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I'm a French citizen traveling from Vancouver to Paris, but happen to have quite a lengthy layover in Toronto (5:50am to 7pm), and I thought this would be an excellent opportunity to see Niagara Falls.

Is this enough time to get to and from Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada and back to Toronto airport to catch my flight (if I want to be back by 4:30pm)? I see that it takes about a 2 hour drive, more or less. Is this true?

And... how to get there from the airport? Is there an airport shuttle? Or tour service? I saw the Niagara Air Bus offers this service - do they have a monopoly on this service?

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    As I recall when visiting Niagara Falls directly from flying in to Toronto (though not on a layover) I took an airport transfer bus to the city centre, then took a Greyhound from there to Niagara Falls, taking a total of over 4 hours (but my memory of timings is often poor!). I'm sure there are faster ways, though they're probably more expensive. – AndyT May 9 '17 at 9:34
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    I assume this is Toronto Pearson Airport. What time of year will you be travelling? – gerrit May 9 '17 at 13:27
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    If you have time, and I guess you do, I strongly recommend going to the US side. For me it was far more impressive, since you stay right on top of the falls. Canada Side: Cool to take pictures. US Side: really impressive – Mario Garcia May 10 '17 at 6:32
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    @MarioGarcia - I would disagree. From the Canadian side you can get great views of both the horseshoe and American falls, whereas from the US side you can only get a good view of the horseshoe falls. That said, if you have the time you could certainly do both and the park on the US side may be nice. – sirjonsnow May 10 '17 at 13:27
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    If you don't have a visa for the US, don't bother trying, though. If you do cross, walking will likely be faster. – JimmyJames May 10 '17 at 17:00
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You have plenty of time to see the Falls, go on the boat, and cross the bridge to the American side if you like.

I would recommend renting a car from the airport, if you can drive. I'd expect to pay 40 CAD for a one day rental. On top of that, you'll need to pay for any fuel you use. As I remember, parking was free when I went, this a few years ago now.

It's probably a 90 minute drive in good traffic. At 6 am it will be longer as you meet rush hour traffic, however some of it you are going against the flow. The falls will be quiet when you arrive. Your return journey should be smooth if you plan to be back at 4.30.

If you want to do it all on public transport you'll probably need an extra few hours beyond what you have there. I'll leave that answer for someone else to give.

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    I prefer spending 'more time' at Niagara falls than saving money by choosing public transit. As OP is already able to bear ~8000 Km flying cost, I believe, he/she can afford rented car or even private Taxi. – user46967 May 9 '17 at 16:30
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    +1 The car rental option is best and in Canada is comparable or cheaper than the cost of long distance public transport. – Itai May 9 '17 at 17:10
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    I would skip the US side (the Canadian side is better) and go on the Maid of the Mist boat ride. If it is a week day the queues should be short. The airport is on the West side of the city so you don't have to go past Toronto. Allow plenty of time on your return, traffic in the Greater Toronto Area can be horrendous- especially if its a Friday. The town on the Canadian side is tacky and touristy. On the US side it is depressingly blighted. – Spehro Pefhany May 9 '17 at 19:57
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    It might also be worth mentioning the difference in fuel prices from what someone from France is probably accustomed to. It's not nearly as expensive in North America, so having to pay for the fuel isn't as bad as it may seem. – reirab May 10 '17 at 15:39
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    @SpehroPefhany This is really bad information IMO. You are correct in that your assessments of the towns as tacky/blighted. However, on the US side exists the oldest State Park in the nation. It was championed and designed by Frederick Law Olmsted of Central Park fame. A lot of work has been done to restore this and I think it's the only thing really worth visiting in the Falls more than once. Entry is free and parking is often free when it's not busy. – JimmyJames May 15 '17 at 14:46
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TL;DR: Try go catch the 8:20 Via Rail from Union Station to Niagara Falls, arriving 10:16, if it runs on your day. If not, public transportation is going to be very time-consuming but possible.

