Which Toronto parks are worth a visit? Which one was carved out of a former industrial site? Which one has a working FARM with sheep, goats and horses (and more)? Which one is a graveyard of lost buildings?
First-time visitors may get the impression that Toronto is all glass skyscrapers when they arrive downtown. However, the city has many green spaces. If you’re worn out from sightseeing and need some place to relax and chill out, here are a few Toronto parks worth exploring!
Main entrance: 1873 Bloor Street West (accessible from many other locations)
This sprawling, leafy park has its own subway station (High Park). The multifaceted green space runs from Bloor Street in the north down to the Queensway in the south, and from Ellis Park to Parkside Drive (east to west). It’s about a half-hour walk from north to south.
The park is a mix of sunny, open, grassy spots, landscaped gardens, and shady, wooded paths for nature lovers. You can easily spend several hours roaming the trails. If you get tired, there’s a mini-tram or train that takes you on a tour of the park. You can also explore the playground, pool, large pond with waterfowl, picnic grounds, restaurant, sports fields and tennis courts and several lovely gardens.
Heritage fans will enjoy a museum called Colborne Lodge, a great historic home that once belonged to the man who owned the property. His name was John George Howard and he was an architect and city surveyor, among other things. He and his wife are buried in the park near their former home.
One of the most popular attractions for the million plus visitors who come here every year is the High Park Zoo:
Main Entrance: 1755 Lake Shore Blvd W
Sunnyside is one of a series of linked Toronto parks that line Lake Ontario just west of the centre of the city. You can stroll along the beach or boardwalk, swim in the pool, or swing in the playground.
There’s also a cafe/bar with a patio where you can have some munchies or a cool drink and gaze at the water. It’s housed in Sunnyside Pavilion, an art deco 1920s-era building which has seen better days but is still charming.
Location: in Lake Ontario, just off the southern tip of Toronto, across from Harbourfront Park.
To get here, take the Toronto Island Ferry, on Queens Quay between Yonge St and Bay St. It takes about 15 minutes once you’re on board, but the wait to get onto the ferry can take much longer at peak times so be forewarned.
This park is a major tourist attraction in Toronto. The “island” actually consists of three islands: Centre Island, Hanlon’s Point and Ward’s Island.
Centre Island attracts the most visitors. It has attractions like the beach, Centreville (an amusement park for kids), gardens, paddleboats, and a tram. This is a true family destination. Ward’s Island has the only residential properties on the islands: small cottages built a century ago. Hanlon’s Point has a “clothing-optional” or nude beach and is close to the Toronto Island Airport.
This isn't one of your typical Toronto “parks” --- it's a mix of concrete and green space sprinkled along the waterfront. But it's definitely one of the most popular with tourists and locals alike, because of all the entertainment options. For more information, see Harbourfront.
Main Entrance: Danforth Avenue and Broadview Ave.
A farm in the middle of a metropolis?
That’s right. Riverdale Farm is located right inside the urban Riverdale Park in the City of Toronto. It’s the most unusual feature of this rather odd, sprawling green space straddling the Don Valley Parkway. Can we say “a highway runs through it”? Oh, and a river too. That would be the Don River, of course.
The park is also the site of the annual free outdoor art show,
“Cabbagetown Art & Crafts”. Riverdale
is not far from downtown, easy to get to, and a great break from the concrete
and glass, and a wonderful place to spend a few hours just chilling out.
One of the newest Toronto parks, it's also known as the Evergreen Brick Works. This former industrial site was converted into a nature preserve some years ago. Here you’ll find walking trails, a marsh that is home to waterfowl, and a trendy restaurant. The former brick works factory is still onsite but unoccupied. You can walk through it... tthere’s not a lot to see, but it is creepy! On weekends, there’s also a farmers market.
Note: If you have time, another former industrial site, Todmorden Mill, is down the road and across the Don Valley Parkway and the Don River. There is more green space here, and trails to discover. Unfortunately there is no direct public transit from one space to the other, so you need to walk about 20-30 minutes along a very busy highway (a bit scary). However, the area is beautiful, and the former mill now houses an art gallery and hosts events like theatre and children’s shows through the year that are worth checking out.
Main Entrance: 2075 Queen St. E.
This is a large park in the Beach district (often called “The Beaches”) in Toronto’s east end and is actually one of my favourite Toronto parks. The park has shady, grassy areas with picnic tables, benches and playgrounds and it faces the beach.
It’s just down the street from Queen Street which has trendy boutiques, cafes, and a lovely old library that is worth a visit.
Also known as Guild Park. This is a little off the beaten path... in Scarborough, a suburb of Toronto, in fact. But it's such a unique park and sculpture garden that it's really worth a visit, especially if you have a car. See Guildwood Park.
For more parks and a map to see their location, see the City of Toronto's Park List.