I once won a bet with the captain of German river cruise boat when he refused to believe that the capital of the province of Ontario, Toronto, was on the same latitude as Venice and Bordeaux. Like many non-Canadians, he assumed that all of Canada was northerly and snowbound. The truth is that the border of Ontario reaches as far south as the 43rd latitude and large areas are climatically moderate and the land productive and fertile. The Niagara Region is one of the most treasured and abundantly productive of these areas.
Bordered by the Niagara River that channels water over Niagara Falls from Lake Erie to Lake Ontario, this protected area is a culinary destination, a wine lover’s delight and a historian’s dream. Whether you are biking the Niagara Trail, sipping wine in one of eighty vineyards, or enjoying a play in the theatres of Niagara-on-the-Lake, the region’s draw is irresistible. There is much to savour, much to learn and many discoveries to make in Niagara.
One of the world’s most famous natural wonders, Niagara Falls, rests beside bucolic vineyards, manicured gardens, and important museums that preserve the history of this often fought-over land. The Falls are a never-ending source of awe. Though I have visited them many times both for work and pleasure, the view still give me shivers. Even the carnival fun of nearby Clifton Hill has its allure, especially for families. I discovered that one of the best places to photograph The Falls was from the top of the Niagara Skywheel ride.
Then to the south a traveler finds the unexpected – miles of white sand beaches along the edge of Lake Erie. And while Erie is the thirteenth largest lake in the world, it is also the shallowest of the Great Lakes, which means it warms up beautifully in the summer. There’s an active cottage and resort life all along its shores.
But once you’ve seen the Falls, travel in Niagara is mostly about the serendipitous discovery of little hidden gems, like roadside fruit stands that sell fresh cherries, peaches and apricots, or a historic church that harboured runaway slaves from pre-civil war America. Small family-run wineries, intimate B&B’s, serene bike paths and some of the best hiking trails in the country make travel here a continual adventure.
For the wine lover, Niagara is paradise. This is Canada’s largest and most successful wine growing area, producing world-class wines of depth and complexity – remember that latitudinal affinity with Bordeaux? There are close to eighty wineries in the area, each with a character of its own.
You can pick and choose the ones that suit your level of wine knowledge. Beginners would probably be happier at an established winery like Inniskillen where there will be lessons in wine tasting and guided samplings, or to drop in at Peller Estate’s 10 Below Ice Lounge to learn about Niagara’s most famous product, ice wine. Seasoned wine lovers might prefer a visit to Flat Rock Cellars for tastings of some of the area’s best wines.
Where good wine flourishes, great cuisine follows. Some of Canada’s best chefs have moved to Niagara to be close to the vineyards and benefit from the exceptional agricultural bounty that comes from the warming effect of the lake and the protective ridge of the Niagara escarpment.
Niagara-on-the-Lake, a perfectly preserved town on the shore of Lake Ontario, is home to the Shaw Festival, the only festival devoted to the works of George Bernard Shaw and his contemporaries. The town’s authentically restored Old Fort George celebrates the complicated history of this area, which has been fought over by the French, the British and the Americans. Artists, actors, writers and vintners have made their homes here, and it has been called the prettiest town in Canada. I love to walk the side streets to look at the gardens and steal ideas for my own flowerbeds.
For those who shop, the huge outlet mall just near St. Catherines offers bargains on many of the world’s great labels, from Ralph Lauren to Olsen. The nearby city of Buffalo is an architectural treasure trove, with Frank Lloyd Wright buildings and a downtown that has kept many of its most interesting buildings. The Albright Knox Gallery is home to the largest collection of abstract expressionist works in North America.
The Niagara Region, an iconic piece of Canada that is on every world traveler’s must-see list, will beguile you with every visit.
A traveler’s first instinct would be to visit Niagara in high summer (July and August), and it is truly lovely then – gardens in full bloom, orchards and vineyards green and healthy and the Falls a misty marvel in the summer sunshine. The theatres of Niagara-On-The-Lake run daily performances and the wineries conduct regular tastings. I love Niagara in summer – but I’m a local and I have to confess that if I can, I visit at other times. In summer, Niagara is a magnet for travelers, for all good reasons, but it also means that the crowds along the Falls are huge – you hear every language of the world spoken as you wiggle your way through the throngs. Restaurants are full, hotels are booked and, because it is high season, prices are higher too.
I prefer the shoulder seasons (May, June, September and October) and recommend to all first visitors to Niagara that they take advantage of the plusses of visiting off peak. Weather in Southern Ontario in May and June, and in September and October, is ideal – usually warm and sunny without the summer sizzle. All the attractions run during this time, as they do in high season, but there are often bargains to be had. The Shaw Festival, for example, kicks off its season in May and there are great affordable seats for the preview performances. The Festival runs right to late October, so Fall theatre is a good option. Wineries move into harvest mode in the Fall, and the Autumn colours along the Niagara Parkway are gorgeous.
For me the smaller crowds make these months ideal.
And don’t discount the winter between November and April! Even if you have seen the Falls many times in summer, you will be totally mesmerized by them when they are iced and snow-edged. New Year’s Eve by the Falls is a big event, the Ice Wine Festival draws wine enthusiasts to the restaurants and galas, and it’s a winter wonderland.
If you plan to come during high season, roughly early June to the end of September, be sure to book ahead. Best
rates are obtained by booking online.
