Niagara Falls is said to be one of the most spectacular natural attractions in the world. We won’t argue. To be able to stand on the brink and feel the mist as the river plunges 57 metres (187 feet) into the swirling abyss below is a spine-tingling experience. Our GuideAlong tour will begin in Toronto, Ontario, and as we drive the 90-minute journey to Niagara Falls we will introduce you to Ontario – to the landscape, the history, and the geology that created such a wonderful natural and man-made attraction.
We will help you navigate the route through the City of Niagara Falls, help you find a place to park, see the must-do experiences and then, continue to Niagara-on-the-Lake (NOTL). Nicknamed the Loveliest Town in Canada, NOTL is a hub for quaint shops, delightful restaurants, and a theatre scene like no other. It’s surrounded by some of Canada’s best vineyards. And when you are finished tasting wine or laughing at a classic Bernard Shaw play, we will guide you back to Toronto.
There are many routes into Niagara Falls but we are starting you in Toronto to get a feel for the spectacular lake that the Niagara Falls spills into.
Toronto is host to the Pearson International Airport, one of Canada’s biggest and busiest airports. The airport is serviced by all the major international airlines, and has plenty of car rental options. A short drive from the airport has you joining the tour while it’s in progress, but we suggest starting in the centre of Toronto to enjoy the entire narration – located just under 30 kilometres (or 19 miles) from the airport.
For our American friends, we suggest crossing the border using the Peace Bridge in Buffalo – so bring your passport to do that. From here you’ll follow the QEW northbound, and exit at McLeod Road to join the tour route. Or if coming across from the American Falls side, simply join on the Niagara River Parkway and drive the loop.
The best way to see the City of Niagara Falls is by car, to have the freedom to stop at the viewpoints and attractions along the way, as well as in the city itself. In the peak of the tourism season, parking might get tricky and expensive. We suggest taking our tour without stopping in the busy parts, then park away from the Falls to come back and enjoy it all at your leisure. There is the city operated ‘WEGO’ bus that stops at all the destinations we will talk about in the tour. There is a fare, but it might be worth it when traffic is hectic.
There are lots of things to do and see that are free, but attractions like the Hornblower Niagara City Cruises, the Skywheel and amusement parks will have fees. Visiting the Fort George National Historic Park has an entrance fee, so bring your Parks Canada Park Pass with you if you have one. The Niagara Power Station also has admission fees, and tickets can be purchased in advance online or in-person (subject to availability). But once you are parked, strolling along The Brink of the Falls is free, as is a stop at the Welland Canal in St. Catharines. And of course, the vineyards may have tasting fees.
Due to its popularity in the summer season, any accommodations in Niagara Falls should be booked in advance. Hotels closest to the falls are expensive so you might consider something a few blocks away that has parking available. Here you’ll find bed and breakfasts as well as hotels and motels. And at night during the summer lights show, you can enjoy an evening stroll from your accommodations to see the coloured lights glowing from behind the falls.
For those that prefer tent or RV camping, there’s several options within a short drive of Niagara Falls. Niagara-on-the-Lake is another popular choice with hotels, inns, bed and breakfasts, and again can be pricy.
Each year over 20 million people from all around the world come to see the Falls. Peak season at Niagara Falls is from June to September, with the best weather and more activities and events on offer than at any other time of the year. But expect crowds in summer! In particular, July and August are the busiest months – but it’s still worth the effort with daily averages highs of 75 to 81 F (24 to 27 C). And don’t forget that this far north, the sun will set in the summer around 9 pm – perfect for watching the seasonal fireworks that erupt over the falls. And if you’re not here for the summer fireworks, you’ll still enjoy a spectacular sunset with Niagara Falls illuminated in glowing colours throughout the year.
To avoid some of the crowds, the shoulder seasons of late fall and early spring can be an ideal time to visit. However, you’ll want to carefully plan your dates as off-season visits come with the cost of missing out on visiting many of the amusements and attractions on Clifton Hill. Most attractions open for the summer by late May or early June – when the crowds are not too massive yet.
Niagara Falls is actually a year-round destination, and winter can be a fascinating time to view the Falls. Some attractions like the Hornblower Cruises will close for the winter season from December to March (be sure to check schedules of Falls-related attractions and activities in winter). Niagara Falls has only stopped falling once when in 1948 an ice jam upstream stopped the flow for a short while. But since then, the water never stops. Winter is your best bet for unobstructed views of the Falls, and the enormous amount of ice that builds up beside and below the Falls. It can get very cold especially with the mist turning to ice as it drifts towards you. So winter coats, hats, and gloves are a must.
Experiencing Niagara Falls from Toronto is an easy day trip. And while you could do our driving tour in a single day, many visitors may want to spend at least one night in the area to slow down and take it all in. The first day at the Niagara Falls area could include the visit to Welland Canal, the powerhouse, the waterfall and the attractions on Clifton Hill, before staying for the nightly fireworks show (from May long weekend through early October).
And on the second day, you could enjoy a leisurely pace visiting Fort George, Niagara-on-the-Lake and the vineyards before heading back to Toronto.
The best time to avoid the crowds is by visiting from late fall to early spring, but we understand that most people want to see the Falls in summer. If you’re able to visit midweek and avoid major holidays it will be a little less crowded than these peak days. Also, leave Toronto early in the morning during peak tourist season to arrive before the crowds (in the winter or shoulder season, it’s not so important).
