Know Before You Go: Niagara Falls
Featured destinations: USA
Published 30 March 2016
With about 13 million visitors each year, Niagara Falls is one of the most sought-after tourist destinations on the planet. But how do you make the most of your trip to the giant cascades that straddles the United States and Canada? Rhodri Andrews shares five handy tips on making your trip unforgettable...
1. Cover all angles
When the Niagara Falls comes to mind, the iconic boat experience is never far behind. But with the tours always proving hugely popular and attracting large crowds during peak times, there are a number of great alternatives, which still allow you to enjoy the Falls in all its thunderous beauty.
If you’re on the Canadian side, the Skylon Tower is a fantastic option that provides stunning aerial views of all three Falls that make up Niagara – the American Falls, Bridal Veil Falls and the Horseshoe Falls.
Want to keep your feet firmly on the ground? Over on the American side, Cave of the Winds will put you within touching distance of both the Bridal Veil Falls and the American Falls. Prepare to get soaked!
Hopping back over to the Canadian side, Journey Behind the Falls is one of the oldest but most impressive attractions, allowing you to get a sneak peek underneath the natural wonder in caves cut out of the rock.
Feeling flush? You can always take a helicopter tour over the Falls instead – it’s pricey, but promises some of the best views around.
2. Take advantage of free attractions for newlyweds
Proclaiming itself the ‘Honeymoon Capital of the World’, Niagara Falls is certainly very welcoming to loved-up couples.
If you’re considering including a visit to the Falls in your post-wedding plans it’s worth noting the bride can bag herself a free pass to many of the attractions. Sorry grooms – only girls allowed! What's included in the pass changes every so often, so it’s worth checking with the Niagara Falls Tourism Office before your trip.
You can even pick up an ‘official’ honeymoon certificate from the visitor bureau, which is signed by the mayor of Niagara Falls. A strange memento to say the least, but one that’s worth having. After all, there aren't many people who have one.
3. Explore at a leisurely pace
There’s no need to squeeze everything into one day – Niagara has plenty to offer and not just immediately around the Falls.
It’s best to spend a couple of nights in Niagara or include the landmark as part of a bigger trip – to really get a sense of the treasure trove of landmarks nearby. Toronto is a perfect base for this.
Horticulture is prominent throughout the region and one of the must-see free attractions is the floral clock, only a stone’s throw away from the Falls. Opened in 1950 and one of the largest in the world, its face is changed twice a year, with over 250 varieties of plants featuring on the face at one time. For those wanting to see what the clock looked like in the year of their birth, there’s a small museum round the back with photos from previous years. You'll also be able to see the attraction’s mechanics.
Other notable sights are Brock’s monument in Queenston Heights – in tribute to Canadian war hero Sir Isaac Brock – and the Living Water Wayside Chapel, the smallest of its kind in the world! It’s a tight squeeze in there.
If you’ve got a few hours to spare, exploring the picturesque, 19th-century town of Niagara-on-the-Lake is a must. A Christmas shop that’s open all year round, more majestic floral displays and a historic shopping street – what’s not to like? Look across the water on a clear day and you should be able to see Toronto’s skyline too.
And when you return from your day’s activities a wall of colour will be there to greet you as the Falls are illuminated by an impressive after-dark light show.
4. Try ice wine
As well as maple syrup, ice wine is another – perhaps lesser-known – Canadian export. Particularly common around the Ontario region, vineyards pepper the landscape, becoming increasingly frequent the closer you get to Niagara.
Ice wine is a type of dessert wine that is produced from grapes that have been naturally frozen in the colder months, while still on the vine.
A wine-tasting session is a must and if you’re part of a coach/bus tour from Toronto or another city in the Ontario region, it is worth checking with your operator as often they are included in the price.
Still want more? Most vineyards and wineries in the region will offer much larger tours, showing how ice wine is made and the processing area, as well as the tasting session.
5. Don’t go over the edge
Okay, so maybe you weren’t considering it anyway, but it’s still useful to know it is illegal to go over Niagara Falls.
Annie Taylor was the first person to go over the Falls in 1901. She toppled down in an oak barrel lined with a mattress and miraculously survived with just a gash to her head.
However, out of the 17 people who followed her example, five have died. And with enough water to fill 68 Olympic-sized swimming pools gushing over the Falls every minute, that isn’t exactly surprising.
If you are lucky enough to survive going over the edge, then you will be slapped with a $10,000 fine, as well as the cost of rescue. Now that's an expensive trip.