Millions of people come to Niagara Falls each year just to see it, maybe to get married in this highly popular location or just to enjoy the day or staying here longer.
The Niagara River, (Technically a Strait) is around 56 kilometres long (35 Miles) flowing from Lake Erie down the Strait with a massive volume of fresh water dropping over the Niagara waterfalls on each side of Goat Island (Goat Island being in the centre) and down into the Falls Basins below the Falls, with the water then flowing fast through the Niagara Gorge through the Whirlpool Rapids and into Lake Ontario next to Niagara-on-the-Lake. Every minute there is around 154,000 million litres of water pouring over Niagara Falls.
The Great Lakes, of which Lake Erie and Lake Ontario are just two of the lakes, are said to contain about 20% of the world's fresh water - A remarkable statistic.
The Great Lakes are all connected to one another, with the water flowing to Lake Ontario, which then feeds into the St Lawrence River and on to the Atlantic Ocean.
In Niagara Falls the overall fall drop is around 99 metres (326 feet), with the Horseshoe Falls (one of the three) having a 57 metre drop (188 feet) down into the Falls Basin below it. This basin is pounded by the water creating the 'basins' under the Falls – so deeper than the Niagara River flowing from it. An island, Goat Island separates the Horseshoe Canadian Falls from the Bridal Veil and American Falls on the other side of the island.
There is also Niagara Falls (the City) – Niagara-at-the-Falls and Niagara-on-the-Lake in Niagara Falls Canada and then there is Niagara Falls New York State over the US/Canadian border with the Rainbow Toll Bridge crossing over the gorge (and Border) between the two Countries. There are also other bridges too, including the Whirlpool Toll Bridge and the Lewiston Queenston Toll Bridge. US/Canadian Customs are located next to these Toll Bridges.
Niagara Falls is roughly 130 kilometres (80 miles) south west of Toronto, and many people coming to Niagara Falls will make it a day trip rather than stay longer. If you do stay longer, you will find yourself in the middle of wine country with lots of wineries, including ones making Canada's Ice Wine.
Niagara Falls, as above is in fact three Falls – the biggest being Horseshoe Falls, the second biggest, American Falls and the smallest one (though quite big) located next to American Falls is Bridal Veil Falls (only seen from the USA side), with all of the Falls being a visual and sound spectacular cascade of surging water.
Note: see later information about Niagara Falls USA side – at the end of this Travel Guide.
ON THE CANADIAN SIDE -
Look to see the Niagara Falls from a location before the water goes over the Falls and also from in front or below them. These experiences are not to be missed.
Niagara Falls attracts millions of visitors each year, so if you don't enjoy crowds, plan to come here at times when you hope that there are less people. Most people will come to Niagara-at-the-Falls more so than at Niagara-on-the- Lake, but it is definitely worth going to or staying at Niagara-on-the-Lake next to Lake Ontario too.
Also in Niagara Falls look for the WeGo bus – 'a hop on-hop off' bus that will take you to various locations around Niagara Falls.
Most people will see the Falls from viewing locations at ground level, but you can also head up the 771 feet high Skylon Tower to look down at them from almost above them (See www.skylon.com ) with its IMAX Theatre also creating also a different experience, or you can go by boat and get up close below the falls – see Whirlpool Jet Boat Tours – 61 Melville Street, Niagara (See www.whirlpooljet.com ) – at Niagara on-the-Lake. There is also the Hornblower Niagara Cruises too and Maid of the Mist, the little boat that has been taking tourists to the Falls since 1846. See www.maidofthemist.com 5920 River Road.
There are lots of options when it comes to seeing the Falls, and you could also take to the sky and fly over them by helicopter (See www.niagarahelicopters.com ) or even ride on the Skywheel , a giant Ferris Wheel gondola – located at 4950 Clifton Hill. (See www.cliftonhill.com/attractions/niagara-skywheel )
About 4 kilometres along the Niagara Parkway (Road) is the Whirlpool Aero Car that passes over the Niagara River where the Whirlpool Rapids are located. This cablecar (Aerocar) has been operating here since 1916 and is located at 3850 Niagara Parkway.
Niagara Parkway is the main road that follows along beside the Niagara River. The Border between Canada and the United States runs midway along the River and then out into Lake Ontario and also Lake Erie.
