Toronto, Canada

Toronto, Canada anaheimer

Toronto skyline with CN towerToronto is the capital city of Ontario province and is considered the largest city in Canada, with a population approaching 5.6 million. If you count the whole urban area around Toronto, the population increases to 6.5 million. 

What distinguishes Toronto from other major urban centers is its multicultural vibe. Everywhere you go, you will come across people from all over the world coexisting in peace and harmony. 

Interesting Facts: The area known as Toronto now started life as the city of York, the capital of Upper Canada. 

Toronto Dundas Square - Taste of the middle-eastThe city celebrates its cultural heritage by hosting many festivals and carnivals throughout the year.  During my 5-day visit in August, I encountered 2 separate festivals: Caribbean Grand Parade (Caribana) and Taste of the Middle-East. Many more cultural events happening every month. See the calendar here.  

Interesting Facts: In the annual survey of most livable cities, Toronto often places fourth in the world.

Toronto is also known for its support of diversity. LGBTQ residents and visitors enjoy the tolerant atmosphere, events, venues, and clubs catering to the community. The city also hosts the Toronto Pride, which has been running for 38 years as of 2018.

Getting Around

Toronto Streetcar - from WikipediaIt is possible to ditch your car in Toronto with the help of the extensive transit network. The Toronto Transit Commission offers Bus, Subway, and Streetcar services to connect you to your desired location. 

The rocket line connects the Airport to Downtown. You can take one of the routes listed here to get to your destination.

Interesting Facts: PATH is considered the largest underground walkway in North America - extending for 17 miles. It connects 1200 stores and restaurants, 50 office towers, 20 parking garages, five subway stations and a railway terminal.

Toronto yong-dundas square fountain - from WikipediaFor destinations outside of the service area, you may need a taxi or an Uber. 

Finally, the downtown area is walkable. You can reach most attractions by taking a leisurely walk. During inclement weather (or just for fun), you can take the Path, which is a system of underground tunnels connecting many of the major buildings.

Things to do

Toronto Chinatown - from WikipediaThere is no shortage of activities and attractions in this global city. It all depends on your preferences. You can spend time in downtown exploring the architecture and history and visiting museums. 

You can go back to nature with visits to parks and the waterfront or take a food tour to sample foods from across the globe. 

Interesting Facts: The city boasts an average of 301 days of sunshine per year. But temperatures can vary from -24F to +105F

You can visit Niagara Falls for some amazing views and adventures a short distance away. Read more about Niagara Falls here.

Downtown Toronto

Toronto city hall - from WikipediaTake a stroll through downtown Toronto and experience its multicultural vibe firsthand. As you walk around, you will notice historic buildings mixed in with modern skyscrapers and open public squares next to shopping malls. If you tire from walking, hop on a bus or streetcar to your next destination. 

Interesting Facts: The city of Toronto has over 1600 parks covering 13% of the city area.

During bad weather or just for fun, go underground and traverse the city through the PATH – a system of tunnels connecting many important destinations. 

Some highlights of downtown:

Toronto Yong-Dundas Square at night - from WikipediaYonge-Dundas Square:

This public square is a recent addition to downtown, and it is Toronto’s answer to New York’s Time Square.

A large open area is set aside for events and festivals. Around the public gathering place, you will notice huge billboards, pedestrian walkways, theaters, and shopping centers. 

Royal Toronto Museum:

Royal Toronto MuseumAlong with holding a treasure trove of artifacts from around the world and through the ages, the museum’s architecture requires a gander. The building itself is old with Neo-Romanesque architecture, but the eastern entrance looks like a giant crystal had crashed into the building, dragging the museum into the modern era. 

Every galley and exhibit is worth a visit, but if you are pressed for time, you must see The First Peoples exhibit. Learn about the region's original inhabitants– their arts, crafts, and culture. 

Toronto Eaton CenterEaton Center:

If the shops around Yong-Dundas Square are not enough, walk to this huge mall and enjoy the shops and restaurants. This mall is considered the busiest mall in North America, with 250+ shops, a large food court (The Urban Eatery), and many restaurants. It is also connected to the PATH.

St. Lawrence Market:

A public market where local vendors sell fruits, vegetables, meat, and cheese. You can also find snacks and drinks. It is an interesting place to visit, but if you are at a hotel, you probably don’t need any of the goods.

