Ultimate Guide to Niagara Falls in Canada
This is a guide to Niagara Falls in Ontario, Canada. I am American and live in New York state, but after a lot of research as well as talking to people, it became clear to visit Niagara Falls in Canada and not New York. Why? The views are just that much better, and the main, big waterfall, Horseshoe Falls, has a better viewing and experience point from Canada.
About Niagara Falls
Niagara Falls is one of the most popular tourist destinations in North America and is located on the Niagara River, which flows along the New York and Canadian border between Lake Ontario and Lake Eerie. There are three waterfalls – the Horseshoe Falls, the American Falls and the Bridal Veil Falls – in the New York and Canadian sides. When you see them up close and personal they really are a mighty force of Mother Nature not to be reckoned with. It’s not the height which makes them so impressive (they’re not the tallest in the world), but rather the sheer waterflow. The three waterfalls combined have the highest flow rate of any waterfall in North America, and Horseshoe Falls alone is the most powerful waterfall on the continent.
Naturally, tourists flock to Niagara Falls to see it in all its glory – the key word, however, being tourists. Niagara Falls, no matter which country you’re in, is very, very touristy. I have to throw this out from the beginning as a heads up. But seeing as I have lived in New England almost my entire life and had never visited, I decided that while my kids were still young we would finally make a trip. I was resistant for a long time, as I hate crowds and Disney-type tourism, but figured I have to see Niagara Falls at some point, and it would make for a fun, quick family get-away.
Having said that (which I’m sure comes as no surprise), despite all the tourists, we did manage to have a good trip. First off, it was fun driving up to Niagara Falls. We combined both trips – the way up and the way down – with visits to state parks, including Watkins Glen State Park and Letchworth State Park (posts coming soon). Once we arrived to Niagara Falls in New York we had to cross the border, which was a lot of fun for the kids – going into a new country, showing our passports, etc.
This is how it works. There are a few bridges that connect the countries. One well-known one is Rainbow Bridge. This is where one of the immigration check points is. Be prepared with passports and hotel confirmation, and if a family with one missing spouse, you need a letter from spouse giving kids permission to cross the boarder. When we went – a Wednesday around 3:00 p.m. – there was hardly a line to enter immigration and we coasted on through. But lines can be very long, particularly on weekends.
We drove straight to our Hotel, the Sheraton on the Falls. The hotel has pros and cons but I would say mainly pros as it’s centrally located and has amazing views of the Falls from its hotel bar, spa and rooftop. The lobby is a bit crazy – a lot crazy – with all sorts of touristy stores, restaurants, ice cream shops, you name it, and all very crowded. It was a bit overwhelming when we first arrived. But as I soon came to realize, this is just what visiting Niagara Falls is – lots of crowds, with a Disney-esque type vibe. Some people may disagree – especially if you were to stay in a charming b & b on the outskirts of town – but we wanted central. And with central, you’re going to get the masses of tourists, chain restaurants and high prices. As soon as I accepted this fact, we moved on and had a great time. Niagara Falls, after all, is a lot of fun for the kids.
Things to do in Niagara Falls in Canada
Take in the view
The first thing I would recommend is to simply just walk up to the viewing area of the Falls and take in the view. There is a path that runs from the American and Bridal Veil Falls to the Horseshoe Falls. Honestly, if you’re short on time and have 1 day or are passing through, this is what you want to do. Here you will get all the dramatic views of Niagara Falls you see in the magazines, and you can see all three of them from this path and viewing points. Walk along the path for different perspectives – this is where you will want to snap all your photos. Approaching Horseshoe Falls from this path is pretty amazing and it was when we were in front of Horseshoe that I realized what all the fuss is about. Horseshoe Falls is magnificent, often with rainbows forming over its drop, and a misty sky from the sheer force of the fall.
Take a Ride on the Hornblower Cruise
This was the highlight of our trip – if you want to get up close and personal with Niagara Falls and all its fury, you must take the Hornblower Niagara Cruise! Make sure to book your tickets in advance online, and then arrive 10-15 minutes before departure. You will receive a poncho, which is very key – we also brought our own rain jackets and doubled up which helped to stay dry.
The Hornblower boat takes you to the American and Bridal Veil Falls and then right into the wrath of Horseshoe Falls. Approaching Horseshoe by boat was awesome. As you get closer and closer, the water gets choppier, the air mistier, in general the atmosphere feels like you’re entering the eye of the storm. Just look at the photo! We were able to snag spots right in front of the boat, which was key, so make sure to arrive early enough.
Experience Journey Behind the Falls
This is a unique experience to have in Niagara Falls if you want to see the Horseshoe Falls from a completely different perspective – down below. Journey Behind the Falls takes you 125 feet down through the bedrock (you take an elevator) to 130 year-old tunnels. You are given a poncho and once at the bottom you follow the tunnel to the Lower Observation Deck, where instead of looking down at the thunderous fall, you’re looking up! Through the tunnels there are interesting factoids along the walls, like the story of the boy who accidentally went overboard on his tube and miraculously survived. This is a popular attraction so make sure to book your tickets in advance.
Take the Kids to Clifton Hill
Clifton Hill is a part of Niagara Falls that is like Vegas meets Disney meets Six Flags and I only include it here because kids love it. It is stimulation overload and too much for my taste, but a very popular thing to do in Niagara Falls. Take a ride on the Niagara Skywheel, Niagara’s ferris wheel, go on one of the many rides, play in the arcades, get treats in the ice cream and chocolate shops or dine out at one of the many chain restaurants.
Take a Day Trip to Niagara-on-the-Lake
If you have the time, this adorable and picturesque town is a must visit! It is also in the heart of Canada’s wine region – ice wine that is. Ice wine is the process of letting grapes freeze on the vines before turning them into extra sweet and alcoholic wine. We visited three wineries and all made us feel like we were in the Napa of Canada. This is one of Canada’s most prized spots – you can read more about it in my dedicated post here.
And that’s my ultimate guide to Niagara Falls in Canada. If you have anything to add, please do so in the comments below.
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