When crossing the Atlantic for a Ninja short break there can always be such a rush to book the usual USA hotspots – you know, the likes of New York, Boston or even Las Vegas.
However, often overlooked is the opportunity to visit another (MASSIVE) country over that side of the world – and one that offers similar experiences … Canada!! So the Ninja packed his bags, loaded up on maple syrup and ventured across the pond for a 4 day blitz to get a taste of what Canada “is all aboot”
Arguably the most popular holiday and city break destination would be Toronto – especially given its location on the Eastern side and the shorter flight time from the UK & Ireland (see detail below). Of course, no visit to that part of Canada would be complete without a short trip to see the incredible Niagara Falls – which is only 60-80 mins away from downtown Toronto. So with a 5 day / 4 night trip booked, the Ninja split up the time with exactly 48 hours based in each location …. Was going to be a VERY busy short break away!
There are several direct routes to Canada from Dublin – as well as many options going from Belfast City Airport via London.
However on this occasion the Ninja chose the Air Canada direct service from Dublin which was exceptionally good value. Of course Dublin Airport is a regular departure point for the Ninja going to the USA a lot from there, so the 90 min drive from Belfast is so easy and straight forward (even in the early hours of the morning!).
The flight time is very refreshing – only 6 and half hours there and just over 6 hours on the return journey (so its only maybe 60-90 mins more than a flight to the Canary Islands!) – at no point does it really feel like a true “long-haul” flight.
At off peak times the flight cost can be as low as £350-380 for a return journey (including baggage!) so always play around with your dates to get the best value option within your date range.
After a speedy boarding process, we were at our seats – very fortunately upgraded to Premium Economy seats for the purpose of this trip.
The seats have much greater comfort and space – 3 rows of 7 making up the 21 seats on this aircraft in a 2-3-2 formation. The seats have an extra 5-7 inches of legroom, 1-2 inches of seat width, and an extra 2-3 inches of recline … so this super tall Ninja was delighted!!
Its not just the extra space in Premium Economy, you are treated to many extras that you wouldn’t get in regular Economy such as a larger screen seat back entertainment system, a USB port for charging, in seat power (plug) adaptor on every seat, adjustable pillow & blanket, amenities kit and clean care kit that includes hand sanitizer, antiseptic wipes and face mask! And for your meals, you get a choice of main meal and drinks throughout the service. Ive heard it before on many occasions, but the polite service and cleanliness onboard Air Canada is top notch …. and I particularly liked the window in the toilet, watching the world go by as you “spend a penny”. The Air Canada service gets a big Ninja “thumbs up” from me!
Toronto – Where to Stay …
On this trip, we stayed in the Chelsea Hotel in Downtown Toronto, situated on Gerrard Street West, well within walking distance of all downtown attractions mentioned in this NInja review. This hotel is the largest hotel in Toronto with over 1500 rooms and the location really is key! The rooms are a reasonable size for a city hotel and the views over Toronto and Lake Ontario are stunning, especially in the higher-level rooms. Most rooms have a balcony, which is great providing you don’t mind heights, and I can imagine would be a lovely bonus in the summer …. Not so much the winter! The hotel boasts three different restaurants, all offering different cuisine and styles for “grab and go” and or “sit in and dine” There are also 2 x pool areas which are most welcome after a long day trekking through the city – although the Adults Only Pool was closed at the time of our visit due to Covid. However for the kids (and big kids ….) there is a great waterslide which takes you in and out of the hotel before unceremoniously dumping you out at the end. This is part of the Family Fun Zone and also includes a Kid Centre (ages 4-11), and Club 33 Teen Lounge. The jacuzzi was also very welcome to relax in. Overall, a great, and affordable, choice for a downtown Toronto hotel
Toronto – What To Do ….
