We have said in other posts, if we could only visit one country in the world, Canada would certainly be towards the top of the list. Wild places. Beautiful landscapes. And vibrant cities. Toronto is one such city. Toronto, just like it’s American cousin, New York, is the largest city in Canada and is host to a diverse array of cuisines and cultures that make this melting pot a go-to destination. Unlike New York, however, Toronto is more laid back and quiet, leaving its people and its culture to speak for itself. To put it plainly, the food is great. The city offers a wide variety of choices, from artisanal bakeries and desert shops to authentic Asian restaurants, the occasional American or British import, but overall a selection lovingly curated by a growing people. It’s also a mainstay of tourism in Canada, having one of the biggest airports in the country and one of the most iconic skylines in the world thanks in part to the CN tower. Its attempt at cultural preservation is also honorable with many landmarks and museums. Particularly of note is the Ontario museum which features a vast collection of nature exhibits and historical artifacts. It’s also well connected, both as a city and with the surrounding region. Its award-winning public transit system easily accessible, highly extensive, and arguably one of the best in North America. It’s also well connected to the rest of Canada in the sense that it’s easily accessible from many parts of the country, from the southern end of Ontario near Detroit to Montreal to the east.
This is why, as much as we love this city, we highly recommend you take your time to explore everything else Canada has to offer. We truly think Toronto is the best way to do that, so much so that you can experience much more of the hidden charm of Canada without having to stray too far from the big city. One thing to note though is that you don’t necessarily need a car to do this. Ontario features a transit system that could easily take you to most of the places on this map. Driving could be part of the fun though as it helps maximize your experience of foreign cultures. For starters, you wouldn’t know country music was so popular in the places on this list (not surprising given its proximity to rural New York) if you didn’t hit the road. Besides the big players like Quebec, Montreal, Vancouver, and the like, here are some of our favorite road trip destination easily accessible from Toronto.
Niagara Falls and Niagara on the Lake
Full disclosure: I was actually born close to Niagara Falls in upstate New York and though I grew up in central Pennsylvania, my family would travel up to Niagara Falls a couple of times a year. We loved traveling there and back in the late 60’s and 70’s it was a BIG trip. Now it is much easier, but my love of the entire Niagara area is still alive and well. Once the capital of Ontario, Niagara on the Lake is a sleepy town with a vibrant history that translates into a quaint and charming environment. With Lake Ontario to the north and the United States to the east, this town is warm and inviting and it’s easy to fall in love with the astute design of the town that holds with it a gastronomic experience. Firstly, one of the best ice cream places east of Toronto can be found here. Appropriately named Cows, this ice cream parlor is famous in the area for its wide array of flavors featuring locally sourced ingredients and even sells its own merchandise of shirts featuring cow puns. Also in the town is the Prince of Wales Hotel, an 18th century establishment that features a classic salon with high tea – a truly English experience. Feel free to explore the town’s main street which is lined with shops and restaurants featuring local products and other stores selling knick knacks and souvenirs galore, or head to the various historical sites notable for their involvement in the war of 1812.
Inversely, you could head further south to the famous Niagara Falls. No offence to anyone, but the view is better from the Canadian side mostly because the Horseshoe Falls, the most iconic part, faces the Canadian side. This gives an unadulterated view of the falls from a long stretch of the Niagara Falls area. Restaurants, shops, and an observation deck line the boardwalk facing the Niagara River. In fact, there’s a restaurant right by the falls known for stunning 180-degree views. The Canadian side was also once host to a power station that harnessed the power from the falls. Now, it’s accessible to the public as is famous for giving visitors a peek behind the falls. There are also many activities for adventure seekers. Firstly, there the Hornblower, not to be confused with the American Maid of the Mist, which takes you right up to the Horseshoe falls and covers you in the mist from the water. There’s also the white water walk and the aerocar which lets you appreciate the river downstream. You can also go to the various hotels, casinos, parks, and theme parks in the city.
The region is also famous for its vineyards and wineries which can be found dotted around the general area between Niagara Falls and Niagara-on-the-Lake. These wineries usually have restaurants where you can sample their tasting menu or have a meal with their in-house wine. They also tend to have tours of the vineyard and/or distillery available. One notable detail about these wineries though is their production of ice wine, a dessert wine originating from Europe. Ice wine requires grapes to be frozen on the vine, producing a concentrated juice that’s usually served cold. This, however, requires a regular season of cold temperatures, which makes Canada a top producer of this rare luxury wine. Ice wine tasting is usually available in some wineries, most notable Reif Estate and Peller estate, the latter of which is known to serve their ice wine in a lounge made out of ice.
The Niagara Falls area is about an hour and a half from downtown Toronto. It’s easily accessible via the Queen Elizabet Way, though you can also opt to take a direct train to Niagara Falls or opt for either a private tour bus or a public shuttle bus.
