Some combination of Detroit + Toronto, Niagara Falls
April 22, 2019 10:49 AM   Subscribe

This summer we are looking to do a 4-5 day trip (a little flexibility on length) with my 4-year old, 7 year-old (boys), and my husband and I. We live in a big city so are comfortable getting around. We are planning on a Detroit Tigers baseball game as that's on my husband's list. I suggested either also hitting Toronto or Niagara Falls in the second half - possibly taking the train from Windsor or driving from Detroit (we'd have a car there for sure). Has anyone done either or both of these with young (but not tiny) children? Is there one you'd recommend? We like nature, cities, museums in about equal quantity.
posted by typecloud to Travel & Transportation (13 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Toronto of course has Ripley's Aquarium, the Toronto Zoo, the Royal Ontario Museum, as well as the CN Tower, the Blue Jays. Lots to do and see. A car would be recommended though as getting to the Zoo is a bit of a hike.

Niagara Falls is beautiful to see, and there is more to do in a central location. You can rent bikes, and zoom along between Niagara Falls and Niagara on the Lake. There's all the tourist attractions. The water park is always a huge hit. Our kids loved the ropes course that about half way along between Niagara and NOTL. Usually there are good discounts on travelzoo. I do not recommend MarineLand. You could easily go to Rochester for the Museum of Play which my family loved.

We often to a road trip from the Kitchener area, down through Detroit, around by Sandusky and back up through Niagara and home again. We vary where we go, what we do etc, but we all love it.
posted by Ftsqg at 11:03 AM on April 22, 2019 [3 favorites]

We drove to Toronto and came back via Niagara just last summer with a recently 5- and 8- year olds. Detroit has its charms (John King used bookstore being my favorite) but I can't easily talk about them as Ms Ricketts is from that area and we mostly just follow her lead.

Toronto is great. Their train / trolley system is pretty swell so you don't need to drive. The Royal Ontario Museum is a winner. We also went to Casa Loma which is nice if you like to look at old mansions, but the kids weren't really into it. We tried to get to the Aquarium but it was too full. It is down by the baseball stadium and the CN tower. There was a old railroad round house that was turned into an entertainment complex that the kids liked. The kids really REALLY enjoyed Centre Island. You have to get out there by ferry or boat, but it has beaches and parks and fountains and a great old-school amusement park that pressed all my nostalgia buttons.

In Niagara we stayed on the Canadian side. We didn't seek out any nature though I'm sure there's things to do. We mostly were in awe of the spectacle. Ms. Ricketts and I love tourist traps. I went to the Wisconsin Dells a lot and this is like the Dells dialed up to 11+. We spent most of our time gawking at all the neon...multiple wax museums...and crazy haunted houses.

We drove back to Chicago from Niagara by driving back through Windsor. We did it in one go and it was a bit long. The border crossing coming back in the US was a long wait.
posted by Wink Ricketts at 11:19 AM on April 22, 2019 [3 favorites]

Haven't done them with wee tots, but there's no reason NF and TO should be exclusive of each other. You can see the falls and do a Maid of the Mist in a half-day.
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 12:02 PM on April 22, 2019 [2 favorites]

For nature, there are moderate hiking trails in the Niagara Glen Nature reserve.
posted by jb at 12:04 PM on April 22, 2019 [1 favorite]

The train system outside of the Greater Toronto area (GTA) is not very cost-efficient, reliable or on-time - you will lose time if you rely on it coming from Detroit.

Take your car or a rental. Personally, I find Toronto too much of a big-city hassle, you will already have done that with Detroit. Go to Niagara Falls - there are tons of entertainment (tourist traps) options for the kids.

(I am partial - I grew up in the Niagara region)
posted by jkaczor at 12:37 PM on April 22, 2019

The town of Niagara Falls, Ontario is depressing (I’ve never seen the American side). It’s this hideous tourist trap sprawl that clearly saw its best days in the motel era in the 60s and 70s. Fine to visit for a day, but I certainly wouldn’t want to spend the night. You can overnight in Niagara-on-the-Lake (stop at the butterfly conservatory) or in Toronto. I would prefer Toronto as there are more venues for boys to run around.
posted by crazycanuck at 1:46 PM on April 22, 2019

Toronto's great. But, it's not really that different from any big North American city (New York, San Francisco, Boston). There are individual differences, great people, and better graffiti, but it won't be that surprising unless you have specific goals. If you do go there, a fun and very mild trail and or beach day-trip is to take the ferry to the islands.