When most people think of Toronto the first attraction / landmark that comes to mind is the CN Tower and for good reason. It dominates the Toronto skyline and as such, deserves a visit. Hop into the lift for a 58 second ride to the observation deck, 1136 ft above ground for stunning views over Lake Ontario and Toronto as well as further afield. Great to get your bearings! You can also test your nerve by walking across the glass floor – the only thing between you and the ground below! You can also head up another level, at an additional cost, to the Sky Pod at 1465ft. There is also a coffee shop, and a “high end” restaurant (yep, intentional pun!) though I didn’t sample either of these – breakfast was keeping me going (more on that later)
As you will have no doubt noticed when sat atop the CN Tower, the Rogers Centre (formerly the SkyDome), home of the Toronto Blue Jays with the famous retracting roof, sits just below the CN Tower. A secret tip for you if you want to have a look inside the stadium without having to go to a game and / or take a stadium tour – take a wander into the Sportsnet Bar and Grill in the adjoining Marriott Hotel and assuming it’s not game day, grab a table, a cold beer and gaze out the window at the empty stadium and ballpark in all its glory. Amazing view to enjoy for free! If you happen to be a little flush, you can also book a hotel room which has windows looking out over all the action!
Also in the vicinity of the CN Tower and Rogers Centre is one of Canada’s original Craft Breweries, the Steam Whistle Brewery residing in an old railway yard. With all the typical coolness of a craft brewery and taphouse, and the inviting surroundings and beers, take half an hour out of your day and enjoy a glass of Canada’s premium pilsner. The brewery also offers tours however due to COVID, these were not running while we were there.
For all those Ice Hockey fans out there, the Hockey Hall of Fame , located near St. Lawrence Market, is an absolute must. The museum and interactive attraction is absolutely fascinating and you find yourself watching the many videos and reading the info-graphics spread out across two large floors, all in honour of Canada’s National Sport. With displays of every type of hockey memorabilia, jerseys, kits, helmets, and trophies (including THE actual Stanley Cup) this is a treasure trove of Ice Hockey gems. And, should you feel the urge to suddenly take up Ice Hockey, you can put yourself to the test on the interactive hockey shoot-out as either a goalie or as a shooter – but be warned you need the skills and speed of a true NInja for this game!
If you have an hour to spare and are looking for a museum that is just that little bit different to your standard museum then look no further than the Museum of Illusions . Unsuspecting and unassuming from the outside, over 70 individual illusions await inside the bright, aesthetically pleasing museum. Some of the exhibits are truly mind-boggling and I’m still trying to work out how they worked. Some make you laugh, others make you a bit nauseous and others simply confound you. Brilliant for kids and adults alike.
Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada is located just below the CN Tower and not far from the Rogers Centre.
Rated No. 1 on Tripadvisor of things to do in Toronto, it is easy to see why. The aquarium is enormous and has thousands of species of fish, numerous sharks, stingrays and some of the most stunningly coloured fish you will ever seen. Follow a one-way system as you gaze into tanks of all shapes and sizes, observing fish of all similar shapes and sizes! The highlight is undoubtedly the underwater glass tunnel that winds you through the aquarium on slow moving escalators making it seem as if you are in the underwater world the sea creatures inhabit. Look up as sharks, stingrays, fish and even giant turtles effortlessly glide over the top of you. There is also a kids tunnel for them to crawl through for the same experience – adults can just about fit through as well if you want to give it a go! You really do get to see the sea life up close to the extent you can see the double rows of teeth sharks are famous for. A really popular spot with everyone, from individuals, to couples to families. Certainly lives up to it’s no.1 spot on Tripadvisor! Ninja tip – either go first thing in the morning, or late afternoon as it can get quite (very!) busy in between!
If you want to finish off your trip to Toronto needing some inspiration on where else to visit in Canada, visit Little Canada in Dundas St East. Taking in the most famous cities in the different provinces of Canada with their iconic landmarks, this miniature exhibition gives a flavour of those places for the ‘next trip’ list. In minute detail, each city is accurately represented in miniature, with sight and sound experience, miniature vehicles driving round the miniature roads and everything else you expect to see in a functioning city. The displays change periodically from day to night and give a different feel to the cities. Little Canada is a work of expertise modelling with attention to the minutest of detail. Great for adults and kids alike.
