Niagara Falls is undoubtedly the most popular tourist attraction in and around North America’s Great Lakes. It experienced its golden age in the 1960s (before the surrounding region because a tourist hot spot complete with Vegas-like lights and casinos) when it was still considered a romantic getaway for honeymoons and backpackers. Niagara Falls has not lost all its charm though, which is why seeing it from a locals eyes makes all the difference.
We’re talking about the Canadian side of the Falls here, because everyone that has ever seen it knows the best views are from the north. The Niagara River connecting Lake Erie and Lake Ontario also provides a natural boundary between Canada and the USA. There is a lot more to the Niagara Peninsula than meet the eye, something everyone looking for cheap flights to Canada soon discovers.
Quick Facts about Niagara Falls:
- Length of brink: 792m / 2600 feet
- Height: 54m / 177 feet
- Volume of water: 168,000 cubic metres per minute (about 1 million bathtubs worth a second)
- Tourists: 12 million every year
- Name: “Niagara” comes from the Iroquois word Onguiaahra which means “the strait”
- The first person to go over the falls and survive was a 63 year old school teacher in 1901
- 20% of the world’s supply of freshwater is in the Great Lakes, most of which flows over the Falls.
- Every year the waterfall recedes around 30cm from the power of the water and erosion
- Each night the water is lit up with colours spot lights, it’s the most incredible time to see the Falls
What to do/see?
Niagara Botanical Gardens (Niagara Parkway) – This garden, almost 100 acres in size, was first opened in 1936 and have been beautifully maintained since. IT is the home of Niagara’s School of Horticulture as well as some 2500 roses, perennials, rhododendrons, azaleas and the most decorative vegetable gardens you’ve ever seen. It’s the best way to spend an afternoon and see local fauna.
Wine tasting – Drive (or cycle) along the Niagara Parkway to the areas most charming town, Niagara-on-the-Lake, NOTL for short. Surrounding it are dozens of wineries, vineyards, parks and fruit stands selling local produce, everything from apples, peaches, plums, strawberries and pears. A few favourite wineries include Frog Pond Farm, Cayote’s Run, Southbrook and Ravine Winery.
Cycling – This region is one of the most bike-friendly in Southern Ontario. With well-maintained bike routes following the Niagara River starting from the Falls and ending at Lake Ontario, there are hundreds of kilometres of paths to follow. It’s even possible to cycle all the way around the lake to Toronto via bike paths.
Historical sights – Niagara is most historically rich than most realise. It was on the banks of the Niagara River that the Americans invaded Canada in the War of 1812. It was also the place where slaves from the USA escaped into Canada via the Underground Railway in the 1850s. Cool places to see are Brock Tower in Queenston Heights and Laura Secord’s House.
Theatre – One of Canada’s best theatre companies is located in Niagara-on-the-Lake, The Shaw Festival. With several performance spaces around town many visitors don’t know that you can find great last-minute tickets for cheap! Your best chance is to call the ticket office the day of the performance, up to an hour before when they try to get rid of the last tickets fast! Also try at the door when the show begins. If you are a student, mega discounts apply. In any case, the quality of the acting and the performance is worth the price.
Where to eat?
- Hillebrand Restaurant (1249 Niagara Stone Road, NOTL) – if you’re going to splurge on a nice dinner out, head to this Winery Restaurant. Dishes are made entirely of local produce and of course paired with Hillebrand’s wines. The Farmer’s Market Brunch is particularly delicious.
- Strega Café (19 King Street, St. Catharines) -A short drive away from Niagara Falls, St. Catharines is a quiet city with downtown made for diners. Small shops are outnumbered by trendy diners, posh restaurants, laid back bars and great cafés. Strega sells spot-on sandwiches for $8 and great pasta dishes. Try one of Kelly’s home-made cookies for dessert! At night there is always a cultural program on: open-mic, acoustic sets, poetry readings, etc.
- Stone Road Grill (128 Mary Street, NOTL) – Although the dress iscompletely casual at this fine restaurant, the food is fit to be featured in aMichelin Guide! Open for lunch and dinner, enjoy fresh salads, oven-baked pizzas, poutine (Canada’s unofficial national dish) and seafood dishes. Their wine list features 100% local wines.
- Olsen Foods & Bakery (1366 York Road, St. David’s) – Star of Fresh and Sugar on the Food Network, Anna Olsen has set up a luncheon place next to Ravine Winery in St. David’s.Enjoy a bowl of fresh soup and a sandwich made with home-baked bread and all the fixings. This place is homey and very affordable. [UPDATE: JULY 28, 2010] Olsen Foods & Bakery is now called Ravine Deli & Bakery as Anna has moved on to her next project. With or without Anna, the food remains delicious!
- Cheese Secrets (38 Market Street, NOTL) – Skip the restaurants and make a picnic to eat on the shore of Lake Ontario. Cheese Secrets sells local artisan cheeses, cured meats and antipasto, fresh bread and other goodies.
How to get there?
Pearson International Airport (YYZ) in Toronto is the main hub for flights from London and other cities in Europe. It is an hour drive from Niagara Falls via the QEW (Queen’s Express Way), which will eventually take you to the USA. You can hire cars from the airport or take an Airport Shuttle into Toronto and take a Greyhound bus to Niagara Falls.
There are a few bike rental companies in Niagara-on-the-Lake, some of which even organize winery tours as a group, which are always fun to join.
Have you ever travelled to Canada? What was the main attraction?
Img: Nomaan! / flickr cc