IntroductionFrom conventioneers to honeymooners to families on vacation, people of all walks of life—millions of them—travel each year to Niagara Falls chasing the heady rush of a carnival-style thrill ride, the tranquility of a garden path or more recently, the suspense of a dice roll or spin of a roulette wheel. But ultimately, they all come for one thing—to experience the cool mist, the thundering roar, the utter violence of a half million gallons of water crashing into a rocky gorge every second. It's not just a spectacular scene; it's a spectacular scene in unrelenting motion.
In DepthThere is something about Niagara Falls that appeals to the lover, daredevil and poet in everyone. Over the years Niagara Falls has been many things—a strategic military post, a prosperous trade center, a carnival town—but never has it ceased to be a natural wonder, mesmerizing travelers from around the world.
The cities of Niagara Falls, Ontario, and Niagara Falls, N.Y., are connected by two bridges across the Niagara River. The river is really a strait that carries drainage from the upper Great Lakes to Lake Ontario. At the falls its sudden drop creates one of the world's most spectacular waterfalls. Among the shortest rivers in the world at 58 kilometres (36 mi.), Niagara also is one of the wildest: Its rapids reach speeds of 48 kilometres per hour (30 mph).
The Canadian Falls, 54 metres (177 ft.) high, have a crest of more than 675 metres (2,215 ft.) outlining a deep curve—thus the name Horseshoe Falls. The river underneath is as deep as the cataract is high. The American Falls are 56 metres (184 ft.), but are only about 328 metres (1,075 ft.) wide in a fairly straight line. The smallest of Niagara's falls, Bridal Veil, is separated from the other falls by Luna and Goat islands. The falls are illuminated nightly. During the past 12,000 years—the approximate age of the falls—the crest has moved 11.2 kilometres (7 mi.) upstream.
Water is diverted more evenly over all three cataracts to protect the soft shale and limestone foundations and to slow the rate of erosion. The combined flow of the river over the three falls would normally be about 3,700,000 litres (977,540 U.S. gallons) per second, but the use of the waters to generate electricity reduces the flow to about 2,842,400 litres (750,960 U.S. gallons) per second.
Settlement of the area began after the American Revolution when pioneers emigrated to Fort George at Niagara-on-the-Lake. Though admired by passers-by, the falls were not a tourist attraction. In 1795 the government of Canada declined to spend $30 to clear a trail to the falls, in the belief that “nobody wanted to see them but small boys.”
Development of the area was thwarted by the War of 1812, which pitted settlers across the borders against each other. A monument in Chippawa Battlefield Park honors those who were killed in the battle. The bloodiest battle of the war occurred in Niagara Falls at Lundy's Lane. Though neither side claimed victory, this gruesome fight was the turning point of the war. Shortly afterward, the war ended in a draw: The Treaty of Ghent, signed on Dec. 24, 1814, reinstated the boundary line—creating sister cities on each side of the river.
The railroad brought the first tourists about 1840, and Niagara Falls turned into a carnival of hustlers and freaks. In 1885 the Ontario Legislature established The Niagara Parks Commission to preserve the integrity of the land on the Canadian side of the falls. This agency is responsible for the well-manicured parklands along the Niagara River, which reserve the most beautiful views of the falls for the public's peaceful enjoyment.
Daredevils soon followed. In 1901, Mrs. Annie Taylor, a 63-year-old schoolteacher, became the first person to go over the falls in a barrel. She was fished out after 3 hours, battered but still alive. Many followed her over the brink. All went over the Canadian Falls, and those who died were usually trapped beneath the tons of water pouring over the crest. Fortunately the era of daredevils has largely ended; stunts on either the falls or the rapids are illegal.
There is no question that the Niagara Falls region is a mishmash of images. In some respects it resembles a sideshow with its wax museums, honeymoon specials and souvenir shops; conversely, it is a well-preserved park where man-made attractions are dwarfed by those of nature. To honeymooners, the city is an exotic destination, yet Niagara Falls is essentially a commercial metropolis.
As long as the falls exist, the tourists will keep arriving—more than 14 million people visit the Canadian side annually. On any day of the year countless shutterbugs jockey for position against the railing, just inches from the magnificent crest, in the hope of capturing the beauty, power and majesty of the falls. If they are lucky, a rainbow will appear in the mist, adding splendor to splendor.
By CarMost approaches to Niagara Falls are east-west oriented. The main exception is the Niagara Parkway, a scenic route that follows the Canadian side of the Niagara River from Lake Ontario to Lake Erie, traversing the heart of the city en route.
The primary through route is the Queen Elizabeth Way (QEW) via Hwy. 420. This modern highway originates in Toronto; skirts Lake Ontario; passes through Niagara Falls, interchanging with major streets; and terminates at the Peace Bridge, which spans the international boundary at Buffalo.
While much of the traffic coming into Niagara Falls from Canada uses at least a portion of the QEW, two other roads provide good access from Ontario's southwestern extremity: Hwy. 20 (Lundy's Lane), which goes directly into Niagara Falls, and Hwy. 3 to Fort Erie, from which several lesser roads lead into the city.
From the east, traffic arrives from New York and is funneled to the Canadian side via toll bridges: the Rainbow Bridge, in the heart of the sightseeing area; the Whirlpool Bridge, slightly north of downtown; the Lewiston-Queenston Bridge farther north, which completes an international expressway connection; and the Peace Bridge, linking Buffalo, N.Y., and Fort Erie, Ontario, south of Niagara Falls.
