Right in the heart of Southern Ontario is Toronto, Canada’s biggest city and one of the country’s most popular tourist destinations.
Known as the cultural capital of the world, Toronto is a surprisingly diverse place to visit, with people from every country on the planet moving to the city to hopefully turn a new leaf in Canada and begin the next stages of their lives.
Thanks to this, Toronto has become home to a unique range of people from different cultures and lifestyle, making it a very unique destination for tourists and locals alike.
Well, what happens if you’re hoping to escape the hustle of the city and you want to spend the day exploring somewhere new? It’s time for a day trip!
In this post I want to talk about the best day trips from Toronto that you can go on if you’re looking to beat the crowds and enjoy yourself in a completely new place, while still being able to make it back to Toronto for the night.
The entirety of Southern Ontario, and even parts of the United States, are easily accessible from Toronto and there is a large network of highways that you can use to get around, even if you have to rely on public transportation to get you there.
You can decide to spend the day with a historic focus, or maybe you might be interested in sampling some local wines, and you can even totally escape the city and head deep into the woods to strengthen your connection with nature.
Having a car, whether your own or a rental, is going to make reaching these different nearby destinations a lot easier, although many will be connected by public transportation or you could opt to arrange a tour if you’re so inclined.
Otherwise, let’s dive into your options for when it comes to Toronto day trips!
The Best Day Trips from Toronto
No blog post about the different day trips available from Toronto is complete without mentioning Niagara Falls.
Not only is Niagara Falls one of the most popular attractions in all of Canada, but it’s also a world wonder and the most powerful waterfall in North America.
I would even go so far as to compare its beauty to what you would find at waterfalls like Victoria Falls, Igazu Falls, and even Angel Falls.
Many tourists visit Southern Ontario just with the purpose of heading to Niagara Falls and watching the thousands of litres pour over the edge of the escarpment into the Niagara River down below – and I must say myself, it’s a very impressive sight and something you won’t soon forget.
Niagara Falls and the surrounding tourist area of Clifton Hill is just a short 2 hour drive away from Toronto, depending on traffic, and a full day’s basically all you need to take advantage of some of the best attractions in the area.
Apart from Clifton Hill, which is a super-touristy few blocks right near the Falls, there are also some other interesting things to check out such as the Skylon Tower, for an incredible view of the surrounding area and the Falls themselves, the Butterfly Conservatory, and it’s even worth heading to some of the trails along the Niagara River if you want to get some hiking done.
In the Niagara Falls area there are some casinos and plenty of different restaurants to choose from if you’re looking for a bite to eat.
It doesn’t matter if you’re traveling solo, with your significant other, or if you’re visiting the falls with your family, Niagara Falls makes for a great day trip and an experience that you’ll remember for the rest of your life.
For those that aren’t driving, there are quite a few different tours from Toronto to Niagara Falls that you can take, although I would definitely recommend renting a car because it’ll allow you to see the best parts of the Niagara Region without having to rely completely on the tour company to show you the best spots.
As for driving, the highways in Southern Ontario are quite easy to navigate and there is plenty of parking available near the falls for anywhere between $10 and $30 for the day.
Check out my post how to spend one day in Niagara Falls if you’re looking for a helpful itinerary.
The City of Hamilton
About 45 minutes away by train, and a similar length of time if you’re driving, is the mid-sized City of Hamilton.
Hamilton is located right on Hamilton Harbour, giving the city an impressive waterfront, and there are plenty of other ways to spend your day exploring as well.
Head on to some of the hiking trails along the Niagara Escarpment that runs through the city and visit some of the many waterfalls.
There are plenty of things to do in Hamilton you don’t want to miss.
The city itself is known as the “City of Waterfalls”, and there are a surprising number of different waterfalls that you can easily visit by car and on foot.
After you have done some hiking and explored some waterfalls, the Downtown Hamilton area also has quite a few attractions including the historic Dundurn Castle, the old Liuna Station, as well as a small downtown area that’s full of quirky shops, great restaurants, and unique bars.
Hamilton is very easily accessible from Toronto by public transportation and once you reach the city you can get around using the SOBI Bicycle Share system or you can take the local bus just about anywhere you need to go.
Most of the attractions and other things to do in the city are located downtown, although if you head up on to the “mountain” there are some other cool areas to explore as well.
Algonquin Park is a Provincial Park located a few hours north of Toronto.
This park is where many people from Southern Ontario head for an incredible “backcountry” camping experience and the park itself is full of different campgrounds, lodges, resorts, and other types of accommodation.
An Algonquin Park day trip is a great way to escape the busy city lifestyle and venture deep into the woods for some fresh air and the chance to see some big wildlife.
There are hundreds of kilometers of hiking trails and you can even spend the day canoeing or kayaking if you’re so inclined.
Reaching the park from Toronto is really easy if you have your own car and it takes about 3 hours to get from downtown to the entrance of the Provincial Park, depending on traffic.
This might be a lot of driving for some people, but it’s definitely doable and totally worth it if you’re looking for a quick nature escape without having to deal with the crowds of some of the parks closer to the city.