Niagra is cheesy as hell and surrounded by economically troubled towns, but the falls, the river, and the historic stuff around it are genuinely fantastic. Stay on the Canadian side. But, if you have time, visit both sides. (Also, the drive up to Niagra on the Lake on the Canadian side, and a visit to the Schoellkopf Power Plant the scenic riverside parks around it on the US side are both lovely and great for kids.) I've taken the bus there from Toronto and visited again a few months ago and am always surprised at how genuinely neat the falls are. You'll definitely want a car for anything except an incredibly short visit to just the tourist area of the falls. You can get to the falls on a bus, but it's a long walk or hours on crappy city buses to anything else.
posted by eotvos at 2:05 PM on April 22, 2019 [2 favorites]

Seconding that if you're in NF, hit both sides. Goat Island is really nice.
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 3:31 PM on April 22, 2019 [1 favorite]

Definitely hit the American side. The Canadian side has a very nice view, but it's like you're in Disney World. The American side has Goat Island, where you can get right next to the Bridal Veil falls. It's also where you go to the Cave of the Winds, which is completely awesome. You go down an elevator and walk along platforms right next to the Bridal Veil falls and get blasted with wind and water (then give you a poncho).

The Maid of the Mist (and whatever they call the version on the Canadian sidewinder's) is also awesome. You get far closer to the falls than you imagine would be safe, and get blasted with wind and water (they, too, give you a poncho).

I'd imagine that your kids were probably too small to do any of the hiking along the river, which is really cool, but it can be a bit dangerous (if for nothing else than the threat of twisted ankles in numerous spots).

If you're into historical stuff, Old Fort Niagara in Youngstown has all the old cannons you could ever want. Directly across the river is Niagara-on-the-Lake, which is quaint and lovely.
posted by jonathanhughes at 4:07 PM on April 22, 2019

The town of Niagara Falls, Ontario is depressing (I’ve never seen the American side). It’s this hideous tourist trap sprawl that clearly saw its best days in the motel era in the 60s and 70s. Fine to visit for a day, but I certainly wouldn’t want to spend the night.

The town of Niagara Falls is actually pretty nice - it's just that's not what you see near the falls. The Falls area is all modern development - the traditional main street is Queen Street, which is charming: small shops, good restaurants, a classic car club showing off awesome cars every Tuesday in the summer (not for tourists, just for each other). Nautica Cafe is this completely dive-looking but scrumptious Balkan restaurant, it blew my taste buds away. (We were there for our anniversary - I threatened to divorce my husband to marry their fresh made bread).

So my advice if you're interested in Niagara: see the Falls, but stay in a B&B closer to Queen Street, and see some of the other nature stuff (the Glen) and try dinner at the Nautica. (They also have the best baklava that I have tasted in my life).
posted by jb at 7:34 PM on April 22, 2019 [2 favorites]

I live in Toronto and my kids (now 4 and 7) love going to Niagara Falls. We went there for the Victoria Day long weekend 2 and 3 years ago and are probably going to go this year as well (last year we went to Midland, which was nice but the weather really didn't cooperate and there wasn't as much to do indoors). We also end up going once or twice over the summer (usually because someone is visiting Toronto and of course we have to take them to Niagara Falls). I think the attraction of Niagara Falls for kids is that it is all so bright and gaudy, and that there is colourful ice cream everywhere. They really love the breakfast buffet at the Sheraton too.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 11:54 AM on April 23, 2019

If you go to Toronto, the aquarium is great for kids but buy the tickets in advance online. In Niagara Falls, Bird Kingdom sounds pretty corny but my nephew had a fantastic time.
posted by bonobothegreat at 3:44 PM on April 23, 2019

Thanks all - this gives me an idea of what's possible and advisable! I marked as best answer those most applicable to me but appreciated all of them.
posted by typecloud at 6:52 AM on April 24, 2019

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