By PlaneFour commercial airports serve the Niagara Falls area. Buffalo Niagara International Airport (BUF) at Genesee Street and Cayuga Road in New York is the closest to the city. ITA operates shuttle buses and cabs from this airport to Niagara Falls, N.Y., and to Niagara Falls, Ontario; phone (716) 633-8294 or (800) 551-9369 for rates and information. Shuttle service from the Buffalo airport to Niagara Falls, Ontario, is $65 per person; to Niagara Falls, New York, the rate is $50 per person.
The Niagara District Airport (YCM), also handling commercial flights, is at Niagara Stone Road in Niagara-on-the-Lake; phone (905) 684-7447. Within 45 miles of the city is John C. Munro Hamilton International Airport (YHM) in Hamilton; phone (905) 679-1999. Toronto Pearson International Airport (YYZ) is approximately 2 hours from Niagara Falls. For scheduling information for terminals 1 and 3, phone (416) 247-7678. Niagara Airbus provides shuttle service to Niagara Falls from both John C. Munro and Toronto Pearson airports; phone (905) 374-8111 or (800) 268-8111.
Street SystemTraffic in Niagara Falls can be heavy during the tourist season. The main thoroughfares, the Niagara Parkway and Falls Avenue, parallel the Niagara River. Such main streets as Clifton Hill, Victoria Avenue and Lundy's Lane run perpendicular to the falls.
ParkingParking is a problem in the main tourist areas of Niagara Falls, especially during the summer. If your accommodations are near the falls, it is a good idea to walk or take a bus to observation points. There are parking lots across from Table Rock and Rainbow Bridge. Cars with trailers and motor homes should use the Rapids View Parking Lot; the parking fee includes the shuttle. From Rapids View a free shuttle transports visitors to Table Rock. The Niagara Parks Parking Pass, available at any pay station, costs $25 per day and covers unlimited parking for one vehicle at nine prime parking lots. An annual pass is available for $50; phone the Falls Parking Office (905) 356-0943 or Rapidsview Welcome Centre (905) 357-7808 for information.
Public TransportationPublic transportation in Niagara Falls, Ontario, is by Niagara Transit Commission bus service. Bus routes connect all areas of the city. Fare is $2.75; $2.50 (ages 65+ and students ages 13-19 with ID); $1.50 (ages 6-12). Exact change is required (pennies are no longer accepted). The rechargeable i-Ride Pass Card is available, either for 10 rides or for a 30-day period; it’s available from the transportation services office at 8208 Heartland Forest Road and a number of convenience stores around town. The Niagara Transit terminal is at 4320 Bridge St.; phone (905) 356-1179.
The Niagara Parks Commission's WEGO bus system is an in-park public transportation service operating four routes: Green line along the Niagara Parkway between the Table Rock Welcome Centre and Queenston Heights Park and back; Blue line covering Fallsview, Victoria Centre, Clifton Hill and the Falls Avenue Resort; Red line to Lundy’s Lane; and Orange line from Queenston Heights to Niagara-on-the-Lake (early May-late October). Table Rock is the hub for all but the Orange line. Buses are spaced about 20 minutes apart. Service runs daily (weather permitting). Hours vary; phone ahead. A 24-hour pass is $7.50; ages 6-12, $4.50; and a 48-hour pass is $11.50; ages 6-12, $8. Passes are not only valid for 24 or 48 hours from the time they are first used but also until 3 a.m. on the following day. The trip to Niagara-on-the-lake costs $7 each way. The loop from the Rapids View Station parking area to the falls is free. Parking at Rapids View is $10 per private vehicle. Phone (905) 357-9340.
Elevation174 m/571 ft.
Sales TaxOntario's Harmonized Sales Tax is 13 percent.
Police (non-emergency)(905) 688-4111
Fire (non-emergency)(905) 356-1321
HospitalsGreater Niagara General Hospital, (905) 378-4647.
Visitor InformationGateway Niagara Information Centre 424 S. Service Rd. Grimsby, ON L3M 4E8. Phone:(905)945-6293
Niagara Falls Tourism 6815 Stanley Ave. Niagara Falls, ON L2G 3Y9. Phone:(905)356-6061 or (800)563-2557
Ontario Travel Information Centre 5535 Stanley Ave. Niagara Falls, ON L2E 7C2. Phone:(905)358-3221
Currency exchange centers in Niagara Parks are at Table Rock House and Queen Victoria Place. The Exchange House has locations at Rainbow Bridge and Queenston-Lewiston Bridge. Note: The legal drinking age in Niagara Falls, Ontario, is 19; the bars close Mon.-Sat. at 2 a.m., Sun. 11 p.m. The legal drinking age in Niagara Falls, N.Y., is 21; the bars close Sun.-Thurs. at 2 a.m., Fri.-Sat. at 3 a.m.
Air TravelFour commercial airports serve the Niagara Falls area. See Approaches by Plane for details.
Rental CarsHertz, (800) 654-3080, offers discounts to AAA members. For a complete list of agencies consult the telephone directory.
Rail ServiceVia Rail serves all parts of Canada as well as Buffalo, Windsor (opposite Detroit) and Sarnia (opposite Port Huron, Mich.). The station is at 4267 Bridge St.; phone (888) 842-7245.