Toronto Kensington Market - Garden Car - from WikipediaKensington International Market:

This neighborhood is a great example of Toronto’s multicultural nature just west of Chinatown. Strolling through its streets will take you on a journey through world music, food, and history. 

The best way to explore this place is to go on a food tour and sample goodies from around the world. Read here about my food tour experience

CN Tower:

Toronto CN Tower from the Waterfront - from WikipediaIt's a great way to view the city. Go up to the observation tower and spend some time taking in the city and lake views. For a more leisurely experience, enjoy dinner at the 360 restaurants with a  revolving platform. Reservations are strongly recommended, and you will get guaranteed access to the observation deck.

The Waterfront:

Along the shores of Lake Ontario, you can find a lot of activities and dining places. The 46 km-long waterfront has pedestrian trails, beaches, and a ferry harbor. Take a walk and enjoy the views, or stop at a bar or a restaurant. From the harbor, you can take a ferry to the Toronto Islands, where you can find a lot of attractions. 

Toronto Islands beach - from WikipediaToronto Islands:

Take a short boat ride to the islands and enjoy many activities like bicycling, Canoeing, Kayaking, or just relaxing on a beach. Note that the west beach is clothing-optional.

The Islands also host an amusement park for young children. 

Interesting Facts: The Toronto Islands, just a short ferry ride away from downtown Toronto, comprise the largest urban car-free community in North America.

Outside of Downtown

Toronto High Park - from WikipediaA few steps out of downtown Toronto, you can enjoy some great experiences like parks and mansions.  

High Park:

The largest park in Toronto attracts residents and visitors to escape from the hustle and bustle of a busy city. Along with a beautiful pond, trails, and trees, the park hosts a Zoo and playgrounds. 

Casa Loma:

Toronto Casa Loma Castle - from WikipediaA real castle overlooking Toronto, this home fit for a king was built in 1900 by an ex-soldier and spans 98 rooms with towers and horse stables. 

It took three years to build and cost around 3.5 million dollars. You can spend between 2 hours and a half day roaming the hallways and grand rooms, or you can spend your time in the 5-acre immaculate garden with fountains and sculptures.

Toronto Science Centre - Hydrophone - from WikipediaOntario Science Centre:

For science buffs, a visit to this science museum is a must. With hundreds of interactive exhibits, you are bound to find something interesting and learn something new.

Some of the highlights are piloting a rocket chair, touching a tornado, playing the hydrophone, seeing how you look as you age or gazing at the start in the Planetarium. 

Niagara Falls

Those amazing waterfalls are not in Ontario, but you can visit and enjoy the splendor of nature after a 1.5-hour drive. The 3-waterfalls thunder down into the Niagara Gorge, spilling millions of cubic feet of water (per minute). 

While at the Niagara Parks, you can enjoy many experiences that take you close to the falls. I really enjoyed the Hornblower cruise and the Whitewater walk.

Read the full Niagara article here.

   

Kensington Market Food Tour

Kensington Market Food Tour anaheimer

Toronto Kensington Market - from WikipediaI recently when on a food safari in Toronto with Chopsticks and Forks. We spent 3 hours walking through the Kensington neighborhood and sampling cuisine from 6 different regions of the world. 

The Kensington neighborhood is a great example of Toronto’s multicultural nature. As we walked through narrow streets, Victorian homes and colorful storefronts, we were greeted with sights, sounds and smells from around the world. 

Interesting Facts: This area is home to 30 distinctive cultures and religions. 

Toronto Kensington Market - Pow WowWe started our International Toronto Food Tour at Pow Wow Café, which serves traditional native Canadian foods.

Our sample was Bannock (Fried-bread) with Duck Bacon washed down with Cedar Soda. The combination of Bannock and Duck Bacon was very tasty. I didn’t enjoy the Cedar soda much. It is probably an acquired taste.

We then stopped at Nu Bügel, for a taste of Europe and Venezuela. What a unique mix of cultures. We had the Smoked Salmon Sandwich with a Sesame Seed Bagel. The place is also famous for their coconut bagels. 

Toronto Kensington Market - Nu BugelOur guide Jessup is a great host. He made sure everyone got a taste and he catered for special needs. Some in our group were vegetarian so he made sure there were always meatless choices.  

