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The ultimate guide to getting around Ontario
Read time: 7 mins
Ontario is home to Canada’s capital city, Ottawa, as well as its largest city, Toronto. But it offers a lot more than vibrant cities and diverse cultures. Discover spectacular nature and outdoor adventures, with everything from Niagara Falls to some 250,000 lakes, large and small. The many lakes attract abundant wildlife bringing opportunities to spot everything from moose and beaver to white tail deer, the elusive wolf and a wide range of bird species.
As the province stretches across 415,600 square miles, it’s hard to know where to begin your exploits, but this ultimate guide to getting around Ontario will help ensure an unforgettable adventure with as few bumps in the road as possible.
What’s in this Guide?
Getting to Ontario from the UK
The two major international airports most convenient to travel to in Ontario are the Macdonald-Cartier International Airport (YOW) in Ottawa and Toronto Pearson International Airport (YYZ), Canada’s largest airport, in Toronto.
London to Ottawa - There are daily flights to Ottawa’s Macdonald-Cartier International Airport (YOW) from Heathrow Airport in London. Air Canada, United Airlines and WestJet all fly direct., with Air Canada typically offering the most flights to choose from. Once you’ve landed, you’ll be just over 8 miles south of downtown Ottawa. To explore the province, you’ll want to hire a car at the airport. If you want to wait and spend some time in the city centre first, many of Ottawa’s hotels offer a free shuttle, and there are multiple other options for reaching downtown.
London to Toronto - There are nonstop flights from London on Air Canada, WestJet and Air Transat to Toronto Pearson International Airport (YYZ), which is the main hub for Air Canada and WestJet. Once you’ve touched down, your best bet is to rent a car, with most of the major car rental companies located at the airport, which is 17 miles northwest of downtown. There are many other options for reaching the Toronto city centre, like the Union Pearson Express rail link, private shuttles, taxi service, Uber and Lyft.
Getting around Ottawa
As mentioned, if you’re planning to explore the province, hiring a car is going to be the most convenient way to get around Ottawa and beyond. You’ll find parking readily available, including free parking on the weekends on the streets and in the garage at World Exchange Plaza. The city also offers light rail and bus service, taxis, Uber and Lyft. Many of Ottawa’s main attractions, restaurants, shops and nightlife can easily be reached on foot when staying downtown.
Getting around Toronto
Toronto is a very big city that’s best-visited by renting a car as many of its outlying areas aren’t served by public transit. If you’ll be staying right downtown and want to put off getting behind the wheel, taxis can bring you to anywhere you want to go, but they tend to be pricey. Lyft and Uber are usually cheaper, and rides can be booked through mobile apps too. The city also offers public transit with a subway and bus service.
Top self-drives in Ontario
For a short but sweet scenic self-drive, head out on Niagara Parkway which Winston Churchill described as the world’s “prettiest Sunday afternoon drive.” It travels for just 34 miles, beginning at Niagara-on-the-Lake venturing south to Fort Erie, offering magnificent views over the Niagara River as well as opportunities for viewing Niagara Falls. Along the way are also roadside stands for grabbing a bite to eat, historical sites and parks. In the spring you’ll be able to see the river framed by gorgeous blossoms, and in the fall, brilliant foliage.
North coast of Lake Superior
The northern shoreline of Lake Superior is often called a bucket-list drive. Begin in Thunder Bay, traveling northeast on Highway 17. You’ll drive past dramatic granite cliffs carved over eons by glaciers, rolling along old fur trade routes and voyageur forts that have been here for centuries. Stop at the Terry Fox Memorial and Scenic Lookout for a beautiful view of the lake and the Sleeping Giant, a formation that resembles a giant lying on its back. Once you’ve seen it from a distance, you’ll want to a closer look by entering Sleeping Giant Provincial Park which offers miles and miles of hiking trails. As you continue your journey toward Marathon and Pukaskwa National Park, you’ll encounter amethyst mines where you can dig for your own souvenirs along with scenic viewing areas atop Ouimet Canyon. Once at Pukaskawa, you’ll be able to enjoy more jaw-dropping lake views and delve into First Nations culture. You may want to follow the 1.6-mile Bimose Kinoomagewnan Trail, a loop that follows Halfway Lake. Cultural Heritage interpreters offer to lead ‘The Walk of Teachings” that will reveal more about the land’s traditional peoples.
Georgian Bay Coastal Route
Georgian Bay forms part of Lake Huron, one of North America’s five Great Lakes. The massive body of water attracts all sorts of wildlife, from arctic foxes, northern flying squirrels and wolves to great horned owls and red-tailed hawks. The over 620-mile journey is best accomplished slowly, over at least a week’s time. It circles the bay, providing sweeping vistas of open water and windswept bedrock formations of the Canadian Shield to the north and east, and cliffs of the Niagara Escarpment to the west and south.
Loyalist Parkway, Prince Edward County
Just a few hours from Ottawa or Toronto, the Loyalist Parkway in Prince Edward County, an increasingly popular wine country region, offers a route through history. It follows a pioneer colonial route on which some of the initial segments were built over two centuries ago, connecting number of historical settlement sites, more than 40 listed archaeological sites and at least 125 significant heritage buildings. In between are art galleries and studios, hometown restaurants, boutique shopping, family-run B&Bs and more.