BusesDaily service connects Niagara Falls with all parts of Canada and with principal cities in the United States. Coach Canada, in partnership with Megabus—phone (866) 488-4452—and Greyhound Lines Inc.—phone (905) 357-2133)—operate out of the terminal at 4555 Erie Ave.; phone (888) 438-6646.
TaxisNiagara Falls taxicabs operate on the meter system. The minimum charge is $3.50, plus $2.50 for each additional kilometre (.6 mi.). There is no extra charge for additional passengers. The meter is kept running while luggage is loaded and unloaded.
Major cab companies are 5-0 Taxi, (905) 358-3232; and Niagara Falls Taxi, (905) 357-4000. Consult the telephone directory for others.
What to Do in Niagara FallsThere are so many fun things to do on vacation here. First, sample the spectacular views along the Niagara Parkway from the Rainbow Bridge to Table Rock, and choose your favorite vantage point from which to observe the three waterfalls—American, Bridal Veil and Horseshoe—known collectively as Niagara Falls .
Stroll across the footbridge over the whirling American Rapids to the wooded Goat Island in Niagara Falls State Park (1 Prospect St.), New York's oldest state park, for an up-close look at the river as it plunges 184 feet into Niagara Gorge.
Cruise past the American and Bridal Veil falls with Hornblower Niagara Cruises , which can be found on the Canadian side from the dock at Clifton Hill and River Road; it'll be a drenching, deck-rocking rendezvous with the seething caldron of river water churned up at the base of the massive Horseshoe Falls.
Wander among the game-packed arcades, neon-lit souvenir shops, themed restaurants and carnival midway-style rides that crowd the Clifton Hill area, just a short walk from your best view of the American Falls. It's one of the most fun things to do with friends here.
Feel your spirits lift along with your body as you ride a glass-walled elevator to the top of Skylon Tower (5200 Robinson St.) for a fantastic bird's-eye view of the falls, the gorge and the countryside for miles around, including—on clear days—the skyscrapers of Buffalo and Toronto. The tower's revolving restaurant, a great place to eat, rotates 360 degrees in one hour, allowing for a myriad of views. Stock up on souvenirs and gifts at the tower shops. For the kids, there's Skyquest, an indoor arcade with rides, high-tech video games, foosball and air hockey.
Add some adventure travel to your trip with a hike along the scenic Niagara Gorge Rim Trail; it extends 6 miles north from the Horseshoe Falls through three state parks, connecting to seven other trails along the way.
Glide 250 feet above the slowly revolving whirlpool formed at a bend in the Niagara River and enjoy views of the churning rapids courtesy of steel cables supporting the Whirlpool Aero Car (3050 Niagara Pkwy.), a ride that has been safely carrying passengers between cliff edges since 1916.
Bask in the rainbow-hued glow of Niagara Falls at night when brilliant spotlights illuminate the roaring curtains of water, a sight that is accompanied by fireworks every night in summer. This mesmerizing after-dark delight is worth waiting for the sun to go down.
Inhale fragrant botanicals as you stroll through the exquisitely landscaped gardens at Queen Victoria Park on the Niagara Parkway. Plantings vary with the seasons, but in warm months, you'll likely see daffodils, lilacs and roses as well as cherry and magnolia trees. Then treat yourself to the relaxing and informative Horse & Carriage Rides at Queen Victoria Park (6345 Niagara Pkwy.), where you can rest your weary feet while your driver describes the entrancing surroundings.
At Bird Kingdom (5651 River Rd.), discover a completely different environment than the one outdoors. The tropical rainforest inside this former 1907 corset factory is the dwelling for more than 400 birds, who flit, fly and glide in a natural habitat that features a 40-foot waterfall.
Take a seat in a log cabin and enjoy a range of Canadian music, including maritime folk and pop, at Oh Canada Eh? Dinner Show (8585 Lundy's Ln.), where a hockey player, Anne of Green Gables or a Mountie serves you comfort food like Alberta Grade Eh? Roast Beef.
Niagara Falls Travel with Kids
Under 13The youngest members of your family will get a kick out of the arcades, miniature golf and bowling alley at Clifton Hill Fun by the Falls (4960 Clifton Hill). Kids whose ages are in the double digits will find laser tag and haunted houses a real scream. This outdoor amusement park covers three blocks and is even more fun at night when it’s lit up with flashing neon signs.
One of many fun things to do with children in Niagara Falls is hanging out with thousands of pretty feathery creatures at the Niagara Parks Butterfly Conservatory (2405 Niagara Pkwy.) Youngsters can’t resist reaching out to see if one of these delicate insects will use their hand as a landing pad.
A trip to Marineland (7657 Portage Rd.) will thrill the kiddos, with more than a dozen child-size rides for the under-10 set. The marine animal show provokes lots of oohs and aahs with the hilarious antics of dolphins, walruses and sea lions. Small fries can even feed and touch beluga whales.
If your trip to Marineland is near mealtime and you’re looking for nearby places to eat that serve home-style meals, take the family to Betty’s Restaurant (8921 Sodom Rd.). There’s a kid-pleasing children’s menu and ice cream is included with their meals. Betty’s has earned bragging rights when it comes to their incredible homemade pies, so treat yourself to a slice.
TeensNiagara Falls has been known to attract its share of daredevils over the years. Today, daredevils sometimes take the shape of fearless teenagers, and those teens will freak out when they see the Niagara SkyWheel (4950 Clifton Hill), an enormous Ferris wheel that stands 175 feet high and offers mind-blowing views of the area, including the world-renowned waterfalls.