The Falls are easy to visit, easy to linger over, but take up perhaps half a day. To see the rest of the city, and to savour wine country, the cuisine or the theatres and museums of the region, a long weekend is ideal. Multiple weekends are even better! If you plan to visit a few wineries, it’s wise to arrange for an escorted tour, or to spend the night, so you can enjoy the wine without driving worries.
Weather & Climate: Summer weather can be surprisingly hot and humid in Southern Ontario so be prepared for high temperatures. Sun block is a must. Winters are lovely, with lots of mild days, but the spray from the Falls can freeze your eyelashes!
What’s the Weather Like?
Approximately the same distance from the equator as Seattle, Chicago, Detroit and Boston, Niagara Falls enjoys a four-season climate. Though winters are chilly, the spring and summer seasons are very pleasant and autumn in Niagara is a colourful and comfortable season.
Month – High/ Low
January -2°C 32°F/-8°C 17°F
February 0°C 33°F/-8°C 17°F
March 6°C 43°F/-4°C 25°F
April 13°C 55°F/ 2°C 35°F
May 20°C 69°F/ 8°C 46°F
June 25°C 76°F/ 13°C 55°F
July 28°C 82°F/ 16°C 61°F
August 27°C 80°F/ 15°C 59°F
September 22°C 72°F/ 11°C 51°F
October 15°C 60°F/ 5°C 41°F
November 9°C 47°F/ 0°C 32°F
December 3°C 7°F/ -5°C 22°F
Niagra Wine Festival – For three weekends in January, Niagara celebrates one of Canada’s most cherished products, Ontario Icewine. Enjoy gala evenings, outdoor tastings and activities to wine pairings along the famed Niagara Wine Route during the Niagara Icewine Festival in St. Catherines and various spots in Niagara. Last year there was a Nuit Blanche style Ice Wine dinner in Niagara-on-the-Lake that was spectacular.www.niagarawinefestival.com
Niagara Wine Cuvee. The “who’s who” of the wine world don black ties and ball gowns to attend this gala, where the awards for best wines are announced. There are winemakers’ dinners, special weekend packages, and wine-tasting activities as well, all designed to celebrate the best of the grape harvest.
Another season begins for the only theatrical festival in the world devoted to the works of George Bernard Shaw and his contemporaries. The Shaw Festival in Niagara-on-the-Lake runs brilliant plays and musicals through to October.
Attend IlluminAqua in Welland and enjoy a blend of art, culture, elements of fire and water. Pods of fire float in a laid-out design along the Recreational Waterway, while music fill the air.
RBG Lilac Festival: This is a sight to take your breath away. The Lilac Celebration at the Royal Botanical Gardens in Burlington is spectacular – the gardens possess the largest collection of lilacs in the world. Weekends include guided tours.
Niagara Folk Arts Festival. This annual event is billed as Canada’s oldest heritage festival, spanning more than 2 weeks in mid- to late May. Multicultural music, theatre, dance, food, and traditions are celebrated. Held at various sites throughout the Niagara region.
Niagara-on-the-Lake Wine and Herb Festival. Every weekend throughout May, the wineries of Niagara-on-the Lake feature a different herb-themed food pairing matched to a premium VQA wine selected to highlight the flavour and aroma of the herb.
Shaw Guild Spring Garden Tour. A tour of up to 10 local gardens in Niagara-on-the-Lake.
From the Grower of the Year’s Tailgate Party to exploring the Wine Route with the Discovery Pass, the New Vintage Niagara Celebration in St. Catharines celebrates the newly released vintages. Experience the finest in wine and cuisine across Niagara.
June is strawberry season and there are strawberry socials everywhere. Try the Annual Strawberry Festival in Niagara-on-the-Lake where there are many activities as well as the strawberries. Another salute to the strawberry is the Beamsville Strawberry Festival with a day of fun and entertainment for the whole family. Crafters, vendors, food, charity bed race, La-Z-Boy Recliner Race, Strawberry Idol contest and a Kidz Zone are all part of the all day activities.
Hendrie Gardens is the site of the famous Rose Celebration in the massive rose gardens in the Burlington Royal Botanical Gardens. Spend a day enjoying the variety of collections, eat lunch on the patio and enjoy the gardens or bring a picnic and lounge in the shade.
Vine Dining. A strolling picnic through the vineyards at Vineland Estates Winery, where wine and food are provided by the best chefs and wineries in the area.
Showcasing culinary samplings from Niagara’s best chefs and caterers and complimented by Niagara finest wines are the main purposes of the Flavours of Niagara Festival in Port Colborne. Features include picnic areas, beer garden and a lively entertainment line up.
Sit in the gardens and enjoy Red-Hot Jazz and Cool Blues at the Royal Botanical Gardens in Burlington. Bring your own picnic or purchase dinner from the on-site restaurant. Evenings during the summer.
Friendship Festival. This is a celebration of shared history and culture and friendship between Canada and the U.S. Events are held in Fort Erie, Ontario, and Buffalo, New York. Come and be a part of this giant human handshake.
Canada Day. Each July 1, Canadians gather in communities across the country to celebrate the nation’s birthday. In the Niagara region, celebrations take place at the Falls and surrounding towns, including Port Dalhousie, Welland, St. Catharines, and Port Colborne.
Dragon Boat Festival. Late July. Teams from Niagara and across the globe compete and raise funds for the St. Catharines Museum and the United Way. Held on Martindale Pond, home of the Royal Canadian Henley Regatta in historical Port Dalhousie.
Niagara Motorcycle Rally, Niagara Falls, New York. Bike enthusiasts can speak with custom bike builders, listen to live bands, compete in the chili cook-off, and buy swag from bike companies.
