Last Updated on May 18, 2023
Now that I have been to both sides of Niagara Falls, the American Falls and the Canadian Falls, I realized just how different both sides are. This is why I wanted to share the pros and cons of American side and the Canadian side, their similarities and the main differences. And finally, which side I think you should visit when you plan a trip to Niagara Falls.
Unless you’re a total geography buff, you’re probably not familiar with the exact location and division of the Falls between the U.S. and Canada, so let’s start with some background information.
Niagara Falls – the Details
Niagara Falls are located 20 minutes (17 miles / 27 km) north of Buffalo, New York on the American side, and about 90 minutes south of Toronto, Ontario (75 miles / 121 km) on the Canadian side. The Falls are located on the Niagara River, a short river that connects Lake Erie with Lake Ontario (two of the five Great Lakes). Each country has a city right by the Falls, and both are appropriately named Niagara Falls. More on both later.
Niagara Falls actually consist of three sets of waterfalls: the Horseshoe Falls on the Canadian side, and the Bridal Veil Falls as well as the American Falls on U.S. soil.
Together, they make for the world’s biggest waterfalls by flow rate, with an average of 4 million cubic feet (110,000 m3) of water falling over the crest line every minute and up to 6 million cubic feet (168,000 m3) in high flow.In comparison to other famous waterfalls of the world, Niagara Falls are fairly small though:
Niagara Falls, USA & Canada
- Width: Horseshoe Falls 2,600 feet (790 meters), American Falls 1,060 feet (320 meters)
- Height: 167 feet (51 meters)
Iguazu Falls, Argentina & Brazil
- Width: 8,858 feet (2,700 meters)
- Height: 210 – 269 feet (64 – 82 meters)
Victoria Falls, Zambia & Zimbabwe
- Width: 5,604 feet (1,708 meters)
- Height: 360 feet (108 meters)
While they are only about a third in width of Iguazu Falls and less than half the height of Victoria Falls, Niagara Falls – both American side or Canadian side – are still an incredible sight and well worth a visit, and they are still the biggest waterfalls in North America.
As I mentioned before, the Falls can be either visited from the American side or from the Canadian side, and I have compiled everything you need to know about visiting either side.
American Falls & Canadian Falls: Similarities & Differences
What’s similar about the two sides of Niagara Falls?
Let’s start with what’s similar on both the American side and the Canadian side. No matter if you’re visiting from the States or from Canada, you can take a 30-minute boat ride close up to the massive Horseshoe Falls; the Maid Of The Mist leaves every half hour from the U.S. and its Canadian counterpart is the Hornblower Niagara Cruise. Another thing that both sides offer is the possibility to get close up to the Falls with a set of walkways / viewpoints that are right by the Falls.
It is possible to visit Niagara Falls entirely for free anything from either country.
What’s different about the two sides of Niagara Falls?
The biggest difference between visiting Niagara Falls from Canada and the U.S. are the views you get. Let’s be honest, Canada just lucked out here and simply has the better vistas: you can get the entire panoramic view of all three waterfalls from the edge of the gorge here, while from the U.S., you’ll have difficulties seeing the entire ‘horseshoe’, despite the various observation decks. The American Falls themselves can only be seen if you pay to enter the Cave of the Winds walkways, but then you also only see them from the bottom and not in full panorama.
The U.S. side has an advantage though: here, you can get really close to the Falls. While you can get close to the Horseshoe Falls in Canada, you can truly feel the American Falls.
Here is some more information on each side:
Niagara Falls: The Canadian Side
The Canadian side of Niagara Falls offers you the full panoramic view of all the falls. You can walk along a wide sidewalk along the Niagara Falls Parkway right on the rim of the gorge for about a mile and look down into the Niagara River and see the Falls across from you.
If you want even broader views of the Falls, you can go up on the Skylon Tower from where you have stunning overhead vistas. The Skylon Tower also has a revolving restaurant, so that you can enjoy a meal or some drinks with those epic views. Reserving a table here includes free access to the observation deck If you book only a ticket, it’s only US$12.70 if you book it online! The popular Sunday Brunch Buffet at CAD32.50 is actually pretty good value, considering it includes the observation deck as well – but make sure to book your table well in advance.