Thrill-seeking adolescents will also find a ride on a Whirlpool Aero Car (3050 Niagara Pkwy.) exhilarating. Suspended from six interlocking steel cables, the open-air antique cars dangle 250 feet above the Niagara Gorge on a trip that’s guaranteed to quicken anyone’s pulse.
Kids who find museums boring will have a blast at Ripley's Believe It or Not! Museum (4960 Clifton Hill). The gross-out factor is high and things like shrunken heads and two-headed animals may be too shocking for young children, but most teens will eat this stuff up.
Costumed interpreters make learning about the War of 1812 fun at Fort George National Historic Site (51 Queens Parade) in nearby Niagara-on-the-Lake. Watch an uniformed reenactor amusingly demonstrate how to shoot a musket, peer into soldiers’ barracks and chat with reenactors cooking food over a hearth from original recipes; you can even try samples.
All AgesThere’s no feeling that compares to the sensation you get when you first see the American, Bridal Veil and Horseshoe falls; it’s simply breathtaking. If you want to blow your kids’ minds, take them for an unforgettable ride on a 700-passenger catamaran with Hornblower Niagara Cruises (5920 Niagara Pkwy.), where they’ll feel the mist of Horseshoe Falls as the boat approaches its base; they can keep the red ponchos that keep them dry (well, mostly) as a souvenir. For even more excitement, cruise at night when fireworks explode in the sky.
If the boat ride wasn’t enough fun for your young adventurers, make your next stop at Journey Behind the Falls (6650 Niagara Pkwy.), where they can slip on a yellow souvenir poncho, ride an elevator down to the base of Horseshoe Falls and walk through tunnels to get even closer (and wetter) than they had imagined. Kids will love to post pics from here on Instagram.
When tummies begin to growl, head straight to Antica Pizzeria & Ristorante (5785 Victoria Ave.), smack-dab in the middle of Clifton Hill and across from the Niagara Speedway. Get a window or patio seat and watch tourists from all over the globe walk by. The menu is typical Italian and gluten-free and whole-wheat pizza crusts can be had. The kids’ menu offers spaghetti, rigatoni or mini pizzas.
Shopping in Niagara FallsIf you want a Canadian souvenir, you won't need to look too hard for places to shop here. Niagara Falls has everything from T-shirts to haute couture. Almost every motel, restaurant and attraction has some token for sale. Most of the multitude of gift shops are privately owned, though some are run by The Niagara Parks Commission. Clifton Hill, with tree-lined brick walkways, is the main commercial street featuring stores of the souvenir variety.
The Niagara Parks Gift Shops, at Table Rock Point, Queen Victoria Place and other locations, sell a variety of Canadian-made merchandise. A full exchange always is paid on U.S. currency.
At the intersection of QEW and Lundy's Lane is Canada One Factory Outlets ; stores include Coach, Guess, Nike, Reebok, Tommy Hilfiger and Urban Planet.
For an interesting day of bargaining and browsing, visit the indoor-outdoor Factory Outlet Flea Market on Turner Crescent in St. Catharines, open every Sunday, 9-4:30; phone (905) 684-3066. It’s the largest of its kind in the region and includes antiques, paintings and all kinds of second-hand goods and clothes.
Go big at Souvenir City, a 15,000-square-foot storehouse of memorabilia, gifts and food. In addition to shopping, there are glass-blowing demonstrations and opportunities to pose for photos with carved Canadian icons, such as mounties and Souvenir City's moose.
Niagara Falls also has outlets carrying discontinued or irregular patterns and products. The Dansk Factory Outlet on Ferry Street offers china, cookware, glassware and candles at discounted prices.
Niagara Duty Free Shop, on Falls Avenue near the Rainbow Bridge, offers discounted china, jewelry, fragrances, clothing and other types of brand-name merchandise; services include pre-shopping, a GST rebate center and a currency exchange. Official currency exchange centers are available at the Skylon Tower on the main concourse level, 5200 Robinson St., and at Table Rock Point in Queen Victoria Park.
More than 100 big-name brands can be found in the Outlet Collection at Niagara in Niagara-on-the-Lake.
After all that shopping, you'll have worked up quite an appetite. If you're wondering where to eat, have lunch or dinner at the Hard Rock Cafe, 333 Prospect St., then stop by the Rock Shop for all kinds of rock and roll memorabilia; phone (716) 282-0007.
Niagara Falls Performing ArtsNiagara Falls is fortunate enough to be in the vicinity of the acclaimed Shaw Festival, held in Niagara-on-the-Lake only a short distance away via the scenic Niagara Parkway. The plays of George Bernard Shaw and his contemporaries are presented at the festival from early April to early November. Performances are held Tuesday through Sunday in four theaters: the Court House and Royal George theatres, both on Queen Street, and the Festival Theatre and Studio Theatre, both on Queen's Parade.
The Niagara Parks Commission sponsors concerts in outdoor band shells and an amphitheater. Free concerts are held from June through August across from the falls.
Across the border in Lewiston, N.Y., drama, musicals, operas, dances and concerts are held during the summer in the amphitheater at Artpark.
