Halfway between Chicago and New York City lies the twin city of Niagara Falls, gateway to the Great White North and Honeymoon Capital of the World. Here, the Niagara River connects Lake Erie with Lake Ontario to create three spectacular falls of water nearly 70 meters high: American Falls, Bridal Falls, and finally Horseshoe Falls on the Canadian side of the border, the largest of the three, which spans nearly a kilometer along its width. All three falls face directly toward Canada, so although the American side claims a greater territory, the Canadian side has the best views.
Seeing the Falls for free
Beautifully manicured parks and walkways run alongside the Falls and the Niagara River, offering amazing views. Low-cost parking is readily available. Bring a picnic lunch on a warm day, and revel in the rainbows and the cool light mist in the air. At night, a light show lights up the spectacle of falling water. In the winter, the surface of the water sheets into hundreds of gleaming icicles.
Every Friday, Sunday, and holiday between mid-May and the end of August, Niagara Parks offers free concerts and fireworks starting at 8 p.m., weather permitting. Additional fireworks are also set off on Wednesdays at 10 p.m. during July and August only. In winter, the lighting of the falls becomes part of the Winter Festival of Lights.
Like its New York neighbor, the Canadian city of Niagara Falls also offers a few funky exhibits and far-out museums, most of which line Clifton Hill. The Ripley’s Believe It or Not building is shaped like the Empire State Building fallen on its side and straddled by King Kong. Louis Tussaud’s Waxworks includes the famous likeness of Charles Blondin, the first tightrope walker to have successfully traversed the falls.
Around the ‘corner’ of the Niagara peninsula lies the scenic town of Niagara-on-the-lake, which constantly competes with Stratford, Ontario, for the title of the prettiest town in Canada. Here you can find historical reenactments at Fort George. Niagara-on-the-lake is also home to the Shaw Festival, with some of the best summer theatres in the world.
On a cold day, step into the tropical Butterfly Conservatory, and watch in delight as thousands of exotic butterflies settle on nearby flowers and even on your clothing. At the Emergence Window, you can watch while butterflies struggle out of their cocoons and into a new life.
Take a tour of one of the Niagara Peninsula’s many award-winning vineyards. Sample some of the famous ice wine, so prized throughout the world that its vintners have to include security features on the bottles to keep them from being counterfeited.
The journey behind the falls
See Horseshoe Falls as you have never seen it before, from a cave network behind the falls. Hundreds of thousands of gallons cascade past the cave openings every second like a curtain of water, less than half a football field away. The cave entrances are open so that the air is full of mist from the falls, although barricades are in place for safety.
Where the wild things are
Just outside Niagara Falls on the other side of the peninsula from Niagara-on-the-lake, Marineland and Game Farm has aquatic shows featuring beluga whales and dolphins. African Lion Safari lets visitors drive through seven-game reserves were over a thousand animals, including a herd of Asian elephants, roam freely.
Try your luck
If going over the falls isn’t quite your style (not to mention that it is against the law in both countries!), you can take a safer kind of risk at Casino Niagara or Fallsview Casino Resort. As the names suggest, Casino Niagara is a classic casino, while Fallsview offers a greater choice of entertainment, from nightly entertainment acts to fine dining. Of course, weddings are extremely popular.
Viewing the falls from above
Take your pick of two observatory towers, a revolving dining room, a Ferris wheel, a cable car, or even a helicopter. The Niagara Skywheel has enclosed gondolas that are temperature controlled through summer and winter. Enjoy a leisurely dinner over the falls on top of the Skylon Tower, or ascend Konika Minolta Tower for a different view of the falls. The Whirlpool Aero Car actually crosses the international boundary four times on a single round trip.
The Maid of the Mist
This 25-meter boat brings its passengers right up to the foot of the falls for an unforgettable experience. You will need the raincoat they give you!
Getting to Niagara Falls is easy. For those who don’t want to drive, tours are offered to Niagara Falls from most of the upper states as well as from Toronto and most parts of Southwestern Ontario.
As border crossings go, the Rainbow Bridge is far less busy than most U.S.-Canada bridges, but you are still likely to have a short to moderate wait depending upon traffic. The Rainbow Bridge is also one of the few border crossings which still allow pedestrians to cross. Alternate border crossings in the area are available at Buffalo or at Lewiston Bridge. In most cases, a valid passport is required to enter the United States.