Niagara Falls is a tourist hot-spot and welcomes approximately 30 million people annually, all of whom come to see the thunderous waterfalls that straddle the international border between Canada and the United States. Over the years, the city has been reshaped and reinvented to keep up with the times and the changing wants and needs of tourists – from early day motels, cafes, and observation towers to modern-day casinos, nightlife, and a bevy of skyscraper hotels and restaurants. Meanwhile, wax museums and a variety of souvenir and candy shops have remained constant. It is a romantic place for couples and has been affectionately called the ‘ Honeymoon Capital’. But it is also a great place for families and friends and appeals to all ages. With many activities and attractions concentrated in a small region, it makes the perfect destination for a vacation or weekend getaway, no matter the season.
In alphabetical order, here is our pick for the Top 10 Things to See and Do in Niagara Falls.
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This four-story building contains 45,000 square feet of a picture-takers paradise, starting with Explorer’s Base Camp where guests can experience hands-on encounters with a selection of parrots and reptiles. A caged aviary features a vast selection of the tiniest finches, tanagers, and doves, and the Night Jungle introduces visitors to owls and bats. The main aviary is set against a backdrop of waterfalls and tropical foliage with pathways that wind through the jungle-like setting. Wandering and flying freely are 200 vibrant birds representing 40 different species, primarily from South America, Africa, and Australia. A caged area called Lorikeet Landing allows visitors to feed the lorikeets inside their enclosure.
The average self-guided tour of Bird Kingdom takes approximately two hours depending on how much you linger and take photos, perhaps a bit longer if you include the gift shop and the cafe in your explorations. If you want more of this type of adventure, consider Niagara Parks’ Butterfly Conservatory, which is only 9 minutes away.
Spread across 40 acres, Niagara Falls’ Botanical Gardens are home to a wide variety of trees, shrubs, herbs, vegetables, and flowers. This includes 2400 roses, all of which are beautifully maintained by Niagara Parks School of Horticulture, which is conveniently located on the grounds. There’s even a maze hedge, a bog garden, and a selection of interesting grasses, one of which is poisonous so the students can learn how to deal with it.
Several locations within the gardens present a picture-perfect backdrop for weddings, and the entire grounds offer up stunning photo opportunities. You can walk the gardens for free with paid parking close by. Or, you can opt for a horse and carriage ride for a relaxing 40-minute tour complete with narration by the coachman.
Located on the grounds of the Niagara Parks Botanical Gardens, the Butterfly Conservatory contains a 200-seat theatre, a large gift shop fully stocked with unique souvenirs, and a massive greenhouse that includes 600 feet of pathway through a visually stunning tropical rainforest of waterfalls and vibrant foliage. Palm trees stretch to the ceiling of the 11,000 square foot netted enclosure while 50 species of 2000+ exotic butterflies in every size and color float through the air and land everywhere in the gardens, including on the visitors.
The attraction also features a 200-seat theatre and a large gift shop.
A vast majority of Niagara’s manmade attractions can be found on Clifton Hill, which is essentially the main street and is set on a steep incline. Years ago, this street was primarily made up of small motels and cafes with a few souvenir stores. Most of these have since been replaced with chain restaurants, treats and candy stands, wax museums, and an entertainment midway that contains rides and activities. At the intersection at the top of the hill, visitors will find Victoria Avenue where the attractions, eateries, and souvenir stores continue for a block or two in either direction.
The street and sidewalks of Clifton Hill are always busy with tourists but especially during peak season so it can become a bit of an obstacle. However, the area is action-packed and is a do-not-miss, particularly at night when all the lights and signage create a huge splash of illuminated color.
The geographical feature of Niagara Falls is a group of three waterfalls located at the southern end of Niagara Gorge. They span the Canada/US border between the province of Ontario and the state of New York. The largest is Horseshoe Falls, also known as Canadian Falls, and is the most powerful waterfall in North America. The smaller American Falls and Bridal Veil Falls are situated on the US side and are separated by Goat Island.
