As with any massive natural beauty, Niagara Falls is best viewed up-close and personal. This dramatic diva demands live, 3-D viewing, and you’ll surely agree that images simply can’t do her justice like an in-person visit. Luckily you’ve got plenty of angles to consider when choosing the optimal location for your experience.
First, a little geography. Niagara Falls spans the Niagara River, running along the border between Ontario, Canada, and upstate New York. At 167 feet high, the falls rank only the world’s 50th in height. Volume is their claim to fame, with 20 percent of the world’s fresh water roaring over the falls annually. That’s the equivalent of about 600 million cubic feet per minute!
Beautiful by day, the falls are also an incredible night sight. And, as with most wonders, you can look at them in a number of ways. Some prefer the American side. Others swear the Canadian side is better. Many advise taking a peek from both sides, but those who really know, advise a more unconventional view.
For an outstanding start, begin by indulging in a helicopter tour. A fabulous overview of the falls from both the American and Canadian sides awaits you this way. This bird’s-eye view will put things into perspective, giving you an idea of the size and scope of the falls, the lines of the river and the placement of the cities. Niagara Falls is stunning from any view, but particularly so from the windows of a whirlybird. Several companies offer tours, most running between 10 and 20 minutes, with pilots that are considered “flying history books.”
If heli-seeing is not on your bucket list, never fear! The Maid of the Mist steamboat tour offers a view from the water, wandering in toward the falls from calmer docks. You should plan on getting wet, however, you’ll receive a blue rain poncho to wear to keep you from becoming completely waterlogged. It’s a grand experience that really has no comparison and is a must-do on any Niagara Falls visit.
There are also viewing areas with parking spots near both the American and Canadian falls. On the American side, you can walk a 3-mile route through the park, visit the observation tower and go behind the falls on the Cave of the Winds tour. On the Canadian side, you’ll get a great view of Horseshoe Falls, plus you’ll be close to dining, gambling and entertainment that keep the area lively most evenings.
A drive into Ontario on the Niagara Parkway takes you to the butterfly conservatory as well as the whirlpool rapids, where you can hop aboard the Whirlpool Aero Car for a cable car ride across the swirling waters below where the river abruptly changes direction. You might also find the descent down to the White Water Walk a thrilling adventure. The tour offers an eye-level view of these three- to five-meter standing waves crashing about amid Class 6 rapids.
For a 007-type adventure, use the ‘copter service for heli-fishing or even heli-golfing at the likes of Glen Abbey Golf Club, and you’re sure to have an interesting day. There are even heli-tasting tours to five Canadian wineries!
Shopping Niagara can either be very souvenir-oriented or a true shopaholic event on both sides of the falls. The 150 stores in the American side’s fashion outlets offer many nationally recognized brands. On the Canadian side, Gio Monte Models Boutique offers exceptional style from high-end European makers, and Lundy’s Lane touts 40 high-end outlet stores.
There are a number of interesting restaurant choices in the Niagara Falls area, offering all kinds of food, both fast and slow. If you’re looking for good, solid Italian, with great pizza, Napoli in downtown Ontario is a good bet. For a lovely view, try the Skylon Tower’s revolving rooftop restaurant that comes with a free trip to the observation decks. For an outstanding meal, try AG Inspired Cuisine, with live music on weekend evenings, or Niagara-on-the-Lake’s Stone Road Grille for house-cured charcuterie, freshly baked bread and beautifully prepared local produce.
When it’s time for your head to hit the pillow, you’ll find a wide selection of nationally recognized brands ready to put your name on a room, but there is one special place that earned Niagara Falls its longtime nickname as a honeymoon destination. The Red Coach Inn has provided stylish rooms overlooking the Upper Rapids of the Niagara River since 1923. Its 3 1/2 stories of English Tudor design present an impressive profile that has proven a popular destination for decades of honeymooners and regular tourists alike. A fine dining restaurant, the warm, inviting Grill Room and the scenic Rapids Room both serve acclaimed cuisine and cocktails on site.
Niagara Falls is a very popular summer destination for obvious reasons, but winter getaways offer a still, quiet beauty with unsurpassed serenity. Year round, it is an epic trip whose natural features will delight even the most seasoned traveler.