As you wander all the activies and attractions Toronto has to offer, explore the streets, and choose a different route each time, as you never know what you might find along the way. One key photo opportunity must be the neon lit and famous Toronto sign just by the Old City Hall, which is a stunning old fashioned building set amongst the modern skyscrapers. In this area is also the enormous CF Toronto Eaton Centre, a massive shopping mall to while away the hours (and the dollars) in some of the most famous of Canadian/US stores, including Roots, Bath and Body Works, UnderArmour, Nike & American Eagle as well as numerous coffee shops and eateries. If visiting in the winters months its a great place to reheat and take in the festive decorations as well if you are there near Christmas.
Toronto – Where To Eat …
Like any major city there are no shortage of places to eat, drink and grab a coffee and a bite on the go. Our first stop in Downtown Toronto after getting off the flight and checking into the hotel was Blaze Pizza, located in Dundas and Younge. Think Subway, only for Pizza! The cheesy pesto garlic bread is also well worth trying and it sets you up well for a walk around Downtown.
While out and about you quickly notice Canada’s favourite coffee shop, Tim Horton’s, is on almost every corner, along with all the usual coffee chains you would expect (ie/. Starbucks). However, Tim Hortons is by far the most affordable and should you need an energy boost along with your coffee, Tim Bits (little balls of doughnut delight) at 30cent each are perfect, without breaking the bank or the waistline!
One of the highlights for me, when going to North American cities, whether in the US or Canada is the excitement over breakfast, because let’s face it – who does breakfast better and bigger!?
Two Toronto breakfast spots I would highly recommend are Sunset Grill and Eggsmart, both of which have multiple locations in the Downtown Area. Whilst in Canada you have to try Poutine (which I had never heard of and seems to be a popular Canadian dish) and the Sunset Grill Breakfast Poutine (home fries, peameal style bacon, sauteed onions, cheddar cheese, topped with Hollandaise sauce) did not disappoint. For a sweeter breakfast option on Day 2 I decided to go for the Skyscraper Stack in Eggsmart; 3 pancakes (big ones!), layered with Nutella and topped with blueberries, banana and strawberry – healthy choice, right?!
Dinner options? Literally 100s and 100s! The Loose Moose Grill on Front St. West was a great option for quality burgers (try the Woody and see if you can finish it!), fries, craft beer and a bit of Canadian (and worldwide) sport on TV. One of the most popular dining spots in the city is St. Lawrence Market – a venue that is perfect for general foody inspiration. Think St. Georges Market in Belfast … only bigger and better! Packed with counters selling everything from raw fish and meat, to counters selling cooked foods and everything in between – you can take a while walking the market and deciding what to have. My recommendation is to head all the way to the back to Buster’s Sea Cove and order the New England Seafood Chowder – what a dish for a cold winters’ day. Or the local favourite (and internationally acclaimed) Peameal Bacon in a bun – imagine a bacon butty but in a ciabatta bun and stuffed full (8-10 pieces) of thick back bacon, VERY filling! And if you fancy something sweet for dessert grab a coffee and an amazing pastry from the bakery in the middle of the market – unbelievable!
An important thing to note during these COVID times – all dining and hospitality venues where you plan to sit in require you to show proof of double vaccination and ID before you will be permitted entry, even food courts in malls.
Niagara Falls – Where To Stay …
We stayed in the Radisson Hotel and Suites Fallsview which, as you may have guessed is right by the Horseshoe Falls. The hotels around Niagara Falls are split into several areas with the ones overlooking the Falls the more expensive … as you can imagine with any potential view! We were lucky enough to be upgraded to a Fallsview room which is without a doubt the best hotel room view I will ever likely have. It overlooked the Horseshoe Falls and you could have easily just sat and watch, almost hypnotically, at the water going over the giant falls. What a sight to wake up to in the morning as the sun rises above the Falls …. We didn’t even close the curtains in the room at night so we could continue taking in the spectacle! The room was a great size as was the bathroom and modern and very clean. There was even a microwave, fridge, and tea and coffee making facilities in the room which is always a bonus. If you can afford the higher priced room then I would MASSIVELY encourage you to book the higher rooms with the view, it really is worth it. The Hotel staff were all lovely and very helpful, with lots of local hints and tips. The vicinity to the Falls as well as Clifton Hill makes this hotel a perfect spot for visiting Niagara Falls.
