Lake Ontario road trip guide from Toronto to Niagara
If you’re interested in doing a Lake Ontario road trip from Toronto to Niagara, this guide is chock full of activity suggestions.
There are many amazing road trips to take in a country as large and beautiful as Canada—from the dramatic coastal scenery of Nova Scotia, to the peaks and valleys of the Rocky Mountains. But what many people don’t realize is that you don’t have to travel to the country’s most rural areas for a great road trip. In fact, there are many that start in the major city of Toronto, including one to the diverse area of Niagara along the coast of Lake Ontario.
LAKE ONTARIO ROAD TRIP STOP #1 – TORONTO
Start your trip in the city of Toronto, the capital of the Canadian province of Ontario. Toronto is the largest city in Canada by population and is a lively metropolis of skyscrapers, museums, historic sights and entertainment facilities. You’re going to want to spend a few days in this exciting city to really make the most of everything it has to offer!
Things not to miss in Toronto:
- Grab dinner in the iconic CN Tower which dominates Toronto’s skyline. The tower’s revolving restaurant sits 351 meters (1,151 ft) above the ground and boasts amazing 360 degree views across the rest of the city. As well as serving a fantastic food menu, the restaurant has an award-winning wine selection of over 550 international and local wines from its ‘cellar in the sky’. If you’re brave enough, after dinner you might want to check out the CN Tower Edgewalk.
- Catch a Blue Jays game at the Rodgers Centre. Toronto is home to Canada’s only major league baseball team, the Toronto Blue Jays, and this is something the locals here are extremely proud of. Attending a baseball game is a fun full-afternoon or evening experience, with plenty of family friendly entertainment in-between innings such as interactive promotions and competitions.
- Take a boat trip around the Toronto islands. I bet you weren’t expecting this one were you? Despite being a major city, Toronto is located on the northwestern shore of Lake Ontario and has a large harbour area and a chain of small islands protruding into the lake. The islands are home to the Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport, as well as several yacht clubs, Centreville Amusement Park and a public beach for those who fancy a short stop away from the city center.
- Take a stroll around Kensington Market. Anyone who has visited Kensington in London will be surprised to find that Kensington in Toronto has an extremely different vibe to it. Kensington is Toronto’s cool, cosmopolitan neighborhood, full of fresh fruit and veggie markets, quirky restaurants and bars, small vintage shops and plenty of stores selling a diverse range of international goods.
LAKE ONTARIO ROAD TRIP STOP #2 – NIAGARA FALLS
Located just a 1h30m drive away from Toronto, around the edge of Lake Ontario, Niagara Falls is one of the great wonders of the world and attracts millions of tourists from all across the planet every year.
As well as simply marveling at the ginormous falls, there’s plenty of fun things to keep you occupied in the area for a couple of days. Plus the area has many luxurious hotels boasting amazing views over the Falls that you’re definitely going to want to stay in for at least a night.
Things not to miss in Niagara Falls:
- Take a trip into the falls with Hornblower Cruises. This 20 minute boat tour takes you directly into the mist of the falls. But don’t worry about the six million cubic feet (168,000 m3) of water that goes over the crest of the falls every minute falling just meters away from you, a highly fashionable disposable rain mac is included with the price of the ticket!
- Journey behind the falls. This unique experience will cost you a small fee but is definitely worth it for a unique view of the iconic falls.
- Zip-line towards the falls. For the adrenaline junkies out there, the zip-line is one of the newer attractions at Niagara Falls and allows you to fly down the side of the river at a height of 220 feet towards the horseshoe falls.
- Binge away an evening at Clifton Hill. Clifton Hill is Niagara Falls self-proclaimed “street of fun” and boasts many entertainment venues such as the Movieland Wax Museum, the Guinness World Records Museum, Midway Amusements and several Mini Golf courses. There are also plenty of restaurants including the Rainforest Cafe and Ruby Tuesdays to grab dinner at when you’re done.
LAKE ONTARIO ROAD TRIP STOP #3 – NIAGARA ON THE LAKE
With over 12 million tourists visiting Niagara falls every year it is surprising that only around 3 million of these make it another 20 minutes down the road to neighboring Niagara on the Lake.
Niagara on the Lake is a beautiful little town with a modest population of just 17,500 people, It’s much quieter than the previous two stops for those who need a break after the craziness of both Toronto and Niagara Falls. The town has a good selection of locally run restaurants and cafes, several theaters and a small harbor full of boats. But the biggest draw of Niagara on the Lake has to be it’s 20+ wineries (there are around 100 in the winder Niagara region).
Ditch the car at a hotel for this part of the road trip, and instead, hire a bike to spend a couple of days cycling around the long stretches of vineyards and popping in to as many wineries as possible to taste their diverse range of wines.
Niagara-on-the-Lake is particularly famous for its ice wines, a type of wine made by picking grapes during the night in the winter months when the fruit is frozen, then pressing them straight away to produce a more concentrated sweet wine (the water freezes but the sugars and other solids do not). For those who enjoy a dessert wine, you’re certain to love Canadian ice wine!
Wineries to visit in Niagara on the Lake:
- Peller Estates for the best ice wine (in my opinion anyway). Peller is one of the largest and most established wineries in Niagara on the Lake.
- Stratus for a lovely outdoor terrace to enjoy your wine on a sunny day.
- Strewn for an informative tour of the vineyard and winery.
- Sunny Brook Estate for sweet wines made from nontraditional fruit such as cranberry, strawberry, peach, pear, apple and plum.
- Josephs for a small, modest winery with a friendly and homely atmosphere.
LAKE ONTARIO ROAD TRIP STOP #4 – HAMILTON
Finally, for the last stop of your Ontario road trip, head back up the Western coast of Lake Ontario to the port city of Hamilton. Hamilton is a unique city divided in two by the Niagara Escarpment, a large forested ridge running through Ontario. This means that the city is an ideal mix of urban activity and natural beauty to finish your trip with.
Things not to miss in Hamilton:
- Wander around the Royal Botanical Gardens. Did you know that Hamilton is home to the largest botanical gardens in Canada? The gardens even have an amazing Rose Garden with thousands of different species of rose that you can visit every year from May to October.
- Admire the many waterfalls. If you’re not sick of waterfalls already after Niagara Falls you’re in for a treat, as Hamilton is often dubbed as ‘The City of Waterfalls’ due there being 100 waterfalls within a close vicinity of the city. The beautiful Bruce hiking trail through the Niagara Escarpment is where you’ll find the majority of the falls. Make sure you don’t miss the impressive Webster’s Falls or the Devil’s Punch Bowl.
- Chill with the animals at the African Lion Safari. Just outside of the city you’ll find 300 hectares of safari park housing over 1,000 animals. The Animals roam freely around this family run safari park, so it’s a great place for a leisurely drive and to snap some photos.
If you’ve ever done a Lake Ontario road trip from Toronto to Niagara, leave a comment below and share some of your favorite stops/activities along the way. If you have any questions about doing a Lake Ontario road trip, leave your question below and we’ll try and answer it.