Peach season is definitely something to celebrate and one of the longest running ones is the Winona Peach Festival.
The popular Port Dover Summer Festival features 100 juried arts & crafts vendors, antique market, book fair and local musicians in downtown Port Dover. Bonus sidewalk sales run at the local businesses.
Canal Days Marine Heritage Festival. On the Civic Holiday weekend (incorporating the first Mon in Aug), Port Colborne hosts this waterfront festival celebrating the community’s marine heritage.
Royal Canadian Henley Regatta. This annual rowing regatta draws more than 3,500 international competitors. Held on Martindale Pond, Port Dalhousie. www.henleyregatta.ca.
People come from across the province for this indulgent festival. It’s Canada’s Largest Ribfest held by the lake in Burlington. There’s great music, fun for the kids and of course, some of the best tasting ribs in Canada. www.canadaslargestribfest.com
Fall is harvest time for grapes and that means it’s time for the Niagara Wine Festival in St. Catharines and other venues throughout Niagara. For 2 weeks in September experience premium wine tastings, local culinary & live entertainment. www.niagarawinefestival.com
How many ways can you cook with mustard? Find out at the 14th Annual Mustard Festival www.tourismhamilton.com
There’s good eating at the Niagara Food Festival in Welland. There are over 40 wineries, and many food vendors showcasing their finest delights. There’s also entertainment all weekend long. www.niagarafoodfestival.com
Niagara Falls really knows how to celebrate Christmas. The Winter Festival of Lights is spectacular, with light sculptures, fireworks, live concerts and the Falls themselves bathed in coloured lights. www.wfol.com
Take a walk along the waterfront to enjoy the Burlington Lakeside Festival of Lights, then head to the Centenial Pond for a skate. www.burlingtonfestivaloflights.com
The Santa’s Village Candlelight Stroll, centered around Centennial Square at Niagara Falls City Hall, includes horse-drawn wagon rides, Victorian carolers, hot chocolate and roasted chestnuts. www.wfol.com
Can you think of a more impressive place to ring in the New Year than at the Falls? Share the countdown, with New Year’s Eve in Niagara Falls, including a fireworks display over the Falls and musical entertainment. www.niagaraparks.com
Ontario celebrates the following holidays: New Year’s Day (Jan 1), Family Day (third Mon of Feb), Good Friday and Easter Monday (Mar or Apr), Victoria Day (Mon following the third weekend in May), Canada Day (July 1), Simcoe Day (first Mon in Aug), Labour Day (first Mon in Sept), Thanksgiving (second Mon in Oct), Remembrance Day (Nov 11), Christmas Day (Dec 25), and Boxing Day (Dec 26).
On Good Friday and Easter Monday, schools and government offices close; most corporations close on one or the other, and a few close on both. Only banks and government offices close on Remembrance Day (Nov 11).
The Niagara region falls in the Eastern Standard Time Zone.
One thing that visitors are often not prepared for is the spray from the Falls. It’s constant – and while it can be kind of refreshing on a hot day, it will ruin your hairdo, and may cloud your camera. I keep my camera in a plastic bag and clean the lens often. If it’s cold, the spray can make you feel chilled, so think about a raincoat to keep you dry. The Journey Behind the Falls Attraction gives visitors a disposable yellow raincoat – and the Hornblower Cruise gives passengers red ones – which are handy for keeping dry by the Falls.
This is a casual destination for the most part. Unless you plan a visit to the theatre – and even that can be as casual as you want – informal dress is the rule. Good walking shoes are always a sensible choice.
Niagara is a key tourist destination so you can expect to pay a bit more for souvenirs, casual meals and accommodation, particularly in high season.
If you are here to see the Falls and its surrounding attractions, invest in the Adventure Pass. The pass can be customized and purchased online, gives you access to the WEGO and Incline Rail, and allows you express entrance to many of the attractions. It also saves you money. The 2015 cost of the Classic Pass is C$54.95 for adults, but check the website as the price changes each season. There is also a winter version.
Fun passes to the craziness at Clifton Hill – The Clifton Hill Fun Pass – that includes entrance to the Ripley’s Believe It Or Not, and several other attractions is available at several kiosks on Clifton Hill, but the best bet is to buy the pass on line where you will get the best price, and sometimes the website offers deals on local restaurants.
There are also some good deals on Wine Country Tours, offered by the wineries, like the Peller Estates Wine Country Touring Pass, which gives you a wine tasting at four different wineries for C$25. Check with other wineries and wine tour operators in the area for special package deals.
Prices often fluctuate dynamically depending on capacity, seasonality and deals. We don’t want to lead you astray by quoting exact prices that quickly become wrong. To give you a rough idea for budgetary planning purposes, though, we have indicated general price ranges for all points of interest.
Price ranges are quoted in C$.
See & Do
N/A => Not applicable
$ => Tickets less than $5 per person
$$ => Tickets $6-15 per person
$$$ => Tickets $16 per person
$ => Rooms less than $100 for a double
$$ => Rooms $101-200 for a double
$$$ => Rooms $201 for a double
$ => $1-20 per person for a meal (without alcohol, tax, tip)
$$ => $21-40 per person for a meal (without alcohol, tax, tip)
$$$ => $41 per person for a meal (without alcohol, tax, tip)
N/A => Not applicable
$ => Tickets less than $10 per person
$$ => Tickets $11-30 per person
You will need Canadian currency for most cash purchases. At the moment (Sept 2015), exchange rates are as follows:
$1 US = $1.32 CD
1 Euro = $1.48 CD
1 British Pound = $2.03 CD
(Visit http://www.xe.com/ to convert other currencies)
Money, ATMs, Credit Cards
We have very pretty money in Canada – the bills are works of art, with an interesting plastic strip that makes them difficult to counterfeit. The loony is our $1 coin, and the tooney our $2 coin.
