Thundering waters, heavy mist, and sheer power often come to mind when people think of Niagara Falls. The iconic waterfalls are a stunning sight- some might even say they’re pretty as a postcard. However, the surrounding area is rarely included in that pretty postcard image. Highrise hotels loom overhead and nearby streets are inundated with chain restaurants, tacky haunted houses, dinosaur-themed mini putt courses, and countless other gaudy attractions- all of which take away from the natural beauty of The Falls.
I was born and raised in the Niagara Region; only a 15 minute drive from the famous waterfalls. Even though this popular landmark is basically in my backyard, the beauty and power of Niagara Falls still manages to impress me. However, the surrounding area is rife with commercialism and is a perfect example of tourism gone wrong.
I don’t want to deter anyone from visiting, but I do want to warn potential visitors in advance so they know exactly what to expect when they arrive. Despite the garish and overpriced attractions nearby, I believe Niagara Falls is something that you should see at least once in your lifetime.
I’ve put together the following tips to help you make the most out of your visit, along with the best attractions (in my opinion), restaurant recommendations, a few accommodation options, and more.
Hornblower Niagara Cruises (formerly the Maid of the Mist)
Despite the expensive price tag ($19.95), this boat tour is the best and most iconic way to experience the power of The Falls. The ride is about 20 minutes long and a tacky poncho is also included to keep you (somewhat) dry when you get up close the Falls.
(The Maid of the Mist still runs from the American side only.)
Journey Behind the Falls
This attraction takes you through tunnels and eventually out to a large observation platform which will give you an alternative view of the Falls from below and behind.
The Botanical Gardens
Walk through 99 acres of gardens free of charge.
Located 2 kilometres South of the Falls, these man-made islands offer 10 acres of secluded parkland. It’s the perfect spot for a picnic or to escape the hustle and bustle of the Falls.
This activity is very pricey (roughly $130 for a 12 minute ride), but you are guaranteed a beautiful and unique view of The Falls.
Hike the Bruce Trail
At almost 900 kilometres long, this is Canada’s oldest and longest marked trail which runs along the Escarpment. You can hike a portion of the trail starting in Queenston Heights Park- only a 15 minute drive from Niagara Falls.
This busy street is located within the main tourist area of the city and is the most visually assaulting section near The Falls. Imagine the most tacky, most over-commercialized, and most obnoxious parts of the Vegas Strip and Times Square in NYC, and then put them side by side on one street, and you have Clifton Hill. There is not one single attraction on this street that I would recommend.
You probably wouldn’t want to visit Marineland unless you were traveling with kids, but I am begging anyone and everyone to avoid this place. Not only is the park out-dated, run down, and expensive, but there have been countless accusations of animal neglect and mistreatment. This park has deer (in a pen with concrete floor and no shade or water), bears (cramped together in a small area), dolphins, beluga whales, sea lions, and the only captive killer whale in Canada– all of which are clearly being exploited for nothing more that profit. Unless you want to join in on one of the protests that take place outside of the park’s front gate on a monthly basis, stay far, far away.
White Water Walk
This attraction allows you to walk along a boardwalk beside the Niagara River with a view of the Whirlpool Rapids. I would instead recommend hiking along the Niagara River in an area called the Niagara Glen Nature Reserve. It will be more of a challenging hike compared to White Water Walk, but it’s a beautiful, natural area and there is no cost.
This is a 4D movie about how the Falls was created, complete with a moving platform and fake wind, rain, and snow that pelts the audience. Unless you are traveling with small kids, you will find it cheesy and overpriced.
The Skylon Tower
There is a great view of the Falls from the Skylon Towers 775 foot observation deck, but I don’t think it’s worth the $13 entrance fee. There is also wire fencing around the outdoor observation area which makes it difficult to properly photograph the Falls.
The restaurants in Niagara Falls are similar to the attractions- over-commercialized and overpriced. American owned chain restaurants dominate the area nearby The Falls, but there are alternative options. Here are a few that I would recommend:
This restaurant has authentic and delicious Greek cuisine.
This is an Italian restaurant with excellent wood oven and authentic Neapolitan style pizza.
- Canyon Creek
A steak house also offering a variety of options on the menu.
This is an all-you-can-eat sushi and Thai restaurant with quality food.
- Syndicate Restaurant
‘Farm to Table’ is their motto and they offer a 3-course dinner for $22.
Inexpensive and tasty pizza and other Italian offerings.
*Click here for a more extensive list of restaurants categorized by price range.
Bars & Nightlife
Niagara Falls doesn’t boast the greatest nightlife, but there a few good spots to relax with a cocktail and a view of the Falls.
The Spicy Olive
This is a nice little spot for appetizers, fairly reasonably priced drinks, and live music.
Falls and Firkin (Inside the Fallsview Casino Resort)
The Falls and Firkin is a cozy pub-style restaurant and is the perfect place to have a casual drink.
R5 (Inside the Fallsview Casino Resort)
This modern and contemporary lounge has a great view of the Falls. Cocktails are on the pricey side, though.
Myst Lounge (Inside the Hilton Fallsview Hotel)
I would only recommend this place because it has a great view of the Falls and live music every Friday and Saturday night. However, the menu is very expensive, so only visit if you want to have a cocktail or two while taking in the view.
I’ve stayed at a few hotels in Niagara Falls, including the Crowne Plaza Hotel, the Fallsview Casino Hotel, The Marriott Gateway on the Falls, and the Sheraton on the Falls. These hotels (and any others boasting a ‘Fallsview’) come with a hefty price tag- expect to pay over $200 per night during the high season.
The Crowne Plaza is a beautiful hotel built in 1929 and has a great view of the Falls. Many famous guests have stayed at this hotel including, Marilyn Monroe, Walt Disney, Queen Elizabeth, and Sylvester Stallone.
The Marriott Gateway on the Falls and the Sheraton the Falls are both clean, comfortable, and typical chain-style properties. The Marriott has been recently renovated and has the best view of The Falls (in comparison to the other hotels I’ve stayed at.)
Consider the Off Season
The summer months are when you will encounter the biggest crowds, so visit between November and May to avoid lineups and inflated prices. The only downside to the off season is colder and less pleasant weather.
In my opinion, you really only need a day or two at most to see Niagara Falls. I would highly recommend spending a day in Niagara Falls and then staying another day (or two) in nearby Niagara-on-the-Lake.
Niagara-on-the-Lake has everything that Niagara Falls lacks- quaintness, charm, and peace and quiet. The attractions and events work to enhance and showcase the natural beauty of the area, instead of distracting from it.
The Best Attractions in Niagara-on-the-Lake
Canada is not exactly known for or recognized by its wines, but Niagara-on-the-Lake is one of the best places in the country to sample it. This area is the worlds largest producer of Icewine- a very sweet dessert wine.
My recommendations: Ravine, Southbrook, Jackson-Triggs, Colaneri
The Niagara Parkway
This stretch of road runs from Niagara-on-the-Lake to Niagara Falls and beyond. It’s beside the Niagara River and offers a very scenic route to walk, bike, or drive.
Whirlpool Jet Boat Tours
This one hour thrilling boat ride will take you up the Niagara River and into Devil’s Hole- which has class 5 rapids and 4 to 6 metre waves. Bring a change of clothes because you will be drenched from head to toe.