Niagara Falls Sports and RecreationFor those who are adventure travel enthusiasts, Niagara Falls is a fun place to go on vacation. Recreation in Niagara Falls centers on the 1,325 hectares (3,724 acres) of parkland that are meticulously cared for by The Niagara Parks Commission. Included in the park system are the scenic Niagara Parkway and its companion Niagara River Recreational Trail, golf courses, gardens, restaurants, a marina and several attractions.
Across from The Niagara Parks Botanical Gardens, visitors can descend stairs at the Niagara Glen to trails in a “dry gorge,” enjoying views of the whirlpool and rapids along the way. One of Ontario's longest trails, the Bruce Trail, intersects the Niagara River Recreational Trail at Queenston Heights Park.
Opportunities for bird-watching abound in the Niagara Glen, but visitors should note that some trails are steep and climbing is necessary. Less strenuous nature trails are found at Dufferin Islands, 2 kilometres (1.2 mi.) south of the falls, where bird-watching is a popular pastime.
Those who love the outdoors can go camping in eight designated campgrounds within a reasonable distance from the falls.
A popular activity on certain sections of the Niagara River and in several parks along the river is fishing. Trout, salmon and bass are prized catches, and fishing contests are held periodically in the summer.
In summer, boating and water skiing enthusiasts head for the upper Niagara River, a safe distance away from the rapids and the falls. Several launching ramps are along the river just off the Niagara Parkway, and the Miller's Creek Marina is south of Miller's Creek Park.
Golf season in Ontario runs from April through October, and Niagara Falls, with several public courses, provides ample opportunity for golfers to indulge themselves. There are nine-hole courses at the Queenston Golf Club, 269 Progressive Ave., and at St. David's Golf Club, 22 Paxton Ln. Golfers have their choice of either nine- or 18-hole courses at Niagara Falls Golf Club, 6169 Garner Rd., and at Oaklands Golf Course, 8970 Stanley Ave. S.
The Niagara Parks Commission offers golfers the Niagara Parks Golf Trail, featuring the seven top courses along 15 kilometres (9 mi.) of the scenic Niagara Parkway beginning in the north near Queenston Heights and running south to the village of Chippawa. The largest of the sites, and also the southernmost, is Legends on the Niagara, which has two 18-hole courses. The 18-hole Whirlpool Golf Course is south of Queenston Heights. Other courses are Beechwood Golf & Country Club at 4680 Thorold Townline; Grand Niagara Golf Club at 8547 Grassy Brook Road; Royal Niagara Golf Club, in Niagara-on-the-Lake; John Daly’s Thundering Waters Golf Club at 6000 Marineland Parkway; and Seneca Hickory Stick Golf in Lewiston, NY. For additional information or for reservations phone (866) 752-9648.
The Niagara Parks System offers plenty of fun places to go for a picnic. Popular picnicking spots include Kings Bridge Park, 4 kilometres (2.5 mi.) south of the falls, and Queenston Heights Park, 11 kilometres (7 mi.) north of the falls. Both have picnic tables, covered pavilions, playgrounds and children's splash pads. Queenston Heights also has tennis courts and offers a view of Niagara's vineyards, while the upper river can be seen from Kings Bridge. Horse racing is conducted at the Fort Erie Race Track on the QEW near the Peace Bridge from May through September; phone (905) 871-3200 or (800) 295-3770.
Note: Policies concerning admittance of children to pari-mutuel betting facilities vary. Phone for information.
Niagara Falls SightseeingOf all the fun things to do in Niagara Falls, sightseeing is probaby the most popular. The city's enterprising businesspeople make sure that visitors can view the falls from every conceivable vantage point—from the air, from a boat, from a tower, from a bridge—and most are worth the effort.
Because of parking congestion in the vicinity of the falls and Clifton Hill, it is advisable to sightsee by bus or on foot. A people-mover system provides transportation for the 11 kilometres (7 mi.) between Queen Victoria Park and Queenston. See for details and for other transportation options.
Bus ToursDouble Deck Tours offers four-hour excursions aboard a double-decker bus. Trips depart at 11 a.m., April through mid-October, and cost $76.15; $47.88 (ages 6-12). Phone (905) 374-7423.
Sightseeing and winery tours are offered by Niagara Airbus, (905) 374-8111. Hotels and motels also offer sightseeing tours.
Driving ToursIf you're taking a road trip with your pals, make the Niagara Parkway part of your trip. Iit's a fun thing to do with friends, especially if you pack a picnic lunch. One of Ontario's most scenic drives, the parkway runs 56 kilometres (35 mi.) between Fort Erie and Niagara-on-the-Lake, paralleling the Niagara River, the falls and expanses of landscaped parkland. Picnic spots, golf courses, gardens and many other attractions border this drive. In the 1940s Winston Churchill described this as “the prettiest Sunday afternoon drive in the world.”
Best Attractions in Niagara FallsIn a destination with dozens of attractions, you may have trouble deciding where to spend your time. Here are the highlights for Niagara Falls as chosen by AAA editors. GEMs are “Great Experiences for Members.”
By Frank Swanson
The awesome sight of water from four of the five Great Lakes pouring over a 170-foot-high precipice at the rate of 600,000 gallons a second has fascinated visitors to Niagara Falls for well over a century. Unsurprisingly, most attractions on both the fall's Ontario and New York sides focus on this natural wonder—and most are AAA GEMs. If you can manage it, try to get to all of them on your vacation.