Tip: You can now also see the Falls from the brand new Skywheel! Grab a ticket now for the bargain price of only US$11.65
Tip: You can get really close to the Horseshoe Falls if you pay for the Journey Behind The Falls experience. You get to take an elevator down 150 feet (45 meters), walk through a series of caves and finally get to an observation deck right next to the falls. While it is called Behind The Falls, don’t expect to actually get behind them: it’s more like getting a glimpse behind them. You will get drenched though (rain ponchos are provided), and will hear the thundering noise of the rushing water really close up. Admission for the Journey Behind The Falls is CAD23.50 / CAD15.50 per child; plus tax.
Scroll down to the bottom of this article to see the more tours you can take at Niagara Falls.
If you stay overnight, make sure to come back at night to see the Niagara Falls light show. After sunset, the falls are illuminated in changing colors – it is a neat sight. During the summer months, there are also fireworks on Fridays and Sundays and on public holidays. This is something to consider when you decide if to stay on the American side or the Canadian side: the light show is only visible from the Canadian side, and getting there at night would be easier from a hotel on the Canadian side.
If you have difficulties walking, there is a hop-on hop-off bus service that connects the main attractions in town and several lookouts along the Falls; a day ticket is $7 per person. You can find the schedule and route map here.
Niagara Falls: The American Side
The American side might not have the panoramic views that Canada has, but it lets you get super close to the water. There is one big observation deck which you can enter for free and where you get the best vistas of a big part of the falls.
You can also take the 30-minute boat ride into the rushing Horseshoe Falls and get soaked that way, or you walk along the wooden walkways of the Cave Of The Winds experience. The cave that it is named after is long gone (it collapsed in 1954), but the walkways and viewing points, 175 feet (53 meters) deep into the Niagara Gorge, get you so close to the waterfalls that you basically get a free (and strong!) shower, especially on the appropriately named Hurricane Deck at the bottom of the American Falls. On this deck, you are only 20 feet (6 meters) from the Bridal Veil Falls! Admission for the Cave of the Winds experience is USD14 per person (US$10 for children), the Maid Of The Mist is USD28.25 (US$16.50 for children).
In addition to these paid-for experiences, there is are several viewing points at the rim, one right in between the two American Falls (on Goat Island, a little Island that separates the American Falls from the Horseshoe Falls).
There is a hop-on hop-off trolley service in the Niagara State Park for only $2 per person if you have difficulties walking.
Winner: Canada, these views are just unbeatable!
Niagara Falls: The cities
Niagara Falls, Canada
It’s no secret that we weren’t the biggest fans of this town when we visited the Canadian side. The city felt tacky, everything was set up to get every tourist dollar possible: haunted houses (seriously, who needs four haunted houses? Especially in a city that small), wax museums, Ripley’s Believe It Or Not, Hershey’s Chocolate World and many fast food chains.
If you can’t entertain your kids with an awe-inspiring natural wonder, you’ll get the chance to do that here (and spend lots of cash). Ironically, most of the chains who set up shop here are American, it seems like even they knew the Canadian side is the one that’s bringing in the big bucks. For the grown-ups in need of additional entertainment, there are not one but TWO casinos to carry your money to. I’ve listed some of the attractions on the Canadian side of Niagara Falls in this article.
When debating if you want to stay on the American side or the Canadian side, keep in mind that families with kids might prefer the Canadian side for entertainment value – or do the exact opposite: stay away from it to avoid spending loads of money.
Niagara Falls, USA
The American side feels more tranquil, less crowded and less tacky – other than a Wax Museum of History, a haunted house and an aquarium, and the giant casino that’s towering over all the other buildings, there is not much here. The town makes an effort though to provide some entertainment that you don’t have to pay for and that’s more family-friendly, like free board games, outdoor movie nights in the summer, concerts and even fitness events. You can find the entire program here.
I thought that there was much greener here, and it is known that you can go on better hikes along the Niagara River from here. This side is definitely right for you if you’re planning a couple of hikes in addition to visiting the Falls. You can find some more details on the hiking options here.
Winner: Niagara Falls USA
American side or Canadian side? Which Falls should you visit?
