12 top parks in Toronto (for when you need a moment of calm)

12 top parks in Toronto (for when you need a moment of calm)

Spring fills Toronto's parks with flowers and cherry blossom © FatCamera / iStockphoto / Getty Images

Toronto isn't the Canadian capital – that honor goes to Ottowa – but it feels like a capital city, with its big-city attractions, towering skyscrapers and cultured, cosmopolitan vibe. From the iconic CN Tower – listed as one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World by the American Society of Civil Engineers – to the dim sum houses of Chinatown, this is a city where you'll never be bored.

However, you may want to take a break from the bustle of people and traffic to catch your breath from time to time, and that's where Toronto's excellent city parks and gardens come into their own. Despite the urban sprawl, the city has more than 1500 parks and green spaces where you can step away from the noise and recharge for a moment before you dive back into the city bustle.

With so many parks to choose from, we’ve narrowed it down to 12 of the best and most diverse green spaces, covering everything from bird-watching and wildlife spots to family-friendly city parks and scenic trails through lush green landscapes – we even found a national park in the city! Come in spring to see Toronto's parks at their blooming best.

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Edwards Gardens, North York

Best for horticulture

In the district of North York, this former estate garden features annuals, wildflowers, peaceful waterfalls and extensive rockery areas as it sits along Toronto’s ravine system. The magnificent arboretum stands right next to the Children's Teaching Garden, allowing toddlers and little ones to interact with a lush natural environment.

Adjacent to the park is the Toronto Botanical Gardens, covering more than 1.5 hectares (3.7 acres), with 17 unique themed gardens. Seek out the Pollinator Garden with urban bee hives, the fragrant Kitchen & Herb Garden and the striking Carpet Beds, which hold 15,000 plants and demonstrate the Victorian art of carpet bedding (creating living patterns from foliage and flowers).

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East Point Park, Scarborough

Best for lake views

This ecological gem is one of Toronto's largest parkland areas, extending over 55 hectares (136 acres) along the city's eastern waterfront. In the summertime, the park acts as a staging area for migratory monarch butterflies and it provides a home for more than 178 species of birds. The coastal location also ensures the air is always fresh and clean.

Part of the Scarborough Bluffs, the landscape here is made up of meadows, grassy bluffs, beaches, shrub thickets and areas of forest and wetland. Walking trails lead down to the water where families gather to enjoy the natural beaches in summer, while hiking to the top of the bluffs offers splendid views over Lake Ontario.

12 top parks in Toronto (for when you need a moment of calm)

Burnt sugar tulips frame a visitor taking pictures at Allan Gardens, Toronto © Bernard Weil/Toronto Star via Getty Images

Allan Gardens, Garden District

Best for greenhouse grandeur

Both a park and an indoor botanical garden, Allan Gardens in the Garden District takes visitors on a tropical journey, with vivid plants and colors sourced from around the world. Six greenhouses full of lush and exotic vegetation make up this horticultural oasis. Everything from orchids, camellias and cacti to opuntia, green jade vine and aloe can be found here.

Allan Gardens is one of the oldest parks in Toronto – the Palm House dome, erected in 1909, shelters an impressive collection of palms, bananas and tropical vines with brightly colored seasonal plants. Outside, the all-ages playground incorporates natural materials such as boulders and log seating and includes a water tap and sand play area. Dog owners love the off-leash area, with a separate section for dogs weighing under 20lbs.

12 top parks in Toronto (for when you need a moment of calm)

The mock-up miniature train carries visitors under the cherry blossoms in High Park in spring © Canadapanda / Shutterstock

High Park, High Park North

Best for cherry blossom and downtown picnics

High Park is the city’s one-stop-shop for all things outdoors. West of downtown Toronto and spanning more than 161 hectares (398 acres), High Park is one of Toronto's most significant natural sites. More than a third of the park remains in a natural state, unspoiled by intervention from urban planners.

The park is known for its famous cherry blossom, which can be seen blooming in April and May, and numerous trails and nature walks keep visitors busy in summer. In good weather, the sound of casting rods can be heard at Grenadier Pond, a popular Toronto fishing spot. In winter, the park is covered in a white blanket of snow and cross-country skiing is a popular activity.

This family-friendly park also has a playground, public pool, picnic areas, an off-leash dog space and sports facilities. Park-goers can visit the zoo, where you'll find bison, deer, llamas, peacocks and highland cattle. Legions of cheeky squirrels also call the park home, although they are not official zoo residents!

12 top parks in Toronto (for when you need a moment of calm)

On sunny days, there's nowhere better to be than the beach and amusement park on Centre Island © Kiev.Victor / Shutterstock

Centre Island

Best for families

For an all-day family adventure, Centre Island is just a hop, skip and a jump – or a 15-minute ferry ride – from downtown Toronto. Part of a cluster of islands known as the Toronto Islands, this is where Torontonians come when they want a break, and views back to the city skyline views are unmatched.

This 331-hectare (818-acre) park boasts everything from picnic areas, restaurants and snack bars to a sandy lakeside beach, put-in points for canoes and kayaks, walking and cycling trails, and even the Centreville Amusement Park to keep kids of all ages entertained.

Dufferin Grove Park, Dufferin Grove

Best for a Thursday picnic

Dufferin Grove Park is a 5.3-hectare (13-acre) oasis on the west side of Toronto. The mature forest canopy creates a calming screen of green while a reflexology footpath – the first of its kind in the city – helps stimulate and massage sore feet. Spend the afternoon with the family building sandcastles, splashing in the wading pool, frolicking in the playground, skateboarding on the ramps or burning off some calories on the multipurpose sports field.

