Feel the wind in your hair as you pedal along the meandering Martin Goodman Trail near the Toronto Harbourfront. With scenery that’s a slideshow of glittering high-rises, graceful willow trees, and sailboats bobbing along marinas, you feel as though you’re on a cottage country getaway—but have miraculously avoided all the traffic jams.
To ramp up the cottage country experience, steer your handlebars towards the Jack Layton Ferry Terminal, just west of the Westin Harbour Castle hotel. Your destination is the Toronto Islands, a vast emerald archipelago dotting a northern pocket of Lake Ontario. Bikes are welcome aboard the ferries and are a great way to get around. Don’t have a bike of your own? Rent one (or in-line skates, if you’re feeling fit) at Wheel Excitement on Queen’s Quay West.
Upon arrival, it’s a breezy pedal to the Gibraltar Point Lighthouse, the oldest lighthouse on the Great Lakes. Surrounded by lush greenery, cascading flowers, and mists rolling off the cool waters of Lake Ontario, it’s easy to imagine you’ve been transported to Middle-earth. You’re not the only one who feels this way. The Toronto Islands’ dramatic scenery has long inspired writers, artists, and dreamers. In fact, several renowned artists have made their home on Ward’s and Algonquin Islands. And there’s even a retreat—Artscape Gibraltar Point—for those seeking long-term tranquility and inspiration. As you pedal, perhaps daydreaming of painting your own masterpiece, be sure to make a stop at one of the Blue Flag beaches. You won’t find any better views of the Toronto skyline than this.
If you’ve worked up an appetite, head to the Rectory Café, located in the unique cottage community west of Ward’s Island ferry dock. Voted one of Toronto’s top lakeside restaurants, its warm hospitality and cobblestone patio sheltered by a canopy of ancient oak, elm, and birch trees encourages lingering. If the fall air is a bit nippy, cozy up indoors near the fireplace with a steaming mug from the tea and specialty coffee list—or take advantage of their “bring your own wine” option. Top dining choices include a fiery tandoori chicken tempered with tomato coriander cream, or an artisanal salumi meat platter. Kids’ menu options are available for the asking.
Back on the mainland, when you finally hop off your bike, stretch your wobbly legs at one of the fall events organized by Harbourfront Centre. The Power Plant, Canada’s leading gallery devoted exclusively to contemporary art, offers a peek into the strange and wonderful world of visual art (a porcelain triceratops corncob holder, anyone?). Another surprising cultural find around the Toronto Harbourfront is the Museum of Inuit Art, located in historic Queen’s Quay Terminal. This state-of-the-art museum exhibits historic and contemporary Inuit art, offering insights into Inuit culture, traditions, and mythological figures such as Sedna, a sea goddess, whose fingers are said to have created the world’s first sea mammals. Start your own collection of Inuit art by choosing a piece from the original works for sale in the museum gift shop. You’ll feel good knowing all purchases support the museum as well as artists and communities in Canada’s Arctic.
To wrap up your Toronto Harbourfront experience, opt for a sightseeing tour with Mariposa Cruises. As the sun begins to set over the Toronto harbour, lean over the ship’s railing to watch as the city’s skyscrapers begin to sparkle. With the fresh sea spray on your face, the view is a reminder that although Harbourfront may feel like cottage country, it offers the added bonus of big-city sophistication.