We then traveled all the way to South America for a Chilean taste. Jumbo Empanadas serves unique dishes like a 600-year-old corn hash indigenous recipe and baked wheat Empanadas with hard-boiled egg and raisins. This non-traditional combination actually tasted great. 

Interesting Facts: At its start in 1910 this area was known as the Jewish Market due to its large population of eastern European Jewish immigrants. Several synagogues are still standing now.

Toronto Kensington Market - Tibet CafeOur next stop was for a unique Toronto taste. At Golden Patty, we had a Beef patty in Coco Bread. Both items are Jamaican in origin, but the mix can only be found in Toronto. A wonderful texture and flavor.  

Without having to climb the Himalayas, we got to taste Tibetan food at Tibet Café. We started with a unique Tibetan drink, Butter Tea. This thick hot tea with butter was invented to replenish energy at high and cold altitudes. We also sampled some Momos. The Momo is basically a Tibetan Dumpling. 

Interesting Facts: Kensington’s streets have several unique public art displays. The most outlandish is the “Garden Car”. This old rust bucket was filled over time with plants and flowers by residents and looks totally out of place in this urban setting.

Toronto Kensington Market - Fika CafeWe ended our food tour with a relaxing stop at Fika Café. “To Fika” in Sweden is to stop and slow down, which is what we did at this place while sipping tea and trying a spiced morning bun. It tasted like a cinnamon bun with a hint of Cardamom. What a great way to end this world food tour. 

Interesting Facts: Pedestrian Sundays happen during the summer months letting people stroll around and enjoy this eclectic neighborhood without worrying about cars.

We really enjoyed this tour with Chopsticks and Forks and especially our friendly guide, Jessup.  He made sure everyone was happy with the samples and kept us engaged with lots of information about the neighborhood.  

Niagara Falls, Canada

Niagara Falls, Canada anaheimer

Niagara Falls Canada - The American fallsFrom the earliest memories of my childhood, the majestic images of Niagara Falls have always beckoned me. In August 2018, I finally heeded its call, and the experience was nothing short of magical.

While photographs and videos capture its grandeur, standing in its presence is an unparalleled experience. The distant rumble, akin to nature's own symphony, grows louder as you approach, revealing the sheer force of countless gallons of water plunging from Lake Erie to Lake Ontario. 

Niagara Falls Canada - Rainbow panoThe sight of three magnificent cascades of water crashing into the abyss below, with the Niagara Gorge channeling its might and onlookers standing in awe, is a testament to nature's raw power.

Interesting Facts: Although many, including myself, would argue that Niagara Falls deserves a spot among the Natural Wonders of the World, it surprisingly doesn't feature on any global list. However, it proudly stands on the USA's list of seven natural wonders.

The gentle mist, carried by the wind, was a refreshing respite from the summer heat, making the experience even more enchanting.

But for an adventurer like me, mere observation wasn't enough. I was eager to delve deeper into the wonders of Niagara. Read on for a two-day journey filled with awe and excitement.

Canada or USA Side? 

Niagara Falls Canada - USA side across the riverAfter scouring the internet, I settled on the Canadian side, often lauded for its superior views and attractions. 

While I intend to explore the US side in the future, the consensus seems to be that the Canadian side is cleaner and safer. However, attractions like Goat Island and Cave of the Winds on the American side are easily accessible with a quick border crossing.

It's worth noting that the Canadian side is more commercialized, catering to tourists. Ultimately, the choice is yours based on your preferences. 

Where to Stay   

Niagara Falls Canada - The American fallsSkylineMy journey began in Toronto, from where I drove to Niagara Falls. The route offered picturesque views of forests, farms, and the shimmering Lake Ontario. However, traffic woes made me wish I had booked a stay closer to the falls.

Interesting Facts: Niagara Falls consists of three separate waterfalls. These are the Horseshoe Falls (also known as the Canadian Falls), the American Falls, and the Bridal Veil Falls.

From luxurious hotels like the Embassy Suites by Hilton to budget-friendly options, Niagara has it all. 

For families, the Skyline Hotel & Waterpark promises endless fun.

Transportation

Niagara Falls Canada - from across the river - from WikipediaNavigating Niagara Falls is a breeze, with the WEGO bus system covering all major attractions. The Niagara Parks adventure pass even offers complimentary bus rides. 

