Niagara Falls daytrip in December (& other TO attractions)
December 6, 2017 11:31 AM   Subscribe

I'll be in Toronto from Dec 14-19, and I'm looking for things to fill an itinerary with. A friend suggested I might make a daytrip to Niagara Falls (I've never been). Is this feasible? Difficulty level: no car.

I will be staying close to the Coxwell TTC station. It looks like Greyhound + cab should be able to get me there.

I suppose my questions are:
1) Is it worth it to visit the falls in the winter, or should I just wait for another trip and better weather?
2) How long should I expect to spend there, assuming I go?
3) I don't expect I'll want to spend a lot of time outside because of the freezing temperatures; will there still be indoor activities to do?

Other general suggestions for keeping myself entertained in the city during daytime would also be welcome! My evenings are more or less settled.
posted by invokeuse to Travel & Transportation around Toronto, ON (13 answers total)
 
It's very pretty on a clear winter day. In bad weather, don't go. That period in December could go either way. If the weather is clear I expect you could be outside as long as you want. There's not a ton to do inside, I suppose you could see the city but meh, you'd be better of seeing indoors stuff in Toronto.

I would rent a car to go, but that's me.

As for daytime in Toronto, hit the museums, check out the reference library, go to the eaton centre (yes, I know, but I get more shopping done on trips that I do when I'm at home) and maybe go skating down at Harbourfront.
posted by GuyZero at 11:35 AM on December 6 [1 favorite]


I've gone in the winter before. The Falls are still there, ya know, falling, but you won't be able to do the things that I think make a trip to Niagara Falls worth it, notably riding up to the Falls on the Hornblower or a similar boat where you wear a poncho and get drenched. (You can stay inside if you want to avoid getting wet, but it's quite fun.)

Seeing the Falls itself is really an outdoor activity. On the Canada side, there is a long, nice walk you can take alongside the river up to the horseshoe Falls -- on a summer day, for instance, it's a really nice stroll, but in winter if you don't like the cold, it would probably be less fun. On the American side (which you can get to on foot over the Rainbow Bridge for a fun, short ,scenic walk in summer but probably not-fun in winter), there is something called the Cave Of The Winds, which is fun -- you walk right up to part of the Falls and, again, you wear a poncho and get drenched -- but it's closed in winter. On the Canada side, they also have a zip line that seems popular, but I suspect that is also closed during winter.

One day is enough time to see and do everything related to the Falls -- but in winter I'm not sure how you'd fill your time. As far as I know, there's not much to do indoors in Niagara Falls, unless you like cheesy tourist spots, gambling at the Falls View Casino or hanging out at a Hard Rock Cafe.

If I were you and I were staying in Toronto without a car in December, I'd probably just look for things to do in Toronto. There should be no shortage of stuff to see and do in Toronto, and scheduling a day trip without a car sounds a little stressful to me. It might not be worth it in the winter. In the summer, I'd recommend going and doing some of the stuff I mentioned.
posted by AppleTurnover at 11:53 AM on December 6


The falls can be quite pretty when it is really cold and the ice builds up. Also, mist from the falls coats the trees in a layer of ice (kind of like the aftermath of an ice-storm without the danger). So if it has been well below 0 for the preceding week then I would say go. If it is just sort of cold then you're probably better doing something else.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 12:29 PM on December 6 [1 favorite]


I thoroughly enjoyed a Christmas-time trip to Niagara falls several years ago. If the weather's good enough to be outside for a while, go. It's mesmerizing.
posted by MangoNews at 12:34 PM on December 6


I actually prefer the Falls in the winter. Less people, and you get a better look. The water runs lower because of more diversion to the power plants, which means that you get a better sense of the water running over the river bottom and being pulled over the edge. If there's ice build-up or an ice bridge, even better, but it's a little early in the season for that.

This year, the Christmas lights have been totally redone with big Canada 150 money, and they're looking great. Everyone is raving about these Christmas lights.

The Falls can take as little or as much time as you want. You can see them in fifteen minutes, you can spend a couple hours there. As for indoor activities, there's... not much. There's the greenhouse and the butterfly conservatory, but beyond that? There's the aviary where the old museum used to be, but I've never been. The Fallsview indoor waterpark is popular, as is Great Wolf Lodge. There's all the tourist schlock on Clifton Hill which I like, but I'm a weirdo.

The bus terminal is not particularly close to the Falls. You could cab it, easy. You could also walk along River Rd/Niagara Parkway, and get a good look at the river.

Bring an umbrella.
posted by Capt. Renault at 12:54 PM on December 6


In terms of daytime activities in Toronto, there is the ROM, AGO, Bata Show Museum, Gardiner Ceramic Museum, Science Centre, Toronto Zoo, skating at City Hall or Harbourfront, stroll through Kensington, U of T, Yorkville, visit the Ontario Legislature, visit the greenhouse at Allan Gardens or the Cloud Garden, Casa Loma, Spadina House, visit the Power Plant, St Lawrence Market, ...
posted by TORunner at 1:24 PM on December 6 [3 favorites]


If you go, and feel like pizza, hit up Antica. Great wood-fired oven pies.
posted by kate4914 at 3:03 PM on December 6


1) Is it worth it to visit the falls in the winter, or should I just wait for another trip and better weather?

