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This is Niagara Falls?

On our way to visit Niagara Falls, Dani and I had both been picturing rustic log-cabin restaurants, maybe a few lumberjacks, a small town feel and definitely something a bit more romantic. After all this is supposed to be the Honeymoon Capital of the World. We never expected this…mega tourist trap.

Pulling into town, however, we found ourselves suddenly driving downhill on a wide street with cheesy tourist attractions stacked up tightly on either side. A wax museum, a haunted house, Ripley’s Believe it or Not…

“Wait, is that another wax museum?” I asked.  “I think so,” Dani remarked. “And I just saw two more haunted houses on my side.”

niagara falls townAs we reached the bottom of this long, strange road, I turned right – away from the Hershey’s Chocolate store and toward the intense sound of rushing water.

The Falls are magnificent

Just a split second later, there it was! The awe-inspiring view of Niagara Falls. There are actually three sets of falls pounding into the Niagara river below – the American Falls and smaller Bridal Veil Falls on the American side and the massive Horseshoe Falls on the Canadian side.  Immediately humbled, we cruised slowly along the four-lane thoroughfare which hugs the pedestrian viewing along the cliffs, gawking at the sheer size of this sight.

We managed to find $5 parking (instead of the lots with New York City level prices) and walked down to gaze at the Falls. Seeing Niagara Falls on postcards and in pictures does not compare to the sight of this incredible natural wonder in person. Two things really stood out. First, the water seems to speed up as it reaches the falls, as if it can not wait to plunge over the cliff. By the time it goes over, the water is moving so quickly and just looking at this makes you comprehend your own delicate mortality.

niagara falls horseshoe falls water powerSecond, the sheer force with which the 4 million cubic feet of water per minute hits the river below causes much of it to shoot back up into the air, with the spray reaching at least twice as high as the 180 feet it dropped in the first place. This ‘cloud’ of mist can be seen even when the Falls themselves are out of view. This part of the walkway, and all onlookers standing here, is soaking wet.

niagara falls horseshoe falls with mistMaid of the Mist is a must

Being such a popular tourist attraction, there are several tours to choose from which will get you up close and almost within reach of the Falls. We steered away from the package deals and chose only the 30-minute Maid of the Mist boat tour. With all passengers covered in plastic ponchos, the boat set off onto the Niagara river, which drains Lake Eerie into Lake Ontario and forms the border between the U.S. and Canada. The steady ship reached the Horseshoe Falls within minutes and we were immediately drenched by the mist. Actually feeling how much water soaked us at the edge of the mist helped to visualize just how much water is contained within the waterfalls themselves. We can highly recommend doing this tour as it is quick, painless and gets right to the point. While it feels adventurous, boats leave every half hour from the dock to the falls, making this a common and safe experience for everyone.

niagara falls from river tour on maid of the mistIndeed, Niagara Falls are one of nature’s incredible wonders, and everyone should see them if they get the chance. Most agree that the views are better from the Canadian side, but cross the Rainbow Bridge to the American side and check it out for yourself. From what we could see, there are far less tourist eyesores and it could well be a more natural experience. Back on the Canadian side, we just couldn’t help but be disappointed by the fact that the Niagara Falls might just be the most unnatural wonder we’ll ever visit. Luckily, we found a solution, a way out of the tourist trap – and it involves a lot of wine.

Winding our way through the wineries

No, there was no drowning of sorrows in copious amounts of wine. Instead, after beating the crowds to some breathtaking early morning views at Niagara Falls, we set off into the Canadian wine country. Sleepy narrow two-lane roads weave through historic villages which open up into vast fields filled with countless rows of wine as far as the eye can see. We glided along the road, stopping in for samples at a few charming wineries and picking up fresh organic peaches, pears and veggies from farmers stands along the way.

niagara wine country ontarioTip: try the sweet dessert ‘ice wine’, a local Ontario wine which uses grapes picked only after the first frost of the year.

Suddenly, 15km from Niagara Falls, a spot of slow traffic began when there had previously been only a few cars on the road. Where were we all of a sudden, we wondered?

Love at first sight: Niagara-on-the-Lake

This charming, historic town of Niagara-on-the-Lake is everything Niagara Falls is not. Independent shops and restaurants fill the bottom floors of historic buildings, which are set back on streets lined with breezy trees, exotic flowers and lovely sidewalks meant for strolling. Everything in town seems to center around good food and good wine.

