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Niagara Falls, ON

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.

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Niagara Falls, ON

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Hilton Hotel & Suites Niagara Falls/Fallsview

6361 Fallsview Blvd. Niagara Falls, ON L2G 3V9

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Best Western Plus Cairn Croft Hotel

6400 Lundy's Ln. Niagara Falls, ON L2G 1T6

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Sheraton on the Falls

5875 Falls Ave. Niagara Falls, ON L2G 3K7

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Marriott Niagara Falls Fallsview Hotel & Spa

6740 Fallsview Blvd. Niagara Falls, ON L2G 3W6

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Travel Information

City Population

82,997

Elevation

174 m/571 ft.

Sales Tax

Ontario's Harmonized Sales Tax is 13 percent.

Emergency

911

Police (non-emergency)

(905) 688-4111

Fire (non-emergency)

(905) 356-1321

Weather

(905) 562-3409

Hospitals

Greater Niagara General Hospital, (905) 378-4647.

Visitor Information

424 S. Service Rd. Grimsby, ON L3M 4E8. Phone:(905)945-6293

Air Travel

Four commercial airports serve the Niagara Falls area. See Approaches by Plane for details.

Rental Cars

Hertz, (800) 654-3080, offers discounts to AAA members. For a complete list of agencies consult the telephone directory.

Rail Service

Via 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.

Buses

Daily 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.

Taxis

Niagara 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.

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