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Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada

Niagara Falls, Ontario is located just across the river from Niagara Falls, New York with the great waterfall situated right between these twin cities. The Canadian side offers the best views of Niagara Falls and has a very different character than its counterpart in the USA. Niagara Falls, Ontario is much more commercialized and tourist oriented than Niagara Falls, New York. On the Canadian-side, the escarpment overlooking the falls has a beautiful park with well-manicured gardens, but just behind that, the hill is covered with high-rise hotels, casinos and numerous tourist attractions. The adjacent streets are filled with museums, souvenir shops, gaming arcades, restaurants, clubs and tourist attractions of all kinds. If you don't mind all of the commercialism, Niagara Falls Ontario offers more to see and more to do than Niagara Falls, New York.

Crossing the border

The main border crossing between Niagara Falls New York and Niagara Falls Ontario is via the Rainbow Bridge that spans the Niagara River Gorge just a few hundred meters below the falls. Unfortunately, this bridge can become quite congested especially on weekends during the summer vacation season and traffic may back up several kilometers forcing you to wait an hour or more to cross. With a bit of foresight, you can avoid the annoying delays.

You can cross the Niagara River into Canada on the Peace Bridge in Buffalo New York approximately 25 miles south of the falls. Once you reach the Canadian side of the border, you can either take a quick trip along the Queen Elizabeth Highway to Niagara Falls, or you can take the scenic drive along the Niagara River Parkway. As an alternate, you can cross the river and enter Canada at the Queenston-Lewiston Bridge about 5 miles north of the falls, then take the spectacularly scenic Niagara River Parkway along the Niagara Gorge to the falls.

Whirlpool Aero Car over Cataracts in Niagara River © Mike Leco / USATourist.com
A popular attraction at Niagara Falls, the Whirlpool Aero Car travels between two points on the Canadian shore and offers aerial views of Whirlpool Rapids.

Attractions

The main attraction in Niagara Falls is naturally the waterfall, and the Canadian view is magnificent. A rock escarpment adjacent to the falls provides a wonderful viewing platform with panoramic views of the Horseshoe Falls as well as the smaller American Falls. This shelf of rock several hundred meters wide and a kilometer long has been converted into the beautiful Victoria Park. Niagara Parkway which becomes River Road through the park can become quite congested with gawking sightseers during the popular tourist season. The best way to fully view the falls is to park your car and explore it afoot. Plan on seeing it in early morning or late afternoon when a gleaming rainbow shines incessantly in the mists, and see it at night when the colored spotlights create an illuminated spectacle.

There are large public parking facilities above the Horseshoe Falls with people mover shuttles to transport you to view points along the river. You can avoid some of the congestion by driving to the top of the hill, turning south on Victoria Street and left on Clark Street, then parking in one of the lots near the Skylon Tower. It is just a few blocks walk down the hill to Victoria Park and the falls.

The Clifton Hill area has something for everyone. Located only one block to the Falls are over 35 attractions, including the new Niagara SkyWheel, Canada’s largest observation wheel. Towering 175 feet above the city, the Niagara SkyWheel delivers stunning daytime and nighttime views of the Horseshoe and American Falls. Clifton Hill has a wide variety of restaurants, lots of shopping, and numerous hotels to fit all budgets. Clifton Hill is also the place to be for nightlife with night clubs, comedy clubs, live music venues, and cafes that stay open late.

Other views of the falls

From the Table Rock Lodge near the Horseshoe Falls, you can descend 50 meters and follow a tunnel through the rock to a small balcony near the base of the falls. It is not as spectacular as the Cave of the Winds on the US side, but the immense power of the water is very impressive. Waterproof gear is provided to protect you from the drenching mists.

The Maid of the Mist excursion boats depart from a wharf in the gorge a few hundred meters below the falls. A small funicular transports you to the dock. They also depart at the base of the tower on the US side. This is absolutely the best attraction at Niagara Falls. These small boats sail within a hundred meters of the Horseshoe Falls. You can feel the gale force winds generated by the immense power of the water and hear the mighty roar of the falls. Rain gear is supplied to keep you dry.

Rainbow Bridge and American Falls from Niagara Falls Canada © Mike Leco / USATourist.com
A Maid of the Mist tour boat travels past American Falls on its way to Horseshoe Falls. The border crossing at Rainbow Bridge is often congested during peak tourist season.

Other attractions

There are many tourist attractions in the immediate area around the falls including a gambling casino, several museums, a Marineland, an I-Max theater, amusement arcades and various other entertainment facilities. Most of these are located on or near to Victoria Avenue that becomes Ferry Street and finally Lundy's Lane.

The drive north along River Road, also known as Niagara Parkway, follows the Niagara Gorge from below the falls to the little town of Niagara-on-the-Lake at Lake Ontario. There are many scenic lookouts along the way that provide glimpses of the deep rocky canyon and the turbulent Niagara River. About two miles below the falls, the Great Gorge Adventure offers an elevator ride to the bottom of the canyon with a boardwalk along the river where the waters boil up into huge foaming stacks. A mile further down the river, the Spanish Aerocar provides cable car rides above the great swirling whirlpool caldron in the river.

Across from the Great Gorge Adventure lies a very interesting compound centered around the Temple of Ten Thousand Buddhas. It is worth visiting. Approximately five miles below the falls, the vast and beautiful Botanical Gardens contain a wonderful butterfly conservatory with an amazing collection of exotically beautiful live specimens from around the world.

One of the best ways to see all of the major attractions at the falls and along the gorge is by purchasing a Niagara Parks Commission Pass that includes transportation on the people mover, admission to many of the attractions and discount coupons for other attractions. It costs about $30.

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Niagara on the Lake

Niagara-on-the-Lake is a quaint Victorian era town located nearly 15 miles north of the falls at the end of the Niagara River where it enters Lake Ontario. The town has been beautifully restored and converted into a wonderful up-scale tourist attraction with elegant hotels, quaint boutiques and interesting shops. The town is located adjacent to a large lakeside fruit and wine growing regions that produces some very nice white wines and some world-class ice wines. It is well worth spending a day in the area visiting the town, browsing the quaint shops and visiting the nearby wineries.

There are plenty of shopping opportunities in Niagara on the Lake and in the city of Niagara Falls. Beside the usual souvenir shops, there are plenty of boutiques, shopping centers and a discount mall on Lundy's Lane.

Accommodations

There is a wide variety of hotels in all price ranges in Niagara Falls. The hotels overlooking the falls and nearest to the falls are moderate to higher priced while the hotels further away are more budget priced. You can find a nice selection of budget hotels along Lundy's Lane about a mile or two from the falls area. There are a number of Bed and Breakfast homes along River Road just north of the falls.

There are some really fine hotels and Bed and Breakfast establishments in and around Niagara on the Lake. They tend to be in the moderate to higher price range.

Written by: Mike Leco
Top Photo Credit: © Mike Leco / USATourist.com
Photo Description: A Maid of the Mist tour boat takes its passengers for an up close view of Horseshoe Falls.