Whereas the town of Niagara Falls seems like Las Vegas without the flash and fun, Niagara-on-the-Lake is more like the Canadian version of Tuscany, with its Dolce Vita attitude. Surrounded by 26 wineries, it seems easy to focus on the ‘sweet life’ here.

niagara on the lakeIt was love at first sight, and as we rambled along peeking into shops and checking out restaurant menus, we made an even more exciting discovery. Food and drink here is more fairly priced for infinitely higher quality than the fast food tourist fare down the road. To add to our delight, we spotted plenty of affordable classic hotels and boutique bed and breakfasts throughout town.

As we left Niagara-on-the-Lake, the car was filled with delicious wine, fresh blueberry scones and our homegrown fruit and veg to enjoy once we got back home.

niagara wine country fruit standTip:

If you visit the Niagara Falls, which you really should, skip the cheapie budget digs on ‘motel row’ out of town, and don’t waste serious cash on the 42-story hotel/casino monstrosities all vying for the best views of the falls. We say make Niagara-on-the-Lake your base, take a couple of day trips to the falls and spend the evenings relaxing in this adorable haven just down the road.

Have you visited the Niagara Falls or other spectacular waterfalls? What were your impressions? Share your thoughts in the comments

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Tags : Niagara Fallsniagara-on-the-lake

29 Comments

    1. In the winter?? Omg, you must have been freezing! We saw some photos of the Falls in the winter, and the photos were beautiful, but it would be way too cold for me to visit in the winter. We were blessed with perfect summer weather when we visited, but the disadvantage of visiting in the summer: too many people.

  1. You ladies sound like my kind of travelers! Skip the tacky/touristy stuff but see the main attractions and wine and dine in the best value/quality places! Good, solid advice

    1. Thanks Katherine! We couldn’t believe HOW different the quality in food was when we got to Niagaara-on-the-Lake – in Niagara Falls we had a hard time finding anything that was NOT fast food and in Niagara-on-the-lake we were overwhelmed with the choice of cute bistros, cafes and little pubs. And Ontario wine is actually pretty good 🙂

    1. I have always wanted to visit Niagara Falls, and I am glad we did – the Falls were great, but I agree that the Iguazu Falls are more spectacular – at least they seem much bigger & more impressive on photos – and I can’t wait to go there!
      And yes, who knew Canada made wine?? We were amazed to see how big Ontario’s wine country is!

  2. I went to both of these places with my family when I was younger and I have to agree with you about how tacky Niagara Falls is. In fact looking at your photos it looks as though it may have gotten even tackier! haha. You stand looking at these massive falls thinking “wow!” and then turn around and see a line of motels, arcades and neon signs….a bit depressing. But I remember going into a lovely coffee shop in Niagara on the Lake and feeling as though we had stepped back in time.
    Julia recently posted..The View From My Window: Saigon

    1. Julia, you expressed exactly what we felt – ‘as though we had stepped back in time’! The coffee shops in Niagara-on-the-lake were so wonderfully old-fashioned, I hope it’ll stay this way! As for Niagara Falls, I can only hope that it doesn’t get worse (if that’s even possible!)

  3. The New York side was definitely more authentic with the National Park and only a few commercial businesses. It’s always an option to stay on this side of the Falls.

    Oh, and the Maid of the Mist was easily our favorite part about Niagara Falls! Such a cool experience.
    Kieron recently posted..Our Perfect Hotel Room

    1. I am glad to hear that the American side of the Falls hasn’t been built up like the Canadian side – we couldn’t cross the Rainbow Bridge into the States because we didn’t have our passports with us, which was a shame. Glad you guys went on the Boat Tour and enjoyed it as much as we did!!

  4. Love your post! This is exactly what I think about the area. Also, I’m from Toronto (an hour or so from the falls) and I always love reading about what people think of home.

    You’re right! The falls are beautiful and I personally think even more so in winter. I celebrated NYE there once and it was fantastic! Bring a parka and you’ll be fine. 🙂

    The tacky tourist stuff (wax museums, hard rock cafes etc) do make me sad and I’m happy for Niagara on the Lake. Did you try the ice wine and if yes, what did you think?
    Cheryl recently posted..The Doors of Szentendre, Hungary.

    1. Thanks Cheryl! NYE at Niagara Falls sounds awesome, I’d have to drink a lot though to forget that it’s freezing cold 😉 Yes, we did try the ice wine, and we thought it was pretty good!

  5. This is my kind of post, guys! I like that, even though you acknowledged its downsides, you still recommend some of the best aspects of Niagara Falls. Because, let’s face it, the Falls themselves are always going to be amazing, no matter how much touristy crap is built near them.

