There’s a good reason why Niagara Falls, and nearby Niagara-on-the-Lake, are some of Canada’s most celebrated tourist attractions. From the magnificence of the horseshoe-shaped falls to the kitschy museums of Clifton Hill and the sophisticated plays of the Shaw Festival to the seemingly endless acres of vineyards, there’s something for everyone. And spring is one of the best times for showing off the best of what this region has to offer.
Canadians have heard so much about Niagara Falls — the iconic honeymooner’s spot, the thunderous source of hydro-electricity and the place where daredevils take that infamous plunge over raging waters. While there’s no getting away from the power of Niagara Falls, there is so much more to this region than cascading water (although, the Falls are definitely worth the time).
Whether it’s discovering the roots of Canada by visiting the numerous historic sites in the area, experiencing award-winning wine at any of the region’s vineyards, taking in a play at the Shaw Festival in Niagara-On-The-Lake or simply strolling the sidewalks of one of the quaintest towns in Canada, the city of Niagara Falls and the Niagara-on-the-Lake region offers a chance to explore the luxurious world of culture, history and natural world splendour.
Turns out Niagara Falls — one of the seven natural wonders of the world — is just 90 minutes from Toronto. Sure, you could do see it during a day trip, but the Niagara region deserves much more of your time. Here’s why.
#1: Stop and smell the flowers
Have you ever seen 16,000 spring flowers? In early April, the Canadian side of the Falls bursts into colour when Queen Victoria Park quite literally glows with daffodils. It’s why Niagara Falls is known as the daffodil capital of North America. Not too long after the daffodils bloom, the spring petal parade is followed by tulips. Thousands and thousands of tulips only to be followed by the sweet scent of lilac, when, towards the end of May, more than 1,200 lilacs bloom, filling the air with their delicate aroma. The crowning jewel amidst this delicate, fragrant beauty is the Floral Clock. Located just north of the Botanical Gardens, the Floral Clock features the face of a clock created using up to 16,000 carpet bedding plants and flowers! The planted face of the Floral Clock is maintained by Niagara Parks horticulture staff, while the mechanism inside (that tells the time) is kept in working order by Ontario Hydro.
#2: Embrace your inner kid or bring that kid along!
Niagara Falls’ main tourist areas, including Clifton Hill, Fallsview and Lundy’s Lane, have enough attractions to thrill and amaze young and old, alike. From wax museums — including Louis Tussaud’s Waxworks, Movieland Wax Museum of the Stars and Rock Legends Wax Museum — to collections of oddities and wonders like Ripley’s Believe it or Not and the Guinness World Records Museum, the attractions at Niagara Falls can quickly fill you with wonder and amazement.
Children and adults will also enjoy the arcade-like atmosphere at attractions such as Captain Jack’s Fun Centre, Adventure City and Big Top Amazing Mirror and Laser Maze, while those who want to take in a bit of exotic wildlife can head off to the Butterfly Conservatory and Bird Kingdom.
If you have kids, there’s no better way to enjoy a few hours frolicking in an indoor waterpark. The Fallsview Indoor Waterpark offers three acres of action-packed water fun, with 16 waterslides around a mammoth Beach House Rain Fortress complex complete with a 1,000-gallon tipping bucket, a wave pool and private Cabana rentals. It’s also connected to the luxurious Sheraton On The Falls.
#3: Take a hike or take a bike
After taking in the biggest of the tourist attractions — we’re talking Marineland, Fallsview Waterpark and the Strip — you may feel the need to get away from the hustle and bustle of it all. That’s when you need to head to Dufferin (just a short distance from Marineland, itself). This 10-acre park contains several small islands connected by bridges and footpaths. There are feeding stations for birds, tranquil spots for a picnic, and even a catch-and-release fishing program.
For those that enjoy a good hike, check out Niagara Glen, close to the Botanical Gardens and the Butterfly Conservatory. The paths at this park wind through a pocket of Carolinian forest which can get a bit rugged in places. Starting in spring and through the summer, there are daily guided tours at 11 am and 2 pm.
For cycling enthusiasts, there are more than 300 kilometres of cycling routes across the Niagara region. The 56-kilometre Niagara River Recreation Trail runs parallel to the Niagara River from Fort Erie through Niagara Falls and ends up at Fort George in Niagara-on-the-Lake. More hard-core cyclists can try the 140-kilometre Greater Niagara Circle Route. You can bring your own bike or rent one from one of any number of rental shops throughout the region.
You can cycle all or just a portion of the bike trails in the area or pair your two-wheeled excursion with a wine or cheese tour for a day of real adventure!
#4: Enjoy a sip of Ontario wine country
A visit to the Niagara region would be incomplete without sampling a bit of the region’s award-winning wines. Turns out there are more than 50 wineries in the area and many of these vineyards are less than 20 minutes drive from the City of Niagara Falls.
Many of the featured wines have won international awards, in fact, this region put icewine on the international sommelier map. But the biggest reason to go on a wine tour is that the grapes in this area create a distinct Niagara taste profile that isn’t found anywhere else in the world.
You can discover the best of the region’s vineyards by taking the Wine Route of Ontario by car, bicycle or guided tour, enjoying the beautiful countryside and pairing it with some delectable wine and drink. Better still, stay for a meal. Many of the wineries have restaurants and work hard to match their wines to regional delicacies, making this a bucket-list stop for any foodie.
#5: Soak in some Canadian history
You’ve hiked, biked and even sipped all that Niagara has to offer, is there more to do? Absolutely! To truly appreciate Niagara it helps to learn the historical significance of the region.
