My husband and I currently live on the East Coast of the United States with dreams to migrate at some point. Visiting Niagara Falls was a place that we put on our “East Coast Bucket List” with plans to get there while we still lived relatively close. This summer we did the 8 hour (more like 12 hour with stops) road trip from our home in Washington DC to Niagara Falls. It’s really stunning and completely worth the trip!
Niagara Falls is actually a collection of 3 large waterfalls, the Horseshoe Falls, the Bridal Veil Falls, and the American Falls. The Horseshoe Falls is the largest and it’s located in Canada. The other two falls are located in the United States. The best view of all three falls is from the Canadian side where you will see the Horseshoe to the far right with the Bridal Veil falls and American falls to the left closer to the Rainbow Bridge (picture above is the Horseshoe falls from the Canadian side). You can and should view the falls from the American side as well, it’s just not a picture looking towards the front of the waterfall. The picture angle is more from above or to the side of the falls (the second picture above is the American Falls with the Horseshoe Falls in the background taken from the American side).
Most of the activities in Niagara Falls are located on the Canadian side, but you could also easily set aside a day to visit the American side. If you are short on time, then the Canadian side would be my recommendation. Below I will list activities based on their location. (There are also a bunch of tourist trap activities that aren’t specific to the Falls, for example an upside down house. We did not visit any of those attractions, therefore my guide focuses on Falls related activities).
Unique to Niagara Falls:
- Take a Cruise right up under the Falls (Maid of the Mist or Hornblower)
- Go Behind the Falls (Journey Behind the Falls or Cave of the Winds)
- See the Falls from Above (Skylon Tower or American Overlook or helicopter tour)
- Go fora a scenic drive to Fort Niagara
- Travel 1 hour to Buffalo, NY and eat Buffalo Wings
- Travel 1 hour in the other direction to Toronto, Canada
On the Canadian Side:
- Hornblower Cruise – Get up early and get in line for your cruise of the falls. We arrived mid-morning and only had to wait a short time to get on board one of the boats which leaves every 30 minutes. Raincoats are included complimentary with your ticket which is good because the boat takes you right up close to the Horseshoe Falls where you will feel the mist. The same cruise is also offered on the American side and is called the Maid of the Mist. Those boat riders wear blue raincoats.
- Journey Behind the Falls – This is the platform where you see people wearing yellow raincoats. The Journey Behind the Falls is located in the large building near the Horseshoe Falls. These tickets book up so I recommend arriving early to get your timed entry tickets. We showed up around 3pm and the earliest that was available was 6pm. So we had a little time to kill. It all ended up being worth it though because of these beautiful rainbow pictures that we got from the platform.
- Skylon Tower – We didn’t actually end up going up in the Skylon Tower because we had just came from Toronto and went up in the CN Tower. Based on its location, the view is probably pretty nice. It’s also rumored to be a decent fireworks location.
- Aeri Whirlpool Cable Car – The Aeri Cable Car is located quite a ways north of the other attractions. It’s an antique cable car made of steel that takes you all the way across the Niagara River and brings you back. The view is really pretty and its neat the ride in the antique vehicle that’s about 100 years old.
- Zipline – You can now zipline near the falls in a location near the ticket office for the Hornblower. We didn’t do it, but it’s there.
- Helicopter Tour – If you haven’t ridden in a helicopter before, they do offer tours of the falls. I haven’t done it, but I loved the helicopter that we rode in elsewhere, so I’d be willing to try it.
- Visit the Theater – There’s a theater that shows a 3-D movie about Niagara Falls. We’re kind of curious about that now that we’ve read lots of things about people going over the falls in barrels. It’s pretty interesting the stunts that people will try.
- Watch the Firereworks/Illumination of the Falls – There are fireworks all the time at Niagara Falls although the schedule changes with the seasons. I recommend Googling the fireworks schedule before you go. We were lucky enough to be there over the 4th of July and we saw a ton of fireworks.
