The Niagara Falls are gorgeous and a national treasure. You have to see them!
We took the boat ($50 pp) up to the bottom of the falls, which towered above us to such heights (50′) that they were almost scary. The falls hit the water below with such force that they create a swirling vortex, into which I was afraid our boat would be sucked. Thankfully, these boats make this journey every 15 minutes, so their captains know how to avoid being sucked down, down, down into the depths of the Niagara River. The boat (below) holds 500 people, which gives you a sense of the scale of this photo.
Niagara Falls straddle the international border between the U.S. and Canada. The “Maid of the Mist” boats depart from the American side in NY. “The Hornblower” boats depart from the Canadian side. You want “The Hornblower” because it goes deeper into Horseshoe Falls, the largest of the three that are collectively referred to as Niagara Falls.
The Niagara Falls are a gorgeous…but don’t spend the night there…unless you like depressed towns (Niagara, NY) or to be surrounded by the Hard Rock Cafe and similar (Niagara, Canada), which of course you don’t! Instead, take your passport and drive a mere 20 minutes north into Canada.
The 16-mile drive on the Niagara Parkway from Niagara Falls to Niagara-on-the-Lake, Canada, will take you past the most ENTICING farm stands I have EVER seen and through vineyard after vineyard. Ontario is one of Canada’s three largest wine-producing regions.
Niagara-on-the-Lake is charming: lovely houses from the 18th and 19th century (settled in 1781 as a British military base, it became a haven for pro-British loyalists fleeing the U.S.); tons of gardens, public and private, bursting forth with flowers; and a theater festival, all located at the confluence of Lake Ontario and the Niagara River.
SEE THE SIGHTS
- Walk around town and gaze at the beautiful old houses and established gardens
- Watch the Wednesday night sailboat races from the town’s small public golf course, which has Niagara-on-the-Lake’s only restaurant on the water. The food is merely okay but the setting is lovely, with a view of Old Fort Niagara (which has been occupied since the 1700’s by the French, English and now Americans) across the water. Big view heaven!
- Attend the George Bernard Shaw Festival, whose season of plays runs from April to October. We did not go to this, so I can’t vouch for it.
- Bike or walk along the Niagara River Recreation Trail that follows the Niagara River through beautiful countryside, from Niagara-on-the-Lake to Queenston (1-2 hours at a leisurely pace by bike)
- Vineyard hop between the 50 vineyards in and around Niagara-on-the-Lake and the entire Niagara wine region along the shores of Lake Ontario. Follow the Wine Route of Ontario through the countryside by car, bike or guided tour. Many Niagara wineries have restaurants, where they pair their (natch) wines with regional cuisine
- Run, don’t walk, to the Niagara Parks Butterfly Conservancy and enter its a big greenhouse of tropical plants and many, many colorful butterflies flitting around. Best butterfly conservancy I have seen!
Several lit on me! Just beautiful!
I recommend a three-night stay at Niagara-on-the-Lake in one of the following:
- Oban Inn: in town, by the golf course; has an upstairs balcony room
- Harbour House: in town, nice though not luxurious. We stayed here. I have only seen the other three hotels from outside but they all looked very nice.
- The Charles Inn: in town, stylish in a low-key way
- Riverbend Inn: near Niagara-on-the-Lake and the bike path, pretty location
EAT, DRINK & BE MERRY
Wander the streets of town and you will find something appealing, though nothing outstanding.
Highly recommend you drive to several of the surrounding vineyards for what I imagine would be great meals. The settings certainly are! By scrolling around this link to Wine Country Ontario, you will find a varied selection of impressively beautiful vineyards, many of which have attractive restaurants. Given the amazing produce stands in the area, I just bet the food is amazing, too!
Lots of shops, none enticing.
Corning Glass Museum in Corning, NY (2.5 hour drive from Niagara Falls)
We spent three hours there, waaay more that my usual one hour-and-depart policy. What made the Corning Glass Museum so great: the history of glass making described, plus 35 centuries of examples of the most ancient glass on up to gorgeous “art glass” of the present day…and not just Dale Chihuly. I plan to return because three hours was not enough.
Rather than stay in Corning, which is nothing special, drive half an hour to the Watkins Glen Harbor Hotel at the southern tip of Seneca Lake. While this is not the most fab hotel you have ever been to, it is quite comfortable (we had a nice, big room with a balcony overlooking the lake) AND, GREATEST OF GREAT, the “True Love” yacht from “High Society” (Grace Kelly) and “Philadelphia Story” (Katherine Hepburn) is docked at the hotel AND available for a two-hour spin on the lake. It is an elegant movie star of a schooner built in 1926. “My, she was yar!”