We recently spent ten days traveling from Toronto to Quebec City. The sites, sounds, & snacks of the five Canadian cities we visited were just what we hoped they would be! Our second stop was Niagara Falls staying overnight in Niagara-on-the-Lake. We had the best day and saw all the sites. This is what we did:
Niagara Falls Visitor Center
We arrived early at the Niagara Falls Visitor Center - Table Rock Centre. I highly recommend arriving early because all of the attractions, restaurants, viewing areas, and parking will become very crowded very quickly. Table Rock Centre opens at 10:00am. We arrived at 9:00am so parking was easy to secure at the lot across the street from the visitors center/falls viewing. Later in the day this parking lot, as well as the overflow parking lot, was packed! People were literally waiting on cars to exit in order to park.
The area around the Visitor Center and Horseshoe Falls viewing is very pedestrian friendly with easy to navigate pathways, crosswalks, and green space. Many visitors were picnicking on the green spaces in this area throughout the day. People had blankets, yard games, and even small grills.
Crossing the street from the parking lot to the falls viewing, we stopped at the first building we encountered - the Niagara Parks kiosk - to purchase our tickets for the day. We opted for the Niagara Falls Pass ($79 CAD per person). The pass provided all day access to the Niagara Park attractions, the incline railway, as well as the WEGO bus. The pass is a hard plastic card that can be worn around your neck making for easy use at each location.
With our tickets secured and a map in hand, we crossed back over to the parking lot and made our way to the incline railway. The incline tickets are included on the pass and the railway runs 9:00am-11:00pm. After a short ride to the top, we had our first views of the falls. WOW! They are truly magnificent. Words and pictures cannot capture the magnitude of water moving over the rocks and falling to the river below.
After our first views we were excited to see the falls up close!
Journey Behind the Falls
Inside the Welcome Centre, we scanned our passes and grabbed our yellow rain ponchos to begin our first up-close, self-guided tour. The Journey Behind the Falls allows visitors to see, feel, and hear the falls up close from a viewing deck. You will get wet! Along this self-guided experience, we were also able to walk through the tunnels stopping to read about the falls and to view the falls from the various cave-like entrances.
Welcome Centre Gift Shop and Restaurants
The Welcome Centre has two gift shops. The largest is located on the main level (next to the Journey to the Falls) and contains clothing, food, art, ornaments, and so much more! We grabbed some fun t-shirts, maple syrup as well as maple candies, a couple of ornaments, and a commemorative pin. Lots of options so everyone left happy with their purchases. We also sampled the coffee and pastry options from the cafe located nearby.
We eventually returned to the Welcome Centre after touring the Power Station for lunch. We had burgers, chicken sandwiches, wraps, and ramen for lunch. All of the food was great and we enjoyed eating outdoors at one of the picnic tables. There are many restaurant options along the "red line" using the WEGO. I don't recommend moving your vehicle (or you will have trouble parking again) so a picnic, the Welcome Centre, or a restaurant along the WEGO would be the best choice.
This cute 4D movie was included with our Niagara Falls Pass. If you are traveling with small children, I would totally recommend this movie. After a short cartoon, we entered a second space to stand on a platform and experience "riding" the falls. We had to wear rain ponchos (again) and we did get wet. If you aren't traveling with children, I would probably skip this movie. We only went because the movie was just about to start as we walked by so we detoured in to watch.
Power Station and the Tunnel
The Power Station and Tunnel are included as part of the Niagara Falls Pass. The Power Station has been recently remodeled to include immersive exhibits and restored artifacts as well as nice bathrooms and a gift shop. The Tunnel gives visitors a chance to travel180 feet down in a glass-paneled elevator to explore the 2,200-foot tunnel leading to an observation deck at the river's edge. Rain ponchos were again provided but not necessarily needed. Along the route, we were able to read about the Power Station and the falls.