The falls are visible from a variety of outlooks in the area, and from hotel rooms, rooftop restaurants, and observation decks. For visitors wishing an up-close experience, Hornblower Niagara City Cruises is a boat ride that travels as close to the falls as possible. There is also Journey Behind the Falls, a self-guided walking tour that ventures through underground tunnels that offer views from directly beside and from behind the falls. Whirlpool Jet Boat provides a wild ride through the rapids. And, if you’re not afraid of heights, Niagara Helicopter tours will fly you directly over top of this world wonder.
Great Canadian Midway
With its entrance located on Clifton Hill, visitors will find 70,000 square feet of entertainment at the Great Canadian Midway. The complex contains games and rides and much more, such as interactive experiences with the Wild West Coaster Motion Simulator and the spooky Ghost Blasters Dark Ride haunted house.
The Niagara Skywheel is located here and stands 175 feet tall (53 meters) for a bird’s eye look at Niagara from individual gondolas. Strike! Rock N Bowl is also at the Midway, along with food outlets, mini-golf, and access to the Niagara Speedway and Game Zone.
High above the roar of the Falls, at 160 meters (520 ft) from street level and 236 meters (775 ft) from the bottom of the falls, stands the Skylon Tower. This Niagara Falls landmark has graced the city skyline since 1965 and has welcomed countless tourists. The main floor hosts some souvenir and coffee shops and the large basement area, which can be accessed by escalators, features an arcade and some fast-food options.
Three yellow pill-shaped elevators take visitors to the top of the tower in only 52 seconds where they have a choice of an observation deck, or two distinct restaurants – The Revolving Dining Room and the Summit Suite Buffet Dining Room. All three offer spectacular views of the falls, the skyscraper hotels and casinos, the Rainbow Bridge leading to the US, and the action and lights of Clifton Hill.
Whirlpool Aero Car
Built in 1916, the Whirlpool Aero Car is suspended from six substantial cables (3 on each side of the car) all of which are anchored in the rocky cliffside. The car crosses the Canadian side of the Niagara Gorge, allowing passengers a spectacular view of the swirling whirlpool below as well as the spectacular scenery. A round trip encompasses approximately one kilometer and is standing room only for passengers inside the basket-like car. This attraction operates only during the summer months and early fall, for obvious reasons, and provides magnificent views.
Tickets can be purchased individually, or you can opt for an Adventure Pass on the Niagara Parks website where attraction tickets are bundled to save visitors time as well as money.
White Water Walk
If hovering above the whirlpool in a cable car is too adventurous, try the White Water Walk where you can casually stroll alongside the rapids and get an up-close-and-personal feel for the sheer power of water. An elevator transports visitors down to a tunnel that leads to a picturesque boardwalk inside the gorge. The scenery is breathtaking and is perfect for escaping the hustle and bustle of Clifton Hill, or for shutterbugs looking to take exquisite photos.
Four kilometers of rushing, white-capped water amidst the multi-layers of 400-year-old rock provides a peaceful walk that you can take at your own pace.
The zipline at Grand View Marketplace takes visitors on a breathtaking ride into the gorge, towards the base of the Canadian Horseshoe Falls. Two courses are now available with day and night rides.
At WildPlay Zipline, be prepared to travel 670 meters (2,200 feet) downward while soaring past the American Falls and eventually landing on the observation deck at the base of the Horseshoe Falls.
Seasonal Bonus Pick: Winter Festival of Lights
Niagara’s annual Winter Festival of Lights is Canada’s largest free outdoor light festival that usually runs from mid-November until the first week of January, to encompass the festive season.
The event entails 3 million lights that make up a series of fun and interesting displays all along the Niagara Parkway, Dufferin Islands, and across Niagara Falls.
Plus, during this time, the falls are illuminated, and fireworks displays can be seen on specific dates and times during the week of Christmas and New Years.
Lead – Photo by Danny Hoang on Unsplash
Bird Kingdom – Go GlobeHopper
Botanical Gardens – Niagara Parks
Butterfly Conservatory – Pixabay
Clifton Hill – Go GlobeHopper
Falls – Pixabay
Great Canadian Midway – Go GlobeHopper
Skylon Tower – Skylon Tower
Whirlpool Aero Car – Pixabay
Whitewater Walk – Niagara Parks
WildPlay Zipline – Pixabay
Winter Festival of Lights – Go GlobeHopper