If Niagara Falls were an award-winning play, then Niagara Falls State Park would be a front-row seat. No other spot allows you to get as close to the brinks of all three falls: Terrapin Point on Goat Island overlooks the Horseshoe Falls, and tiny Luna Island sits between the American and Bridal Veil Falls. Paths wind within woodlands and along both the American and Horseshoe rapids as well as the Niagara Gorge's rim on either side of Rainbow Bridge.
Across the border, Queen Victoria Park offers a more formal, manicured version of its wilder American counterpart. The falls are at their most picturesque from this angle thanks to a sharp turn in the river. Strategically located benches dot the park's broad lawns, which are bordered by trees, shrubs and seasonal flower beds. Old-fashioned street lamps enhance the area's charm, as do the horse-drawn carriages passing along Niagara Parkway.
The Maid of the Mist departs from docks on either side of the river for a brief voyage past the American and Bridal Veil falls into the spray-filled basin at the foot of the Horseshoe Falls (Note: On the Canadian side, the attraction is called Hornblower Niagara Cruises). Thundering sheets of water nearly surround you when you're this close, so you'll want to wear one of the free plastic rain ponchos distributed by the crew. The alternative is sopping wet clothing.
Speaking of wet, the only way to get closer to the falls would be to step into them, which is exactly what you do at the Cave of the Winds Tour with the help of an elevator down to the river and a boardwalk at the base of the Bridal Veil Falls. Water actually splashes across sections of the boardwalk, which is why you receive rubber sandals after buying your ticket.
Similarly, Journey Behind the Falls on the Canadian side transports visitors down through 150 feet of rock to an outside observation platform. Tunnels lead to portals where the attraction lives up to its name by offering views from behind the thunderous Horseshoe Falls. Just a couple miles downstream on the Canadian side is White Water Walk, which takes visitors via elevator down into the gorge—in this case arriving at a 1,000-foot-long pathway along the Niagara River's white-water rapids.
If being packed into an elevator gives you the heebie-jeebies, then the nearby Whirlpool Aero Car might be your cup of tea. This Canadian open-air gondola carries passengers from one cliff to another while the river's whirlpool lazily turns 250 feet below.
You're also unlikely to feel claustrophobic riding in the glass-walled elevator up to the observation deck in Skylon Tower —though you might experience a touch of vertigo. The unmistakable profile of this Niagara Falls landmark, a 525-foot-tall concrete mast that flares toward its base, dominates the skyline on the Canadian side. The panorama from the outdoor observation deck is unforgettable.
On the American side, 260-foot Prospect Point Observation Tower would stand out more if its base weren't inside the Niagara Gorge. As it is, less than half its height juts above the gorge's rim, yet its proximity to the American Falls combined with an observation deck that projects out over the river commands a superb view of all three falls.
You can enjoy very different views of the gorge downstream at Power Vista, perched atop the massive Robert Moses Niagara Power Plant near Lewiston, New York. Filled with kid-friendly exhibits that explain power generation, this visitor center has a large observation deck from which you'll see no fewer than three gargantuan concrete-and-steel power plants: the Robert Moses, and the Sir Adam Beck I and II on the Ontario side.
Other attractions have sprung up catering to tourists who have somehow had enough of Niagara Falls' spectacular scenery. On the Canadian side, the Clifton Hill Fun by the Falls complex—within sight of the falls—is largely about carnival-style amusements and attention-grabbing themed restaurants. Anchoring the boisterous fun here are the Niagara SkyWheel and Ripley's Believe It or Not! Museum, part of the chain famous for its collection of oddities. Statue of Liberty made of matchsticks? Check. Kitten born with two faces? Check. Three-thousand-year-old mummified falcon? Check. In recognition of its location, one museum exhibit recounts the exploits of Blondin, the 19th-century tightrope walker who crossed over Niagara Falls carrying a man on his back.
Also on the Canadian side, Marineland displays a dual personality. On the one hand it's an animal park with exhibits like Friendship Cove, where you can see killer whales up close from below the water as well as above, and Arctic Cove, where you can touch and even feed beluga whales. On the other hand, Marineland offers theme park-style rides, including the Sky Screamer tower drop and the Dragon Mountain rollercoaster.
Though somewhat removed from Niagara Falls, consider visiting Old Fort Niagara State Historic Site in Youngstown, N.Y. French, British and American flags have flown over this strategic position where the Niagara River meets Lake Ontario. Take the self-guiding tour and you can tramp along the wide, brick-reinforced earthwork walls, climb up one of two squat towers called redoubts and enter the fort's centerpiece: the “French Castle,” a formidable three-story stone citadel built in 1726.
Also within the New York vicinity lies Lockport, where you can board the Lockport Locks and Erie Canal Cruises for a 2-hour round-trip journey on the historic Erie Canal. You'll float through original sections of the 19th-century waterway, which was dug by hand to connect the Hudson and Niagara rivers. A highlight of the narrated trip: passing through locks that raise and lower boats to compensate for the Niagara Escarpment's 50-foot elevation change.
See all the AAA recommended attractions for this destination.
Best Restaurants in Niagara FallsOur favorites include some of this destination's best restaurants—from fine dining to simple fare.
By Inspector 48
as told to Frank Swanson
The Red Coach Inn has stood guard over the Niagara River rapids since 1923. This historic English Tudor-style B&B features one of Niagara Falls' oldest and best dining establishments: The Red Coach Inn Restaurant. Warm up to a delicious meal in the Grill Room with its natural stone fireplace or relax and unwind with a book or a cocktail in the Fireside Room. Open seasonally, the patio offers the best view of the rapids. Whether you're in the mood for seafood delivered fresh from Boston or succulent prime rib, a relaxing meal awaits at this historic landmark.
