Day trip to Niagara Falls from Toronto
We booked an extra night during our stay in Toronto so we could take a full day trip to Niagara Falls. After doing a fair bit of research online it became clear from people’s negative comments that many of the tour operators (which there are many!) don’t offer visitors enough time at the falls. We wanted the maximum amount of time as possible without staying there overnight, so after wading through countless websites and TripAdvisor reviews we decided on Niagara Day Tour as they offered the most time – a maximum of 3 hours and a minimum of 2.5 hours at the falls depending on the traffic. It turned out to be a great choice.
1st stop: Niagara-on-the-Lake
The day started early when Burkus our driver and guide collected us from our hotel at 8.10am in his air-conditioned small bus. We then picked up a few other guests in the city before hitting the Gardiner Expressway motorway, yes! we’re on our way heading out of Toronto. Our first stop was Niagara-on-the-Lake at 10.30am. We had an hour to explore this small historic town and grab some breakfast. We wanted to try Canadian pancakes and maple syrup so we opted for the Sunset Grill on Main Street, a bit like in America the portion sizes are huge! Our 3 massive pancakes were served with whipped butter portions, but the pancake syrup is just sugar, so make sure you order the pure maple syrup separately.
Niagara-on-the-Lake is one of Canada’s oldest settlements built in 1781 situated on Lake Ontario, the town used to be the capital of Upper Canada. Its compact size means a short stop here is doable in an hour. The high street called Main Street is attractive with charming colonial buildings – the town appears romantically frozen in time, especially with many of the twee shops selling old time goodies. You can tell a lot of time goes into keeping this town tidy with immaculate flower displays lining the street and overflowing petunia baskets hanging from the trees.
After our breakfast we walked down to Lake Ontario to see where it meets with the mouth of the Niagara River, it’s just a 10 minute walk from Main Street. To get there you walk past some lovely residential side streets and beautiful homes, all sugary sweet looking with their perfect white picket fences. At the river is Fort Niagara – the old American fort, located on the opposite side of the river. The Americans fought various battles with the British, we passed Fort George the British fort on the way out of the town.
Sadly the weather was a bit gloomy and it started to rain, but it turned out to be a passing shower as we were later rewarded with great weather.
2nd stop: Wine country & the World’s Smallest Chapel
Back on the bus we headed out of Niagara-on-the-Lake along the banks of the Niagara River, the countryside scenery here is just lovely. This region of Ontario is wine making country with fields upon fields and with rows upon rows of grape vines, we couldn’t get over just how many wineries there are here. There’s also some fabulous mansion houses belonging to wineries, some even have views of 2 countries – New York State and the Niagara River in their back garden and Canada to the front.
After 10 minutes we made a short stop to take some photos and take a quick look inside the world’s smallest chapel. Services are not held here, but weddings are popular on weekends especially in the summer.
3rd stop: Wine tasting & discovering ‘Icewine’
Next was a 30 minute stop at The Reif Wine Estate where we sampled three different wines. Phil was in his element! The Reif Estate is the oldest family owned winery in this area, where they make their signature ‘Icewine’ using a technique the family brought over from Germany to Ontario. Grapes are harvested at -12ºC around 2am early morning and pressed in the cold. The Icewine is expensive because they get as little as one drop per grape. It has a tropical fruity taste and is very sweet, Garth loved it but Phil didn’t like it, oh and apparently goes well with blue cheese or a curry. We didn’t buy anything but were impressed because we never felt pressured into buying anything and the free wine samples were very generous! Hiccup!
4th stop: Floral Clock
Time for a quick comfort break, especially welcome after all that wine! and a photo opportunity at Niagara’s very own floral clock. Built in 1950 apparently they took their inspiration from the flower clock in Edinburgh, Scotland we’ll have to check that one out when we get home. The flower displays are created with 15,000 bedding plants planted twice a year and it chimes every 15 minutes, it must look great from the air. This is the second massive garden clock we’ve seen, the other was in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.
5th stop: Hydroelectric Power
Are we nearly there yet? Garth asks Phil, well nearly but we finally get to see the majestic Niagara River from a great viewpoint of two hydroelectric power stations. A quick lesson – they are basically dams built on the edges of river banks that divert water through turbines that generate electricity. There are various working power stations built on each side of the river, one is over 100 years. You will also see a couple of old derelict power stations when you get to the falls.
Finally time for the main event! Woohoo! We’ve arrived at one of the planet’s most iconic natural wonders, Niagara Falls! It claims to be the world’s second biggest natural attraction after the Grand Canyon, maybe? it’s also the honeymoon capital of Canada, the hotels and casinos give it a Las Vegas vibe about the place.
We headed straight for the promenade and took in the wide views of the three waterfalls that line the Canadian and America border. There’s also a border crossing via The Rainbow Bridge, you don’t need to do this as the Canadian side of the falls is easily the best.