If driving, be mindful of parking spaces, especially during peak times. There are a few city parking lots along the main road, but on busy days, they get filled fast. 

Parking lots further away from the falls always have spaces available, but you must take a long walk or bus ride to get to the action.

One option is to park inland, away from the falls, and walk down to the main trail. During my visit, I parked at the Skylon Tower because we had dinner reservations later in the evening. It was a pleasant walk down some steps through a wooded area and a park.

Main Attractions

Beyond the falls, Niagara offers a plethora of experiences:

Embark on a Scenic Trek

Niagara Falls Canada - Trail along the riverThe Niagara Parkway, tracing the contours of the Niagara River, offers a front-row seat to the majestic waterfalls. Alongside this road, a pedestrian pathway invites visitors to immerse themselves in the beauty of the falls, with a well-tended park serving as a serene buffer between the trail and the roadway.

For an enriched experience, initiate your journey from the Hornblower Niagara cruise pavilion and venture southward. From this vantage point, the American Falls unfolds in their glory, with the Canadian Horseshoe Falls teasingly revealing themselves. As you tread, watch cruise ships gracefully sail between these natural wonders. Perhaps, you might be tempted to embark on one of these cruises later—or even kickstart your adventure with one.

Interesting Facts: The falls were formed when glaciers receded at the end of the Wisconsin glaciation (the last ice age), and water from the newly formed Great Lakes carved a path over and through the Niagara Escarpment, eventually leading to the Atlantic Ocean.

Niagara Falls Canada - park along the riverAs you continue south, the grandeur of the Horseshoe waterfall becomes more evident. Its misty veil often parts to reveal fleeting rainbows. 

Upon reaching the "Journey Behind the Falls" pavilion, pause to marvel at the cascading pinnacle of the Horseshoe Falls as they plunge into the river below.

For the more adventurous, consider extending your trek northward, where the roaring Whitewater of the Niagara Gorge awaits.

The Niagara Parks Adventure Pass: Your Gateway to Exploration

While individual attractions offer pay-as-you-go options, the Niagara Parks Adventure Pass promises both convenience and value. By securing this pass in advance, you gain complimentary access to the WEGO shuttle system and a selection of prime attractions. Upon arrival, the friendly staff at the ticket booths will assist in organizing and scheduling your visits, ensuring a seamless experience.  

Hornblower Niagara Cruise

Niagara Falls Canada - Hornblower Cruise

If you're to choose just one adventure in Niagara Falls, let the Hornblower Cruise top your list. This exhilarating boat journey brings you astonishingly close to the thundering base of the grand Horseshoe Fall on the Canadian frontier.

As the boat approaches the waterfall's might, be prepared for gusty winds and a refreshing mist that engulfs all on board. To stay relatively dry, it's advisable to don the provided smocks unless you're in the mood for a natural drenching.

From the vessel, the panoramas are simply breathtaking. Casting a glance backward, the iconic Rainbow International Bridge stands tall, bridging the Canadian and US territories. To one side, the American Falls presents a majestic sight. 

Interesting Facts: Niagara Falls Frozen - by NiagaraMist - WikimediaOn rare occasions, the falls and the river have frozen. The only recorded complete freeze-up of the river and falls occurred in 1848 due to an ice jam. However, complete freezing of the falls is uncommon.

As the journey progresses, the expansive Horseshoe Fall looms, soon enveloping you from three vantage points. As the boat gracefully pivots for its return, you're treated to the same awe-inspiring vistas, but this time, in a captivating reverse sequence.  

Whirlpool Aero Car

Niagara Falls Canada - Whirlpool Aero CarFurther north along the Niagara River, the waters take a dramatic right, giving birth to fierce whitewater rapids and a swirling whirlpool. While a trailside stroll offers a decent view of this natural spectacle, the Whirlpool Aero Car elevates the experience—quite literally. This cable car glides serenely over the whirlpool, even briefly crossing into US territory. However, disembarking on the other side isn't an option. Instead, the car gracefully pivots, offering passengers a fresh perspective on the mesmerizing whirlpool below.