Michael's Italian Restaurant on Pine Avenue is a stand-out for Italian-American cuisine. This small bistro diner serves consistently great Italian comfort food made from family recipes. You'll have a difficult time making up your mind when faced with the menu's myriad choices; there are more than 45 sandwich combinations alone. The mainstay pastas—lasagna, gnocchi, rigatoni, and linguine—are all offered with your choice of well-balanced sauces and accompaniments. Michael's beans and greens are some of the best, and everything comes in belly-busting portions. Come early or be prepared to wait, although even a long wait at this popular local restaurant would be worthwhile.
Within a half-hour drive from Niagara Falls, you have the much larger choice of restaurants offered by Buffalo. Although there are too many to list here, one in particular is worth a visit: Anchor Bar & Restaurant, birthplace of the Buffalo chicken wing. Inside the 70-year-old landmark the décor is eclectic: Harley-Davidson memorabilia mixed with family portraits and photos of celebrity diners. Patrons chow down on more than a ton of spicy chicken wings every day; all servings come with a few celery sticks—to keep up the pretense of healthy greens—along with a side of cooling blue cheese dip. A few dos and don'ts: Do forget the diet; do bring a big appetite; do try the Suicidal Wings (but at your own risk); don't wear a white shirt or any dry-clean-only outfit; and do dig in with both hands and enjoy what are undeniably the best wings on the planet.
Back in Niagara Falls, on the Ontario side of the river, two restaurants combine good food with outstanding views of the falls. The dining room at Elements on the Falls Restaurant directly overlooks the Horseshoe Falls and offers a relaxed family-oriented setting. The menu at this popular tourist pick operated by the Niagara Parks Commission features traditional fare such as prime rib, steaks and seafood enhanced with fresh local and regional ingredients. The views are wonderful, especially each evening when the falls are lit with colorful lights.
The second restaurant offering stunning views of the falls sits high atop the landmark Skylon Tower, an attraction first-time visitors won't want to miss. Because it's the only revolving restaurant in the area, The Skylon Tower Dining Rooms is an attraction on its own and is one of the most fun things to do here. In season it's a very popular choice, so expect a bustling ambience with some close table spacing. The menu features such traditional fare as prime rib, steaks and seafood. As with most revolving restaurants, you pay a premium for the view and the ambience, but you are sure to have a memorable dining experience.
A short walk away from Skylon Tower, just off attraction-packed Clifton Hill, is the ever-popular Mama Mia's. No trip to Niagara is complete without a visit to this well-established, casual Italian eatery, which offers excellent value to diners—a plus in this busy tourist area. Fresh home-style cooking featuring such old-time favorites as spaghetti and meatballs, lasagna and homemade ravioli keep both tourists and locals coming back. The décor is comfortable and inviting, and the central location makes it convenient to stroll down to the falls after a hearty meal.
A couple miles south of the falls, Betty's Restaurant offers the perfect place to escape the tourist frenzy and get some good, down-home cooking. Well-known for its fish and chips, Betty's has a loyal local following and is a good value for tourists. It offers a simple diner-style setting and friendly, personable service.
About a half-hour drive north of the falls is the picturesque town of Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario. If you decide to take this worthwhile side trip, be sure to visit The Olde Angel Inn, a historic pub embodying the charm and local character the town is known for. There's even talk of a resident ghost. You're likely to find locals at the casual bar sipping their pints of beer alongside a mix of tourists from all over the world. The restaurant offers a fine assortment of pub fare including fish and chips and ploughman's lunch as well as a more substantial dinner menu available in the back dining rooms. Arrive at the right time of year, and you can enjoy selections from the “peach menu,” which lists an interesting mix of dishes using fresh-picked Niagara peaches.
Any visit to the Niagara region should include a drive through scenic wine country to experience the wonderful variety of local wines. A perfect way to cap off this day trip is a meal at Peller Estates Winery Restaurant, a fine dining establishment that enjoys an outstanding setting with spectacular views. The chef here has created an innovative tasting menu featuring dishes paired with the vineyard's extensive wine selection. Because Peller Estates is popular with visitors and groups, make reservations and expect a sometimes boisterous atmosphere as fellow diners delight in the wine.
Nearby, acres of vineyards surround the elegant Riverbend Inn & Vineyard Restaurant , the perfect choice for a refined meal. In season you can enjoy spectacular outdoor dining on a large terrace in a quieter setting than the ever-popular winery restaurants. The dining room is located within a country inn featuring fine artwork and elegant chandeliers. The chef has created a menu that highlights fresh local and regional cuisine to complement the local wines.
See all the AAA Diamond rated restaurants for this destination.
Niagara Falls EventsIn addition to its many cultural and historic landmarks, this destination hosts a number of outstanding festivals and events that may coincide with your visit.
Celebrate the winter season by enjoying a variety of award-winning Ontario icewines during the Niagara Icewine Festival . The January event in St. Catharines features events at area wineries including galas, food and wine pairings, wine and cheese seminars, and winery tours.
If you're a theater lover, head to nearby Niagara-on-the-Lake , Ontario, for the Shaw Festival , an event showcasing the plays of George Bernard Shaw, but also including the work of his contemporaries and plays set during Shaw's long lifetime: 1856-1950. The season lasts from April through November and draws around 270,000 theatergoers annually to three downtown venues.
