Niagara Falls Road Trip from Toronto
On our return flight to the UK from Quebec City, we had a long stopover at Toronto airport due to a change of flight time. So we decided to make the most of it by hiring a car and visiting Niagara Falls for the day.
After an early morning flight from Quebec City, we arrived at Toronto Pearson Airport just before 8 am. I booked an intermediate-sized car in advance with Holiday Autos so we headed straight to the desk to pick up our car. I chose a supplier that was located at the airport as that was quicker and easier with just the one day for our trip to Niagara Falls.
We don’t usually hire a car for one day so I was pleasantly surprised at how affordable it is. In future, I’ll certainly consider doing it again when we’ve got a long stopover or short stay somewhere. Indeed, it does make it a lot easier to get about when you’re heading outside the city. I don’t think we could have done this trip easily without a car especially not in one day.
Is visiting Niagara Falls expensive?
To give you an idea of cost, we paid approximately £33 for the car hire. Then I paid £3 for a separate excess waiver policy and we spent around £10 on petrol. So around £45 for a day out. I think that’s pretty good and well worth it to get out and about and see one of Canada’s great attractions.
Obviously, you can only do this on a stopover if you have plenty of time. It takes about 1 hour to drive from the airport to Niagara Falls and you also need to allow time for any traffic problems. Our flight was not until 8.45 pm. Since we were checked in and only had cabin baggage we decided to return to the airport by 5.45 pm at the latest. That gave us almost 10 hours so plenty of time.
Bring your own maps
Another quick tip is to take a map or make sure you have the correct maps downloaded on your phone. These days when pretty much all cars come with some form of satnav I guess car hire firms have theirs specially made without. I refuse to pay extra for it so we always use a map app on our phones. They’ve given up handing out maps too from my experience so I carry my own as a backup.
Often the hardest part of a road trip is finding your way out of the airport or city where you pick up the car. This was true in Toronto where we initially had problems finding the correct road to Niagara. However, once we figured it out and got on the right road it was easy driving all the way.
When you arrive at the falls area, follow the signs for parking. There is a huge lot so plenty of parking spaces. Parking costs $CAD 27 + tax for the day.
The star attraction, Horseshoe Falls is the largest of the Niagara Falls. It’s also called Canadian Falls since it sits mainly within Canada. Niagara Falls is right on the border between the United States and Canada and it’s possible to view the falls from either side. Both times I’ve visited we’ve been on the Canadian side, however.
When I think of Niagara Falls it’s usually the Horseshoe Falls that spring to mind. After all, they are pretty spectacular. I also love how close you can get to the falls. Even if you don’t pay for one of the close-up tours, you can still get an excellent view from the observation deck.
You can walk along the pathway which stretches right along the riverside so there are plenty of different vantage points to view the falls.
Don’t forget to walk along a little way so that you can see the top of the falls. In the photo above you can see the view from above the falls. This is where the River Niagara drops. The spray here was so fierce that we thought it had started raining. Also, hardly anyone walks up this way so it was really quiet.
American & Bridal Veil Falls
In fact, Niagara Falls is actually a group of three waterfalls. Slightly further down the river from Horshoe Falls you will see the American Falls and the smaller Bridal Veil Falls. You’ll be looking across the river at them if you are on the Canadian side which gives you an excellent view.
Both of these waterfalls are on the American side. You can cross over the bridge and visit the United States from here but you need a valid visa or ESTA. Although we’ve visited the USA a number of times we never seem to have a valid ESTA when we visit Niagara Falls. In fact, our last ESTAs ran out the day before we visited Niagara this time. Very bad timing!
Falls Incine Railway
A fun and practical thing to do while visiting Niagara Falls is a ride on the Incline Railway. This links the upper part of the tourist area and its hotels with the main viewing area.
