If you are planning to visit Ontario wine country in Canada or to go to the magnificent Niagara Falls, I highly recommend you include a trip to the gorgeous little town of Niagara-on-the-Lake.
The town bordering Lake Ontario is really a gem and it is safe to say, it was one of the highlights of my two-weeks Ontario road trip!
Did you know, Niagara-on-the-Lake is recognized to be the ‘prettiest town’ in Canada?
It is the perfect location if you want to visit Niagara Falls but don’t want to make the trip from Toronto in only one day (though you could, it’s a 1.5 hours one-way drive only). However, I really recommend you plan at least one night in Niagara-on-the-Lake to get the chance to explore this cute little town and nearby wineries in addition to Niagara Falls.
The origins of Niagara-on-the-Lake go back to the 18th century when the little town was the first capital of Upper Canada (which now is Ontario) and the area continues to spot its original heritage and charm.
Getting to Niagara-on- the-Lake
Located on the Niagara Peninsular in south-west Ontario and bordering Lake Ontario, the charming town is easily accessible either through Toronto (one and a half hours drive) or Buffalo in the US (nearest US airport; about 45 minutes drive time).
Assuming you are coming from the Canadian side through Toronto (the nearest international airport) there are basically three options how to travel to Niagara-on-the-Lake.
The fastest option to travel to Niagara-on-the-Lake is to have your own car; which I would recommend as this gives you the freedom to roam around and discover the many attractions of the area.
Driving from Toronto or Pearson International Airport to Niagara-on-the-Lake you need to go on Queen Elisabeth Way (QEW), then exit to Country Highway 55 and follow Niagara Stone Road until you reach the town.
The second option getting from Toronto to Niagara-on-the-Lake would be to take a train and/or bus. Go Transit operates a connection with a train departing from Toronto Union Station to Burlington from where you have to switch on a bus to Niagara-on-the-Lake. The journey takes about two hours.
The third option would be to arrange a day trip with a private tour operator or local taxi services offering flat-rates. This would normally also include driving around Niagara-on-the-Lake visiting local wineries and other attractions on your list.
Where to stay in Niagara-on-the-Lake
There are quite a few options where to stay in town, from luxury hotels to country inns and B&Bs.
To find out more about where to stay in Niagara-on-the-Lake read my post A Niagara wine country getaway, highlighting my stay at Queens Landing and shining some light on other accommodation opportunities.
What to do and see in Niagara-on-the-Lake: 10 best things to do in Niagara-on-the-Lake
Head to the heritage district, which is one of the best preserved 19th century villages in North America. There you will find an abundance of quaint 18th and 19th century architecture. A lot of the buildings are Victorian and are just too cute.
Strolling along Queen Street, the town’s main street, you will find lots of small boutiques, antique shops, design stores, cafes and restaurants.
Definitely drop into Wine Country Vintners on Queen Street. The shop offers a large selection of wines from local wineries and it is a great way to taste a range of different wines without having to worry about driving afterwards (assuming your hotel is somewhere central in town).
One of the main attractions on Queen Street (and the town itself) is the posh Prince of Wales Hotel. It’s a great location if you are looking for a luxury hotel directly downtown. If you do not chose it as your hotel for the trip, you should at step by to enjoy the hotel’s renowned afternoon tea or dinner in the fine-dining Noble restaurant.
Once the headquarter of the Centre Division of the British Army, Fort George is a huge construction of palisades, walls blockhouses and bunkers. The site was one of the major places during the war of 1812 and in May 1813 was taken by American forces who later used the fort as their base to invate Upper Canada. However, they did not succeed and the fort was re-taken by the British in December 1813.
Today the site is a National Historic Site maintained by Parks Canada. It is open for visits from April to October and especially during the summer months there are several special events like military music demonstrations, recreating the historic battle of 1813 and many more.
Right down at the lake you find Queens Royal Park offering beautiful views over Lake Ontario. Unfortunately, due to an earlier storm causing severe flooding the park was still closed during our visit. However, wandering around the park area through a residential area bordering the lake one could imagine how stunning it must be settling down on the benches or in the grass inside the park and enjoying the beautiful views.
Niagara-on-the-Lake is also famous for the annual Shaw Festival which takes place from April to October. The festival is named after Irish playwright George Bernhard Shaw and offers a mix of comedies, musicals and dramas. It’s quite popular, so if you plan to visit during the time of the festival, make sure to book your stay well in advance.
Explore the excellent wineries of Niagara-on-the-Lake
You are in the midst of Niagara wine country so you cannot not visiting at least a couple of wineries to taste the excellent local wines.
Indeed, Niagara-on-the-Lake is one of the strongly growing Canadian wine regions. Today there are around forty wineries in the area and you will have to look long and hard to find one not having a tasting room that offers visitors a range of different tasting options.
Quite a few also offer food options, from fine-dining restaurants, to bistro food and BBQ weather permitting.
If you are interested to learn more about the wineries or go winery hopping in Niagara-on-the-Lake, read all about my recent experience about discovering Niagara-on-the-Lake wine country.
Drive Niagara Parkway
Niagara Parkway is your direct route to the mighty Niagara Falls from Niagara-on-the-Lake. The route stretches some 55 kilometres from the town to Fort Erie. It is one of the oldest routes in Ontario, completed in 1931.
However, this scenic stretch along Niagara River is more than simply a connecting road. The scenic drive is lined by beautiful homes and a couple of viewpoints overlooking Niagara River.
Other attractions include the Floral Showhouse, Oaks Garden Amphitheatre, Butterfly Conservatory and the Botanical Gardens.
So take your time stopping off and exploring the route at a leisurely pace.
Visit the iconic Niagara Falls
This might have been your original plan anyway and the reason the Niagara area is on your itinerary.
If not, and you have not been at the Falls yet, they are really just around the corner. It is an approximately 30 minutes drive from Niagara-on-the-Lake to Niagara Falls and there are a couple of interesting activities if you want to spend a fun day exploring the Falls. Read all about it in my recent post All you need to know about visiting the breathtaking Niagara Falls.
Have you been to Niagara yet? Let me know about your experience.