In mid-to-late September, the Ontario town of St. Catharines celebrates the industry with the Grape & Wine Festival , an event during which connoisseurs and others enjoy tours and tastings offered by more than 30 area wineries. Entertainment, parades, wine appreciation seminars and a gourmet food fair round out the festival's schedule.
In late October, nearly 3,000 runners compete in a 26.2-mile footrace from Buffalo, N.Y., to Niagara Falls, Ontario, during Niagara Falls International Marathon .
Perhaps the area's most popular happening with well over a million attendees is the Winter Festival of Lights , an event held from early November through January. Nightly fireworks along with nighttime parades, concerts and stage shows round out the entertainment, and everything happens against the backdrop of the beautifully illuminated falls.
The Winter Festival of Lights reaches a boisterous and nationally televised crescendo with New Year's Eve in the Park , a free outdoor concert held in Queen Victoria Park . Of course a fireworks spectacular heralds the New Year's arrival.
See all the AAA recommended events for this destination.
Niagara Parks PassesThe Niagara Parks Commission Passes provide savings for guests interested in visiting several Niagara Falls attractions.
The Niagara Falls Adventure Pass Classic includes admission to four attractions—Hornblower Niagara Cruises, Journey Behind the Falls, Niagara's Fury and White Water Walk—as well as two days of transportation on the WEGO. The Niagara Falls Adventure Pass Nature includes admission to four attractions—Hornblower Niagara Cruises, Whirlpool Aero Car, Floral Showhouse and Butterfly Conservatory—as well as two days WEGO transportation. The passes also include coupons, including discount tickets for the Whirlpool Aero Car, Niagara Parks Butterfly Conservatory and Niagara Heritage Trail sites: Old Fort Erie, The Laura Secord Homestead, McFarland House and Mackenzie Printery. The passport is available mid-April through early November. Fee per pass $65; ages 6-12, $43. The Niagara Falls Adventure Pass Plus includes admission to seven attractions—Hornblower Niagara Cruises, Journey Behind the Falls, Whirlpool Aero Car, White Water Walk, Butterfly Conservatory, Floral Showhouse and Niagara's Fury— as well as two days WEGO transportation, two days of Falls Incline Railway trips and discount coupons. Fee $90; $59 (ages 6-12).
Niagara's Changing FaceBy Frank Swanson
The relentless forces that carved 7-mile-long Niagara Gorge and gave Niagara Falls its current photogenic shape are still at work today. For the most part change comes gradually—occurring over hundreds and thousands of years—but every now and then the process turns violent as undermined rock strata yield in a sudden, landscape-altering instant.
One storied Niagara attraction that fell victim to the ever-shifting rock was the Great Gorge Route, a round-trip electric trolley ride that descended into the gorge at Niagara Falls and followed the river just a few feet from the violently churning whirlpool rapids before emerging at Lewiston, N.Y., where it crossed the bridge into Ontario. From there the tracks ran along the cliff verge back to Niagara Falls.
The views from the open-air cars were spectacular, and the excitement generated by such a remarkable engineering feat made the route a tourist draw in itself. But rockslides plagued the tracks on the American side from the beginning, and as automobile travel grew in popularity, the Great Gorge Route became less and less profitable. Finally, when a particularly large avalanche destroyed the rail bed near the Whirlpool Bridge in 1935, the line ceased operations.
An even more destructive rockslide occurred in 1956 when the cliff wall behind the 19th-century Schoellkopf Power Station collapsed, taking most of the station with it. Amazingly, of the 40 men working in the building at the time, only one perished. Look closely at the area just north of the Rainbow Bridge's American end, and you can see vestiges of the station's 100-year-old brick walls.
Another rockslide made headlines 2 years earlier when tourists noticed a large crack in the Prospect Point observation area next to the American Falls. Within hours a huge section of the point—nearly 200,000 tons of rock—plummeted into the gorge. Engineers later blasted several more tons away to stabilize the area.
If you've ever taken the Cave of the Winds Tour and wondered, “What cave?” you're not alone. A natural cave behind the falls once existed, but instability forced its closure in 1920, and the 1954 Prospect Point rock fall and subsequent dynamiting removed its last traces. Likewise, the landmark stone ledge on the Canadian side known as Table Rock fell away in huge chunks throughout the 1800s, and in 1935 its remnants were deemed unsafe and sheered off with explosives.
After the dramatic 1954 avalanche changed the face of the American Falls, public fears that erosion would obliterate the falls entirely led the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to undertake an extraordinary project: divert the Niagara River and shut the falls off. For several months in 1969, the American and Bridal Veil falls were temporarily “dewatered” as geologists studied the exposed riverbed to see how erosion could be minimized. Since then engineers have installed steel rods, cables and bolts to strengthen the rock and drilled holes to relieve water pressure. Instruments around Luna Island and Prospect and Terrapin points now measure rock movement to avoid further surprises.
And slowing erosion at the falls even more: the tremendous volume of water both Ontario and New York divert to produce electricity. During the summer tourist season, 50 percent of the river's flow bypasses the falls, and in winter that number increases to 75 percent. Before water was rerouted, the falls receded a few feet every year; now erosion is measured in inches.
At that rate, you'll be able to snap photos of Niagara Falls for another 50,000 years, give or take a millennium.
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