Niagara Falls & Niagara Wine Country Travel: Best Things to See and Do
There’s a reason Niagara Falls is a bucket-list draw for millions of Canadians and visitors from around the world. The magnitude of the waterfalls is utterly hypnotizing and more than impressive enough to justify a visit: up to 567,000 litres of water per second of water from Lake Erie plunges into a churn of whirlpools and flow into Lake Ontario. But although it's best known for its eponymous waterfalls, there’s far more to this region than fast-flowing cascades and the kitschy neon lights that surround them.
Niagara pairs history, arts and bucolic landscapes with farm-to-table food, a burgeoning wine scene and one-of-a-kind experiences to create an immersive playground for the senses. It's here you'll find both high-energy and low-key activities from strictly adults-only affairs to fun for the whole family. Read on for our guide to the best things to see and do on a visit to Niagara.
Thundering waters are a wonder of the world
Gushing cascades. The thunderous roar. Rainbows sparkling in the mist. No trip to Niagara is complete without taking in the booming natural wonder of the Falls. Horseshoe Falls, American Falls and Bridal Veil Falls — which the three together collectively make up Niagara Falls — pour 168 million litres of water every minute from a height of nearly 60 metres and a lip that stretches for more than a kilometre. For 12,000 years, it has been carving the Niagara Gorge. In another 50,000, the falls will have eroded to reach the shores of Lake Erie.
To experience its voluminous might, step aboard the Hornblower Cruises and get close enough to the Falls to feel its roar in your chest as you soak in the thick mist (don't worry, you'll get a poncho to keep you dry). The Falls are equally dramatic in winter when ice formations add shimmering beauty and the crowds of high summer are wonderfully absent.
Venturing beyond the Falls
Of course, there's more to the town of Niagara than the fabled Falls. Take a stroll through the Botanical Gardens, set your heart a-flutter at the awe-inspiring Butterfly Conservatory or test your courage on a Zipline towards the Falls. Visit the Skylon Tower for the best view around. Greg Frewin Theatre Magic Show will amaze you and kids can even get a photo with a tiger. Find your inner thrill-seeker at Whirlpool Jetboats, Nightmares Fear Factory or Niagara Free Fall. Adults can hit the tables at Fallsview Casino, Canada’s largest gaming resort, right in the heart of town.
Embrace the kitsch
Over the years, Niagara has gone from the whimsical to cheesy, Honeymoon Capital of the World to a place you go for a shotgun wedding, and now it's an odd but often curious mix of the two where kitschy tourist attractions flow as heavy as the Falls. Clifton Hill is ground zero for the noise, lights, smells, sounds, oversized waffle cones and howling fright houses. The best thing to do is embrace it and get your fill on the strip, where you’re bombarded with billboards, lights and loudspeakers tempting you to feast, laugh and scream.
Niagara-on-the-Lake is one of Ontario's most charming towns
A 20-minute drive from all of the buzz of Niagara Falls is a scene at the other end of the spectrum. On the shores of Lake Ontario, the serene and picturesque 19th-century village of Niagara-on-the-Lake is replete with well-preserved brick heritage buildings and turreted Victorians with ornate facades complemented by leafy streets, well-manicured gardens, and overflowing flower baskets. The first capital city of Upper Canada (known today as Ontario), the town’s history dates back to 1781 and Niagara-on-the-Lake also played a leading role in the War of 1812. Stroll the graceful avenues, take a horse-drawn carriage ride or set out on an Old Town walking tour.
Dine and sip vintages in Niagara Wine Country
Niagara Wine Country is the destination for farm-to-table food, premium wines and distinctly Ontarian culinary experiences. The Peninsula is emerging on the global scene as a place where small-batch, premium wines are created and enjoyed and the region has an abundance of top-tier wineries and estates that are sure to fill your cup.
Quality grapes grow in the sunshine-filled region because of the warming and cooling effects of Lake Ontario. From world-famous VQA icewine to terroir-rich pinot noir, riesling and chardonnay, there's something for everyone. But with nearly 100 wineries in the Niagara area, you surely can't hit them all. For the best experience, point your car or bike in one of two directions — to the top of the Niagara Escarpment or to the flat river region of Niagara-on-the-Lake. If you're not sure where to go, join a wine tour that lets you enjoy tastings while someone else drives you from vineyard to vineyard.
All the world's a stage at the Shaw Festival
The 19th-century aura of Niagara-on-the-Lake is enhanced by the renowned Shaw Festival, internationally renowned as one of Canada's finest cultural attractions and the second-largest repertory theatre company in North America. Its season of superlative performances stretches from May-December. The world’s leading directors — both resident and visiting — stage the acclaimed productions with a calendar that brims with an eclectic array of quirky comedies, bold dramas and sweeping classics which represent some of the best theatre ever created.