I would definitely recommend visiting Algonquin Park if you’re going to be in Southern Ontario during the fall season, as the fall foliage is simply incredible and some of the best that you’ll ever see in the world.
Keep in mind that you are going to have to pick up a day pass for the park if you plan on getting out of the car and hiking or exploring some of the natural areas, and you can pick up this pass at the West Gate for a little bit under $20 Canadian.
Niagara on the Lake
Right around the corner from the impressive Niagara Falls is the small, historic town of Niagara on the Lake. This quaint little town used to be the capital of Upper Canada and it’s definitely one of the hidden gems in Southern Ontario that you’re going to want to check out.
Over the years Niagara on the Lake has grown quite popular, with plenty of wineries surrounding the town as well as a popular film festival held in the town center every year bringing visitors from all over Canada and the world.
Reaching the town is really simple, especially if you’re driving, and it’s a short 20-minute drive away from the Falls area down the scenic Niagara Parkway, which is even more beautiful when the fall foliage hits.
The entire town of Niagara on the Lake is designated as a National Historic Site in Canada, and with it comes all of the cliche tourist attractions.
You can find quite a few tourist shops and smaller stores selling weird knick-knacks and trinkets, horse-drawn carriage rides that you can enjoy during the warmer summer months, and a well-preserved main street that makes it easy to imagine yourself going back to the 19th century.
If you’re looking for the best place to stay in town, you’ll want to check out the historic Prince of Wales Hotel, and not only is it the top hotel in the area but it’s also one of the main tourist attractions that you can visit as well.
It really doesn’t matter what time of year you choose to visit, Niagara on the Lake is a beautiful place all-year-round.
However, during the winter the town comes to life with Christmas spirit and everywhere you look you’ll find christmas lights and decorations. The fall is also a great time to visit as the weather will be much cooler and you’ll be able to admire the beautiful fall foliage as winter descends over Southern Ontario.
Reaching Niagara on the Lake from Toronto is quite easy as well, and the majority of the trip is highway driving, with a few turns once you reach the town.
It’s a good idea to combine a trip to Niagara on the Lake with a visit to Niagara Falls, and if you have the time you can visit one or two local wineries if you’re so inclined.
On the way to Algonquin Park, located a few hours North of Toronto, is another lovely small town – Gravenhurst.
Gravenhurst is known as the gateway to cottage country, and during the summer months the town is packed with people from Toronto and the rest of Southern Ontario as it’s a perfect stop-over between the big city life and the more relaxed and laid-back cottage lifestyle.
There is a small old town area, just with a few streets lined with historic buildings, and here is where you’ll find some small shops, cafes, and restaurants that you can explore for an hour or two.
After spending time in the town center, you’ll want to head down to the waterfront where you can enjoy the scenic views of Lake Muskoka.
One of the highlights of the town’s position on the lake is that it’s able to offer boat cruises, where two steamships will take you out onto the lake giving you the chance to get a more up-close look at the natural beauty while allowing you some fleeting glimpses of the million dollar mansions that dot the shore.
There are a few different cruise options to choose from, you can opt to spend just an hour out on the water or up to four hours depending on your preferences, and some of the cruises even come with a meal and drinks.
The historic town part of Gravenhurst is a prime example of what you’ll find in similar sized towns across the rest of Southern Ontario.
Nearby to the town are plenty of options for hiking or camping and there are even some locally popular mountain biking trails if you want to explore the surrounding forests on two wheels.
Reaching Gravenhurst is a straight-shot north from Toronto, with almost all highway driving, and it takes just two hours to reach the town center if there isn’t any traffic.
- Heading to Gravenhurst? Consider checking out the Torrance Barrens Dark Sky Preserve!
The Kitchener-Waterloo area is a popular tech hub in Southern Ontario, and also home to quite a few large universities and colleges.
It’s only about an hour away from Toronto and it’s the great place to spend the day wandering around and exploring the two different cities, as well as some of the smaller towns in between.
Both Waterloo and Kitchener have interesting downtown areas with plenty of small shops, restaurants, and cafes that you can check out while walking around and exploring.
There are also some great hiking trails and biking paths in Waterloo, so make sure to bring some comfortable shoes or your bicycle if you want to head into nature a little bit and escape the hustle of the city.
One of the more popular things to do in Waterloo and the surrounding area is the village of St Jacobs.
This is a small, historic village that’s well known for having a significant amount of Mennonites living in it.
One of the main attractions in St Jacobs is the Farmers Market and people from all over Southern Ontario visit this farmers market to try to find something local and unique that they can bring home.
Of course you’ll find locally sourced food items like cheese, meat, fruits, and vegetables depending on the season, and you can also find some more interesting items such as artisanal crafts, local artwork, and handmade home goods.
On the weekends it can be very busy, so try to arrive to the Farmers Market early if you’re hoping to spend your time wandering through the stands and sampling some of the delicious food.
Around the market and the village there are also quite a few other stores and small shops selling things like antiques, crafts, jewelry, and handmade furniture as well.
Between a quick stop in St Jacobs and spending the rest of your time exploring Kitchener and Waterloo, you can easily spend the day in the region with plenty of things to do to occupy your time.