ATMs are easy to find, and they’re pretty well everywhere.
Most major credit cards are accepted by all but the smallest businesses.
Tipping is similar to most Westernized countries – with the tip commensurate with the level of service. The standard rate is somewhere between 15-20% for good service.
Niagara is perched right on the border between Canada and the United States, and in this position, is easy to access from many different directions. Freeways, frequent flights, bus lines, and trains make getting here, from almost anywhere, a breeze.
If arriving by air you have a choice of arriving in Canada or the United States. The majority of the attractions are on the Canadian side, but Buffalo Niagara International Airport is closer to the Falls than either the main Toronto Pearson Airport, the main Canadian option and a 2 hour drive from the Falls, or Hamilton.
A rental car will make it easy for you to see all the sights around the Falls as well as to tour the wine country and the historic sites in the Niagara area. But if your main interest is the Falls themselves, it is easy to take a train or bus from local airports to the centre of Niagara Falls. Several companies also run day tours from Toronto to Niagara Falls during the high season.
If you’re flying in to the region you’re probably best to fly into Canada if you’re coming from anywhere other than the US in which case you are probably better off flying into Buffalo. In Canada most people will fly into Toronto Pearson Airport, but Toronto City can be a good option for some, while Hamilton might be worth considering if you wish to do nothing but visit Niagara on your trip.
Most air traffic in the region arrives at Pearson International Airport (YYZ) in northwest Toronto, approximately a 2-hour drive from Niagara Falls.
Canada’s only national airline, Air Canada (www.aircanada.ca) operates direct flights between here and most major American cities and many smaller ones. It also flies from major cities around the world and operates connecting flights from other U.S. cities. Another major Canadian carrier is WestJet,(www.westjet.com), with service between Toronto and San Francisco, Los Angeles, Phoenix, Palm Springs, Las Vegas, Hawaii, several Florida locations, and the Bahamas.
Among U.S. airlines, American has daily direct flights from Chicago, Dallas, Miami, and New York. United, a code-share partner with Air Canada, has direct flights from Vancouver, Chicago, San Francisco, and Washington (Dulles). US Airways, now owned by American, flies directly into Toronto from a number of U.S. cities, notably Baltimore, Indianapolis, Philadelphia, and Pittsburgh. Delta flies direct from Atlanta, Detroit, Minneapolis, and Cincinnati.
Toronto Pearson ground transport
If you land at Pearson International Airport in Toronto, renting a car may be your best bet. Car-rental companies with desks inside the terminals include Avis, Budget, Dollar, Thrifty, Hertz, National, and Alamo. The 2-hour drive to Niagara usually takes 30-plus minutes longer during the weekday peak commuter times: 7 to 10 am and 3:30 to 6:30 pm.
However, the Union-Pearson Express, (UP Express) train connects Pearson Airport with Union Station in downtown Toronto where travelers can connect with trains and buses bound for Niagara. The UP is pricey – $27.50 CAD one way for an adult but the ride is fast and it takes you right where you need to go.
Niagara Airbus offers a flexible shuttle and taxi service from Toronto Pearson and Buffalo Niagara International Airport to any destination in the Niagara region in Canada and the Niagara Falls/Buffalo area in New York State.
Toronto City Airport
Porter Air is an excellent choice for visitors, especially those who plan to take the train to Niagara. Porter flies in to the Toronto City Centre Airport (YTC) and runs a complimentary shuttle service every 15 minutes from the airport to Union Station, where trains depart to Niagara. The airline currently serves Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal, Quebec City, Halifax, Mont Tremblant, St. John’s, Thunder Bay, Windsor, Moncton, Sault Ste. Marie, Sudbury, New York (Newark), Boston (Logan International Airport), Myrtle Beach (Myrtle Beach International Airport), and Chicago (Midway).
If you can, fly into smaller Hamilton International Airport (YHM) – it’s closer to Niagara (a 45min drive) and less busy but you may find that renting a car is the best bet for getting to Niagara. Companies at Hamilton International Airport include Avis, Hertz, and National. WestJet flies into Hamilton from Orlando, and from Canadian cities Halifax, Winnipeg, Calgary, and Edmonton.
Niagara Airbus serves Hamilton airport with individual taxicabs rather than a shuttle service.
Buffalo’s Niagara Falls International Airport hosts Spirit Airlines, which flies here from Fort Lauderdale and Myrtle Beach, and Allegiant Air, which flies into this airport from a number of Florida locations. You can also fly into Buffalo Niagara International, 41km (25 miles and a 35min drive) from the Rainbow Bridge. The airport is served by a number of airlines, including JetBlue, which has lots of cheap one-way flights from other parts of New York; AirTran Airways; American; Continental (www.continental.com); Comair/Delta Connection; Southwest (www.southwest.com); United (www.ual.com)
If you arrive at Niagara Falls International Airport, the closest airport to the Falls, the ITA Shuttle can take you from the airport to the American side of the Falls or to the Canadian side. Reservations must be made at least 12 hours in advance and can be made online or by phone. If you prefer to rent a car, Avis, Budget, Hertz, and Enterprise all have rental counters at the airport.
