“ Observation tower overlooking Niagara Falls. „
Once I had decided I was going to Toronto and had made the booking, I spent a bit of time thinking about what I wanted to do when I got there. Because my visit was off season, many of the regular tourist attractions, such as a boat trip on Lake Ontario weren't running but one attraction which runs 365 days a year is Niagara Falls. Of course Niagara Falls aren't actually in Toronto, but they are close enough for a day trip.
Following a little research I decided to book a Greyhound bus for my day trip to the Canadian side of Niagara Falls. Organised tour trips are available too but these tend to include a fairly tight schedule and a stop at a vineyard on the way back. I have nothing against vineyards myself but merely visualising my daughter saying "this is boring" repeatedly was enough for me to realise an organised trip was out of the question.
The Maid of the Mist boat which sails close to the falls (and soaks you in the process) doesn't run in April so I looked for other options for us to really enjoy the experience of the falls, thus discovering the Skylon Tower.
The Skylon Tower opened in 1965 and features an observation deck and two restaurants - a revolving one and the upper buffet restaurant.
The tower is 160 metres high and sits 236 metres from the bottom of the falls giving spectacular views of both the American and the Horseshoe Falls.
It costs C$14 for admission to the observation decks but other options are available, including lunch, and you can also, if you desire, pay extra and experience the 3D/4D movie entitled "Legends of the Fall".
As the buffet was closed and the a la carte restaurant didn't offer food which appealed to my daughter (ie it was too sophisticated), we decided just to visit the observation decks.
~~Location of the Tower~~
The Skylon Tower is located in the Fallsview region of Niagara Falls. If you arrive in Niagara Falls by bus or train it's a couple of miles to get there. When we arrived I took a taxi there and it cost me C$15 including tip but buses do run fairly regularly too.
Car parking is available at the tower too. When we visited the car park was pretty empty but I would imagine there are queues for it in high season so if you visit in summer it might be best to head there early.
We arrived at the tower just after 11.00 am and went straight to the ticket kiosk inside the main lobby area. There wasn't a queue and within minutes of purchasing our tickets we were shown to the elevator which took us to the top of the tower.
The elevators are all mounted on the outside of the tower so if you are of a nervous disposition it's worth considering this as you can see the ground moving away from you at speed. I am prone to bouts of vertigo when I am some distance from the ground but I didn't find the elevators too scary. If heights don't bother you then my advice is to just enjoy the view as it is truly spectacular. There is an operator in each elevator who gives you information about the tower and what is available when you get to the top.
The ride in the lift only takes 52 seconds and when you get out you can walk around two sections of the viewing observatory.
The inner section gives good views through glass windows but the outer section is better with views through wire mesh.
I had chosen a very good day to visit Niagara, with clear and sunny skies but you really felt the cold bite you when you ventured out into the outer section of the observatory. The views, however, are spectacular and locations you are looking at are marked at each point as you move around, enabling you to work out exactly what you are looking at.
This may sound silly in light of the fact most people go to see the Falls themselves but of course it's nice to be told which are the American Falls and which are the Hoseshoe Falls, never mind being told you are looking towards Buffalo, New York and various other vantage points.
The Horseshoe Falls are the most spectacular and the mist from the falling water is an amazing phenomena to watch. Because you are able to view this from such a height from the tower you really get to appreciate just how much water forms this mist and how high it seems to jump up from the Niagara River. Having said all that, the view over to the American Falls isn't to be sneezed at either and watching the water cascade gave me a true sense I was seeing the power of nature at work.
You also get a wonderful view over to the American town of Niagara, which with the exception of a casino seems to be wholly less developed than the Canadian town of the same name. There is an observation tower which you can see clearly too, along with bridges which take you from one country to the other.
The only bad thing about the observatory is the fact you can't really get a clear picture from there due to the wire mesh. You can pay to use telescopes up there to enable you to see the falls more clearly but I don't think they are particularly necessary due to the sheer scale of Niagara Falls.
We stayed at the top of the tower for about twenty minutes, and I was happy to see even my daughter, who generally doesn't take the slightest interest in landscapes, was fascinated by the sight of the waterfalls. After taking photos and drinking in the views we headed to the gift shop which is located on the observatory level and bought a few souvenirs before heading back to the elevator for the ride back down. The souvenirs were quite expensive - I paid C$9.99 (with tax extra) for a branded sports bottle for my daughter's friend and C$6 for a fridge magnet for my fridge magnet collecting sister. To be fair however the quality was high and I was glad I had purchased souvenirs here after seeing some of the truly cheap tat on sale elsewhere later on.
The elevator ride once again featured a lift operator who thanked us for coming. Once again there was no queue at the elevators but I can't imagine it would be a queue free zone in high season. When we got to the bottom there was another souvenir shop but we decided to leave then and head down to the main promenade to get a different view of the Falls.
We both thoroughly enjoyed our visit to the Skylon Tower and I would go so far as to say it's a "must see" attraction if you are in Niagara and want to get a truly unique view of the Falls.
Yes, it's quite expensive for what it is and if I am honest it is a bit of a tourist trap but it's worth it for those views.
My only real regret is not being able to visit the buffet restaurant when we were there but that's down to the timing of our trip. The restaurant must be wonderful in the evening. If I were ever to return to this part of the world instead of spending every night in Toronto I would definitely book a night in Niagara so I could experience the vistas from the Skylon Tower at dusk.
The tower itself isn't particularly pretty to look at but you don't go to Niagara to look at the architecture, do you? So instead of worrying about that take a trip up the Skylon Tower and enjoy views which must rank amongst the best to be found anywhere in the world.