For instance, did you know some of the most famous battles of the War of 1812 were fought on these lands? The two-years of battles were between the British and Americans and while each skirmish was significant it was the Brits triumph at Niagara that proved to be a major turning point in Canadian history. Among the most important sites is Old Fort Erie, scene of one of the bloodiest battles of the war with more than 3,000 troops killed and wounded during the Siege of Fort Erie between August 3 and September 21, 1814.
There’s also Brock’s Monument, located in Queenston Heights Park, that pays homage to Major-General Isaac Brock, Commander-in-Chief of the British forces in Upper Canada. He lost his life leading his troops in the October 13, 1812 attempt to retake Queenston Heights from the Americans.
You can also visit the Chippawa Battlefield, where the longest and bloodiest military operation took place during the War of 1812. A self-guided walking tour over the 300-acre site lets you retrace the events of the battle and walk in the footsteps of those who helped shape this country.
#6: Spend some time in Niagara-on-the-Lake
Considered by many to be the prettiest town in Ontario, the quaint town of Niagara-on-the-Lake is only 20 kilometres from Horseshoe Falls. It was the first capital of Upper Canada before it was moved to York in 1812 (which is now known as Toronto) after Niagara-on-the-Lake was taken over by Americans in 1812 and burnt to the ground. Once the Americans retreated, Niagara-on-the-Lake was rebuilt into the picturesque, quaint town you see today.
Walk through the heritage district and take advantage of lush gardens, delightful antique shops, and fine restaurants. You can even take a ride in a horse-drawn carriage.
One of the best ways to explore this city is by bicycle. Starting at the town centre, you can take the Niagara Recreational Trail for 11-kilometres to reach the tiny hamlet of Queenston where you’ll find the homestead of Laura Secord, a name that has become an integral part of Canadian history. It was from this hamlet that Secord made her 18-hour, 32-kilometre journey to warn Canadian troops of an impending attack by American forces. The result of her bravery was that friendly indigenous forces ambushed the Americans, defeating them at the Battle of Beaverdams.
A short walk away from the Laura Secord Homestead, you can stop by the restored home of publisher and political agitator William Lyon Mackenzie. It features 500 years of printing technology, including the Louis Roy Press, the oldest in Canada and one of the few original wooden presses remaining in the world.
The lovely limestone building sits at the base of a path that takes you up a hill all the way to the Brock Monument. For the adventurous and athletic, you’ll experience what it must have been like to be a British soldier scaling the heights into battle.
To get to Niagara-on-the-Lake you can bike or drive. If you’d rather leave the car behind, but don’t want to spend a couple of hours cycling, take the shuttle that departs from the Floral Cock in Niagara Falls every 60 minutes starting May 5. It’s $7 for each adult and $5 per child.
#7: Brush up on theatre at one of North America’s best live-stage festivals
A friendly rival to the Stratford Shakespeare Festival, the Shaw Festival pays tribute not only to the works of noted British playwright George Bernard Shaw but to an eclectic assortment of comedies, dramas, musicals and classics.
Staring April 6 this year, and lasting until the fall, the Shaw Festival’s spring lineup includes:
- Kid-friendly “The Horse and His Boy,” based on one of the titles in the C.S. Lewis Narnia series;
- “Rope,” a gripping psychological thriller made famous by the Alfred Hitchcock movie;
- “Brigadoon,” the Lerner and Lowe boy-meets-girl musical set in an enchanted Scottish village;
- Shaw’s “Getting Married,” a timeless comedy about what marriage is all about;
- and “The Glass Menagerie,” Tennessee Williams’ masterpiece that examines fantasy and reality.
#8: Try your luck at a casino
After a day of nature, history and culture, you may be in the mood to let go. What better way than to try your luck at the casino! Niagara Falls has two casinos where you can try your hand at slots, play a hand of Blackjack, or spend time at a gaming table.
Casino Niagara offers more than 1,500 slot machines and 45 gaming tables, a comedy club, weekly live entertainment and four venues for dining and drinks.
The famous Fallsview Casino resort is built on a cliff overlooking Horseshoe Falls. It is the largest gaming facility in Canada with more than 3,000 slot machines, 130 gaming tables and 20 restaurants. Even those of us that don’t enjoy dancing with Lady Luck can have fun, with a selection of awesome acts booked into the 1,500-seat entertainment venue. This spring’s lineup includes Chicago, Rick Springfield, B.J. Thomas, Enrique Iglesias and Little Anthony and the Imperials.
#9: Feel the magic of Fireworks and Light - for free!
Niagara Falls seems to come alive at night. The bars are packed, the casinos are bustling but the busiest spot is down by the water. That’s because every weekend, starting on Friday, May 17, residents and tourists alike take in the draw-dropping fireworks display. As Canada’s longest running fireworks show, the city lights up the falls every weekend in May and June and every day from mid-June to the end of summer.
Better still, if you book a room overlooking the falls, you get to watch this stunning fireworks display from the comfort of your room (perhaps while sipping some of that delectable wine you purchased earlier in the day).
The magic doesn’t disappear once the fireworks are over. Every night of the year, starting around 8 pm the city lights up the falls with vibrant spotlights. Enjoy this vision from the Table Rock Welcome Centre or take an illumination night cruise with Hornblower Niagara Cruises. Even better, spend the night in your room overlooking the falls and simply soak up all the magic the Horseshoe Falls has to offer.
#10: It’s all about the Falls
Of course, you come to Niagara Falls to see the falls and whether it’s the first time or the hundredth, they will always take your breath away. Made up of Horseshoe Falls, Bridal Veil Falls and the American falls, the three combine to produce the highest flow rate of any waterfall on earth. At peak times, more than 6 million cubic feet flow over the falls every minute.
Where to stay in Niagara
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