Niagara Airbus offers a flexible shuttle and taxi service from Buffalo Niagara International Airport to any destination in the Niagara region in Canada and the Niagara Falls/Buffalo area in New York State.
From anywhere in Ontario, driving to Niagara is probably the best way to go.
Heading out from Toronto, you reach Niagara territory – the rugged escarpment, fruit farms, and small towns – just after you pass Burlington and the Skyway Bridge, about forty minutes driving time from downtown Toronto.
From the bridge to Fort Erie, the length of the Niagara Region, there is the expedient Queen Elizabeth Way (or QEW), a usually fast, easy way to traverse the peninsula. It’s usually the quickest way to get to Niagara-on-the-Lake or Niagara Falls. Driving time is approximately 11/2 to 2 hours, depending on traffic. Note that rush hour snarl-ups can considerably lengthen your trip when traveling from Toronto. If possible, avoid driving on major highways in the Toronto and Hamilton area between 7 and 10am and between 3:30 and 6:30pm. It’s usually a trouble free drive on the QEW, but if you want to be sure, you might check traffic conditions.
Exit from the QEW at Hwy. 55 if your destination is Niagara-on-the-Lake or if you would like to take the scenic route to Niagara Falls, which will lead you along the Niagara Parkway on the west side of the Niagara River. If you want to go straight to the Falls, continue on the QEW to Hwy. 420 and follow the signs. A third option is to continue on the QEW to Fort Erie, at the southern end of the Niagara River. You can visit the attractions in Fort Erie, and then make your way along the southern portion of the Niagara Parkway to the Falls, which is also a pretty drive.
If you have the time, and the inclination, take Highway-8 instead of the QEW. It’s one of the oldest still-existing roads in Ontario, and follows the paths that the indigenous peoples trod centuries ago. It’s definitely a slower go, but if you have the time, it’s far more enjoyable than the freeway. Highway-8 winds along the base of the escarpment and passes through the historic towns along the wine route. You can access it by taking the Fruitland Road Exit, shortly after you go over the Skyway Bridge. Head towards the escarpment and turn left on Hwy-8, (Regional Road 51). There are wineries, vineyards, orchards, antique shops and flea markets as well as parks and conservation areas to visit.
From Windsor and Detroit
From Windsor and Detroit, take Hwy. 401 E. to Hwy. 403, then join the QEW to Niagara. Driving time from Windsor to Niagara Falls is approximately 4 to 4 1/2 hours.
From the USA
When driving from the I-90 in New York State, take Route 290 to Route 190 to the Robert Moses Parkway. This will put you in downtown Niagara Falls, New York, and you’ll see signs for the Rainbow Bridge to Canada. Other crossing points to Canada from the U.S. are between Lewiston, New York, and Queenston, Ontario, and between Buffalo, New York, and Fort Erie, Ontario.
Be sure to check for the wait times at the border. It can sometimes take an hour or longer to get through Customs during busy times. The Canada Border Services Agency lists the wait times for all U.S. and Canadian border crossings, and the site is updated hourly.
Driving distances from major U.S. cities to Niagara Falls include Boston (774km/481 miles), Chicago (861km/535 miles), Detroit (384km/239 miles), New York (677km/421 miles), and Washington, D.C. (768km/477 miles).
Amtrak and VIA Rail Canada operate trains between Toronto and New York, stopping in Niagara Falls and St. Catharines but not Niagara-on-the-Lake. Amtrak stops at the Niagara Falls station in New York State at 27th Street and Lockport Road.
In high season Via Rail ramps up the number of trains from Toronto down the Niagara Peninsula and there is a Bike Train in summer months that allows cyclists to travel with their bikes – the cycling trails in Niagara are amazing!
A car is necessary if you wish to tour the entire region during your visit, but you do not need a car to get around in Niagara Falls itself. Public transit is not available between Niagara Falls and Niagara-on-the-Lake, but a shuttle bus runs between the bus terminal and certain hotels in Niagara Falls to Fort George in Niagara-on-the-Lake. The bus leaves in the morning and returns in the late afternoon. Niagara-on-the-Lake is small enough that you don’t need a car. Wine-country tours can be arranged through tour companies. It’s really lovely to drive yourself from winery to winery, but if you want to do any wine tasting, you’ll need a designated driver as driving under the influence of alcohol is against the law and carries stiff penalties.
While driving on the Niagara Parkway beside the Canadian Falls can be intimidating in high season, the traffic is much better since the many tour buses now stop at a nearby central bus stop to unload their passengers. Be prepared to drive slowly and be wary of sightseers crossing the streets. They don’t always use the crosswalks and they tend to be gawking at the Falls instead of looking at the road.
Parking lots fill up quickly, especially those along the Niagara Parkway. I’ve found that the best choice is to park in a lot a few blocks away and walk to the Falls.
Note: Your best bet is to come early for the best parking spot at a good rate. The lot in front of Niagara Tourism on Robinson Street, just a short walk from the Falls, charges C$5 for the day, but like other lots here, the price doubles later if the lot starts to fill up. That’s still about half the cost of parking right beside the Falls. Parking meters generally accept quarters, loonies, and toonies. Always read the signs posted near parking meters to find out if there are any parking restrictions For parking at the Falls, you can leave your vehicle at the Rapids View Parking Lot for C$10 for the day (south of the Horseshoe Falls on the Niagara Pkwy.). The price includes a free shuttle to and from the Falls.
