One of the greatest natural marvels in North America is Niagara Falls. And because of the variety of activities in and around the falls, it’s also one of the most fun.
The close proximity of Niagara Falls to other destinations makes it a perfect place to visit when you’re vacationing somewhere else. The closest major airport in Canada is Toronto’s Pearson International. It’s a little over an hour out of Niagara Falls and if you’re not renting a car, you can take one of dozens of buses or shuttles that move between Toronto and the falls. This is perfect if you’re doing additional travel in Ontario.
From the US, it will probably be cheapest and easier to fly into Buffalo Niagara International Airport. And this is only 30 minutes away from Niagara Falls. The downside is that you have to go through the border by car, which can take a little bit, particularly if you go on a weekend or holiday. The good thing about arriving from Buffalo is that you can see Niagara Falls from the US side as well, so you can appreciate how much better the Canadian side is.
US side vs. Canada side
Niagara Falls is actually three waterfalls, two of which are in the US side, American Falls and Bridal Veil Falls, which is the smallest of the three. Horseshoe Falls, on the Canadian side, is the largest one, making up 90% of the water that flows from the Niagara River. The views from the US side are considered less spectacular because you can only get a partial view of Horseshoe Falls, even from the best viewpoint on Goat Island, Terrapin Point. The view of the American Falls is a profile. You can’t see the front view unless you’re in Canada or on a boat in the Niagara River.
The one upside about the US side is that because it’s less popular, it’s also a calmer experience. The Canada side of the falls can be a bit of a circus, with tons of attractions, tourist traps, and a million people. But from the Canadian side of the border, the views of both the American Falls and Horseshoe Falls are incredible. So should you see just the Canadian side? Absolutely not. You should do both.
Things to do in Niagara Falls
Boat tour into the falls
One of the best Niagara Falls experiences is getting right up under the spray and getting soaked by the awesome power of the falls. It’s the best way to get a good close-up view of all three falls. There is nothing quite like the roar of the falls raining down on your little boat. This experience is what makes Niagara Falls. There are two options for this, depending on which side you’re visiting from.
The Maid of the Mist, North America’s oldest attraction, sets sail from Niagara Falls State Park on the US side of the falls. During peak season, boats set sail every 15 minutes for a thrilling 30 minute trip under the falls. And yes, ponchos are included with the price of admission, which is no more than $20.
The Canadian equivalent of the Maid of the Mist is the Hornblower. It’s roughly about the same, but this one departs from the Canadian bank of the Niagara River. The Hornblower Niagara Cruises also have a nighttime equivalent so you can see the falls from the river when they’re illuminated at night.
Note that the cruises are seasonal and the season opens when conditions are favorable on the river, which is usually between March/April and October/November.
Journey Behind the Falls
This one is available all year round, though you’d probably want to think twice about doing it when it’s freezing. Journey Behind the Falls, on the Ontario side, takes you through a series of tunnels behind the falls that allow you to get a look and a feel of Horseshoe Falls from tunnels through the bedrock. There are viewing portals through the tunnels, which frankly, are a bit underwhelming. But the ticket includes entrance to an observation deck at the foot of the falls, which makes the price of admission worth it.
Cave of the Winds
Over on the American side, you’ll find a similar attraction, Cave of the Winds. This is the best way to get close to the Bridal Veil Falls. The name is deceptive because you can no longer enter the cave, which collapsed years ago. But the highlight of this attraction is the series of walkways that take you down into the Niagara Gorge and to several observation decks where you’ll be close enough to feel the falls raining down on you.
White Water Walk
One of the coolest attractions in Niagara Falls that’s not the falls itself is White Water Walk, which is upriver by Whirlpool Rapids Bridge. The attraction consists of a boardwalk that runs along the shore at the base of the Niagara Gorge. This is a good way to see the rock layers of the gorge and get up close and personal with the Whirlpool Rapids from different viewing platforms.
If you’re not crazy about a nature hike, you can also see the whirlpools from the Whirlpool Aero Car, which takes you over them. It’s like a helicopter tour, only cheaper and not as good.
The falls from above
Two of the most popular ways to get a bird’s eye view of Niagara Falls (that’s not a $120 helicopter tour) are the Niagara SkyWheel and Skylon Tower. Skylon Tower is closest to Horseshoe Falls, and has a revolving restaurant if you’re into that kind of thing. I won’t eat at any restaurant that rotates, and I assume the food is mediocre at best. But the view from the observation deck was pretty good. The SkyWheel is better for the ride than the view.
But definitely save these activities when you’ve exhausted the activities in the falls. Niagara Falls is one of the only places where staying dry is not recommended.