The US/Canadian border mostly follows the 49th Parallel across the country to West Coast, but then in the Great Lakes and eastwards it tracks a different course across the middle of most of the Great Lakes, then along the St Lawrence River as it heads eastward.
Most people will head to see Table Rock in Niagara Falls to get close to Horseshoe Falls with Table Rock located at 6650 Niagara Parkway. Here there are all the normal tourist souvenirs and food places here too. There is also a Funicular 'Falls Incline Railway' down to Table Rock.
If you want to get the real feel of the power of the Falls, the mist and sound of the water, head to Niagara's Fury (At Table Rock) – where you will get to wear a plastic poncho raincoat while the water rushes close to you as well as enjoy a whole 4D experience – as the floor below shakes and sound systems simulate a whole new experience. Prepare to get a bit wet!
Perhaps even more fun is to go underneath the Falls, descending down an elevator to then walk through concrete tunnels under the falls. The 'Journey Behind the Falls' is an amazing experience. The Tunnels date back to 1889 and are about 150 feet long, leading to some Portal windows to look out from and also outdoor observation decks.
Winter is also a different experience too. Most people will come in the Spring, Summer and Fall months, but in winter the Falls can take on a winter wonderland appearance, sometimes becoming an ice spectacular with parts of the Falls completely frozen over. In winter the city also becomes a winter wonderland too, with the Falls lit up and fairy lights creating a quite different atmosphere, with people rugged up and hotels putting on winter food and decorations.
If you are staying overnight, also year round see the Falls in the daytime but also at night, as it gives you a different atmosphere to a daytime visit.
Niagara Falls has been a Tourist destination since the 1800's, so there are plenty of hotels, B&B's and places to stay and eat, buy souvenirs of your visit and other merchandise.
There are also Casinos here in Niagara Falls too – Fallsview Casino – 6380 Fallsview Road – See www.fallsviewcasinoresort.com; Casino Niagara – 5705 Falls Avenue – see www.casinoniagara.com and on the USA side, Seneca Niagara Resort and Casino – 310 Fourth Street – See www.senecaniagaracasino.com
Niagara Falls has also been a very popular place to get married, so you have the photographers and also things like the Horse and Carriage rides – such as Sentineal Carriages – 1055 Line 1, North of the Falls.
There are also the Tourist places like Brick City Theme Park – 4943 Clifton Hill Niagara Falls, and the and Haunted House also at 4943 Clifton Hill.
There is no doubt that there are lots of touristy things to see, but the Falls themselves are the real centrepiece attraction, and they are without doubt the most spectacular in the world. The only ones that come close to being as dramatic would be Victoria Falls on the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe in Africa and the Iguazu Falls on the border between Paraguay and Argentina. It is strange that all three of these big waterfalls are located on borders between countries.
While you could come to Niagara Falls just for the day from Toronto to see the Falls, ideally also see around some of the other attractions in the area.
One of the best views and photos of Horseshoe Falls is from Queen Victoria Park, near Horseshoe Falls where you can see the park and its gardens with the Falls in the background. The Park itself dates back to 1888 when it first opened, so it has nice pathways and lots of gardens, including daffodils in spring and historic trees.
Heading along Niagara Parkway to Lake Ontario -
Niagara-on-the-Lake (Lake Ontario) is only about 27 kilometres south of Horseshoe Falls, so not far and along the way there are also places to stop at and see too. Look for Niagara Glen where there are walkways and bikeway Trails through the forest areas beside the River. Niagara Glen is only about 8 kilometres from Horseshoe Falls and in the Spring, Summer or Fall these Trails will take you on a magical walk or bike ride. For a special view of the River and surrounds in Niagara Glen, look for the Devil's Hole Rapids.
Further along at 2465 Niagara Parkway are the Botanical Gardens and Butterfly Conservatory. Here in the gardens you can see over 2400 Roses in the gardens with the gardens covering an area of 99 acres (40 hectares) of grounds. The Butterfly Conservatory has thousands of colourful Butterflies to see here too.
A little further along is the famous Floral Clock, a really beautiful large clock with its face made using plants and flowers. It also makes for a great photo too - definitely worth seeing.
Queenston is a small historic township and a good place to stay too, being a little away from the bigger crowds of people in Niagara Falls, but also close to the river and falls too.