After lunch, the crowds were thick! Parking was an issue and lines were becoming much longer. We opted to leave our vehicle and ride the WEGO to the next couple of sites. There is an app which allows visitors to track the bus arrival and departure times from each of the stops. However, we did have to wait awhile for the bus as the arrival/departure times did not seem to match the app. Also, the buses were at maximum capacity which meant we were standing the whole ride. Would I ride it again? Yes. The traffic was very heavy and parking seemed to be an issue at each of our next stops. The waiting did alter our estimated time at each of our next activities which ultimately caused us to re-imagine the rest of our day's plans. My advice is to add about 30 minutes to each of your estimated activities timelines to account for the traffic, travel, and WEGO wait.
White Water Walk & the Riverside Boardwalk
The White Water Walk is approximately 2.5 miles from the Visitor Centre. We took the WEGO bus from the Visitor Centre terminal to the stop right in front of the entrance. The walk is accessed using an elevator which only holds about 8-10 people for each ride which meant we waited in a queue for about 30 minutes. At the bottom, we walked along the Riverside Boardwalk. This 1/4 mile walk follows the Niagara River. There are several viewing platforms along the way - the rapids are intense! There is a gift shop offering souvenirs, ice cream, and drinks. No bathroom is available.
Our final stop for the day was the Whirlpool Aerocar. The open-air cable car travels 3,500 feet over the Niagara River. Passengers cross international borders four times due to the path of the water. We had a short wait before it was our turn to board. We were in awe by the intensity of the water as we crossed from Canada to the USA. Bathrooms and a gift shop are available.
Niagara on the Lake
We had initially planned to spend our late afternoon shopping or bike riding in Niagara on the Lake. However, due to the crowds, wait times, and traffic of the Niagara Falls area, we arrived in Niagara on the Lake at dinnertime. We checked into our hotel and made our way to the shops, restaurants, and sites of Queens Street. This walkable and super charming area was filled with shops (closed by the time we arrived), restaurants, hotels, and so many gelato shops. We ate dinner at Corks. Everyone enjoyed the food and speciality cocktails. Parking was available behind the shops in a paid lot.
After dinner we walked to Queen's Park to watch the sun set. The park was packed with people - couples, families, singles. There is plenty of green space, small seating and picnic areas, a beach, and a walkway along the water. This would have been a great spot for a picnic dinner, appetizers and cocktails, or even dessert.
Know Before You Go:
I would have loved to picnic outside the Welcome Centre in the Niagara Falls area. There are a several grocery stores located a couple of miles from the Welcome Centre - Commisso's Fresh Foods and Food Basics.
We were lucky to find a restaurant in Niagara on the Lake but I think dinner reservations during high tourist times are a must.
Niagara is busy! Go early to get the most out of your day. Also, if you arrive before the Visitor Centre opens you can view the falls from behind the centre and along the walkways as they are open 24/7.
Wear comfortable shoes! Be aware, your shoes will likely get wet.
In fact, you should be prepared to get a bit wet in general when visiting the falls. I also recommend dressing in layers as it was windy.
Another attraction that would have been fun to visit is the floral clock. It is a giant 40-foot wide outdoor floral decorated clock filled with more than 16,000 plants. Sadly we ran out of time.
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When to Go:
In our opinion, the summer months are the best time to visit Niagara Falls. The weather is 75-80 degrees and all of the attractions are open.
Is Niagara Safe?
Yes! Niagara Falls is safe for visitors. However, Niagara Falls is a busy area filled with tourists so we recommend taking the typical city precautions – don’t walk alone at night, park your vehicle in well-lit locations, ensure valuables are stored out of sight, be aware of your surroundings.
Our overnight accommodations were located near Queen Street in Niagara-on-the-Lake - Best Western Colonel Butler Inn. The rooms were recently remodeled and the price point was great including the complimentary breakfast in the morning. Unfortunately, we were not able to walk to the restaurants and shopping.
For the greatest level of flexibility and site-seeing opportunities, we recommend using a rental car. We found both the Waze app and Google maps to be easy to use to navigate from one destination to another.
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