Queen Street, Niagara on the Lake

Niagara Falls vs Niagara-on-the-Lake: All You Need to Know

Trying to decide whether to visit Niagara-on-the-Lake or Niagara Falls? Or do you have time to see both, but you’re not sure where to stay? 

The short answer? It depends.

If you’re travelling with kids or teens, you’ll find there’s more to see and do in Niagara Falls.

If you want to escape the crowds, kick back with a glass of wine, and stay at a quaint bed and breakfast, you’ll love Niagara-on-the-Lake.

Like I said, it really depends on so many different factors. 

What’s your travel style? Who are you travelling with? How long are you visiting? 

To help you decide, I’ll dive deeper into both destinations in this post, including the main differences, the pros and cons, and how to visit Niagara Falls and Niagara-on-the-Lake in one trip.

A quick FYI: I’m a Niagara local. I was born and raised in the region and worked at a tourism office in Niagara-on-the-Lake for five years—so I’d like to think you can trust my advice 😉.

What’s the difference between Niagara Falls and Niagara-on-the-Lake?

Niagara Falls, Ontario is a city with the famous waterfalls known as Niagara Falls (which is actually a group of three separate waterfalls).

Although a natural attraction is the city’s main draw, everything surrounding the waterfalls is the opposite of natural.

Most attractions and must-visit spots are in a highly commercialized tourist hub filled with chain restaurants, casinos, high-rise hotels, and tacky souvenir stores. (I’m a local and I always like to warn people about this side of the city.) 

If you’ve never been to Niagara Falls, adjust your expectations. Yes, the waterfalls are amazing, but the rest of the city is loud, brash, and horribly gaudy in certain areas.

That being said, seeing the waterfalls up close is an incredible experience—and there are so many different ways to do that. Niagara City Cruises (Hornblower), Journey Behind the Falls, and the Niagara Parks Power Station are a few of my favourites.

If you’re visiting from the US, think about the difference between Las Vegas and Martha’s Vineyard. It’s a similar comparison to Niagara Falls and Niagara-on-the-Lake.

Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario is a picturesque town located 25 kilometres (15.5 miles) from Niagara Falls, where the Niagara River meets Lake Ontario. 

The downtown core (or historic old town) is the main hub of restaurants, shops, hotels, and 19th-century attractions.

This area is ridiculously charming; it has flawlessly manicured gardens and floral displays, beautiful colonial-style architecture, and well-preserved heritage homes. 

Basically, you’ll feel like you’ve stepped into a storybook or a Hallmark movie (I’m pretty sure a Hallmark movie or two has been filmed here actually).

Prince of Wales Hotel, Niagara on the Lake

Unlike Niagara Falls, natural and historic attractions take centre stage here. Independent shops, farm-to-table eateries, roadside fruit stands, and vineyards all add to the town’s charm and appeal.

Beyond the historic old town, this area is mostly farmland and vineyards. Since wineries are the main draw, Niagara-on-the-Lake tends to attract a more mature crowd.

Is it better to stay in Niagara Falls or Niagara-on-the-Lake?

If seeing the waterfalls is your main reason for visiting and you want to be close to all the action, I’d recommend staying in Niagara Falls.

If you want to get away from the hustle and bustle and only spend a few hours visiting the waterfalls, consider staying in NOTL.

Again, this will come down to your personal preferences. Here are a few key things to consider:

Travel style

Do you want to stay at a big-name hotel and see the falls when you look out your window? Or would you prefer to stay in a boutique inn or bed and breakfast surrounded by vineyards?

Are you travelling with kids and looking for lots of things to do for different ages? Or do you want to relax, eat good food, and explore Niagara’s wine scene?

For the most part, Niagara Falls is typically the first choice for families, younger kids, and larger groups. 

Niagara-on-the-Lake is usually better suited to mature visitors, couples, and smaller groups.

Budget

In terms of prices, both destinations are fairly expensive, especially during the high-season summer months. 