Collingwood (Blue Mountain)
The town of Collingwood is a popular winter destination for people living in Toronto and it’s one of the only areas for skiing in Southern Ontario.
All of the skiing is done on the small series of mid-sized hills in the Collingwood area, and the Blue Mountain Ski Resort is definitely where you’re going to want to be if you want to spend one of your winter days doing some outdoor activities in the snow.
In the winter Collingwood is quite busy, although during the summer it’s not nearly as full of tourists as you would expect.
During the warmer summer months, Collingwood and Blue Mountain offer plenty of opportunities for hiking, zip lining, mountain biking, and its location right on Georgian Bay provides some amazing swimming opportunities as well.
Along with swimming, you can head out onto Georgian Bay for some stand-up paddle-boarding, kayaking, canoeing, or you can just lay on the beach all day while admiring the surrounding scenery.
Throughout the year there are a variety of different events held in Collingwood where you can enjoy some live music or spend the day checking out some of the small shops and cafes in the town center.
Close by is the Craigleith Provincial Park and this is a very small natural Recreation Area with a few campsites and great access to the beach.
In Collingwood itself, you can check out the Side Launch Brewing Company if you want to sample some delicious local beers, the Collingwood Museum for those of you that want to learn more about local history, and there are quite a few different spas in town if you’re looking for true relaxation.
Getting to Collingwood pretty simple and depending on traffic you can reach the town center area as well as the ski resorts in less than 3 hours.
Just 90 minutes away from Toronto is the small town of Stratford.
Historically, this town is famous because of the Stratford Festival that runs during the summer, as an homage to Shakespeare, and more recently it has become famous as being the birthplace of Justin Bieber.
Stratford is a rather Charming little of Victorian Town surrounded by picturesque Southern Ontario Countryside, and with less than 35,000 people living here it’s a great place to visit if you want to escape the busy crowds of Toronto and just wander around the relaxed streets.
Surprisingly, there are a number of guided tours available in town and you can book one of seven different tours, each with a specific theme, from the Visitor Center right downtown.
The tours cost only $7 and it can take anywhere between 90 minutes and 2 hours, depending on the tour, making them a great choice if you want to learn more about the town and its interesting history.
Along with walking tours, there are also food tours where you can try out the best chocolate, maple, or bacon and ale themed tours, depending on what your preferences are, and there’s even a “Ghost Walk” tour if you’re looking for a more spooky adventure.
If guided tours aren’t your thing, you can spend a few hours walking around the downtown area admiring all of the historic buildings and spending time in the many different parks throughout the center and along the river.
Some of the oldest buildings in Stratford date back to the middle of the 19th century, and the town offers prime examples of Victorian architecture from that era.
On the river, you can even rent a small boat if you want to kayak, canoe, or just paddle along to take in the town from a different vantage point.
Be sure to check out the Stratford Festival website if you want to learn more about this popular festival, and there are also quite a few other festivals held throughout the year along with a variety of different art galleries and exhibits that you can explore if that’s something you’re interested in.
Anybody fond of learning more about Ontario history or that just wants to spend time in a quiet, small town is definitely going to want to visit Stratford.
African Lion Safari
Less than an hour away from Toronto, and surrounded by quite a few other attractions and things to do, is African Lion Safari.
Unlike the Toronto Zoo, African Lion Safari gives you a much more up close and personal experience with the animals that they have.
Rather than just walking around and staring at the animals through the glass, here you actually drive through the park with your own vehicle right beside all of the different creatures like lions, zebras, buffalo, monkeys, elephants, cheetahs, giraffe, and plenty of other animals that are just freely walking around.
It’s really interesting and makes for a unique experience being able to get so close to the different animals and even seeing monkeys jump up on the hood of your car.
Visiting African Lion Safari is a great day trip with kids and it’s fun even if you want to escape the city with some of your friends or family.
Nearby is the city of Hamilton, which you can visit for a quick side trip, or you could stop at the small town of Guelph along the way for lunch and a little explore time.
Guelph is easily reached from Toronto, it’s about an hour away with straight highway driving, and it’s a great place to spend a few hours wandering around.
It’s a very quiet and sleepy town, although it has become quite a popular place for people to move to from Toronto looking for somewhere more reasonably priced to live that’s still offers a prime location for getting downtown.
During the school year, Guelph is full of students thanks to the different universities and colleges located in town, but it still has a very small town vibe compared to what you would find in other places like Hamilton and Toronto.
Guelph is consistently rated as one of the best places in Canada to live, and it’s easy to see why with so many different parks and how clean the town is everywhere you go.
Some of the best things to do in Guelph include exploring the historic downtown area, spending some time at the Royal City Park, admiring the view from the Basilica of Our Lady Immaculate church, learning more about local history at the McRae House, or visiting the Sleeman Brewery for a fresh cold one.
I think that the best time to visit Guelph is in the fall, because the weather is cool enough that it’s enjoyable to walk around and you can also visit some of the nearby provincial parks or conservation areas to further take full advantage of the beautiful fall foliage.