Niagara Falls – What To Do …
Ok … wow where to start with this one! First and foremost, head straight to the Fallsview area of Niagara Falls and take in the breath-taking beauty, power and sheer size of both the American Falls, and the stunning Canadian Horseshoe Falls. During the day, or when lit up with colour at night, you can’t help but be amazed at this natural wonder. Look further upriver and see if you can spot the Niagara Scow shipwreck, which has been in place for over 100 years until it moved around a year ago, bringing it closer to going over the Falls!
Once you have marvelled at the Falls take a walk along the promenade towards Clifton Hill for all the bright lights and main street where you can find a variety of lively, family fun attractions, funfairs, bars, restaurants, haunted house experiences, bowling, a big wheel etc etc!!
By far the most amazing activity we did on this trip came the morning after arriving in Niagara Falls. While more expensive, and short-lived, I cannot recommend highly enough a helicopter ride over the Falls. One of the most amazing experiences of my life because as amazing as the Falls are from ground level, they take on a whole different perspective from the air. Simply stunningly beautiful. We flew with Niagara Helicopters who were amazing. The whole experience lasts approx. 15-20 mins and does a few loops of the Falls so plenty of time to not just take photos and videos but to also just take in the Falls – one to tick off the bucketlist!
If you happen to have access to a car, I would strongly recommend a trip to Niagara on the Lake, the most picturesque, quaint, chocolate box town – be sure to take the scenic route and not the main highway to take in some beautiful houses and scenery along the way. Every building in Niagara on the Lake is so bespoke and even the main brands (of which there really aren’t many – which is part of the attraction of coming here) fit in well without the usual bright and bold signage.
There are local art galleries, wine shops, bakeries, restaurants, coffee shops and even another little craft brewery! We stopped for a coffee and a chocolate tart at the Niagara on the Lake Bakery, about halfway down the street and grabbed a bench on the street to just enjoy watching a slower pace of life in this little town. There is also a most impressive Christmas shop which is a must visit for some Canadian Christmas decorations.
You will also notice on the way to Niagara on the Lake, an abundance of wineries, many of which offer guided tours. The local Iced Wine is a great taste and a perfect gift for someone back home … or for your own winerack! A lovely break from the lights and glamour of Niagara Falls itself.
One of the newest attractions to open in Niagara Falls is the Niagara Power Station . Formerly a functioning power station for 100 years, this is now a museum to the astounding science and engineering that went into not only building the Power Station, but harnessing the sheer power of the Niagara River to generate electricity and power for the surrounding areas. To think this was all done 100 years ago shows the genius of the scientific minds who contributed to this. This is a must for any science and engineering buff – but if you don’t happen to fall into either of those categories, then Niagara Power Station by Night is for you (and the science geeks), specifically the Currents Light Show which takes place after dark for 30min. I wasn’t sure what to expect from this even newer attraction ( opened Sept 21) but the experience is one I will never forget.It was one of the most immersive, light and sound shows I have ever experienced, and its quite hard to describe how visually and audibly stunning this show is. It is a full-on sensory, mesmerizing, hypnotising and utterly spectacular experience.
Another must see / do activity is the Journey Behind the Falls which is a self-guided journey through old tunnels to two viewpoints directly behind the Horseshoe Falls where you get to experience the shaking of the ground, the deafening noise and roar of the falls and the sheer volume of water that continually goes over the edge. While these viewpoints give a behind the Falls view and experience, the Observation Deck that sits just off to the side of where the Falls meet the river below, gives the most unbelievable view and sensation of just how amazingly powerful the Falls are. Be warned, the plastic poncho you get at the start is not enough to keep you dry!!
While a lot of the attractions on Clifton Hill aren’t really my thing, if you have a spare 15min and don’t mind having the life scared out of you, give one of the Haunted Houses a go. There are 3 x scare levels: you must go for the insane level– there can be no other option. While the interior displays (when you aren’t in pitch black) aren’t anything to give you nightmares, the live ‘actors’ in those pitch-black parts of the castle surely are! The suspense of knowing something is coming, but not having a clue when is terrifyingly fun.