Additional parking is available opposite the Horseshoe Falls (all day for a single fee ranging between btw. C$12 and– C$18), and at the Niagara Parks Floral Showhouse, south of the Horseshoe Falls (Apr–Nov C$3 per hour to a maximum of C$12; free in the winter).
You will find a number of all-day parking lots with the reasonable fees starting at C$5 in the Fallsview district at the top of the Escarpment. From here, you can take footpaths down to the Falls (ask your parking attendant for directions, since these paths are not well signposted), or travel on the Incline Railway (see below for details).
Insider Tip: I always park in the IMAX parking lot, with an entrance off of Fallsview Boulevard. It’s small, and fills up fast, but costs only $4 for the whole day.
Most of the major car rental companies have booths in the airports. Be sure to carry your driver’s license and car registration and insurance documents if you plan to drive your own vehicle. If you are a member of the American Automobile Association (AAA) or the Canadian Automobile Association (CAA), you can get assistance by calling 905/984-8585, or visiting www.caa.niagara.net. Many car rental agencies have non-negotiable age requirements, minimum and maximum. Check with individual agencies to see what their specific policies are.
Speed limits and distances are in kilometres (1km=0.62 miles). Unless otherwise posted, the speed limit in urban and residential areas is 50 km/hr (31 mph); on the highway, 80 km/hr (50 mph). Unless otherwise posted it is legal in Ontario to turn right on a red light, after making a full stop.Seat belts are compulsory. American drivers should note the difference in speed limits—Canadian signs are calculated in kilometers per hour, while U.S. signs are in miles per hour. Use the kilometer display on your speedometer or, if your car doesn’t have one, divide the kilometers by 1.6 to obtain the mileage.
In Ontario, a right turn on a red light is permitted after coming to a complete stop, unless posted otherwise, provided you yield to oncoming traffic and pedestrians. Wearing your seat belt is compulsory. Fines for riding without a seat belt are substantial. Headlights must be on from dusk until dawn.
There are new and substantial fines for distracted driving, so put your cell phone away while you’re on the road.
Always stop when pedestrians are using the crosswalks, and watch for pedestrians crossing against the lights.
Radar detectors are illegal.
In the winter, some of the roads in the Niagara region can be subject to bad weather, and are occasionally closed due to weather conditions. Always travel with caution in winter and plan ahead. For road closures and weather information, there are several sources that you can consult. The Traveller’s Road Information Portal (TRIP) is a website that gives you easy 24/7/365 access to Ministry of Transportation (MTO) road information on provincially maintained highways: www.mto.gov.on.ca/english/ traveller/trip/index.html. Alternatively, for really instant information, check the MTO’s Twitter feed: @_mto.
You can also check www.highwayconditions.com/on.htm or call for road conditions at [tel] 800/268-4686 or 416/ 235-4686.
It’s a good idea to carry water, blankets, and food when traveling in Ontario in the winter. A cell phone is always handy—charge it up before you leave.
The WEGO transit system has a useful route that runs between Table Rock, at the Horseshoe Falls, and the Floral Clock, north of the Niagara Gorge along the Niagara Parkway. The WEGO bus stops at most of the major tourist attractions along the route, including the Maid of the Mist, American Falls, Whitewater Walk, Whirlpool Aero Car, Botanical Gardens and Butterfly Conservatory, and the Floral Clock. You can purchase a WEGO Pass at the Rapids View Parking Lot (C$7.50 adults, C$4.50 children 6–12; see below), which allows you unlimited use as does the Niagara Falls Adventure Pass – see discounts and passes.
Niagara is a bike friendly place with some of the best cycling trials in the province.
Taxis are easy to hail, especially near the casinos in Niagara Falls or around the hotels. Uber isn’t here yet, but hopefully it will be, soon.
By purchasing a WEGO Pass at the Rapids View Parking Lot oar at any of the Niagara Tourism Commission outlets in town (C$7.50 adults, C$4.50 children 6–12; see below), you get unlimited on/off privileges on the WEGO transit system that runs between Table Rock, at the Horseshoe Falls, and the Floral Clock, north of the Niagara Gorge along the Niagara Parkway. The WEGO bus stops at most of the major tourist attractions along the route, including the Maid of the Mist, American Falls, Whitewater Walk, Whirlpool Aero Car, Botanical Gardens and Butterfly Conservatory, and the Floral Clock.
You can also elect to purchase a Niagara Falls Adventure Pass at the parking lot or online. This pass includes entry to major attractions and access to WEGO and the Incline Railway for a single, discounted price. You can also custom design your adventure pass by adding or changing the attractions. Additional parking is available opposite the Horseshoe Falls (all day for a single fee ranging between btw. C$12 and– C$18), and at the Niagara Parks Floral Showhouse, south of the Horseshoe Falls (Apr–Nov C$3 per hour to a maximum of C$12; free in the winter).
Traveling With a Disability
To find out which attractions, accommodations and restaurants in the Niagara region are accessible to people with disabilities, refer to Accessible Niagara an annual guide available from the local Visitor Information Centre or visit the website. Be aware that all the activities offered by the Niagara Parks Commission are accessible – it is a commitment of the organization.
The population of the Niagara Region was 431,346 in 2011. Niagara Falls, Niagara-On-The-Lake, and St. Catharines are the largest concentrations of population but the population jumps to millions more when you count the number of visitors.
Its partly so popular because the Niagara region is rich, beautiful, historic and layered. It’s not just a world wonder – but an area of Canada that witnessed watershed events that shaped today’s nation. It’s also a hothouse of culinary expertise and Canada’s most important wine-growing area. And it calls out to adventurous travelers who want to bike, hike or explore this unique geographical spot.