Georgian Bay and Lake Simcoe
To the north of Toronto is Lake Simcoe, a nature reserve and famous natural recreation area. Once inhabited by the Huron, the lake was named by John Graves Simcoe, first Lieutenant Governor of Canada, after his father, Captain John Simcoe of the Royal Navy. Unlike the major great lakes, Lake Simcoe does not see major economic development, choosing instead to preserve the natural wildlife. As a result, it has attracted many people from the Greater Toronto area for its cleaner environment and generally warmer water. It’s host to many beaches, most of which are natural conservation areas, providing for an undisturbed pristine spot for relaxation and family fun. Boating and fishing is also famous in the area with most major towns having their own port and the area being home to an active sailing community. Surprisingly, scuba diving is also famous in the area and is famous for wreck sites that are easily accessible just off the beach. In winter, the entire lake freezes over. This usually brings out ice fishing enthusiasts and has earned it the title of the Ice Fishing Capital of Canada. The lake is most accessible from the city of Barrie but can be reached from any of the beaches, especially on the south shore, which is directly connected to Toronto by highway.
Georgian Bay is an outcrop of Lake Huron and is to the north west of Lake Simcoe. The entire bay is probably too large to explore, but some locations of interest can be found particularly near Toronto. The southernmost point is lined by the Wasaga Beach, which stretches for miles from the southernmost tip of the bay to its vibrant commercial center on its eastern edge. To the west of the beach is the town of Collingwood, a former industrial port which is host to Blue Mountain Resort, a famous ski resort. Blue Mountain mimics the European style of many Alpine resorts. In the summer, it’s famous for many typical nature activities as well as being host to a large collection of pools. Take the cable car up to the peak for several hiking trails and a stunning view of the bay. In winter, of course, the are is famous for snow sports. The resort itself has a cozy atmosphere given its design. Many astute and bespoke restaurants and shops can be found, including beaver tails, a Canadian baked delicacy.
Barrie is a little over an hour from Toronto and can be reached by car through Highway 400 or train. Many of the beaches on the southern half of Lake Simcoe can also be reached within an hour and a half using Highway 404. Wasaga Beach’s town center can be reached from Toronto within 2 hours if you’re travelling via Barrie, but can be reached directly through local roads, the same goes for Blue Mountain. There are no trains to the area, but both can be reached by shuttle bus from key Toronto locations.
Prince Edward County and Kingston
To the north of Toronto is Prince Edward County, which, though also an island, is not to be confused with the province of Prince Edward Island. Prince Edward County is home to the Sandbanks Provincial Park, one of the largest beaches in Ontario. It also holds records for being the world’s largest sand dune beach and the world’s largest freshwater sand bar. All these make it a famous destination for locals seeking a beach day without having to hop on a plane. Just like Niagara, the area is home to several wineries and distilleries, with craft beer as a notable product. The county is also home to several small towns each with a rich history and a vibrant food culture. Notable on the islands are the various other nature parks and seasonal arts and music festivals.
Nearby Kingston is a city on the edge of the border with New York. It’s affectionately nicknamed the Limestone City after the building material used for its historic old town for which it’s most notable for. Originally a French settlement, the city soon grew to prominence as a center of commerce and military operations, even becoming Canada’s capital briefly. The city is home to several museums and historic sites are worth visiting for military history buffs. Princess Street, the city’s main thoroughfare, is also a common attraction given the unique design of the buildings.
The most notable attractions in Kingston is the Thousand Islands Ferry. The Thousand Islands are a collection of islands, islets and rocks spread out along the US-Canada border, some of which are privately owned and have buildings with distinct styles. Most famous is Hart Island, home to the Boldt Castle, a European-style mansion. Constructed by George Boldt, general manager of the Waldorf Astoria Hotel, for his wife, the building was left uncompleted upon her untimely death. IT was since bought and finished and is now open for tours and events. Many more houses like this can be found, and depending on the ferry you take, some can be visited. A word of caution though as much of the Thousand Islands area is inside US territory, so you may need to bring your passport.
Prince Edward County is approximately 2 hours from Downtown Toronto and is only accessible by road with three connecting roads via the Macdonald Carter Freeway (401) and a ferry crossing via the Loyalist Parkway. You can get close to PEC by train to Belleville, but you will have to rent a car or hire a tour company once you get there. Kingston is 3 hours away from Toronto and 1 hour from PEC and is reached by Highway 401 as well. You can opt to take the train instead, but a word of caution though as Kingston Union Station is a few minutes’ drive from the actual city center, so it is likely that you’ll have to rent a car or just bring your own.
There are obviously many more places to visit in and around Toronto, from Sault Ste. Marie (a bit longer at about an 8 hour drive) and the Maple Road to the city of Ottawa (a little over 4 hours), and even a quick trip to the many Farmar’s Markets in and around the area, most notably St. Jacobs and Aberfoyle. Whichever it may be, we hope you get to experience and appreciate an undiscovered slice of Canada and appreciate its local culture more intimately.
Discover the magic of the holiday season with our ultimate guide to the best Christmas destinations. Explore enchanting markets, festive light displays, and unique traditions around the world. From snowy European towns to tropical beach retreats, we’ve got the perfect holiday travel suggestions for every type of traveler.
Discover the top Thanksgiving destinations in the US in our Ultimate Guide. From the historic charm of Plymouth, Massachusetts to the vibrant Macy’s Parade in New York City, we’ve got you covered. Explore unique traditions, mouthwatering feasts, and stunning fall landscapes that make these locations the perfect backdrop for your Thanksgiving celebration.
From the snow-capped peaks of Colorado to the icy shores of Maine, the US is home to some of the most breathtaking winter wonderlands. From skiing and snowboarding to snowshoeing and ice fishing, these five must-visit destinations offer a variety of winter activities for all ages. So bundle up and explore the beauty of these winter wonderlands!