An epic drive to Niagara Falls and Buffalo from Toronto

An epic drive to Niagara Falls and Buffalo from Toronto

It’s no secret that Niagara Falls has long been an iconic destination on even the most seasoned traveller’s bucket list. The spectacular blue-green water of Niagara’s three falls combine to create the highest flow rate in the world, resulting in one awe-inspiring natural wonder. There are multiple ways to visit Niagara Falls, but perhaps one of the most rewarding is via a road trip from Toronto to Buffalo. From world-class museums to celebrated local cuisine, this journey combines unique city escapes with near indescribable natural beauty for one epic drive. Here’s how to get started.

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For a trendy arts area set amongst historic 19th-century buildings, the Distillery District is an idyllic, stone-laden, pedestrian-only zone

What to do in Toronto

Start your road trip by flying into the Toronto International Airport, where you can conveniently pick up your Toronto rental car and get ready to explore the city. First on the itinerary? The CN Tower, Toronto’s landmark building that offers sweeping views across Toronto and Lake Ontario. Thrill-seekers won’t want to miss the Edge Walk, a 350-meter hands-free walk on the edge of the main base. With your adrenaline pumping, head back to ground level and into Canada’s largest museum, The Royal Ontario Museum. Dedicated to the art, world culture and natural history of Toronto, exhibitions cover everything from ancient fossils to Korean art.

Stretch your legs with a stroll through one of Toronto’s colourful markets and districts. At over 200 years old, St. Lawrence Market is one of Toronto’s oldest institutions—also dubbed one of the best markets in the world by National Geographic. Stock up on road trip goodies at any of the fresh produce or vendor stands on the first two floors. From here, head to Kensington Market, Toronto’s diverse, Bohemian area where colourful Victorian houses showcase quirky boutiques, hip cafes and independent art galleries. For a trendy arts area set amongst historic 19th-century buildings, the Distillery District is an idyllic, stone-laden, pedestrian-only zone known for its outdoor events and contemporary shops. Once home to the famed Gooderham and Worts Distillery, dive into the neighbourhood’s history with a signature Beer Lover’s Tour. And of course, no list of Toronto things to do is complete without including Rush Lane, offering over 1 km of thought-provoking street art and graffiti-laden alleyways.

When hunger strikes, Toronto’s world-class restaurants deliver. For authentic Italian cuisine, Sotto Sotto is an intimate restaurant in the heart of Old Toronto, attracting foodies and A-listers alike. If you’re in the mood for a steakhouse, the dry-aged, charcoal-grilled steaks at Barberian’s don’t disappoint. Not only is this one of Canada’s most revered steakhouses, but it’s also home to one of the country’s most extensive wine cellars. Bar Raval pays homage to traditional Spanish tapas and pintxos; if you’re lucky enough to grab a table, plan on ordering a little bit of everything to share. For a traditional family deli experience, try United Bakers Dairy Restaurant—they’ve been serving Jewish staples like matzah ball soup and flavourful bagels since 1912. It’s a perfect pit-stop in the middle of exploring the best of Toronto. And finally, at Canoe, you’ll get an adventurous celebration of local Canadian ingredients, with everything from fresh Pacific fish to poached Niagara pear.

Toronto Skyline

Toronto skyline | Photo: Scott Webb

The Crown Jewel: Niagara Falls

With the best of Toronto under your belt, it’s time to hit the road for Niagara Falls. Experience the sheer power of the falls on a historical boat ride with The Maid of the Mist; the up-close encounter might leave you drenched, but you’ll also get spectacularly close to the Bridal Veil and Horseshoe Falls. Another way to experience the powerful Bridal Veil Falls is via Cave of the Winds, an elevator that takes poncho-clad visitors deep into Niagara Gorge and onto the Hurricane Deck. For a drier view that’s equally mesmerising, hop in your rental car and head over to forested Goat Island, where serene views of Horseshoe Falls and Niagara Gorge can be enjoyed from Terrapin Point.

Niagara Falls might not be considered a culinary hot-spot, but there are a few worthwhile restaurants just a short drive from the Falls. There’s nothing like hearty Italian after a tiring (and probably wet) day. Casa Mia Ristorante is a family-run Italian restaurant inspired by Italy’s Amalfi Coast. Expect generous portions of authentic Italian favourites. For something a bit more contemporary, the AG merges quintessential French cooking with local Niagara ingredients for an innovative menu. The ‘Field-to-Fork’ menu is of particular note, constantly changing based on what is seasonally available.

If you’re in the mood for a quick pick-me-up, the teatime at Queen Charlotte is a classy affair. Choose from one of the dozen loose-leaf herbal teas to pair with decadent desserts or cucumber sandwiches. For something a bit stronger, try Weinkeller. This intimate wine cellar and restaurant features three red and white wine varietals—all produced in house.

Canadian Painted Fence Flag

Photo: Ali Tawfiq

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Beer aficionados can combine their love for wings and brews at Big Ditch

What to do in Buffalo

Historic Buffalo might not be at the top of every New York itinerary, but this largely undiscovered city has plenty to offer visitors—and makes the ideal endpoint on a Niagara Falls road trip. Get your bearings with a visit to Buffalo’s City Hall, a stunning showpiece of 1932 Art Deco architecture. The top floor provides lovely views of Lake Erie, and on a clear day, even a glimpse of the Toronto Skyline. Another architectural marvel, the Darwin Martin House is an early masterpiece by renowned Frank Lloyd Wright—what would become one of the most important works of Lloyd’s career. Then there’s the waterfront Buffalo and Erie County Naval & Military Park, which showcases important historic decommissioned US Naval vessels; a self-guided tour of the ships and submarines is like travelling to another era.

Just like The Big Apple, Buffalo is home to a vibrant Little Italy neighbourhood, offering some of the best Italian food you’ll find outside of Europe. When you’re not eating your way through the area, hop into any number of the area’s avant-garde home decor shops and boutiques. Only in Buffalo can you experience a grain elevator complex that doubles as a music venue and poetry site. Head to Silo City for a historic grain elevator tour or to simply sip a craft beer while soaking in the artsy atmosphere and frequent live performances. Another quirky attraction, The H. H. Richardson Complex is a Buffalo psychiatric ward turned hotel and art centre. The National Historic Landmark might have its fair share of ghost stories, but after years of neglect, the gorgeous piece of architecture is now restored and ready for visitors.

Rightfully famed around the world, Buffalo wings made their debut in—you guessed it—Buffalo, New York. Start your foodie tour at Anchor Bar; centrally located on Main Street, it was the first restaurant to introduce Buffalo chicken wings to the world. Dating back to 1964, Anchor Bar serves some of the most consistently decadent, lip-smacking Buffalo wings in the city. Another mainstay on the Buffalo wing scene is Gabriel’s Gate, a rustic wing joint that’s also been turning out delicious wings for over 50 years. Beer aficionados can combine their love for wings and brews at Big Ditch, a craft brewery where the signature hot sauce is made from the restaurant’s own Hayburner IPA. The innovative take on the classic Buffalo sauce is well worth the taste.

When your road trip from Toronto to Buffalo has come to a close, you can easily drop your rental car off at the Buffalo Airport and be on your way to your next adventure.

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