When you think of the millions of tourists that come to Niagara Falls to see and enjoy the Falls, it is hard to imagine that this whole area was between 1812 and 1814 was a battlefield where the American and British forces ( of Upper Canada) raged against each other in war.
The American War of Independence took place during the years between 1775 and 1783, and during and just after this period many of the British "Loyalists" fled from Boston and other New England areas north to Lower and Upper Canada (as they were called then), where the British forces were located.
In Europe the Napoleonic Wars had started in 1799 and France took control of the vast territory of Louisiana from the Spanish in 1800, but then in 1803 under the Louisiana Purchase the French sold Louisiana to the United States, by which time the French and British were at war in Europe.
While the United States was not directly involved in the Napoleonic Wars in Europe, both French and British territories were in the Americas, so indirectly the United States was caught between both sides. On one hand the Americans were looking to expand their territories westward, while on the other hand they wanted to secure their trade with both France and Britain.
At the same time, Britain wanted to blockade trade destined for France, and the Atlantic Ocean off the east coast of America therefore became a battleground. British ships attacked and sunk some American ships carrying goods destined for France, and they also impressed (forced) some American sailors into service in the British Navy. At the same time, the British were said to be supporting Native American guerrilla tactics against the American forces. There were also no doubt simmering tensions between the Americans and British dating back to the War of Independence.
This situation culminated in the United States declaring war on Britain on June 18, 1812 and therefore along the Atlantic seaboard, Upper and Lower Canada and in southern USA where British troops had been stationed. This resulted in both a naval and land battle, particularly along the St Lawrence River, in the Great Lakes and around Lake Champlain, and right here in Queenston there was the Battle of Queenston Heights when the Americans sought to invade Canada, where the British forces and citizen forces were located. Other battles in this area next to the Niagara River included the Battle of Chippawa (in Chippawa) and the Battle of Lundy's Lane in 1814. First Nations warriors also fought in these battles.
In Queenston there are significant historic locations including the Laura Secord Homestead, built in 1812; the MacKenzie Printery and Newspaper Museum at 1 Queenston Road; Riverbrink Art Museum at 116 Queenston Street and Brock's Monument (built in 1853) in Queenston Heights Park. If you want to discover more about the war and battles, it is definitely worth coming to see Brock's Monument. Also if you like hiking, look for Bruce Trail and the Upper Canada Heritage Trail as well as Portage Road, the road that was first built in 1790.
If this whole 1812-1814 war had been lost to the Americans, the history of Canada would have changed forever.
Niagara-on-the-Lake has a population of around 15,000 people and is located next to the Niagara River where it enters Lake Ontario. This location was originally called 'Onghiara' by the First Nation people who lived here, and it is said that a 6 mile stretch of the land on the west side of the River was bought by the British in 1781 for "300 suits of clothing". It was then re-named Buttersburg in 1781 and then as Newark in 1792 becoming the Capital of Upper Canada, before the Capital was moved in 1796 to York (today's Toronto). Newark was then renamed again in 1798 as Niagara and in 1812 Niagara was burnt to the ground by the Americans. In 1880 it was then renamed again as Niagara-on-the-Lake, a name that continues in use.
Niagara-on-the-Lake is a historic town with its historic district in the centre of town and there is Fort George National Historic Park and also Fort Mississauga on Mississauga Point where there is the 1804 Lighthouse, right next to the point where the Niagara River enters Lake Ontario. On the opposite bank of the River in the United States is Old Fort Niagara in Fort Niagara State Park. The border between Canada and the United States runs down the centre of the River and out into the Lake.
Here in Niagara-on-the-Lake are some of the oldest buildings in Canada, including McFarland House (15927 Niagara Parkway), built in 1800 and St Mark's Anglican Church built in 1791.
The city is said to be one of the prettiest in Canada, and has been made famous as the location for the George Bernard Shaw Festival, when three theatres present plays written by this famous playwright during the summer months. There are a number of wineries and orchards in this district too.
While the Niagara Falls are an amazing natural phenomenon, the Falls created an impenetrable barrier to boats and ships seeking to travel up the river from Lake Ontario to Lake Erie. The Welland Canal was therefore built in 1824-1839, and this was 43.4 kilometres long and had some 40 locks to travel through. The Welland Canal was upgraded in 1842, again in 1887 and today the 4th upgraded version built between 1913 and 1932 is still in operation with just 8 locks along its route.
