If experiencing Niagara Falls isn’t on your bucket list, it should be. Witness nature at its most powerful and beautiful — the astounding sight of water falling from the height of tall buildings at the rate of a million bathtubs per minute; it’s a fabulous adventure to share with a friend or lover.
But once you’ve seen them, you’re going to want something else to do. Wouldn’t it be nice to have an entire city to spend the rest of your trip exploring? Fortunately, the bustling metropolis of Toronto (with its thriving gay community, rich culture and fabulous restaurants) is only about an hour and a half away; so, you can have your day at the Falls — and then a few more to fall for Toronto.
First things first: You have to decide what kind of experience you want to have. I recommend traveling from Toronto with a tour because public parking is a hike away from the Falls; whereas a tour will drop you off so close, you’ll feel the spray the moment you get off the bus. There are a variety of tours available. To decide which is for you, ask yourself a few questions.
- How long will you spend? Most tours offer ample time to take pictures and soak in the spray. One that gives you more time at the Falls may allow you to visit every attraction but not to stop anywhere on the way back, while returning quite late. A briefer tour can get you back in time for dinner but may feel rushed.
- What do you want to do? Unless you are massively afraid of boats, it would be foolish not to ride the Maid of the Mist — the famous ferry that gets as close as you can get to the Falls on the water. It is both scary and awesome. Beyond that, I’d say you can safely skip the film about the Falls, but you might enjoy the walk behind them. You’ll also need to decide whether you want to be able to see the Falls all lit up at night — an amazing sight but a schedule-killer.
- Where else would you like to stop? There’s plenty to see between Toronto and the Falls. Many tours include stops in the area’s magnificent wine region. It’s one of only two places in the world where true ice wine is created; so, if you’re a fan of dessert wines, hold on to your corks! There’s also the beautiful town of Niagara-on-the-Lake — it has plenty of gorgeous little shops and is also the home of the award-winning Shaw Festival Theatre. Plus, a nearby horticultural school keeps its streets overflowing with a riot of leaves and blooms.
We ultimately arranged a tour through City Sightseeing Toronto. It left Toronto around 9am, and gave us time for pictures (Marilyn Monroe fans must snap a few shots at the gazebo featured in her film Niagara), a quick bite to eat, and an unforgettable ride on the Maid of the Mist. On the return trip, we stopped for a stroll through Niagara-on-the-Lake and a wine tasting at Diamond Estates. And, yes, we made it back to Toronto in time for dinner.
TIP: Ever wonder why pictures of the Falls are almost always partially whited out? It’s because the sheer force of the water fills the air with mist. If you plan on taking pictures, bring a supply of soft cloths. You’ll need to wipe down the lens every few clicks.
Now that you’ve experienced nature’s splendor, it’s time to see the city. Toronto is bustling and modern, yet clean and welcoming. We stayed near Yonge-Dundas Square, which was described to us as “Toronto’s Times Square.” This is inaccurate. Whereas Times Square is often so packed with people and traffic you can barely move, Yonge-Dundas is a lovely place where we were constantly stumbling on free concerts and other cultural events. The square is centrally located — like the spoke of a wheel around which the rest of the city’s neighborhoods are arrayed.More From Metrosource
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TIP: Though Toronto is a very walkable city, at some point you’re going to want to give your feet a break. City Sightseeing Toronto runs “hop-on-hop-off” tours — a fleet of repurposed double-decker buses (and the occasional converted trolley). They come frequently, make convenient stops near points of interest and are equipped with tour guides. For $35, you get three days of unlimited rides, which you can use to navigate most of the city. Plus, the tour guides are eager to break from their usual patter to answer questions and give directions. I came to think of them as my personal welcoming committee.
There is plenty worth seeing in Toronto. Among our favorite spots:
The Art Gallery of Ontario, or Ago, is not to be missed. Its design mimics a huge, upside-down glass canoe, creating dramatic curves along its interior walls. The first floor has special exhibition space, art in more traditional mediums and a huge museum shop. Upper floors focus more on new media: If you can sit in it, tweet at it or watch it on a loop, it’s upstairs.
The Bata Shoe Museum is a camp masterpiece. The entire building is designed to look like a shoebox and features statues of legs running around its perimeter. Once inside, there is a basement level dedicated to the history of shoes, but this is far less important than the upper levels, which feature a truly astounding assortment of celebrity footwear. Pose for pics with with Liz Taylor’s pumps, Elton John’s sparkly boots or even Justin Bieber’s sneaks.
The Casa Loma Hold on to your hats, Downton Abbey fans — this is the spot for you. Built in the early 20th century by a Canadian millionaire, the castle has a fascinating history. Guests can also wander the grounds, snapping pictures under the splendid stained glass of the conservatory, posing with figurines carved into ornate woodwork and swanning around the gardens like Lady Mary out for a stroll.
The CN Tower rises, at nearly 2,000 feet, as one of the world’s tallest free-standing buildings, and unless you have a crippling fear of heights, it’s the best possible view of Toronto. Make a reservation at its rotating restaurant 360. The food is top notch; the rotation is just quick enough to make it all the way around in an hour; and, it saves you from paying the price of admission to the observation deck.
Toronto’s big, proud gay neighborhood extends blocks in every direction from the intersection of CHURCH AND WELLESLEY, each street sign rimmed with a rainbow. The area has bars, restaurants, bookstores — if it’s queer, it’s here. My favorite spot was Byzantium , with its cocktail menu that goes on for pages, featuring fabulously named libations from the “Jean Harlow” to the “Pearl Necklace.”
TIP: Among our favorite discoveries were Adega (adegarestaurante.ca), which wowed us with phenomenal service and tongue-tingling Portugese dishes.
Certainly, Toronto and Niagara Falls offer plenty to recommend them as vacation destinations on their own. But — like so many of life’s greatest pleasures — they are even better together.
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Last modified: November 26, 2019