Destination Ontario: East to West
Ontario, Canada, is a province of contrasts, ranging from big, bustling cities to the quiet serenity of Lake Ontario. Over the last couple of weeks, Jan de Boer visited Ontario travelling from east to west, sampling a diverse range of activities and he tells us here about some of the highlights of his trip.
Stratford Theatre Festival
As confusing as the name was to me at the time, the town of Stratford, Ontario, offers a large number of things to see and do. The city is situated west of Toronto and is a calm and relaxed town with many side streets of bars and cafes. The beauty of the place is encapsulated in the stunning walks along the river and the weekly art exhibition on its banks. It is truly a place for the arts with a music festival that has seen big acts such as Justin Bieber (who was actually raised in Stratford).
It is most famous, like its English counterpart for its vibrant theatre festival, The Stratford Festival. Opened by Sir Alec Guinness in 1953, the Stratford Shakespeare Festival is a hub for all the town’s theatre arts. It has developed into an annual occasion where exceptional theatrical performances can be sampled. Performances are spread across 4 large theatres that can include well known plays such as The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe to renditions of Shakespeare, where the audience was used as foliage and waves. For all those who wish for an artistically challenging visit set with the backdrop of a beautiful city, Stratford is for you.
For more Information on Stratford and the Theatre Festival Click here
Nothing can take away from huge swathes of water dropping 51 meters into a murk of spray and froth. Niagara Falls at first takes your breath away as you think of its sheer scale and dramatic nature. The falls on the day I visited were resplendent.
We were visiting from the Canadian side of the Falls. However, if you wish to visit the American side of the Falls, you must provide a passport and a visa delivered in advance if your country requires one. Information can be found here
On the Canadian side there are various visitor packages available. For details see here. Each individual attraction offers a new perspective on the Falls which are entertaining and fun. However be prepared to wait for some time, around 20-60 minutes wait per attraction, even if you have a booked time-slot. The highlight was definitely the Hornblower Cruise right up next to Falls. Expect to have fun and get wet!
I was surprised to note a great number of attractions that did not have anything to with Niagara Falls. It felt like Viva Las Niagaras as it was full to the brim with restaurants, attractions and most interestingly haunted houses. Apparently over 139,000 people and counting have chickened out of Nightmares Fear Factory. A rather horrifying experience as I am consistently reminded by their constant stream of photos taken at the scariest bit of the house. A must see!
See the link to their website here.
Overall, Niagara Falls was not as I had expected. Perhaps it was down to poor research on my part, but it is far more than just a waterfall. Whether you like the gimmicks and the higher town is up to you, but I will say that it is a lot of fun, and ultimately a great day out.
As I was in Ontario, I had to visit the metropolis that is Toronto. On the banks of Lake Ontario, the city is a mix of New York and Europe as towering skyscrapers give way to open countryside. We just had time to get a feel of the city and visit its most prominent attractions.
Like Niagara, Toronto offers a City Pass, the information can be found here.
The view from the top of the CN Tower is fantastic and gives you a great orientation of the city. Do it early as the line is long regardless of the time. Book online to get a jump on the first queue.
Next we went to one the best aquariums I have ever seen. Great displays of fish from across the globe. It’s located right next to the CN tower and you can jump the line completely if you booked online.
Most of the attractions in Toronto are between a 10 and 40 minute walk, however if you wish you can purchase a day pass for all public transport for 12 Canadian dollars. Toronto offers a network of trams and undergrounds to get across the city. Ask at any underground station for more information.
Walking around Toronto is what made the city special for me. It was a large city with looming skyscrapers but lacked the stress and speed usually associated with cities of that size. Nestled amongst the monoliths are small, quaint buildings. It is clear that although Toronto embraces the future, it takes care of its past.
It’s always quite gratifying to see a bit of the non-touristic parts of the place you’re visiting as I think it gives a holiday more edge. Cobourg was the perfect place to unwind and complete my holiday. Its motto is “Ontario’s Feel Good Town” and it has incorporated that mentality right into this charming town. It is most famous for its imposing Victoria Hall, a 19th century building which is no town hall. It is a grand testament to stone craftsmanship and now houses an art gallery.
What sets this town apart are the white sands of Victoria Beach. On the banks of Lake Ontario, the beach is the perfect place to relax and swim. The lake feels like a sea as waves lap up against the shore. Cobourg offers a multitude of different shops and services to make this a perfect beach stopover in the heart of Canada.
For more information on Cobourg see here
Overall, Ontario was a place of understated greatness. I had never been to Canada before and it was eye opening, not only to see the tourist spots but to have the pleasure of living in suburban Canada for most of the trip. Each spot I visited vastly differed from my expectation in a way I that have only seen in Canada. The atmosphere of every encounter was one of kindness. It was a pleasure to visit as the culture defines itself along simple but amicable lines. If you are friendly to them, they will be friendly to you.
[flexiblemap address=”Ontario Canada” title=”Ontario” width=”100%” height=”400px” directions=”true”]
Article written by Jan de Boer.
Photos by Sarah Meyerhans