Niagara Falls, Canada: Planning Your Trip

Niagara Falls, Canada, is home to the Horseshoe Falls, the most powerful waterfall in North America and possibly the best-known in the world. The natural wonder is historically famous as a honeymoon destination—these days more in a campy, maudlin kinda way—but it also attracts a range of visitors, especially families. The tourist zone of the city centers around the Horseshoe Falls (the Canadian waterfall that is named for its bowed shape) and the American Falls, both of which gush into the Niagara Gorge. This waterfall destination may have a touristy reputation, but the surrounding fine hotels and a casino provide a classy backdrop to rest in after you've strolled around the falls or ventured beneath the mist.

It's widely agreed that the Canadian side of the falls, just across the water from Niagara Falls, New York, is more interesting to visit. To make the most of your visit to Niagara Falls, whether you decide to spend a night or two or just stop by on a road trip, you'll want to know all the possible attractions, plus the best places to eat and stay.

Planning Your Trip

  • Best Time to Visit: Summertime offers the best weather for seeing the falls, but the crowds can be overwhelming. Fall is a great time to see the waterfall surrounded by fall foliage and although you'll need a jacket, it won't be too cold.
  • Language: Canada's official languages are English and French, but you'll find that everyone speaks English in Niagara Falls, as it is part of the primarily English-speaking province of Ontario.
  • Currency: Because it's located on the border, U.S. dollars will be accepted at most attractions, shops, and restaurants. However, you will get a better value if you pay with Canadian dollars.
  • Getting Around: If you are coming from the U.S., it is simple to drive your car over the border, but you'll find that once you get there, it will be easy to walk between attractions. If you don't have a car, you can also use public buses and taxis to get around.
  • Travel Tip: If you are crossing the border from the U.S., you will need to show your passport or a passport equivalent.

Things to Do

Niagara Falls caters full-on to tourists by offering up a plethora of splashy attractions that thrill, excite and amaze, such as the famous and longstanding Hornblower Tours, the Whirlpool Aerocar, or IMAX movie theater. Beyond waterfall-related adventures, there are several other ways to stay busy on a trip to Niagara Falls.

  • The Niagara region is perfect for bike riding, especially the extensive and picturesque bike path system of the Niagara Parkway and the Niagara wine region, where cyclists can stop for tastings along the way.
  • Niagara Falls and Niagara-on-the-Lake are big golf destinations with many scenic, some waterside, courses like Legends on the Niagara and Grand Niagara Golf Club.
  • Niagara Falls has a system of rivers and waterways where you can fish for rainbow trout, brown trout, salmon, lake trout, musky and small-mouth bass. Popular locations in both the upper and lower falls include Fort Niagara State Park and Niagara Reservation.
  • Niagara Falls has outlet shopping on both sides of the border. Typically, the American side has Walden Galleria and Fashion Outlets Niagara amongst others, that offer the likes of Ralph Lauren, Guess, Coach, and Pottery Barn at up to 75 percent off regular prices.
  • If the timing is right you may be able to partake in annual events like the Niagara Falls Festival of Lights, a light show that includes an illuminated five-kilometer route of displays, fireworks over the Falls, and more. This festival takes place during the holiday season between November and December, but the also popular Niagara Wine Festival usually occurs in January, during the ice wine season.

What to Eat and Drink

Niagara Falls is a tourist town, which means that most restaurants you'll find are overpriced and not very high quality. Chain restaurants are the norm, but if you're a true foodie, you may want to leave downtown and take a trip to Niagara-on-the-Lake, where the selection is more diverse and sophisticated. If it's just a small bite and a drink you're looking for in town, you can grab a pint in a classic Irish pub-like Doc Magilligan's or go for a quick wine tasting at Wine on Third. For lunch, you could also try Griffon Gastropub, which keeps over 50 different kinds of beers on tap.

If you prefer to dine near the water, Casa Mia is a cozy and authentic Italian restaurant that provides complimentary shuttle service to and from many hotels. The Niagara Fallsview Casino has at least a dozen restaurants, from casual to fine dining. Of course, the most romantic thing to do is to find somewhere to enjoy a meal or a few drinks within views of the natural wonder, which is possible to do at Canyon Creek Chophouse, which is part of the casino.

If the wine tasting piques your interest in the wine of this region, you may want to extend your trip to take a tour of Niagara-on-the-Lake. This romantic destination is home to popular wineries and vineyards like Peller Estates Winery and Wayne Gretzky Estates, owned by the famous Canadian hockey player. Hockey and wine fans can come together at this unique winery, which has its own skating rink, plus a whisky bar for when you get tired of wine.

Where to Stay

Niagara Falls has many big-name hotels, such as Doubletree, Sheraton, Courtyard Marriott, Embassy Suites, and more. You'll find many of these hotels offer rooms with views of Horseshoe Falls. When booking your hotel, consider how close to the Falls you want to be and how important it is to be able to see the waterfall from your room. Other hotels are closer to outlet shopping, such as the Outlet Collection in Niagara-on-the Lake, from where you can take a short shuttle to the waterfall.

If romance is the priority, some hotels offer in-suite hot tubs or you could go the non-traditional route with a boutique hotel like the Old Stone Inn or a bed-and-breakfast like Redwood Bed & Breakfast. There are many options, but that just means you'll have more choice when it comes to choosing something right for your budget or travel style. The majority of hotels are concentrated in the center of town, sometimes known as Clifton Hills, but you can find a few more options in the area surrounding Fallsview Boulevard.

For more options of where to stay, check out this diverse list of Niagara Falls hotels.

Getting There

Niagara Falls is about 90 minutes from Toronto and 30 minutes from Buffalo. If you are traveling by plane, you have the choice of flying into Lester B. Pearson (Toronto International Airport), Toronto Island Airport, Hamilton International Airport, The Greater Buffalo International Airport, or Niagara Falls International Airport. As a popular road trip destination, most people arrive by car, but you could also take a long-haul bus line to Toronto or Buffalo and transfer via public transportation. Go Transit offers bus and train service from various Ontario cities, like Toronto and Hamilton. 

There are four ways to cross the border from the U.S. into Canada at Niagara Falls. The Lewiston Queenston Bridge is open 24 hours, the Whirlpool Bridge doesn't allow trucks, the Rainbow Bridge has a pedestrian crossing if you want to be able to say you literally walked across the border, or you can take your bike over the Peace Bridge.

Money Saving Tips

  • If you plan to visit several attractions, consider buying a pass, such as the Niagara Falls & Great Gorge Adventure Pass, or for those visiting both U.S. and Canadian Niagara Falls attractions, the Niagara Falls Power Pass may be your best buy.
  • Although winters are cold in Niagara Falls, travel during the winter months offers plenty of savings when it comes to accommodation and you can enjoy fewer crowds as well.
  • When deciding which outlet malls to visit, the exchange rate should factor into deciding which side of the border you decide to shop on. The American side has better deals, but shoppers must consider personal allowances and the possibility of paying duty if shopping in the U.S. and returning to Canada (or vice versa), however, it could be worth shopping on the Canadian side if the exchange rate is in your favor.