Feeling hungry? There are two wood ovens near the basketball court that are perfect places to cook up some post-game snacks. At the north end of the park, visitors can enjoy the artificial ice rink and clubhouse. Across from the Dufferin Mall in the northwest corner of the park, you'll find one of the oldest farmers' markets in Toronto, which brings local organic farmers and urban eaters together every Thursday year-round. Grab some picnic ingredients and take them into the park to graze.

12 top parks in Toronto (for when you need a moment of calm)

The Toronto Music Garden creates a captivating space for contemplation on a sunny day © Vadim Rodnev / Shutterstock

Toronto Music Garden, Queens Quay

Best for music fans

The Toronto Music Garden on the waterfront is one of the city's most magical spaces. The park was inspired by Bach's First Suite for Unaccompanied Cello and designed in collaboration with world-renowned cellist, Yo-Yo Ma, and each movement within the suite corresponds to a different section of the garden.

From the Prelude – conveying the feeling of a flowing river – to the Gigue – inspired by an English dance, where music is interpreted as a series of giant grass steps that offer harbor views – these creative landscapes would make Bach himself smile with joy under the weeping willow tree. In the summer months, visitors can take a free guided tour or enjoy classical music performances al fresco.

12 top parks in Toronto (for when you need a moment of calm)

People outdoors enjoying the springtime in Trillium Park © Roberto Machado Noa / LightRocket via Getty Image

Trillium Park, Ontario Place

Best for fans of urban regrowth

As Toronto’s newest green space, Trillium Park was inspired by Ontario’s wild landscapes, and it's an inspired revitalization of the space once occupied by the Ontario Place theme park. Spanning 3 hectares (7.4 acres) along the waterfront, this is now a lovely green space full of native plants, trees and flowers. The William G Davis Trail throngs with walkers, joggers and cyclists for 1.3km (0.8 miles) along the lakeshore, and it connects to the long-distance Martin Goodman Trail creating a loop of more than 57km (35 miles).

The gateway into this pleasant space is the Ravine, where two beautiful stone walls are connected by a bridge. Developed in collaboration with the Mississaugas of the New Credit First Nation, the Ravine walls celebrate First Nations’ heritage and culture with a moccasin engraved into the stone, symbolizing First Nations culture and heritage and the land that the park was built on.

Enter the Ravine and you find the Romantic Garden, an open-air pavilion, a secret gathering place and a fire pit. The Summit is the highest point of elevation within the park, and it provides one of the best views in the city.

12 top parks in Toronto (for when you need a moment of calm)

In summer, stake out a sunny spot in Sunnybrook Park © Colin McConnell / Toronto Star via Getty Images

Sunnybrook Park, North York

Best for cyclists and birders

Set on the site of a former country estate, Sunnybrook spans 154 hectares (381 acres) in the North York district, and it's popular with visitors on two wheels. This green space is a busy hub for recreational activities and cyclists can take advantage of 25 biking trails. Sunnybrook is also known for its wildlife – the park is listed as one of the top spots in the city to see several different bird species.

Noted as an environmentally significant area, adjacent Glendon Forest is a lush space filled with sugar maple, eastern white pine, American beech and eastern hemlock trees. Its wetland zones provide a crucial habitat for snapping turtles, great blue herons and red-winged blackbirds, making this the perfect spot to experience wilderness within the city.

12 top parks in Toronto (for when you need a moment of calm)

Slacklining is a popular diversion in Trinity Bellwoods Park © Steve Russell / Toronto Star via Getty Images

Trinity Bellwoods Park, Trinity-Bellwoods

Best for millenials

One of the most popular green spaces for young folks can be found near the trendy stores of Queen St West. Trinity Bellwoods is a multi-use space, and its 15 hectares (37 acres) of land include sports areas for baseball, tennis and volleyball, a children’s playground and a wading pool. Furry friends get acquainted in the off-leash dog area, while groups of friends spread across the lush grass for picnics in summer. In the wintertime, visitors can enjoy an artificial ice rink. The park is also known for its busy program of events, including movie nights, yard sales and farmers' and artisan markets.

12 top parks in Toronto (for when you need a moment of calm)

Torontonians get some fresh air at the Rouge National Urban Park in Toronto © Steve Russell / Toronto Star via Getty Images

Rouge National Urban Park, Greater Toronto

Best for a national park experience in the city

This Parks Canada site is Canada's first national urban park, covering more than 40 sq km (15 sq miles) east of the city center. More 1700 species of plants, birds, fish, mammals, reptiles and amphibians call this park home, and there's no shortage of things to do – hiking trails cross a variety of landscapes including meadows, forests, wetlands, and farmland.

For water-enthusiasts, canoeing, swimming, kayaking and fishing are popular diversions, while land-lubbers can go bird watching or cycling or camp out in Toronto’s only campground. The changing colors during the fall season make this the perfect backdrop for any photographer.

Colonel Samuel Smith Park, Etobicoke

Best for winter skating

Home to the city’s first dedicated ice-skating trail (built in the shape of a figure-eight), this 79-hectare (195-acre) park in Toronto’s West End is a popular escape in the wintertime. The space is also home to a variety of plants and trees and offers a great space for spotting wildlife, bird watching and fishing. Don’t forget your camera as this is one of the best spots in the city to photograph the sunrise over the skyline.

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