This spring we were looking to take a summer vacation, but we were limited on the number of vacation days and we wanted to be able to drive. After a lot of searching, we discovered that Toronto, Canada is only about 10 hours of driving from Madison. To top it off, we found that Niagara Falls is just a 75 minute drive from Toronto. We were sold!
We checked out the requirements for border crossing. We found that my spouse and I needed passports (which we already had) and that our kids, because they were under 16 years old, only needed birth certificates and vaccination cards. (Of course, you should check the government websites before you go to make sure you meet any requirements).
Then we booked a condo rental in downtown Toronto and a couple of tours. We found that parking in downtown Toronto was easy enough to find, but is somewhat expensive. Similar to parking in downtown Milwaukee.
Word of warning: we did find out the hard way that our cell phone plan for one of our phones has to have a special international roaming added to it before crossing into Canada. Once we were in Canada we couldn’t add it. Make sure to check with your cell phone carrier before you go.
Toronto has tons of activities for all different preferences. We planned two and a half days and there were plenty of activities to choose from. We decided to visit the Toronto Aquarium. We had recently visited the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago, and the Toronto Aquarium was not as big, but it did have some special features that were really neat and the kids enjoyed it. They have a very long moving walkway that snakes through a giant tank that surrounds you on every side, which we all enjoyed. The one downside is that it is very crowded. I’d recommend going on a weekday morning if possible.
Of course we went to the CN Tower, which is one of Toronto’s most well known attractions. This is a very tall observation structure. You can buy tickets online with several different options. We chose to visit the main observation deck and the higher observation pod. It does take quite a while to wait through the line and get up the elevators, so factor in plenty of wait time. We booked a time that was about an hour before sunset and it was amazing. We had some time to see the city in the daytime light, then watched the sunset and the night lights start to light up the skyline. It was beautiful and we all enjoyed it greatly!
We also booked a 3 and a half hour bike tour of the Toronto islands. Toronto is right on Lake Ontario and there is a series of small connected islands that connect to Toronto by ferryboat ride. Our active family enjoyed this and we loved the islands so much that we went back the next day to spend more time at the beach on the Toronto islands. The islands also have a small amusement park and petting zoo in addition to a hedge maze and many walking/biking trails. It was great for a calm, relaxing vacation day.
There are many other activities including the Hockey Hall of Fame (where we touched the Stanley Cup!) and many different lakefront communities and farmer’s markets. The city is pretty easy to navigate and has several public transportation options.
Finally, we left and spent the final day of our vacation touring Niagara Falls. We viewed the falls from the Canadian side (which I preferred) and the American side. We also toured the whirlpool, which my eldest really enjoyed because he had never seen a whirlpool before. And, the Maid of the Mist tour is an absolute must! You go right up to the base of the falls.
After visiting the falls we drove home. Our kids got to see three out of five of the Great Lakes and seemed to enjoy the drive and the whole trip. The border crossings went fairly smoothly – getting into Canada via Detroit went very quickly for us because we drove it very late at night. Border crossings do add some waiting time if you go mid-day. The trip to Toronto was a great, fairly low-key vacation and my kids loved being able to say that they left the USA!