Absolutely no question: Visit both sides! I recommend planning in enough time to visit both Canada’s and the American side to get the full Niagara experience. I thought it was very similar to my experience at Iguazu Falls – while I got to get a real close-up encounter with the Falls on the Argentinian side, the breathtaking vistas are what you only get from Brazil. At the Niagara Falls, you get the greatest views from Canada, but the better close-up experience from the U.S.
How to cross the border at Niagara Falls
Thanks to the Rainbow Bridge, which connects Canada and the U.S. right by the Falls, you can easily cross from one country into the other – as long as you pack your passport! Make also sure to check visa regulations for your country of origin. The toll to cross the bridge is only $1.00 in both currencies if you cross on foot, but more expensive for cars, RVs and trucks. You can find the current prices here. If you visit the Falls with your car, there’s no need for you to take it to the other side – you can just walk over the bridge and explore the Falls on foot, unless you aren’t in good health.
The best tours in Niagara Falls
As you would expect for one of the most visited tourist attractions in all of North America, there are plenty of tours you can book as a visitor. But which ones are worth it?
I am sharing the most popular tours you can take from both, Niagara Falls American side and Canadian side.
- American Falls Half-Day Tour: This includes a boat ride on the “Maid of the Mist” and the Cave of the Winds for a close-up Falls experience. Furthermore, you’ll get to see the Falls from the top of the American Observation Tower and you will visit all key viewing areas of Niagara Falls including Goat Island.
- Above & Behind the Falls (Canadian Side): This 5-hour tour includes a Hornblower Niagara Cruise, a visit to the tunnels underneath the Horseshoe Falls, and the observation deck on top of the Skylon Tower to enjoy panoramic views of the Falls.
- Treat Yourself to the VIP Experience: A Niagara Falls Helicopter Flight, Boat Ride & Skylon Lunch: This 5-hour tour includes the Hornblower Niagara Cruise boat ride (seasonal: April – December), a helicopter ride directly above the falls and the whirlpool rapids, a stunning lunch at Skylon Tower’s revolving dining room; and the “Journey Behind the Falls” tour for a behind the scenes look at the Horseshoe Falls
- The “regular” Scenic Helicopter Flight over Niagara Falls (without VIP Treatment) – starting at around US$127.
- Zipline To The Falls: You will start on the Canadian side and soar 220 feet (67 meters) above the Niagara River Gorge, gliding 2,200 feet (670 meters) past the American Falls to the base of the incredible Canadian Horseshoe Falls. From $65.95.
Check out all available tours at Niagara Falls here:
Where to stay in Niagara Falls
Niagara Falls is one of the most popular tourist attractions in North America, so naturally there are plenty of hotels around here. Be careful though: There are also a bunch of cheapie motels that are very basic and some are downright filthy. They are cheap, but not enjoyable, trust me. Before you book a hotel or motel, make sure to check the latest reviews before going for what may seem like a bargain deal, and the review score. I’ve put together a few options on both the American side and the Canadian side for you, for all budgets.
Note: The Canadian side has considerably more options, including some hotels with direct views of the falls from your hotel window. It’s definitely worth to splurge on a room with a view of the falls! Another thing to consider when deciding if to stay on the American side or the Canadian side.
Budget: There are a couple of gorgeous B&Bs which offer accommodation for under $100, including breakfast.
Mid-range: The mid-range hotels are pretty much all major hotel chains. The Sheraton and even the Radisson are much better than the overpriced Hilton, both have rooms for around $160, compared to a starting price of $300 for the Hilton. And both have spectacular Falls vistas!
High-end: There isn’t much here in terms of truly luxurious hotels, but the Marriott Fallsview Hotel & Spa is your best option. Note that Marriott has two other properties here, the Marriott Courtyard and the Marriott on the Falls (in case you want to use your Marriott points).
Budget: There are several sub-par motels here, read some reviews before you book. A B&B will be a much more pleasant choice.
Mid-range: You’ll find all the common hotel chains here: Best Western, Quality, La Quinta Inn, Howard Johnson, Holiday Inn, Wyndham, Four Points by Sheraton, etc. The best ones:
High-end: Just like on the Canadian side, there aren’t any truly luxurious hotels around here, but the Giacomo boutique hotel stands out. All three options are still under $200 per night.
How to stay at an Airbnb and cook for yourself!