Niagara’s history is long, and full of drama, colour and action – which is perhaps not unexpected for a geographically unique place, that’s both agriculturally fertile and strategically situated.
Niagara’s history stretches back 10,000 years, to a time when the glaciers of the last ice age retreated north. Vast animal herds roamed the boreal forests surrounding Lake Ontario, which brought tribes of hunters to the area and for several millennia, Niagara’s first peoples survived as hunters, fishers, gatherers, and eventually agriculturalists.
The first Europeans arrived in the mid-1600s, driven by a desire to expand the fur trade and led by French explorers and missionaries. Although several visited the Falls prior to Father Louis Hennepin, he was the first to record a description of the mighty wonder of nature following his 1678 visit. His account of the Falls was a dramatic exaggeration, leading to the production of a hand-tinted engraving that depicted the Falls much higher and narrower than in reality, with mountains rising in the distance. This misrepresentation became the standard pictorial representation for many decades to follow.
For the next hundred years or so, the Niagara area remained populated by various First Nations groups, although their numbers were increasingly depleted by European-borne diseases and clashes with warring tribes. French and British troops also fought here for control of the continent during the first half of the 18th century. During this period, Fort Niagara was built by the French on the east bank of the Niagara River, where it flows into Lake Ontario. At the end of the Seven Years War in 1763, all of New France was ceded to Great Britain, and the British established control of the Niagara River. Fort Erie was built in 1764 on the west side of the mouth of the Niagara River and Lake Erie.
The next wave of newcomers to the district were the United Empire Loyalists, who fled to Upper Canada seeking sanctuary from the fierce fighting of the American Revolution of 1775 to 1783. When the war ended, remaining Loyalists were expelled from American territory and many settled along the western shore of the Niagara River. At the end of the American Revolution, Fort Niagara, on the eastern side of the Niagara River, was in the hands of the United States. To protect their interests in Upper Canada, the British constructed a fort on the opposite side of the river. In 1802, Fort George was completed and became the headquarters for the British army, local militia, and the Indian Department.
Around the same time Upper Canada became the first place in the British Empire to abolish slavery, when Governor General John Graves Simcoe introduced legislation in 1793. In the following years, the country became a haven for black men and women escaping slavery in the American South. To enable these freedom seekers to reach safety, supporters of the abolition of slavery throughout America and Canada provided secret “safe houses,” where escapees were given food, shelter, and directions north. The routes that passed by the safe houses became known as the Underground Railroad. Niagara was one of the main termini for the freedom seekers. Fugitive men, women, and children were transported across the Niagara River at Fort Erie and Niagara Falls, Niagara-on-the-Lake, and St. Catharines became important settlement areas for refugee slaves. From the early to the mid-1800s, thousands of fugitive slaves made their way into Canada through Fort Erie.
The War of 1812 was the last military confrontation between Canada and the U.S. Eager to expand the nation, the United States declared war on Britain in June 1812. By attacking on four fronts, one of which was Niagara, the Americans hoped for swift victory. Several bloody battles ensued over the next 2 years, but the eventual outcome was a stalemate. The Treaty of Ghent, signed on Christmas Eve 1814, ended hostilities and the Niagara River was reestablished as the border between Upper Canada and the U.S. Throughout the region, historic forts, monuments, and memorials stand as reminders of the war.
When an area is this rich in produce, it’s hard for the good chefs to resist. Rarely do visitors plan a trip to the Falls without a careful deliberation of the dining options. And they are many and superb.
Some complain that the “gourmet” restaurants are overpriced, but these allegations tend to be unfair. What needs to be remembered is that organic, locally sourced, and highly perishable, products like pea shoots, baby organic greens, and herb tendrils, are often labor-intensive, so come at a price. When the chef serves his own smoked ketchup, and the charcuterie comes from a small local producer, you need to expect the cost will reflect the effort and rarity value.
In spring, for example, area restaurants celebrate the wild onion—called ramps—in many dishes. There’s Ontario Spring lamb on offer, its special flavor the result of the lamb perhaps eating young grape leaves in vineyards. Then, local strawberries arrive, more flavorful than those raised in warmer climates, followed by tender asparagus. They hit restaurant menus as soon as farmers can harvest them.
Soon after, other fruits, including cherries, plums, apricots, and the region’s world-renowned peaches begin to show up. They appear in various guises that range from dried cherry vinaigrette to a peach melba, from plum salsa to apricot gelato. And of course the grape figures prominently; the green juice pressed from young fruits is used in vinaigrette and in chicken Veronique, along with white wine, brie, and green seedless grapes.
While the Falls and surrounding area have been scenic backdrops for films, they have also inspired writers to use Niagara as the setting, the catalyst, and sometimes the foils for their books.
Early writers like Mark Twain and Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote travel stories about their visits to the Falls. Novels about the Falls include Tom Marshall’s Voices on the Brink: A Border Tale; Joyce Carol Oates’s The Falls: A Novel; Niagara by Robert Lewis Taylor; Too Close to the Falls by Catherine Gildiner; Falling by Anne Simpson; and The Whirlpool by Governor-General Award–winning author Jane Urquhart.
When you are as spectacular as Niagara, you are bound to end up on celluloid. Its star power has attracted the rich and famous for years, from Aaron Burr’s daughter and Princess Diana, to Brad Pitt and his children, who took a cruise on the Maid of the Mist while mommy Angelina Jolie was filming her action movie, Salt. Niagara Falls is also the birthplace of James Cameron, the director who filmed Titanic and Avatar.