To really get involved you have to get up close with the water onboard the Hornblower. Garth has been here back in 1996 when the boat operated was the Maid of the Mist it still operates but now only from the American side. After donning our attractive pink ponchos, bin bags more like! we were ready, like 2 excited kids about to board a rollercoaster.
Well we haven’t laughed so much in ages if you are stood on the top deck it’s wet and a wild ride! The best part of the cruise is when you get to the base of the Canadian horse-shoe falls, it’s quite an overwhelming sight with tons of water surrounding you. The sound of the thundering water is something else! not only can you hear it, but you feel the immense power of the water, especially when so much of it lands on you!
We’ve seen waterfalls and even stood at the bottom of some in South Iceland, but the colossal scale of Niagara Falls is awe-inspiring.
The Horn-blower cruise lasts 20 minutes plus queuing up time, ours was about 10 minutes. If you really don’t want to get wet, then you can sit downstairs in the boat, but you’ll be missing out on a real thrill! After all the excitement we grabbed a bite to eat and enjoyed some of Niagara’s very own beer.
After lunch we walked down to the brink, about a 15 minute walk from the Hornblower terminal. The brink is the part of the where the water drops right over the edge.
It’s very cool because you can get so close, what first strikes you is the power of the water as it drops over the edge. Every second 2.2 million litres of water cascades down, the vertical drop is 57 metres and the water flow is the highest rate of any waterfall in the world. The colour of the water is amazing too extremely green, it comes from all the minerals and dissolved salts, basically very finely ground rock.
That morning we missed one of Niagara’s many daredevil stunts in history. The daredevil was Erendira Wallenda from Zero Gravity Circus who hovered over the falls by her teeth from a helicopter. The first daredevil was a 63 year old lady who went over falls in a barrel! Amazing how many people want to risk their lives trying to conquer Niagara Falls.
We thought about doing Niagara Fall’s second favourite attraction – Journey Behind The Falls, but decided against it as Garth did it previously and said it was pants. However the best bit is the platform where you can stand right next to the water crashing down, but going behind the falls and through the tunnel is rubbish. So we opted to see the views from the Skylon Tower instead.
After a quick ride in the yellow glass lift – 52 seconds to be exact, you’re outside where the views are just amazing! After seeing it all close up, it’s great to see the wider geography of the area, you get a great sense of scale and just how epic this landscape really is.
We’ve been to lots of observation decks, but this one is very cool as their safety net is just the right size, which means you point your camera through the gaps for cool pictures. They also have a fancy restaurant at the top, we would have treated ourselves to an evening dinner here if we were staying over.
- Helicopter sightseeing flights (Burkus can arrange this)
- MistRider Zipline to the Falls – For thrill seekers
- Clifton Hill – Theme park with casinos, it’s like a mini Las Vegas strip
- Niagara Falls History Museum – 15 minutes away, discover the daredevils who have barrelled over the falls
Our driver and guide Burkus was very professional, providing excellent commentary and pointing out many sights of interest. He was very knowledgeable answering questions about the Falls and Ontario’s wine making region. The bus is clean and comfortable with air conditioning and the compact size is ideal because there’s not tons of people on the tour. Burkus provided free bottles of water and also has tickets onboard for the Hornblower cruise if you want to buy them, which means you can skip the queue for tickets.
Overall it’s a well planned day that we’d recommend doing it you’re short on time, like we were. Doing a tour is always slightly pressured because of time limits, but the 3 hours was enough time to do 2 attractions comfortably, if you want to do more then you’ll have to stay the night. The only negative was the heavy traffic heading back to Toronto, which makes it a long tiring day, but one incredible day out, and one big bucket-list tick!
Phil and Garth’s Top 5 Niagara Falls Tips
- Tip #1: Wear swimming shorts & T-shirts or short sleeves on The Hornblower boat cruise.
- Tip #2: ‘Washroom’ is Canadian for the toilet or restroom.
- Tip #3: Journey Behind the Falls can have long queues during summer months.
- Tip #4: Early September is the best time to visit – warm weather and least crowds.
- Tip #5: You can leave your belongings on the Niagara Day Tour bus if you want to.
How we did it:
- We travelled in June with Niagara Day Tour, full itinerary here.
- We paid C$89 each excluding the boat cruise. It costs C$109 including the Hornblower boat cruise.
- The Skylon Tower costs C$15.02 each – It’s a bit cheaper booking ahead online.
- A 375ml bottle of Reif Vidal Icewine costs C$47.05
- 8:10am Toronto hotel pick up
- 10:30am Niagara on the Lake (1 hour)
- 11:55am Reif Wine Estate (30 minutes)
- 1:15pm Niagara Falls (3 hours)
- 4:15pm Depart Niagara Falls
- 6:15pm Arrive Toronto
Disclaimer: We received the Hornblower boat cruise with compliments of Niagara Day Tour, a big thank you to Burkus! All opinions, as always are our own.