The last experience in Niagara Falls was another one for the thrill seekers among us all! The 2,200 ft Wildplay Niagara Zipline which skirts the promenade all the way down towards the Horseshoe Falls. It takes only 45 seconds to get from top to bottom but what an exhilarating thrill. As you climb the stairs and do your best not to look down at how high you will be zipping off, the adrenaline begins to pump. The Zip line is very safe and once strapped into my harness, which includes a seated support, you not only feel secure and ready for the zip, but surprisingly comfortable too! As the gate opens and you are edged reluctantly towards the drop every instinct makes you want to push back, but once off you quickly forget about the height, and instead take in the stunning views of the American and Horseshoe Falls as you speed towards the bottom of the line. And if you want to do it again, they offer a repeat rate of only $10!
Niagara Falls – Where To Eat …
The first thing to note is that just as in Toronto, all restaurants, coffee shops, bars etc. all require proof of vaccination and ID before you will be permitted to dine. The second thing to note is that the prices for all food and drink cane be more over-inflated purely because this is Niagara Falls. It is worth checking places out as you wander the various parts of town making a note of those in the more affordable range – any venue with a view of the Falls will take full advantage of that – there is a variety of price options and price points as there would be around major tourist attractions all over the world.
That said, as in Toronto, you can expect all the usual fayre for food, drink and coffee. We visited a NInja favourite Outback Steakhouse (Fallsview) and this is where the most expensive dinner was bought. For some bbq ribs, fries and a drink – $70!! But it was very handy to the hotel and the weather was heavu rain we arrived so we just took the hit! For breakfast next morning we had a handy local tip off from our hotel, who directed us to Lundy Lane, and the absolutely epic Flying Saucer Restaurant which, as you have no doubt guessed is actually in the shape of a flying saucer. Step inside (and to another world) as it has the feel of a 1950’s American diner, which personally I loved. This is where the locals eat and you can tell, because the prices were literally half what you would pay at Falls View or Clifton Hill breakfast spots. And since it was great value I went for the ET Special which was enormous – a proper feed! Great little discovery and I would go there on my next visit. It is a bit further out of town though, so you need a car or short taxi/uber ride.
One of our favourite places for food and drink was the Niagara Falls Brewing Co. located in the heart of Clifton Hill and serving up a multitude of craft beers, both its own and guest brews. The food menu is small but all you need for a brew pub. The Meatball Sub with fries was a perfect side for my flight of craft beers – roughly a quarter of a pint of each allows you to get a flavour of the quality and variety of beer styles. If we had enough time, we defo would have stayed and increased the size of at least a couple of the sample beers. And even if you’re not a beer drinker there is something food or drink wise that will suit your palate. Great spot and something different to the chain restaurants.
The last restaurant we dined in before bidding farewell to Niagara Falls was Kelseys, another chain restaurant but one I was unfamiliar with. It sits at the top of Clifton Hill and was more reasonably priced (approx. $20 for a burger and fries).
And with that, my time in Niagara Falls came to an end. Next stop the airport – but not without an en-route trip to the outlets at the Outlets Collection at Niagara. Depending on what room you have left in your suitcase, there is no shortage of designer and typically Canadian / American clothing stores here to stock up for the coming season. You do need to do a bit of shopping around for a bargain however, as although an outlet, not everything was at outlet expected prices! But that’s part of the fun – looking for a bigger bargain. Again, there is a good selection of eateries to take a well-earned break mid-shop.
Shortly after that, we were back in the airport ready for the Air Canada flight home. Pretty easy to get to sleep on that flight given all that was done over the previous 4 days blitz – Toronto and Niagara are both awesome places to visit and id love to get back …. Hopefully for a little longer next time though!!
You can check out the FULL highlights from this NInja trip over on the instagram page on the homepage under the CANADA tab – CLICK HERE
If you would like to visit either / both of these areas, why not call into your local travel agency who can package something together for you – or contact Holiday NInja (HERE) and we can easily make that connection for you – simples!
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