And one of the biggest time wasters is waiting in line to buy tickets to the major attractions, so make sure to reserve ahead of time to avoid the line ups at the popular attractions including the Journey Behind the Falls, The Niagara Parks Power Station and Tunnel, Niagara’s Fury, the Whirlpool Aero Car and the Hornblower Niagara City Cruises to the bottom of the Falls.
The amount of water flowing over the lip of the 57-metre (187-foot) drop is alluring. You really are watching as millions of gallons of water per minute tumble into the mist. The sound is deafening, the mist invigorating and the sights are nothing less than spectacular.
It’s a short voyage – but it is packed with excitement. The Hornblower Cruise from the terminal on the Canadian side of the gorge takes you on the specially designed high-powered catamaran past the American Falls, then Bridal Falls, and right up to the edge of the mist of Horseshoe Falls. Rain ponchos are provided but, you will still get wet. How cool is that! Expect to spend at least an hour including the tour.
What used to be a massive, noisy, vibrating power station supplying energy across the region sat silent for many years. In 2021, this steampunk-style relic was opened to the public and to be honest, it looks like it’s still operational. The time clocks, the wrenches, the tools, and leavers are all in place. Some are dusted off, some show the ravage of time. The absolute highlight of visiting the old power plant is to take the glass elevator down to the bottom of the disused water tunnel. You walk towards the light at the end which turns out to be the base of the Horseshoe Falls, where you are close enough to wave at the folks on the Hornblower. Plan at least an hour to enjoy the museum and the walk through the tunnel to the base of the Falls.
On your way to Niagara Falls, take a 20-minute break to watch massive cargo ships as they slip into Lock 3 to either rise to enter Lake Erie or slowly drop to meet the water level of Lake Ontario. The St. Catharines Museum and Welland Canals Centre has a walkway to oversee the action, and excellent displays of the history of building the canals.
Be prepared to be amazed on a totally different level. Clifton Hill in Niagara Falls is known as the ‘Street of Fun” and that’s no lie. It is wall-to-wall attractions, themed restaurants, mini golf, shops, tacky museums, corny experiences and even a skywheel to ride. Go ahead, stop in for a few minutes to enjoy something you won’t see at home. It’s short, it’s fun and has something for everyone.
What is now a quaint town on the Niagara Peninsula with the shores of Lake Ontario to the north and the banks of the Niagara River to the east, was once the capital of Canada. Battles between the British and the Americans were waged on these shores, but those days are gone. Now, the colonial=style buildings tucked behind tree-lined streets rich with floral displays welcomes tourists to stop in for lunch, or to shop or stay for a while to take in the plays at the annual Shaw Festival. It’s easy to see why its nickname is the Loveliest Town in Canada.
Be sure to visit at least one wine vineyard to taste Canada’s best wine, the Niagara-on-the-Lake region is home to Canada’s oldest vineyards. The soil, the proximity to the lake, and the ideal climate is perfect for growing grapes and there are more than 50 wineries to stop at. Many offer samplings and tours. A lunch sitting under an umbrella next to this season’s crop sounds divine, don’t you think?
Beyond being totally amazed by the waterfall, the kids will be in sensory overload with the attractions on Clifton Hill. You can either give in to the “once-in-a-lifetime” concept and let them go crazy or, blindfold them as you drive the loop through town. We suggest stopping – they will love you forever. If they are old enough to clip into a harness, consider the Wildplay Whirlpool Adventure Course that has you walking tightropes, climbing up cargo nets or balancing on wobbly bridges high above the ground.
Layers: The mist billowing from the Falls is beautiful and can be refreshing on a hot summer day. But even in the summer it can get chilly. A light sweater in the daytime should keep you comfortable and a light jacket in the evening is a good idea. In the winter months, that breeze off the waterfall is ladened with tiny ice crystals. Bring a winter coat, gloves, and a hat.
Footwear: Wearing sensible shoes is a must for walking around the Falls and around the attractions. In the summer you might however consider bringing sandals to wear if you do the Hornblower Niagara City Cruises to the base of the Falls, or any of the attractions that go near or behind the Falls. There is a 100 percent chance you will get wet. Ponchos are provided but they don’t cover your feet. In the winter, make sure you have warm footwear with good soles. The ice can pile up on the boardwalk next to the Falls.
Daypack: You’ll want a daypack to hold everything you need for the day.
Sun Protection: There isn’t much shade along the river where you can view the Falls, and no cover on the upper deck of the boat tours. The sun may not feel powerful, especially as it can be quite windy, but it is easy to get sunburned if you are not protecting yourself. And don’t forget a hat and sunglasses, you will spending a lot of time outside, and hopefully it will be sunny.
Hairbrush: The wind and the mist can do a number on your hair, so be prepared with a comb or hairbrush ready for your next photo.
Water Bottles: It’s important to stay hydrated. So, always bring water – refillable water bottles are recommended. And make sure you drink it!
Waterproof Camera or Waterproof Phone Case: You’ll definitely want to take lots of photos, but you’ll want to make sure your camera is protected. And if you’re using your phone to take photos close up to the Falls, you’ll want to make sure it’s protected. In a pinch, Ziploc bags work great for protecting your cell phone, wallet etc from the water.
Portable Phone Charger and Cable: If you’re taking pictures with your phone, running out of batteries may result in missed opportunities. A DC car charger is best, so that you can charge your phone while driving.
Plastic Bags: We always carry a plastic bag, so we can do our part and help keep the area clean. And you’ll want another plastic bag to keep your wet sandals away from everything else after getting up close to the Falls.
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