It's quite possible to get from Toronto Pearson via Union Station to Niagara Falls, but you won't have a lot of time left to spend there. The cheapest way to get from Toronto Pearson to central Toronto (Union Station) is by TTC, with the Airport Rocket followed by metro. This will take more than an hour and costs 3.25$ each way. If you are in a hurry, you can take the Union Pearson Express which only takes 25 minutes and costs 12$ each way, faster and cheaper than a taxi. From there you can take GO Transit (train+bus), VIA Rail (train, seasonal, once per day) or Greyhound (bus).


Intermezzo: Warning: Do not expect European quality public transportation in almost any North American city, and certainly not outside of them. Even between cities, public transportation in southern Ontario is incredibly poor¹. This is not Paris, London, or Berlin. Trains within Toronto are poor, suburban trains in the region around Toronto are extremely bad, in particular on weekends. For example: Kitchener (500k inh.) to Toronto (2.7 million), 100 km, has 4 trains/day, weekdays only, taking 2 hours (bus takes 3); Oxford (170k inh.) to London (8.7 million), 95 km, has 72 trains/day, taking less than 1 hour. The Scottish Highlands have more frequent trains than cities near Toronto.

(It's the main reason why I left Toronto; my driving skills suffice to pass the test in The Netherlands, not so in Toronto, so I was essentially stuck; I did carpool out of the city a couple of times; once it took 3 hours in traffic to get out 60 km from the city centre; I also remember being stuck in traffic with a bus, 100 km out of Toronto, midnight after a Bank Holiday weekend.)


Still reading after the intermezzo?

GO Transit operates trains and buses between Toronto and Niagara Falls: see timetable. There are many services per day. It will take roughly an hour to reach Burlington, where you change from train to bus, then it's another 1 hour 35 minutes by bus. Depending on your connection, it will take almost 3 hours from central Toronto to Niagara Falls, excluding delays. Price for a day pass is $37.50.

There is also, at most 1 train per day run by VIA Rail. I think it runs seasonally. When it does run, it departs 8:20 from Union Station, arriving 10:16. As far as public transportation goes, it is your best bet, assuming you can make it and it runs on the day of your transit, that's probably the most comfortable option. The return is too late for your flight, though.

If you have some time left after awe-ing at the falls, I recommend a hike in the Niagara Glen nature reserve, peace and quiet just a stone throw away from the Ripley-Believe-It-Or-Not-esque tourist madness that is Niagara Falls as soon as you turn around and face the town rather than the falls. There's also a really nice butterfly garden. Churchill said that the road between Niagara-on-the-Lake and Niagara Falls was the most beautiful one in the world but he was mad and/or liked wine too much. It's nice but not most-beautiful-in-the-world-nice. If you're driving anyway, Niagara-on-the-Lake is probably worth the detour.

If you choose to drive, make sure you are comfortable driving on the rather huge and congested roads in the Toronto area, although the airport is west of town so you will avoid the worst part of the 401 (which has up to 17 lanes).


¹Apparently, there are similar-sized cities where it's even worse, but I have no firsthand experience of those.

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    "you really don't need more than an hour at Niagara Falls" - Spending ~5 hrs for travel ( airport-toronto union station-niagara-toronto union-airport) and Enjoying the falls for only one hour is NOT an enjoyable tour. – user46967 May 9 '17 at 16:23
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    Also, if you drive, watch out for tolls on the 407 from Erin Mills to Burlington - it's free to stick to the 403/QEW the whole way (if you stay out of the HOT lanes!) – J... May 9 '17 at 16:23
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    @SundararajGovindasamy Either way, your point is valid. I've added an intermezzo commenting on the incredibly poor public transportation in the Toronto area. – gerrit May 9 '17 at 16:53
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    part of the issue is the use of Union as a hub for everything. From the airport, you need to go AWAY from Niagara Falls to get to Union so you can take a train back in the direction you want to go. But trying anything different will just be misery. Try getting from Kitchener to Peterborough sometime: it's a 3 hours drive, 8 hours or more by public transit. Mostly because of Union Station and downtown TO traffic. – Kate Gregory May 9 '17 at 17:36
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    " then it's another 35 minutes by bus." It's a further 1 hour and 35 minutes from Burlingham GO transit stop to Niagara on the 12, not 35 minutes; and that bus is only once per hour. If you could go directly from the airport to Burlingham transit, it would be okay—and actually there is a bus that gets tantalizingly close. Maybe if you were industrious you could an uber to bridge the gap. – Calchas May 9 '17 at 18:19
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I'd recommend the Niagara Air Bus! My parents lived near Niagara Falls and I used to take it there and back. They run hourly I believe. They used to drop my off and pick me at my parent's front door so you'd certainly get dropped off and picked up at a convenient location. Best thing about them they're savy about getting you to the airport in time for your flight. Also quite comfortable and I'm tall. You can book ahead so it's all set up when you arrive.

