Things to do in Niagara-on-the-Lake
When visiting Niagara Falls in Canada, I highly recommend a trip to Niagara-on-the-Lake, a picturesque town in the middle of Ontario’s wine country, 25 minutes away from the Falls. This charming little town was one of the highlights of our trip, and I’m so glad we made time to enjoy it away from the Niagara Falls madness!
I learned of Niagara-on-the-Lake from a Canadian friend of mine who told me it’s an absolute must-visit. Close to the tourist destination that is Niagara Falls, yet a world away, the town is set on Lake Ontario and surrounded by miles of wine vineyards and countryside. The region is known for its ice wine – a type of wine that is produced from freezing grapes – and there are about 30 or so vineyards scattered throughout. Green vineyards, country lanes, farm stands and a bucolic setting reminiscent of Napa Valley make this town and region a Canadian gem. Spending the day in it I could have sworn felt like a day spent in Sonoma.
We started off our day by driving around town to get the lay of the land, and seeing its beautiful setting on Lake Ontario. We then parked right in town in the historic district known as Old Town. The main street, Queen Street, is as quaint as can be and filled with antique shops, specialty food stores, good restaurants, mom and pop shops and design stores. The street is fairly long, so there’s lots of window shopping and strolling around to be had. We got some sandwiches at one of the local delis and had a picnic in the park – right off Queen Street – where there was a playground for the kids and plenty of benches underneath willowing trees for the adults.
Niagara-on-the-Lake really is so picturesque. Part of this is due to its abundance of 18th and 19th century era architecture, many of it Victorian. Wandering around town you feel like you’ve stepped back in time, beautiful historical details everywhere, even horse-drawn carriages strolling about. There is a lot of history to the town, as it is one of the oldest in Canada and was the first capital of what now is Ontario. Numerous battles were fought in Niagara-on-the-Lake at Fort George, now a popular tourist destination.
After meandering about town, it was time to hit the wineries. The are several wineries on the outskirts of town, all set in Niagara-on-the-Lake’s beautiful countryside. We visited the Peller Estates, Reif Estate and Winery and Two Sisters Vineyards. Peller kept coming up in our research so we started there. A big winery and a bit corporate, the grounds are stunning, and they offered quasi wine tasting for kids, which was fun for them. Reif is nearby so we headed there next. Smaller in scale, we probably liked their wine the most. They told us to head to Two Sisters, a new and upcoming boutique winery that also has an excellent restaurant and absolutely gorgeous scenery.
Inniskillin is probably the most famous winery, specializing in Niagara’s ice wine, but we did not make it there. There are so many other vineyards, it’s just a matter of picking and choosing. You can also take one of the many wine vineyard tours offered in the region. At the end of the day, we headed back to Peller Estates, where we enjoyed a delicious meal of fire-roasted pizza and salads overlooking their gorgeous grounds. It was as peaceful a setting as one can imagine when dining in wine country.
Niagara-on-the-Lake cannot be mentioned without a nod to the Shaw Festival, a contemporary theatre that runs from April – December. Started as a tribute to Irish playwright Bernard Shaw, it has become a cultural icon in Canada and draws masses of visitors each year.
I can’t recommend a visit to Niagara-on-the Lake enough. It’s darling. If you’re going to see Niagara Falls, it’s the perfect day trip and escape into the vineyard wonderland of Ontario wine country.