On the American Side –
- Maid of the Mist – Offers the exact same tour as the Hornblower but in a slightly smaller boat. We didn’t take this tour, but I got a cute picture of one of the boats.
- Cave of the Winds – Located in the park on the American side, there’s an attraction called Cave of the Winds which seems similar to the Journey Behind the Falls. We didn’t have time to do this, but it’s on my list if I ever make it back to Niagara Falls.
- American Overlook – Just above the dock for the Maid of the Mist is a platform called the American Overlook. We did get a ticket to go out on the platform and see the falls and we also went down to the Maid of the Mist dock and climbed up the rocks near the side of the American falls.
Visit Fort Niagara – It only takes about 30 minutes to reach Fort Niagara on the American Side all the way up on Lake Ontario. We visited this fort to see the Lighthouse but also got to see a reenactment from people dressed up as soldiers. On a clear day you can see the Toronto skyline across the lake.
Next time I visit Niagara Falls:
- Go up in the Skylon Tower
- Watch the 3D movie
- Visit the Cave of the Winds
We had a car. If you want to see the American side of the falls or Fort Niagara, I really think a car is the way to go.
The Canadian side of Niagara Falls has a bus system that also looks nice. It seems to drop off in many of the popular spots. We never rode it though.
If you are driving, there are 3 bridges that you can cross to get from the US to Canada and vice versa. The 1st bridge is in Buffalo. The 2nd bridge is the Rainbow Bridge which goes closest to the falls (pictured). The 3rd bridge is the Lewiston-Queenston Bridge which is north of the falls but close to the Aeri Whirlpool and on the way to Fort Niagara. If you are planning to cross the border, I recommend checking the US or Canadian Border Control websites. Both give estimates for the time it takes to cross the bridge. This gives you the chance to go through a different crossing if one is backed up. We ended up crossing all 3 at some point just based on the timing and convenience.
Near the Marriott’s and Embassy Suites, there is a Funicular (railroad that shuttles people up and down the hill). On the one day that we knew we would be going back and forth we paid for an all-day ticket and got our money’s worth. It saved us a lot of walking as the only footpath down to the falls is all the way back by the Skylon Tower.
Marriott on the Falls -We splurged one night and stayed at the Marriott on the Falls in a room overlooking the Horseshoe Falls. It was nice to watch the fireworks and not have to fight the crowds (see photo at right for the view). It was a nice hotel, although I’m not sure the extra cost was really worth it at the end of the day.
Ramada Niagara Falls -The first two nights we stayed at a Ramada just a couple of blocks to the west of the Falls. It was easily walkable to the Canadian side of the Falls (the sidewalk is a bit rough, but the distance isn’t far) and the hotel was a great value. I recommend it. (No nice photos from this hotel though.)
Restaurants/ Meals & Drinks:
Tim Hortons – The only restaurant that I can recommend for Niagara Falls. If you’re from the US, I highly recommending picking up at least a donut or two from Canada’s version of Dunkin’ Donuts. I loved the maple donuts and we also liked the honey flavored Tim Bits.
Tips/ Things to Know:
- The bathrooms in Niagara Falls are all disgusting because tourists are messy, I guess. Bring one of those little travel tissue packages with you.
- Check the Visa and Passport information to determine if you need a passport. I know we all took ours and it made the border crossing process easy.
- Make sure and let your credit card company know that you will be leaving the country. We did, but still had issues with our credit card being denied which we determined was because they thought someone had stolen it. It also wouldn’t hurt to bring a back-up card just in case.
- Although most restaurants on the Canadian side still take US dollars, they give change in Canadian.
- There are a couple of places where you can take tacky souvenir photos (admit it, we all love those). There’s a giant chair on the back of the TGI Fridays near the Funicular. There are also a few Photo Ops at the large Souvenir City complex like this image of people in a barrel.
My Time Spent in Niagara Falls:
- 3 nights total in July 2017, at the Ramada and the Marriott on the Falls.