In Niagara Falls, you’ll pay a premium for any hotel with a view of the falls. Most hotels also charge extra for parking, which can range anywhere from $35 – $50+ per day. 

Restaurants are extremely overpriced in the tourist hub close to the falls. (But you can keep it budget-friendly with my favourite hidden gem restaurants.)

Hotels are also generally pricey in Niagara-on-the-Lake. Most accommodations here are small boutique hotels with a limited number of rooms. 

Your best bet is to explore bed and breakfasts, Airbnbs, and hotels further away from the historic centre for more budget-friendly options.

Attractions

In Niagara Falls, some of the most popular attractions are Journey Behind the Falls, the Niagara City Cruises (Hornblower) boat tour, White Water Walk, the Whirlpool Aero Car, and the Niagara Parks Power Station.

There’s also the Butterfly Conservatory, WildPlay Zipline, the Whirlpool Jet Boat Tours, and Clifton Hill (which I personally recommend avoiding). 

In the evenings, you can watch free fireworks displays over the falls or check out different entertainment options at the city’s bars, lounges, and casinos.

The top things to do in Niagara-on-the-lake include wineries, shops, restaurants, historic landmarks, and live theatre performances. 

During the day, you can join a winery tour, walk or bike along the Niagara Parkway, explore historic attractions like Fort George, or stroll through the historic town centre.

Beyond a few pubs, the Shaw Festival, and Fort George ghost tours, there’s not a whole lot to do after dark in NOTL. It’s much quieter in the evenings here compared to Niagara Falls.

How far is Niagara Falls from Niagara-on-the-Lake?

Niagara-on-the-Lake is roughly a 25-minute drive from Niagara Falls, so you can definitely see both destinations during your visit (depending on how long you’re staying, of course).

I wouldn’t recommend trying to visit both if you’re only in Niagara for one day.

If you’re staying in Niagara Falls and want to visit Niagara-on-the-Lake, I’d recommend spending at least a half-day in NOTL to explore the historic old town and a winery or two. 

If you want to join a guided wine tour (which is typically around 3 or 4 hours), I’d plan to spend a full day in Niagara-on-the-Lake.

Shaw Cafe, Niagara on the Lake

Getting from Niagara Falls to Niagara-on-the-Lake

The easiest way to travel between Niagara Falls and NOTL is by car.

Although it’s not the fastest route, I’d recommend taking the Niagara River Parkway—a scenic road that runs parallel to the Niagara River. 

Along the way, you can visit fruit stands, wineries, and historic attractions like McFarland House. Plus, there are plenty of places to stop for photos or have a picnic with a view.

If you don’t have a car, the WEGO shuttle is your best option. It connects to the regular WEGO bus service, departing daily from the Floral Clock and ending at Fort George in Niagara-on-the-Lake.

The shuttle makes several stops along the way, so the journey will take a bit longer. 

The WEGO shuttle runs from April 1 to October 27, and tickets cost $12 one-way or $24 round-trip for adults. 

Is it worth going to Niagara-on-the-Lake?

Yes, it is 100% worth going to Niagara-on-the-Lake. It’s a completely different experience compared to Niagara Falls.

Plus, it makes for a lovely break from the madness that is the Niagara Falls tourist area.

The only reason you might not want to visit? If you’re travelling with young children or you’re pressed for time. It’s not worth going if you’re trying to cram too much into a one-day or two-day visit to Niagara.

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2 Comments

  1. We’ve been planning a trip we are 2 seniors and we’d like to stay around 2 to 3 days. My question is what time of year is best and I’m leaning to the lake side because we can drive to the falls for a day and then relaxing by the lake. We are driving from NYC

    1. I definitely recommend staying in Niagara-on-the-Lake and driving to Niagara Falls for the day, especially if you’re looking to relax. As for the best time to visit, it depends on your preferences. June to August will have the best (and warmest) weather, but it’s also peak tourism season and very busy. The shoulder seasons (April/May and September/October) are really nice with fewer crowds and cooler temperatures.

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