Whitewater Walk: Nature's Power Up Close  

Niagara Falls Canada - Whitewater WalkTo truly feel the Niagara River's might, one must venture close to its banks. While many riverbanks in the city are cordoned off for safety and conservation, the Whitewater Walk provides a sanctioned pathway to the river's edge. Through its official entrance, visitors descend to a boardwalk hugging the river. Strategically placed platforms along the way serve as perfect vantage points to marvel at the river's turbulent waters and capture some memorable photographs.

Journey Behind the Falls

Niagara Falls Canada - Journey behind the fallsThe "Journey Behind the Falls" attraction beckons with the promise of a unique experience. While one might envision walking directly behind the cascading waters, the reality is a tad different. After navigating through lengthy queues in somewhat stifling corridors, an elevator transports visitors to tunnels carved behind the falls. At two distinct points within these tunnels, small windows offer a peek at the waterfall's rear. The highlight, however, is an observation deck situated at the tunnels' outset, presenting a side view of the falls and a tantalizing hint of what lies behind them. This attraction is best suited for those with some spare time and prefer less crowded venues.

Things to do away from the falls

Everywhere you go in the City of Niagara Falls, you will still hear the thunder of the waterfalls, and you may get a few glimpses of the falls from afar, but once you have had your fill of nature, you can find lots of other fun attractions.

Skylon Tower

Niagara Falls Canada - Skylon TowerFor an amazing view of the falls, visit the observation deck at Skylon Tower. You can get a 360-degree view of the whole area from the top. You can enjoy a magnificent view of the three waterfalls and the US towns across the river from one side. On the other side, you can see farms, lakes, and the city of Toronto on a clear day.  

The elevator ride to the top is an experience as it climbs outside the tower, offering another splendid view of the falls.

Another way to enjoy the view is to dine at the rotating restaurant or the buffet level. Any dining reservation includes observation tower access. We tried the buffet during this visit and were lucky to have a seat with a view. The food and service were very good but pricey. 

Tip: There are 2 dining restaurants at the top of the tower. The buffet area does not rotate, so you may end up with a seat away from the view. The lower dining area does rotate providing a chance for all diners to enjoy the falls. 

The basement of the tower also hosts a fun arcade for all ages. 

The parking lot at Skylon is very convenient and always has some space available. It is a good place to park and walk down to the river trail closer to the waterfalls. 

Fallsview Casino Resort

We really didn’t go to Niagara to gamble, but we paid this high-rise casino and resort a visit anyway.

The gardens and fountains outdoors are beautiful, and the decor is grand indoors. 

The best feature is the R5 Patio & Bar at the top, which overlooks the waterfalls and is the best place to watch the summer fireworks.

The Grand Buffett is a good place to have dinner and sample a variety of international cuisines. 

Fallsview Indoor Waterpark

Niagara Falls Canada - Indoor WaterparkYou might be having a blast watching the waterfalls and walking next to the whitewater rapids, but the kids are probably bored and need to blow off some steam. 

This water park in the middle of town is the perfect place to let the kids release their energy and be ready for bed later. 

It is billed as the largest indoor waterpark in North America and covers three acres with sixteen rides.

It is connected to the Fallsview Resort, so that you can book a room next to the fun.

Fireworks Show

Niagara Falls Canada - FireworksDuring the summer months, a spectacular fireworks show is performed above the waterfalls. The show usually starts at 10 PM. You can see a schedule here.

The fireworks are visible from many spots along the main trail and Queen Victoria Park. Also, if you time your dinner reservations right, you can view the show from many restaurants. 

Other attractions worth mentioning

SkyWheel: Another wonderful way to enjoy Niagara Falls while Sitting in an air-conditioned cabin.

Wild West Coaster: A thrill ride with motion and special effects. They call it 6D because, in addition to 3D and motion simulators, you get special FX, wind, and acceleration simulations. 

Queen Victoria Park: This park runs along the main road, Niagra Parkway, and provides a great place for a picnic while viewing the falls and fireworks.

During our visit, we grabbed a snack from the restaurant nearby and sat on the grass, waiting for the big event. We ended our visit to Niagara Falls with a bang.

In Conclusion  

My Niagara sojourn was a blend of nature's splendor and man-made marvels. Whether you're a nature lover, an adventurer, or just looking for a relaxing getaway, Niagara Falls promises an unforgettable experience.