This scenic drive follows part of Highway 3, winding through Elgin County along the north shore of Lake Erie from Windsor to Fort Erie, as the original trail that ran through the heart of the Talbot Settlement. It’s an ideal way to view just how vast Lake Erie really is while taking in beautiful landscapes in the countryside. It’s over 270 miles long and takes about six-and-a-half hours to complete. If you don’t have that much time, drive the highlight which is the Amherstburg-St. Thomas portion, requiring about a three-hour drive. Some of the highlights are the vineyards of Essex County and Point Peele National Park as well as some enticing small towns like Blenheim, Tilsonburg and Fort Erie.
Toronto to Tobermory on the Bruce Peninsula
This approximately four-hour road trip covers about 185 miles, with the stretch along the peninsula especially impressive. You’ll end up at Bruce Peninsula National Park, passing a beautiful 59-foot-high waterfall along the way known as Inglis Falls. The park itself sits on a narrow stretch of land between Lake Huron and Georgian Bay. Over time, the water has eroded the shoreline, creating overhanging cliffs and deep-sea caves like The Grotto. One of the most popular destinations in the area, it can be reached with a 30-minute hike. It’s an idea place for a refreshing dip, with the brilliant blue waters reached via a natural rock chimney.
Sometimes referred to “New York City run by the Swiss,” Canada’s largest city offers world-class theatre, dining, dining and shopping. It’s a great place for foodies thanks to the high number of immigrants, with entire sections devoted to various cultures like Koreatown, Little India, Little Portugal and Little Italy. You can also explore the Royal Ontario Museum, visit Toronto’s castle, Casa Loma, spend the day at the zoo, and shop your way through the St. Lawrence Market. One of the best ways to start your visit is to head to Toronto’s most famous landmark, the CN Tower. The Western Hemisphere’s tallest free-standing structure towers soars over the city at 1,815 feet. You’ll be whisked to the top via a glass lift for a stunning panoramic view.
The capital city of Canada may not be as big or as well-known as Toronto, but it offers lots of ways to delve into Canadian culture. The No. 1 attraction here is the Byward Market, home to a local farmers’ market and artisans with practically an endless number of stands and more than 600 businesses. Be sure to browse the artist shops and studios located in 19th-century buildings at the southwest end, watching for the nooks in between that lead to peaceful cobblestone courtyards with art installations. Other highlights include touring Parliament hill and taking a stroll along the Rideau Canal. If you’re into museums, you won’t want to miss the Canadian Museum of History of the National Gallery.
Located in south-eastern Ontario, Niagara Falls is one of the province’s top attractions. The city of Niagara Falls is a central port along the Niagara River that lies just opposite of the U.S. counterpart in New York. It overlooks Horseshoe Falls, also known as Canadian Falls, carrying about nine times the amount of water the U.S. side has. The countries are linked by a number of bridges, and there are multiple attractions on the Canadian side like the Skylon Tower, Queen Victoria Park and Niagara Parks Botanical Gardens.
Algonquin Provincial Park
Covering nearly 3,000 square miles between the Ottawa River and Georgian Bay, this gorgeous park features thousands of lakes, maple tree-covered hills and more than 750 miles of rivers and streams. It’s also home to lots of wildlife like deer, beaver, moose and wolves. Visitors can enjoy day hikes, fishing, horseback riding, mountain biking and camping. There are 19 interpretive trails that meander throughout the park, varying in length and difficulty from easy just over half-mile treks to longer 7-mile+ jaunts.
Located between Toronto and Niagara Falls, Burlington is often overlooked but well-worth visiting for its thriving art scene, beautiful gardens, historic architecture, picturesque natural areas and exquisite gastronomic delights. Enjoy the views from the iconic Discovery Landing building which includes an observatory that has floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking Royal Centennial Pond. You can also visit multiple parks like the UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve Niagara Encarpment, Spencer Smith Park and the Mount Nemo Conservation Area.
This historic port city is located in the Niagara Peninsula region along the west end of Lake Ontario. It offers a fantastic culinary, history and art scene along with impressive natural beauty. Known as the Waterfall Capital of the World, there are 156 waterfalls within the city limits. View two of the most impressive in the Spencer Gorge Wilderness Area. Webster’s Falls is one of the largest in the city, while Tew Falls is Hamilton’s tallest, plunging for 134 feet. This is a great area for a hike, including the trek to Dundas Peak which offers views over the city, Dundas Valley and Spencer Gorge. Dundurn Castle is a must-visit, an 1830s Italianate-style villa that contains 40 impeccably furnished rooms and a produce garden. Costumed staff lead visitors throughout to illustrate daily life in the mid-19th-century.
This small, charming city sits about midway between Toronto and Montreal along the shores of Lake Ontario. Established nearly 350 years ago, it was once a French trading post, and today its known for its rich history. It’s also home to some unique limestone historic buildings like Parkview House, Hendry House and Westbourne Terrace, which led to its nickname, the Limestone City. You can also visit interesting historical sites like Fort Hendry which was used during the War of 1812, and a number of museums and art galleries.
Located in central Ontario, Muskoka offers lots for visitors, especially when it comes to scenery and outdoor adventures. It’s home to a number of lakes that are ideal for getting out on the water for boating, water-skiing, wakeboarding, kayaking, canoeing, fishing, paddle boarding and even dinner cruises. On land there are zip line rides, aerial parks, mountain bike trails and scenic hiking trails. It’s not all about the outdoors here, however. Muskoka is also known for its exceptional dining and burgeoning craft beer scene, in addition to offering trending shops, 10 museums and plenty of art galleries to explore.