The best way to see it is to travel from Niagara-on-the-Lake to the garden town of Catharines where there is the Welland Canals Centre and Museum as well as the LaCrosse Hall of Fame and Museum – located at 1932 Welland Canals Parkway in Catharines.
Fort Erie is next to Lake Erie (Not Lake Ontario) and opposite the USA City of Buffalo, with the Peace Bridge crossing over the River at that point. If you want to see more of the 1812 War – head to Fort Erie – see www.town.forterie.ca
Niagara Falls – USA
If you are coming to Niagara Falls and want to cross the border between Canada and the United States you need to show identity documents (usually a Passport) to pass through Customs checks. Make sure you bring these documents with you. In Niagara Falls (near the Falls) Canadian and US Customs are located at each end of the Rainbow Bridge. You can also walk or bike across this bridge too.
Seeing the Falls from both sides gives you even more of a sense of the Falls and surroundings. The American Falls and Bridal Veil Falls both face towards the USA side so that you see them facing you.
Just like the Canadian side, there are lots of ways to see the Falls, Niagara River and Gorge, and there is also the Erie Canal to see too – at Lockport.
The Erie Canal was first conceived in the late 1700's and was first built between 1817 and 1825, linking Lake Erie to the Hudson River with 18 Aqueducts and 83 Locks. It was then enlarged, deepened with the number of Locks reduced in 1836, 1862 and 1903-1918 to cover the distance of over 500 miles. When it was built it was claimed by some people as the '8th wonder of the world', due to the level of skill and difficulty in completing such a task. To read more about its history – see www.eriecanal.org and to read more about what and where you could travel and see more of the Erie Canal and other in the New York Canal system – see www.canals.ny.gov
If you come to the United States to see the Niagara Falls, also see if you can do a side journey to Lockport to see the Erie Canal and Locks.
These are some of the things and places to see in and around Niagara Falls on the USA side -
- Niagara River State Park – first established in 1885. See www.niagarafallsstatepark.com This is the place to come to and see the Falls. Goat Island, Three Sisters Islands and Luna Island are also here and there is also a trolley bus that runs around the Park. There are great gardens to admire and walkways and of course the Falls, which you can see from different vantage points at Prospect Point/Prospect Park including from an Observation Tower Deck where you can see both the American Falls and the Horseshoe Falls. You will also find the Visitor's Center here too and the Niagara Adventure Theater.
- Cave of the Winds Hurricane Deck in the Niagara Falls State Park. Here you stand on the Hurricane Deck and get the real feel of the water and spray.
- Maid of the Mist Boat Tours – travel on this boat up close to the Falls and get the spray in your face while wearing a Poncho. The boat leaves from below the Observation Tower (above) and operates from mid-May to the end of October.
- Old Falls Street – see the old cobblestone streets of Niagara Falls. Visit shops and also a Niagara Wine Boutique (- at 28 Old Falls Road). A number of street events happen here too during the summer months. Also head to 360 Rainbow Boulevard for shops selling locally made products, where there is the Made in America Store and the Wine Center.
- Rainbow Air Helicopter Tours – 454 Main Street, Niagara Falls. See the Falls from above.
- Niagara Jet Adventures – The fast and thrilling way to see the Falls. Put on your life jacket! 555 Waterstreet, Youngstown. See www.niagarajet.com
- Whirlpool Jet Boat Tours – on the Niagara River downstream at Water Street Landing, 115 South Water Street, Lewiston. They also have sunset cruises on a Paddle Wheeler in the summer months – see www.niagarasunsetcruises.com
- Seneca Niagara Resort and Casino – 310 Fourth Street. This is a big Casino with all the facilities and entertainment. See www.senecacasinos.com
- Thunder Theater – 21 Mayor Michael O'Laughlin Drive. A 4D Movie 'Niagara Falls' Experience.
- Spirit of the Mist - Smokin Joes Native Center – 333 First Street, Niagara Falls. See shows and learn more about local Native American customs, traditions, craft and more. See www.sjnativecenter.com
- Native American Museum of Art – 2293 Saunders Settlement Road, Sanborn – See www.smokinjoes.com See paintings and carvings by Iroquois artists.
- Niagara Arts and Cultural Center – 1201 Pine Avenue, Niagara Falls. See www.thenacc.org This is a big arts and cultural center for music, painting and other cultural events and festivals. Check to see what's on while you are here.
