Located at the border of southern Ontario, Canada, and northern New York, Niagara Falls is both an international city and a breathtaking natural attraction; however, there are more things to do in the area than seeing the waterfalls themselves. From catching a bird's eye view atop Skylon Tower or the Niagara Skywheel to exploring a bird or butterfly sanctuary, there are plenty of family-friendly attractions in the area on either side of the border.
For an up-close look at the falls, there's no better way than taking a tour on a Hornblower Niagara Cruise, which brings visitors to the base of the American Falls and then on to the basin of the magnificent Canadian Horseshoe Falls. Operating seasonally from around early May through Dec. 1, Hornblower Niagara Cruises provide guests with disposable rain jackets to protect their clothing from the dense mists of the roaring falls. Book your spot ahead of time online, since these diesel-powered boat tours fill up quickly, especially on weekends in the summer. Tours and cruises depart from the Hornblower Niagara Cruises dock between Niagara Falls and the Rainbow International Bridge on the Canadian side of the Niagara River.
Although the boat tours may be the most popular way to see the waterfalls, you can also take a unique trip down 130-year-old tunnels to see Horseshoe Falls from its backside. At the Journey Behind the Falls attraction, visitors descend from the Table Rock Welcome Centre 150 feet through bedrock by elevator to arrive at a tunnel with portals through which they can see and hear the water rushing by. At the end of the tunnel, you'll also find an outdoor viewing platform that puts you at the base of the falls so you can look up at the natural wonder from both angles. Journey Behind the Falls is open seven days a week year-round and it takes about an hour to complete the journey.
Standing at approximately 775 feet (236 meters), Skylon Tower offers visitors a bird's-eye view of Niagara Falls from either the Observation Deck or two on-site restaurants: the family-affordable Summit Suite Buffet Dining Room and the award-winning Revolving Dining Room Restaurant. Access to the Observation Deck is free when dining at either restaurant but costs a small fee if you're just visiting Skylon Tower for the view. Like so many tall towers erected solely as a tourist attraction, the view may be good but the overall experience may be slightly lackluster. Try one of the Fallsview hotel restaurants for a similarly impressive view overlooking the Falls, such as the Embassy Suites or Hilton hotels.
Originally opened in 1916 (and updated several times since), the Whirlpool Aero Car is a cable car that offers exhilarating views of the Niagara Gorge and Niagara Whirlpool—a naturally-occurring whirlpool in the Lower Niagara River. Suspended 200 feet above the water from six sturdy cables, this antique Spanish cable car designed by Leonardo Torres Quevedo operates seasonally and travels between two points in Canada but crosses the border four different times due to the elbows in the river. Rides are available seven days a week during the warmer seasons, but the feature may be closed in inclement weather.
Located on a stunningly landscaped eight-hectare property, the Niagara Fallsview Casino Resort overlooks one of the most famous views in the world—Niagara Falls. Whether traveling with kids, with a loved one, or by yourself, you can experience it all at this unique attraction. Along with the stunning view of the falls, the 2.5-million-square-foot complex also includes more than 3,000 slot machines and 150 gaming tables, a 368-room five-star hotel, fine-dining restaurants, 50,000 square feet of meeting and conference space, a health spa, a retail facility, and a 1,500-seat theatre that features a number of special events and performances throughout the year.
Marvel at the Butterfly Conservatory
The Niagara Falls Butterfly Conservatory is part of the Niagara Parks Botanical Gardens and is located just a few minutes from Niagara Falls. This indoor attraction allows visitors to wander through recreated tropical conditions in which more than 2,000 butterflies fly freely, a lovely respite from the crowds and craziness around the Falls. Wear bright-colored clothing if you want to attract the butterflies to land right on you. Reasonably priced day rate parking is available at the conservatory; however, the Falls are an almost two-hour walk away, so parking here for the day is not really practical if you want to see a variety of attractions.
If the Skylon Tower just isn't high enough for you, maybe Niagara Helicopters can satisfy your desire for elevation. Get an awe-inspiring view of Niagara Falls or travel in chopper style to one of the region's wineries for lunch. Though the regular tour is short at under 15 minutes, the experience is widely hailed as "bucket list-worthy," and the headquarters for the tour also features picnic facilities, a snack bar, and a gift shop for souvenirs and photos of your trip. Located at a former pilot training facility on Victoria Avenue north of Uptown, Niagara Helicopter Tours are available year-round, weather-permitting.
Experience the thunderous power of Niagara Falls from the safe but exciting perspective of your theater seat as the IMAX Theatre Niagara Falls, which features a screen that is over six stories tall and has 12,000 watts of floor-shaking digital surround sound. The 45-minute movie gives viewers a keen and intimate understanding of the power and force behind the world's most famous waterfall as well as an in-depth look at 12,000 years of history concerning the region. Under the same roof, you'll also find the Daredevil Exhibit, which catalogs the many brave thrill-seekers who have taken trips over the falls.
The Bird Kingdom is the largest indoor aviary in the world, comprising 50,000 square feet of tropical rainforest that houses more than 400 birds, many of which are free-flying. In addition to birds, Bird Kingdom also features reptiles—including pythons, tortoises, and lizards—as well as bats. Other highlights include a nocturnal aviary and a special exhibit of colorful macaws. A small display outlines some Niagara Falls history as well as that of the aviary building itself, which is the first poured concrete building in Canada that once served as a corset factory. Visitors should allow at least one hour to visit, and buying tickets online ahead of time is recommended because it will save you about 20% off the regular price. The aviary is located along the Niagara Parkway, about a 20-minute walk from the Falls. Parking is available at a per-hour rate.
A great way to get a panoramic view of the city and falls is by taking a ride on the 175-foot (53-meter) Niagara Skywheel. Located in the entertainment village part of Niagara Falls, Clifton Hill, the attraction is suitable for all ages and is offered as part of the Clifton Hill Fun Pass. The Skywheel's pods are comfortable and are even heated or cooled, according to weather conditions. The ride is open year-round, both during the day and at night.