A visit to North America should really include at least one stop in Southern Ontario. The time zones do not change when you cross the border between the United States and Canada, and in many cases, it’s an easy day trip to some great Canadian destinations. Canada has a large population along its southern border with the United States. While the total area of Canada is huge, you can take in most of the nation’s city life without traveling very far north from the United States border.
Many visitors choose to have a Canadian experience in the city of Toronto. What many don’t realize, however, is that this big city is directly connected to a number of small towns. These smaller cities together make up the Greater Toronto Area. In fact, many Canadian cities are actually an assembly of small towns and medium-sized communities that together form a big city. The Canadian cities of Vancouver and Montreal, two other top destinations in North America, as built in much the same way.
To truly experience Canada’s largest city, you need to look beyond the main streets of downtown Toronto. Read on to learn more about the Greater Toronto Area, a meeting place along the beautiful shores of Lake Ontario.
What are the best places to visit within a short distance of Toronto, Ontario, Canada?
The total area of North America is vast, and outside of the United States, city life is pretty limited. The city of Toronto is by far Canada’s largest city. I would venture to call it the New York City of Canada; its hustle and bustle, large population, and bright lights make it one of the best Canadian destinations for enjoying city life. This big city dominates southern Ontario, and aside from Niagara Falls, not too many people know about some of the best cities and small towns that are just a short day trip away from the Greater Toronto Area. Many of these small towns are more like an extension of the big city. Each is a great place in and of itself.
Beyond the Greater Toronto Area
Don’t get me wrong, as I have nothing against the bright lights of the City of Toronto. But, downtown Toronto and its neighboring communities make for the perfect place to spend a couple of days. City life in North America is bustling, and the Greater Toronto Area is a diverse city. However, Southern Ontario has so much more to offer. And I’m excited to talk to you about some of the lesser-known small towns beyond the city of Toronto.
Port Hope is a world away from the city life of downtown Toronto
Port Hope is a great place to head for a quick escape from the big city. The vibe of this small town couldn’t be further from the hustle and bustle of the big city. Getting to Port Hope is an easy drive along highway 401. Consider taking the scenic route along County Road 2, which skirts along the shores of Lake Ontario as you head east from downtown Toronto. Downtown Port Hope is like a meeting place of history and rural charm. You’ll enjoy the peaceful main streets of this picturesque southern Ontario town, which is known for its unique shops and galleries. Port Hope is the perfect place to unwind after a couple of nights in downtown Toronto.
Prince Edward County makes for an easy day trip from the big city
Consider delaying your return to the bright lights of downtown Toronto and head a little further east to explore more small towns and charming villages. As you move along the shores of Lake Ontario to the east of downtown Toronto, you’ll come upon Prince Edward County. This region is not to be confused with Prince Edward Island, which is also a great place to visit, but quite far from the shores of Lake Ontario. Prince Edward County is a great place for strolling along beautiful sandy beaches. The region sits midway between the Canadian cities of East York and Ottawa; it’s an easy day trip from downtown Toronto. Head here to explore beautiful small towns, charming resorts and inns, and an abundance of places to cycle and paddle.
What’s to the north of the City of Toronto?
Head north from downtown Toronto, whether by car or public transit (the Greater Toronto Area and its main streets are pretty well served by public transit), and you’ll reach the neighboring community of North York. This city is actually right next to downtown Toronto, making it one of the closer places to visit as you leave the downtown shores of Lake Ontario. North York is a great place for shopping, thanks to its large population and proximity to downtown Toronto. It’s also home to a number of museums, including the Ontario Science Centre and the Aga Khan Museum. North York is home to a significant part of the city’s population, and as such, it’s a well serviced community.
Is Lake Simcoe close to downtown Toronto?
When road conditions are good, Lake Simcoe is the perfect place for escaping the bright lights of Canada’s largest city. After leaving the bedroom community of North York, you’ll arrive at Lake Simcoe within an hour drive. Southern Ontario is pretty busy, but a day trip to the Lake Simcoe region will bring you through some of the region’s most beautiful small towns. Lake Simcoe offers plenty of green space, water sports, and big city amenities mixed with country charm. It’s worth spending a couple of days exploring the Lake Simcoe region, you’ll see why so many big city folk have made the region their permanent residence. After a couple of nights in Lake Simcoe, you’ll be refreshed and ready to return to the hustle and bustle of downtown Toronto.
Should I stay to the west of downtown Toronto?
If you’re flying into the Greater Toronto Area, the chances are that you’ll pass through Mississauga’s Pearson Airport. Most travellers make a b-line straight for the big city, or perhaps Niagara Falls. You might want to consider basing yourself outside of the downtown area. For starters, there’s plenty of reasonably-priced accommodation beyond downtown Toronto and as you make your way further into Southern Ontario. Consider Brantford, for example, for its proximity to the big city, not to mention its expanding brewery scene. Check out this post for everything you need to know about breweries in Brantford and beyond. From here, you’ll be well situated to hop a train to downtown Toronto and a day in the big city. You’ll be just as well situated for making your way south to Niagara Falls and some of the region’s charming small towns. Road conditions in the Greater Toronto Area can get bad at peak commuting times. Staying outside of the City of Toronto will save you the headache of getting stuck in traffic, not to mention the high costs of valet parking in downtown Toronto.
When I’m in Southern Ontario, should I visit Niagara Falls?
So many visitors to North America are interested in seeing Niagara Falls. It’s no surprise that this day trip from the Greater Toronto Area is at the top of so many people’s lists. The falls are majestic, and you can actually get quite close to them. Niagara Falls sits on the border with the United States. While the world famous horseshoe-shaped falls are in Canada, there are some beautiful falls directly adjacent in neighboring New York state (don’t be fooled though, Niagara Falls is nowhere near New York City). If you’re making a day trip from the City of Toronto, you’ll pass by a number of quaint small towns on your way. Set aside some extra time to visit some of the local wineries (Southern Ontario is actually home to quite a few of them).
Don’t just visit downtown Toronto, make time for other parts of the Greater Toronto Area.
In conclusion, Southern Ontario has so much to offer beyond the main streets of downtown Toronto. A high per cent of Canada’s population call the small towns of the Southern Ontario home, and for good reason. In Southern Ontario, you can easily enjoy the conveniences of the big city, but you can benefit from the charm of communities like Port Hope, Niagara Falls, Prince Edward County, North York, and Lake Simcoe.
Check back for more posts and best bets about Southern Ontario, the Greater Toronto Area, and other regions of Canada and the United States.