Niagara (1953). The Falls served as the co-star alongside Marilyn Monroe in this story of forbidden love, deception, and a failed marriage, with a murder plot thrown in. Location shots were done in Niagara Falls, Ontario, while the rest of the movie was shot on a sound stage in Hollywood. While not a huge blockbuster, the movie showed the Falls in all their dramatic splendour. This is the only Marilyn Monroe movie in which her character dies.
Superman II (1980). Fans and media clustered around the Falls to get a glimpse of the stars, Christopher Reeve and Margot Kidder, during filming. The Falls scenes were shot in busy tourist areas, but occurred without incident. While the Falls were obviously wonderful, they didn’t measure up to Superman. As Lois Lane says in the movie, “Once a girl’s seen Superman in action, Niagara Falls kind of leaves you cold. You know what I mean?”.
The Dead Zone (1983) This chilling story, adapted from the Stephen King novel, was filmed largely in the Niagara area. A David Cronenberg film, it starred Christopher Walken and Martin Sheen and tells the story of Johnny Smith, a New England schoolteacher who is left in a coma after a car accident. When he awakens, he discovers he has psychic powers. Various locations in and around Niagara-on-the-Lake seen in the movie include the Court House, Simcoe Park, St. Mark’s Anglican Church, and the gazebo in Queen’s Royal Park.
Canadian Bacon (1985). Alan Alda, Rip Torn, and John Candy star in this comedy in which the USA decides to invade Canada. It is the only fictional film written, directed, and produced by Michael Moore. Many scenes were filmed in and around Niagara Falls.
Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End (2006). Most viewers thought that the scene that shows the ship going over a waterfall was computer-generated. In fact, that was Niagara Falls. The producers of the movie shot footage of the Falls from the American side, and then used that footage to create their world-ending waterfall in this blockbuster starring Johnny Depp, Orlando Bloom, and Keira Knightley.
As one would expect, the thunder of the Falls has inspired musicians and composers.
Of the pieces by European visitors, Niagara (violin and piano ca. 1845), by the Norwegian violinist Ole Bull, is probably the earliest. Rimsky-Korsakov visited the Falls in 1863, Offenbach in 1876, and Tchaikovsky in 1891.
Two years later, Dvorák stood in silence for several minutes, as though hypnotized, then exclaimed “Lord God, this will become a symphony in b minor.” Ravel visited in 1928, but while these famous composers were undoubtedly moved by and perhaps unconsciously inspired by the Falls, none of them actually named a piece after Niagara, although sketches for a Dvorák piece do exist.
Works by U.S. composers include Anthony Philip Heinrich’s The War of the Elements and the Thundering of Niagara (1845); George Bristow’s Niagara Symphony for voices and orchestra (1898); Harvey Gaul’s The Masque of Niagara (1934), which includes “Thunder of Waters” and “Indian River Song” sections; and Johan Franco’s Rainbow Bridge Nocturne for the Rainbow Tower carillon.
Once you start running through a list of Canadian musicians and bands you might be surprised whose on it; the country has more than its share of musical talent. So, if you want to build a local playlist here are a few suggestions: some old, some new, some forever gold.
Gordon Lightfoot – The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald
David Clayton-Thomas – Spinning Wheel
Avril Lavigne – I’m With You
Stan Rogers – Northwest Passage
Shania Twain – Man! I Feel Like a Woman
Michael Buble – Home
Bryan Adams – Everything I do (I do It For You) & Summer of ’69
Anne Murray – Snowbird
Rufus Wainwright – Out of the Game
Sarah McLachlan – Fumbling Towards Ecstasy
Celine Dion – All By Myself
Feist – 1234
Joni Mitchell – Both Sides Now
Burton Cummings – American Woman
Leonard Cohen – Hallelujah
k d Lang – Miss Chatelaine
Chantal Kreviazuk – Feels Like Home
Justin Bieber – What Do You Mean? & Sorry!
Ontario Tourism – www.ontariotravel.net
Tourism Niagara – www.tourismniagara.com
Niagara Falls Tourism – www.niagarafalls.ca
Tourism Hamilton – www.tourismhamilton.ca
Tourism Burlington – www.tourismburlington.com
Canadian Automobile Association (CAA) – www.caa.ca
Camping & Recreation information www.ontarioparks.com
Travel by Bike – www.bikeontours.on.ca
National Parks of Canada – www.pc.gc.ca
Farms, Wineries & Food
Ontario Culinary Tourism Alliance – www.ontarioculinary.com
Pick your own fruits – www.pickyourown.org/canadaon.htm
Harvest Ontario – www.harvestontario.com
Pick your own – www.ontario.farmvisit.com
Farmers’ Markets – www.farmersmarketsontario.com
Wine Marketing – www.winesofontario.org
Ontario Wine Authority – www.vqaontario.com
Ontario has an antiquated system for buying alcohol and spirits. You can purchase wine at wineries and you can buy wine, spirits and beer in Liquor Control Board Outlets or The Beer Store. No wine, beer or spirits are sold in supermarkets or corner stores or any other commercial stores. However, you can buy authentic Canadian maple syrup almost anywhere!
If You Need Help
Call 911 emergency services for fire, police or ambulance. For the Ontario Regional Poison Information Centre, call 800-268-9017 FREE. Also, call Telehealth Ontario at 866-797-0000 FREE to speak with a registered nurse and have health questions answered, including whether your health situation should be deemed an emergency.