- Castellani Art Museum – 5795 Lewiston Road, Niagara University. Here you will be able to see some of the more than 5700 artworks in their collection – including works by Picasso, Dali, Warhol and others. See www.castellaniartmuseum.org They also have a showing of paintings of the Falls at the Event Center at the Falls – 101 Old Falls Road. Freedom Crossing – the 'Underground Railroad'. Here in the Art Museum you will also be able to see and hear more about the 'Underground Railroad' – where in the years before the abolition of slavery, escaping slaves would use safe houses to journey north to Canada. Slavery had been abolished in Upper Canada in 1793, in the British Empire Colonies in 1833 and in the USA following the American Civil War by decree in 1865.
- Das Haus German Heritage Museum – 2549 Niagara Road-Berholz. See www.dashausmuseum.org Here you will learn about German immigrants who came to the western New York area in the 1800's.
- Niagara Wax Museum – 303 Prospect Street, Niagara Falls See wax figures of celebrities.
- Niagara Aerospace Museum – at the Niagara Falls International Airport, 9900 Niagara Falls Boulevard. See a great collection of aviation history here.
- Lavinia E. Porter Manse – House Museum (built 1847) 162 Buffalo Avenue, Niagara Falls.
- North Tonawanda History Museum – 54 Webster Street, North Tonawanda. See www.nthistorymuseum.org
- Niagara Gorge Rim Trail – There are a number of park areas in Niagara Falls and the Rim Trail is one of the best places to enjoy seeing over the Gorge, hear birds and just enjoy your surrounds.
- Allan Herschell Carrousel Factory Museum – 180 Thompson Street, North Tonawanda. See www.carrouselmuseum.org This is where original carrousel late 1800's and early 1900's carnival rides were created, with the carved wooden horses, their bridles and saddles, painted and decorated and then assembled along with the mirrors, music and mechanics. At the height of its success, between 50 and 75 carvers were employed here making the wooden horses.
- Aquarium of Niagara – 701 Whirlpool Street, Niagara Falls. See www.aquariumofniagara.org See Peruvian Penguins, sharks, sea horses and over 1500 marine animals.
- Lockport Cave and Underground Boat Ride – 5 Gooding Street, Lockport . See www.lockportcave.com Walk through a tunnel dug from solid rock from the 1800's and see more about the Locks on the Erie Canal.
- Erie Canal Cruises – 210 Market Street, Lockport. See www.lockportlocks.com Here you can take a 2 hour cruise on the Canal and experience travelling through the Lock system.
- Erie Canal History – see the History Center of Niagara in Lockport – at the Erie Canal Discovery Center 24 Church Street and the Museum Complex at 215 Niagara Street. See www.niagarahistory.org
- Lockside Art Center – 21-41 Main Street, Suite 208. See www.locksideartcenter.com Tel: (716) 478 0239 This is an exhibition space for artists, and open just some days of the week, so best to phone to see what's on.
- Niagara Power Vista – See the Hydro Electricity Plant using the power of the Niagara River. It is located at 5777 Lewiston Road, (Rte 104) Lewiston. See www.nypa.gov/vc/niagara.htm
- Our Lady of Fatima Basilica and Gardens – 1023 Swann Road, Lewiston. See www.fatimashrine.com
- The Black Pearl – is a wooden Tall Ship, built in 1948. 16 Onondaga Street, Lewiston See www.libertyexcursions.com It sails on the lower Niagara River. To book Tel: (877)754 1812.
- ArtPark – 450 South Fourth Street, Lewiston. See www.artpark.net Tel: (716) 754 4375. This is a performance space with different events and shows during the year.
- Lewiston Museum – 469 Plain Street, Lewiston. See www.historiclewiston.org A museum with information about Lewiston's history.
- Old Fort Niagara – 4 Scott Avenue, Youngstown – See www.oldfortniagara.org This is right next to the Niagara River on the USA side where the river flows into Lake Ontario. On the opposite Canadian side there is Fort Mississauga. There are picnic tables and boat ramps and a swimming pool here in the Park area but also 18th century buildings and programs and events that tell the history of the Fort and those who fought here.
- Wineries - there are a number of wineries in and around some of the small towns here in Western New York State, so it is worth looking for some of these too while you are here.