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I live roughly half-way between Pearson Airport and Niagara Falls, and warn you that traffic will likely be horrendous. Although the drive is only 1:45 in light traffic, you will be driving both directions in rush hour, and that will be the likes you have rarely seen before. Allow 3 hours for your return drive, so leave Niagara Falls by 1:30 or risk the chance of missing your flight.

Note that for part of the highway, both directions, there is a High Occupancy Vehicle (HOT) lane along the leftmost side. Outside of Toronto proper it is sufficient to have 2 people in the car to qualify, even though inside the city there must be 3 or more.

If you opt for the GO train service, I recommend driving to Oakville Station and parking your rental car there; it is likely the closest station at which you will find free parking available by the middle of the morning Rush, and is only 3 minutes off the highway. Heading downtown to Union Station will simply lengthen your commute to Niagara Falls to no purpose.

That being said, you will enjoy the Falls and can expect to have around 3 to 3.5 hours to enjoy them, in the best time of the day.

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    Sometimes I think: imagine if all (or even most of) those people in frequent but overcrowded English trains were by car. But then I think: I've seen it, it's the Greater Toronto Area. – gerrit May 10 '17 at 11:05
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I did this a few years ago. Clearly, rent an economy-sized car at the airport and just drive there. It took 1hr to 1hr 30min to complete the trip in one direction, in a situation where there was no significant traffic.

Navigating the roads is really easy. Leaving from the airport you quickly reach the interchange that connects you to the QEW freeway, then you drive it on nearly its entire length before switching to a short feeder freeway leading you to the Niagara Falls town; direction is written on sign at that point. Parking in Niagara Falls can be a bit challenging in high season, though.

In Niagara Falls town, there is a lot to do. In addition to riding the boats dressed up in rain coat (provided), you will be able to enjoy the Vegas-like downtown with some attractions including an observation tower. At the time I went there, I expected to be greeted in a kind of natural site or national park setting and was surprised.

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I visited Niagra Falls while on a 2 week holiday in Toronto, and both the girlfriend and I drove from Toronto to Niagra. It's really the only way. It looks like it's no distance at all on a map, but you then realise you have to drive around the bit of water that's between Toronto and Niagra.

As the others have said, rent a car, and leave plenty of time to drive there and get back. Traffic can be bad, it was for us when we came back to Toronto. Not entirely sure what time this was though.

To repeat what another person has said, the Canadian side is better than the US side (Sorry!), and definitely take the Maid of the Mist tour. It's magical sailing right up to the wash of the falls.

Depending what you like, the town itself is a bit like Las Vegas. I've never been to LV, so can't compare, but it did strike me a lot like Blackpool. Very tacky, loud etc. Not entirely befitting of the natural wonder you're after, but that's my opinion.

But, 30 mins outside of Niagara Falls is a town called Niagara on the Lake. It's beautiful!!!! The buildings are brilliant, the pace of life is so quiet. We were told to go there by a resident of Toronto after I got caught on camera as they filmed some sort of candid camera show. 100% would recommend you go there, even for an hour. You won't be sorry.

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