Having a kitchen and being able to cook for myself is always the biggest draw for me to stay in an Airbnb, and after two visits to Niagara Falls with a number of disappointing restaurant visits there (read: overpriced and forgettable meals), I’d stay in an Airbnb on my next visit. There are a number of rooms and entire apartments listed on the website on both the Canadian and the U.S. site, starting at $35.
Have you been to Niagara Falls? What is your take on this hot topic, Niagara Falls American Side or Canadian Side? If you have tips and recommendations how travelers can maximize their experience, feel free to share them in the comments below!
Saturday 14th of August 2021
Niagra falls Canada also tries to charge you a tourist tax (or something like that) in it's restaurants and hotels! You actually do not have to pay it as it is not a legal tax, so just be warned to look at your bill!!
Friday 16th of August 2019
We just came back from visiting Niagara Falls, ON. I live 3.5 hours away in, Michigan. I love the Canadian side of the Falls. The views are spectacular, it’s quite safe in comparison to the U.S. side, and it’s extraordinarily clean. There are no lack of bars, restaurants, and fun activities for the whole family to enjoy. I call it , Las Vegas for kids. The town hops well until midnight and beyond. I enjoy all of the cheese and tacky tourists traps, that’s kind of the allure and fun of it. You can relive your inner-child, while having some adult fun as well. For families, it’s a no brained, the kids will love it. Every child I saw had a smile on their face, and our daughter enjoyed going. Now I’m looking forward to taking my grandson.
When one has had enough of the noise and excitement of Clifton Hill and all of the touristy stuff, just drive along the gorge to get some quiet time. It’s a lovely drive with beautiful views. I love the Whirlpool, and took the tram across for a little thrill.
Niagara-on-the-Lake is beautiful. It worth visiting and a peaceful getaway from all of the hubbub of Clifton Hill. There are many vineyards along the way, if one would like to visit some wineries.
When going to the New York side, be prepared for a lack of eateries, the town is dirty, with loads of run down areas. To get to some of the fun things to do, one must drive. The town is shady. I do agree, that one can get some nice views, and super close to the river. It is definitely quieter and more peaceful around the river area. One doesn’t have to battle for a spot to view the falls, which is quite nice. There are hotels, but they are in not so nice areas like the Sheraton. I often wondered why Niagara Falls, NY never built up or developed a really nice place for tourists to visit, after all, this is the gateway into the U.S., and for many they are coming from all over the world, and this is what their impression of what the U.S is like. It’s pretty sad.
Monday 6th of May 2019
It's going to cost my family of 5 about $300 just to get passport cards to cross over to Canada. We are only going for one day (we're staying with friends about an hour away) and I'm wondering if it's worth paying the $300 (that's a lot of money for something we're going to use for just one day!). We're planning on doing Maid of the Mist and I hear that the views from the boat are great from either side. What do you think?
Tuesday 7th of May 2019
Hi Colleen, I didn't know you actually needed a passport to cross into Canada from the U.S. Unless you are planning any other trips in the next few years that require a passport (and you'd get passports for that anyway), I don't think it's worth the money, because like you said, it is A LOT. I did a quick Google search and found varying information on if you really need a passport for a quick 'day trip' on the other side of the Falls, and some pages say you may be able to cross into Canada with your birth certificate and valid I.D. - might be worth packing those and give it a try. Maid of the Mist is a MUST! Enjoy Niagara Falls :)
Tuesday 13th of March 2018
Hi Dani, I am doing a cross country road trip from Connecticut to Washington soon. Niagara Falls is definitely on my list, but I hadn't thought about visiting both sides on my visit. I will definitely try now! Do you have any recommendations on which side to park? I am thinking of parking on one side and walking across to the other. Also, do you have a suggestion on time time allotment for the sightseeing on both sides?
Wednesday 21st of March 2018
Hi Rico.. I found parking on both sides easy. Allow at least half a day for seeing the Falls- they're much larger than you think, especially if you want to cross into Canada. Enjoy your cross country road trip :)
Saturday 10th of March 2018
Canadian side has an indoor waterpark(3acres) which can be included in several hotel packages. So many more things for the kids to do on the Canadian side...they will love the indoor waterpark!
Wednesday 21st of March 2018
Thanks for your input, Lisa! :)