visitors
Day 3: Niagara Falls, Canada: Hornblower Cruise, Table Rock Centre and Outlet Collection
Day 4: Royal Ontario Museum | Kensington Market and Chinatown | Toronto’s Graffiti Alley
Day 6: Montmorency Falls | Old Quebec Town
Day 7: Musee de la Civilization
Day 9: Montreal Botanical Garden
Day 10: Mont-Royal Parc