Niagara Falls for First-Timers

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How to best explore the world's wildest waterworks, Niagara Falls

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The one thing that draws visitors from all over the world to this corner of Canada is Niagara Falls. It’s a unique and spectacular geographical wonder that’s on many traveler’s lists of things to see.

Last time I had lunch at Elements on the Falls, the couple next to us had just arrived on a train from New York. They were Swiss, visiting family in NYC, after which they’d jumped on an Amtrak train to race up to Niagara Falls. They were spending the night, then training it back the next day. “How could we not come when we were this close?” they said. “We have wanted to see the Falls for years and this was our best chance.” And they were thrilled to be here.

I’ve seen Niagara many times and the Falls still raise my pulse. Certainly you haven’t done the Falls justice if you’ve seen them only once. To see them in bright sunshine, with a “sunbow” in the mist, is one kind of thrill, but seeing the Falls illuminated at night is a different kind of beauty. My favorite views are the winter ones, when nearby trees turn into ice sculptures from the spray, and, in particularly cold winters, an ice bridge forms.

But here’s how I recommend seeing Niagara Falls for first-timers…

Hornblower cruise boat, Niagara for First-Timers

Niagara Falls for First-Timers: The Riverside Walkway

First of all, they’re at their best in the early morning, the earlier the better. Dawn over the Falls? Unbeatable!… especially if you are a photographer.

If you’ve driven, park somewhere off Niagara Falls Boulevard, up above the Falls. Walk down Murray Street, toward the river. Stop at the Starbucks, on your left as you walk down, for a latte – and don’t rush. As you get closer to the river, you’ll begin to see the clouds of mist. Then you’ll see the sides of the gorge, and then the American Falls. As you reach the riverside walkway – there they are, the magnificent Horseshoe Falls on your right. Take them in from here – a bit of distance gives perspective – but then walk closer. You can hang right over the edge of the precipice over which all this water rushes – six million cubic feet per minute. You will feel the vibration, the power, the awesome force. Careful though: a young visitor who wanted a picture of herself standing on the handrail fell to her death a few years ago.

Niagara for First-Timers

Cruises and Helicopters

For other ways to get close to the Falls I’d advise buying a Niagara Parks Commission Adventure Pass – the pass will get you reduced attraction fares, access to the WEGO shuttle buses and the Incline Railway, as well as discounts at some restaurants. It’s a bargain.

A ride on the Hornblower Cruise takes you past the American Falls and right under the spray of the Horseshoe Falls. It’s an iconic experience that everyone should do – Brad Pitt and his kids, Obama’s daughters, Princess Diana and the little princes, John Lennon and Yoko Ono, Adam Sandler, and Kate Moss – they all took this ride.

You can also get a great dynamic perspective from a helicopter ride over the Falls with Niagara Helicopters. You see the riverbefore and after the Falls, as well as the surrounding country. It’s an exciting experience.

===> See the RELATED links below to explore local itineraries.

Tunnels, Towers and Wheels

Journey Behind the Falls is another way to get close to the action. I find this activity a bit disappointing. The tunnels you walk through are lined with posters that document a lot of the history of the Falls, which is interesting, but then you get to stand for a few minutes and watch the water plunge down. Somehow underwhelming, I found, but the raincoats they give you are cute, and you will never get closer to the Falls than right here – unless you go over in a barrel. (Not recommended!).

For an in-depth understanding of how the Falls were formed, try the Niagara’s Fury Tour in the Table Rock Welcome Centre, where an interactive and really interesting overview explains the way nature created this water wonder. You can take an elevator to the top of the Skylon Tower, where the views of the whole area are spectacular, or you can take a ride on the Skywheel, to be in a perfect position for a photo of yourself, with the Falls in the background.

And if you are a couple in love, a visit to the Falls is an iconic time to propose. It’s the Romance Capital of North America, after all.

However you see the Falls, you will remember the moment for a lifetime. It’s that special.

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