Do you like theater? If so, here's an independent holiday plan for you. If you prefer other pastimes, this outline readily adapts to alternate themes. Gardens. Golf. Biking. Hiking. History. Photography. Wining and dining. A theme holiday can be anything from art to zoo. And the beauty of going solo is that you may arrange things to suit yourself. My theater-themed plan may be modified for a quick two or three-day getaway, a week-long holiday, or a longer grand-circle tour.
My plan begins but does not dwell long in Toronto, although you need not go further to satisfy a yen for Thespian pursuits. Choose from almost 200 professional theatre, dance and music companies, including all internationally acclaimed productions. Advance planning is essential to be sure of getting into the current hits. Two weeks might just as easily be filled as three days in and around Toronto, but this theater-themed holiday plan heads out of T.O. to Niagara-on-the-Lake, home to the acclaimed Shaw Festival.
The Shaw began in 1962 specializing in classics by Bernard Shaw and his contemporaries, which means anything between 1856-1950, and has steadily expanded its repertoire with numerous productions running in four theatres during the May to October season. From humble beginnings in the town Court House, the Shaw is now among the most successful theatre festivals in North America.
A variety of occasional readings, seminars, and "Meet the Company" events bring the players and the public together, a nice way to spend a companionable hour or two when you are on your own. As a single it would also be worth going when a seminar is scheduled. You'd participate in workshops, panel discussions, see some plays and fill in spare time sightseeing in the region.
Niagara-on-the-Lake, with its flower-bedecked streets, is often reported to be the prettiest town in Canada. About a two-hour drive from Toronto (129 km/80 miles) by car, Niagara-on-the-Lake is a fine base for exploring on foot, bicycle, or by rental car.
As a solo traveler I normally choose public transport over driving alone. That said, I have to admit, getting to Niagara-on-the-Lake via public transport is easier said than done, so many travelers prefer to avoid the hassles of dealing with fickle, changeable schedules and opt to either drive their own cars or rent one for this type of independent holiday. Of course, a car gives you the freedom of going where and when you please and the ability to get off-the-beaten path. On the other hand, car rental costs may be prohibitive for one person, but if you don't mind connecting here and there, this plan can be done in parts by train, bus, or bike, with the occasional day tour and/or taxi ride as needed.
When I first did this trip years ago, I could take a hydrofoil from Toronto Harbour following the shoreline of Lake Ontario to the foot of Melville Street, just minutes from downtown Niagara-on-the-Lake. Alas, that option is no more and who knows if and when such a delightful alternative will return. (Editor's Note: Boating one way between Toronto and Niagara-on-the-Lake seems like a great idea but evidently operators come and go for various reasons. But there is no harm in checking with Tourism Niagara-on-the-Lake for current news on that situation.) In the meantime, you have a choice of connecting via St Catharines (17 km/11 miles) or Niagara Falls (32 km/20 miles) with Greyhound bus, or Go Transit commuter rail, or ViaRail train, followed by a taxi or seasonal shuttle.
The more likely connecting route would be via Niagara Falls given that this city is a famous tourist mecca in its own right. You might as well stopover for as long as you please and sample the attractions and entertainments you find here. Multi-storied resort hotels and observation towers such as the Skylon Revolving Restaurant compete for fabulous views of the falls. Neon-lit spooky shows and glitzy casinos impose a Vegas-like style upon the genteel gardens and parkways lining the Niagara River, but it all adds up to a fun-for-all vacation destination. And none can deny that nature puts on a helluva show at Niagara Falls Ontario and Niagara Falls New York.
These days, daredevils are discouraged from doing the falls by barrel as has happened more than once in the past, but thrill-seekers can still take a ride on the Maid of the Mist by crossing the Rainbow Bridge to its departure dock at Niagara Falls New York. This dauntless little vessel has been challenging nature at its most powerful since 1846 and really does get you close. . .and wet and amazed. A more recent boat trip provider, Hornblower Niagara Cruises, operates from the Canadian side and covers the three waterfalls – American Falls, Bridal Veil Falls, and Horshoe Falls – that collectively comprise Niagara Falls on both sides of the Canadian/American border.
Nothing can beat the thrill of getting up close to those mighty falls, except maybe to go hurtling over the Niagara River on a zipline. Or, for a slightly less heart-thumping experience, you may "soar over the Great Gorge" on the Whirlpool Aero Car, or go whizzing along the river on a Whirlpool Jet-Boat.
When you are ready to move on, and provided you are there between May and October, you can board a WEGO hop-on-hop-off bus operated by Niagara Parks for a thirty-minute scenic jaunt down river to the village of Queenston. There, you connect to the Niagara-on-the-Lake Shuttle, which will drop you off at Fort George National Historic Site, about a mile-and-a-half from downtown Niagara-on-the-Lake.
Wedged between Lakes Ontario and Erie, and the Niagara River, the village of Niagara-on-the-Lake is strategically located for historic events. Established by United Empire Loyalists fleeing the American Revolution, the community subsequently became the first capital of Upper Canada in 1792. During the War of 1812, American troops occupied and burned the town, forcing relocation of the capital to York (now Toronto). A useful booklet called Touring Niagara describes several day-trip excursions around the region. For example, Freedom Trail traces the path of 19th century slaves as they fled the USA via the "underground railroad."
With the Niagara escarpment as a dramatic backdrop, fruit farms and vineyards meander scenically between quaint rural towns. The countryside is awash with blossoms in spring and ablaze with fall colours in autumn. Ontario vintners first earned recognition with a superior ice-wine, an exquisite sweet dessert nectar always limited in supply because the grapes can only be harvested after freezing on the vine for a precise period of time. But these days, many wines produced from Ontario grapes receive justly deserved kudos.
A signposted Winery Route leads to no less than 20 wineries near Niagara-on-the-Lake, many of which offer tours and wine tastings. Without your own transportation, you can still visit these rural parts. Daily tours are available with hotel pick-ups in both Niagara-on-the-Lake and Niagara Falls. Not to be outdone, cottage breweries are popping up all over the Niagara region, all offering tours, beer tastings, and special events to enjoy even if you arrive alone.
Those whose theatrical thirst has been quenched might quit the trip here, return to Niagara Falls, and hop aboard one of two daily Via Rail trains back to Toronto. Or, it could be on with the show at Stratford, Canada's premier festival of drama, only two hours away by car, or a six hour cross-country ramble by Greyhound bus.