    Niagara-on-the-Lake looks SO cute. I’ve read about it, but haven’t really seen photos of it. So thanks for those!
    Amanda recently posted..The 3 Best Sandwiches I Have Ever Eaten

    1. Thanks Amanda! We highly recommend visiting Niagara-on-the-Lake if you make your way to Niagara Falls. The question that I always ask myself about all the ‘touristy crap’ is: Do people really WANT these things??

    1. We can’t wait to see Iguazu Falls! Niagara Falls might be overrated compared to Iguazu Falls, but they are still spectacular and definitely the most impressive falls in North America 🙂

  6. Love Niagara Falls and highly recommend staying right in the heart of things. Staying in one of the high rises looking over the falls is one of my favourite things to do. Especially if you can secure a jacuzzi suite at the Hilton or Marriott. Heavenly! There is so much to do there and I suggest if you are making a trip out of it, give downtown at least 2 days. Go to the journey under the falls, the cable car, jet boat tour, indoor skydiving, butterfly conservatory and yes the cheesy museums. Nightmares is amazingly scary!
    Then head out of town for Niagara on the Lake. (it’s a little slow and boring for too long, It’s a place where retirees go for weekend getaways to give you an idea of what its all about) But you can have a great adventure staying there by exploring the outdoors…Get some bikes, taste some wine, hike the escarpment and go bouldering at Niagara Glen. Don’t miss out on enjoying the whole experience.
    Too many travellers think that they are above the touristy stuff. We enjoy the beaten path as much as camping in the middle of nowhere in Kazakhstan.
    So I am defending Niagara Falls, it is still one of our favourite getaways. And I have to defend our parks, we have great walks and parks all over the place in Niagara Falls. You can enjoy amazing outdoor experiences. There excellent cycling, mountain biking, hiking and as I said rock climbing the magnificent boulders of the Glen, skydiving…the list goes on:)
    De recently posted..Traveling by Plane, It Sucks

    1. Hi Deb, thanks for commenting! It’s not that we mind touristy stuff – in all honesty, I think we’re ‘on the beaten path’ much more often than we’re ‘off’ it – and we do touristy things all the time, it was just that we felt in Niagara Falls everything was a little bit too much. 1 haunted house – okay, 1 Ripley’s – fine.. it’s a family destination after all.. but that there were so many of everything – we didn’t think it was necessary, because it should be all about the Falls, no?

  7. Nice! You did the things I had wanted to do when I went to a conference close to Toronto, but then didn’t have the time for 🙂 Glad to at least see it through your eyes! Unfortunately I got sick right before the trip – not enough to cancel it, but enough to cancel anything that didn’t involve me getting straight to my hotel bed. Your post just put the falls and the ice winery back on the list for the next time I’m in the area!
    Sabrina recently posted..Pecan Trees in Texas: Our Backyard

    1. Oh that’s a shame that you didn’t get to go when you were in Toronto! The Falls are definitely worth a visit though, and so is the entire wine country. I hope you get to see Niagara Falls soon 🙂

  8. We visited the u s side, it was wonderful, and not to much of that tourist thing that you spoke off on the canadian side, coming from the caribbean, namely trinidad and tobago, this was truly an impressive site to behold, it’s really a wonder of the world, but the weather was a bit chilly for me, I’m into the 90’s home lol!

  9. Totally agree with the above mentioned. My friend and I had the exact same experience. Touristic stuff – sure, totally fine and often lots of fun. But why place an entire Hollywood/Las Vegas styled district (including a tiny walk of fame!) next to one of the most spectacular natural wonders!? The contrast was so strong.. we couldn’t really appreciate it.
    Hester @ Flying Dutchgirl recently posted..From New York City To The Niagara Falls By Train

  10. I have been to Niagara Falls many times but every time I go there it amazes me how much there is to see I’ve been to many places but Niagara Falls is one of my most favourites!!!!!????????????❤❤❤❤❤❤

  11. I think the town has been struggling with an identity crisis for a very long time. It just can’t figure out what it is, which is unfortunate. However, just the fact these wax museums still exist says that they get patrons year in and out so what can you say?

    Niagara on the Lake is a wonderful place to visit for a low key relaxing day. A great contrast to the hustle and bustle of upstream.

    Glad you had a good time though!

    1. I agree with Niagara on the Lake, Debra – love that little town!! And of course everyone should experience the Falls 🙂

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