You can buy a one-way ticket, return ticket or an all-day ticket. So choose depending on what you plan to do. A one-way ticket costs $2.66, the return is $5.31 and an all-day pass is $6.19. So the all-day pass is pretty good value especially if you stay at a hotel at the top. Or if you just like riding the railway.
Behind the Falls
The Journey Behind the Falls tour is a fabulous attraction and something you should do at least once. You travel down onto a small viewing platform right next to the falls. If you look closely in the photo above you can see some small yellow-clad figures on the right. They are wearing yellow waterproof jackets which they give you on this tour. See how close they are to the falls.
You get an unprecedented view of the falls from down here and you really will feel the spray. Of course, you may even get a bit wet but that’s half the fun, isn’t it? After your close up view of the falls, it gets even better. Then you head behind the falls for a unique perspective. Peer through the holes in the rock to see the water thundering past.
According to the official site, 2,800 cubic metres of water pours over the falls every second. That’s mind-blowing! So the water is moving at 65 kilometres per hour. And you get to stand right up close to it. It’s definitely something not to be missed.
Admission to Journey Behind the Falls is $15 for adults and $10 for children. You can even keep the yellow poncho as a souvenir although they recycle them if you don’t want it. You can also take the tour as part of various packages which are on offer at Niagara Falls. This allows you to fit in as much as you can without breaking the bank although.
Hornblower Boat Cruise
I think that probably the most famous attraction at Niagara, after the falls themselves, of course, is the Hornblower boat trip. Now, I confess that I’ve been to Niagara Falls twice now and I’ve still not taken this amazing trip. It is definitely on my list for net time though.
The first time we visited Niagara Falls was in April and it was too early in the season so the boat wasn’t running. This time we thought it was a bit cold to risk getting really wet. We enjoyed watching everyone else on the boat though.
As you can see it gives you a great view of both the American and Horseshoes Falls. Of course, you’re going to get wet so you can see everyone covered in their waterproof ponchos. The boat does get really close to the falls and almost seems to disappear into the spray.
The entire trip takes around 20 minutes but allow time for queueing, boarding etc. It costs $27.80 for adults and $17.50 for children. You can buy tickets online in advance or buy as part of one of the packages I mentioned earlier. If you want to buy on the day then there are ticket booths in the visitor centre. They can also answer any questions about the attractions there.
Gardens near Niagara Falls
Opposite the falls observation area and between the car park and the Niagara town area you will also find some pretty gardens to explore.
Since most visitors are focused on the main attraction across the road, it’s a peaceful area and a good place to escape the crowds for a few minutes.
If you’re looking for somewhere to eat and shop then head into the town centre. It’s just up the hill from the falls but it’s quite a contrast to the natural beauty of the falls. You’ll find all the usual chain restaurants here so you won’t go hungry.
We popped into this family restaurant for coffee and then had a quick look in the various shop windows. You’ll also find various attractions in this area if you’re looking for something else to do. Things like Ripley’s Believe it or Not, Guinness World Records, waxworks, minigolf and the like. You can certainly keep busy here if you want to.
And there’s more …
I hope you’ve found my ideas on what to do when visiting Niagara Falls interesting. In fact, there’s lots more to do here than just the things I’ve listed. But you can only do so much in one day. Additionally, there’s a butterfly conservatory, zipline, adventure course and a cable car, to name just a few. For us, the big thrill was the falls themselves and we spent ages just watching them from different vantage points. So whatever you want for a day trip to Niagara Falls you’ll be spoilt for choice.
Niagara on the Lake
Of course, you could choose to spend all day at Niagara Falls. However, since we hired a car we decided to take a short drive to Niagara on the Lake. It’s quite unlike its more touristy namesake and makes a great contrast if you’re looking for some peace and quiet.
We took a short walk along the banks of Lake Ontario and through some of the quaint houses nearby. It’s just 20km from Niagara Falls so definitely worth a short detour when you’re visiting Niagra Falls. If you don’t have a car then there is a shuttle available from the Falls.