Yes, yes, absolutely yes. You should go to the Falls -- more fun than TO and a lot less traffic to sink your life in. The ice-covered trees alone are worth seeing. There is a nice casino there with a very reasonable buffet that is worth going to.

But I would also recommend going to Niagara-on-the-Lake. Absolutely gorgeous and picturesque little town. Grill on King is a fab place to eat -- and they even have a Starbucks, if you have that addiction.

2) How long should I expect to spend there, assuming I go?

In Niagara Falls? A couple of days -- one for NF and one for NOTL. Had you been going in the summer, I would have suggested catching a play at the Shaw Festival.

Everything is walking distance on NOTL, meaning your car-less situation would not be an issue.

3) I don't expect I'll want to spend a lot of time outside because of the freezing temperatures; will there still be indoor activities to do?

We are having a very nice winter so far. We are not the North Pole! If you want really cold, Buffalo, NY on the other side of the border gets blasted much more than we do on this side.
posted by Alexandra Kitty at 3:16 PM on December 6 [1 favorite]


There's a Butterfly Conservatory in Niagara- I enjoyed it. Not sure how accessible it is without a car but there should be travel info on the site.

But I agree with the person above who says Toronto is cooler than Niagara. Besides the falls, Niagara is kind of a shitty cheesy tourist trap, and it's really far away.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 3:23 PM on December 6 [1 favorite]


There's a Butterfly Conservatory in Niagara- I enjoyed it. Not sure how accessible it is without a car but there should be travel info on the site.

But I agree with the person above who says Toronto is cooler than Niagara. Besides the falls, Niagara is kind of a shitty cheesy tourist trap, and it's really far away.


Niagara is way cooler. You have to know Niagara -- most people think of just Clifton Hills and the tourist stuff, but you are also talking about wine country with many tours.

Have you ever had ice wine? NOTL is the place for liquid gold, and if you haven't ever tried it, now is your chance.

There is shuttle service in Niagara Falls to get you places. Niagara on the Lake has no shortage of funky little stores and restaurants. There are boutiques and galleries -- and there is a wonderful place called All in the Wild that has nature photography that is truly remarkable.

If you were going in the summer or spring, I would have suggested you sign up for the Shaw Festival's newsletter -- they have midnight speakeasies, secret theatre (!), and some really great nuggets, like midnight plays.

I go to NOTL all the time -- there is White Oaks spa that has some fantastic restaurants in there, as well.

Niagara has greatly improved itself over the years, and the view of the Falls in the winter outclasses anything else Ontario has, and no, I do not live in that city.
posted by Alexandra Kitty at 3:35 PM on December 6


Definitely go during the winter; it's beautiful. Instead of a cab, you can use Niagara Falls WEGO bus system to get around. WEGO
Aside from the falls, check out Lundy's Lane and go to Ripley's museum and the Wax museum.
posted by Coffeetyme at 4:35 PM on December 6


I guess it depends on your interests. I like going to the Falls (my wife is from Buffalo, so we get opportunities fairly often). But I get a kick out of things that a lot of people find boring. If you're the kind of person who tends to find things underwhelming, well, it's just a waterfall in an otherwise fairly boring town.

Winter means there'll be fewer people, but there's a reason. The spray from the Falls is everywhere, which is unpleasant in cold weather. And there's really no way to really see the Falls without getting wet.

The rest of the Canadian side is extremely touristy. There's a casino, a wax museum, stuff like that. Almost all of it is newly developed, and so it has a Vegas-y feel to it, which I don't care for. The American side is a pretty depressing Rust Belt city that's best avoided.

Personally, I probably wouldn't recommend it. There's no shortage of cool stuff to do in Toronto. The calculus would be different if you had a car, or if it were spring or fall instead of winter.

If you do go, though, do be sure to stop by the aforementioned Niagara-on-the-Lake. It's truly one of the most charming places in North America.
posted by kevinbelt at 5:35 PM on December 6 [1 favorite]


I don't expect I'll want to spend a lot of time outside because of the freezing temperatures

I guess "freezing" is a relative term here. It doesn't get all that cold in Toronto or Niagara at that time of year but it depends on what you're used to - likely it will hover a few degrees below or above 0 Celsius (32F). As others have pointed out Niagara and the town of Niagara On The Lake generally have a milder climate then their neighbour Buffalo which often gets beaten in the winter (they usually get the weather that people associate with Canada). We haven't had much snow yet but expect wet and damp. Dress in layers and have decent water proof footwear on hand. Dressing for winter is the best way to deal with winter.

In terms of going to Niagara without a car, while it certainly is possible, its a long way for just the Falls (which are lovely especially with the Christmas lights but even still). I like the trashiness of the Casino and Clifton Hill but it isn't everybody's cup of tea. Niagara on the Lake and the surrounding vineyards are lovely and worth going to but its off season so it may not be worth the trip as some places close off season.

One thing to consider is that Toronto has loads to see and do this time of year. And winter will not have fully set in by then so it will still be pretty accessible. For instance go check out the Christmas Market at the Distillery.
posted by Ashwagandha at 8:03 AM on December 7


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