This article provides an overview of things to see and do at Niagara Falls along with useful links to other websites for additional travel related information.
At a Glance
Niagara Falls is located on the Niagara River, which separates the United States and Canada as well as Lake Erie and Lake Ontario. It is one of the great natural wonders of the world and a popular honeymoon destination for newly weds. Two falls, separated by Goat Island, make up Niagara Falls. The U.S. falls are impressive, but the horseshoe shaped falls on the Canadian side are even more spectacular and it’s worth exploring the falls on both sides of the border if you have time.
Over one million gallons (4 million liters) of water per second pour over a 180 feet (60 m) high cliff that is nearly 0.6 miles (1 km) wide. The incessantly pounding water forms a continuous spray that enshrouds the Niagara gorge in a perpetual mist decorated with shining rainbows. During cold winters, the river below the falls freezes and the spray forms 100 feet high ice mountains that are quite amazing to behold. It is a spectacular sight.
Travel Tip: Waterproof parkas are provided on all activities where you can get wet.
Both the U.S. and Canada offer boat rides that go past the U.S. falls and almost under the Canadian falls. This is a fantastic experience and our favorite thing to do here. The U.S. boat tours are called “Maid of the Mist” and the Canadian Tours are called “Voyage to the Falls” and run by Niagara City Cruises. Both boat tours offer the same experience on almost identical ships so it really just depends on which side of the falls you happen to be on when you want to take this tour. The ships have both covered and exposed places to stand so you can choose how wet your voyage will be.
Both the U.S. and Canadian falls are illuminated every night of the year using hundreds of LED lights housed throughout the gorge providing a synchronized light show across both falls. On weekends and holidays the Niagara Falls State Park, on the U.S. side, puts on a fireworks show, weather permitting. Both the illuminations and fireworks can be seen from either side of the border, but is best seen from the Canadian side. The Niagara City Cruises on the Canadian side offers a fireworks cruise as well.
The white water sections of the Niagara River and the Whirlpool Rapids and Whirlpool, located 5 miles (8 km) below and north of the falls, can be seen from both sides of the river.
The U.S. Side
The U.S. side of Niagara Falls is not as touristy and more laid back then the Canadian side with most of the attractions located in Niagara Falls State Park or just outside of the state park.
The “Cave of the Winds Tour” at Goat Island is a fun and exciting experience. An elevator takes you to the rocks at the base of the American falls where you can walk within 25 feet of the cascading water and feel the tremendous power of the wind and spray.
The Niagara Falls Observation Tower and Prospect Point are both located on the main land next to the U.S. side of the falls and offer panaramic views of the falls. For a small fee you can ride the elevator down to the base of the falls and climb a series of stairs to the Crow’s Nest and experience the power and spray of the falls from below. This is also the boarding site for the Maid of the Mist boat tours and are two great activities to combine together.
The Schoellkopf Power Plant Ruins is free to visit and has an interesting story. This power plant once produced 400,000 kilowatts of power. On the morning of June 7th, 1956 water was noticed seeping into the plant through the back wall. Attempts were made to stop the leaks, but the cracks widened throughout the day until, at 5:00pm, a catastrophic collapse occurred destroying part of the plant and killing one worker. From this parking area at the top several trails can be accessed.
There are several walking and hiking trails that run along the U.S. side of the gorge. Most of the trails are rated easy to moderate except the Whirlpool Rapids Adventure Hike, which requires some boulder hopping. Click here to see a trail map.
The Aquarium of Niagara is home to more than 120 species of animals with exhibits focusing on penguins, marine mammals, fish & invertebrates and reptiles & amphibians.
There are also two gift shops, the Top of the Falls restaurant and the Cave of the Winds snack bar.
The Canadian Side
The Canadian side offers the best views of Niagara Falls and has a very different character than its counterpart in the U.S. 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.
The main attraction in Niagara Falls, Ontario 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 on foot. 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.
Journey Behind the Falls Tour takes you through tunnels behind the Canadian falls where you will hear and feel the thunderous vibrations of the water and view 1/5th of the worlds fresh water crashing down in front of you through large portals cut in the solid rock. This tour can sell out quickly so we recommend either booking on-line in advance or getting there early and standing in line.
The Niagara Parks Power Station & the Tunnel Tour takes you down 180 feet to the first major power plant on the Canadian side of the Niagara River where you will experience immersive exhibits, restored artifacts and interactive storytelling. You will also walk through a 2,200 foot long tunnel leading to an observation deck at the river’s edge below the Horseshoe 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.
The Skyline Tower, perched above the Niagara River offers a fantastic view of the falls and surrounding area. You can take a ride to the observatory at the top on one of the exterior yellow elevators, dine at one of their two restaurants, shop at one of their specialty stores, play at the indoor amusement area or grab a quick bite to eat at the food court.
Border Crossing Information
The main border crossing between Niagara Falls, New York and Niagara Falls, Ontario is via the Rainbow Bridge, which spans the Niagara River Gorge just a few hundred meters below the falls. This bridge can become quite congested for auto traffic, 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. The Rainbow Bridge is open to pedestrian traffic, offers great views of the falls and may be a quicker way to cross if auto traffic is backed up.
You can also cross the Niagara River into Canada on the Peace Bridge in Buffalo, New York approximately 25 miles (40.25 km) 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 (8 km) north of the falls, then take the spectacularly scenic Niagara River Parkway along the Niagara Gorge to the falls.
Travel Tip: When crossing the border you may be asked a variety of questions including questions about what kinds of food or alcoholic beverages you have in your vehicle. Make sure you tell them exactly how much fresh fruit, vegetables and alcoholic beverages you have or you may end up being detained longer than you expect. Check with the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Agency and the Canadian Border Services Agency for details regarding what you are allowed to bring into each country.
It is common to visit both the U.S. and Canadian side of Niagara Falls when visiting, but you will need the proper documentation.
U.S. Citizens Visiting Canada
U.S. citizens will need one of the following:
- Valid U.S. Passport
- Valid U.S. Passport Card
- Enhanced Driver’s License (Only issued by New York, Michigan, Minnesota, Vermont and Washington)
- Trusted Traveler Program Card (NEXUS, SENTRI or FAST)
- Special Audiences (Special documents for U.S. Lawful Permanent Residents, U.S. Military, Native Americans and Boaters and birth certificates for children under the age of 16).
Canadian Citizens Visiting the U.S.
Canadian citizens will need one of the following:
- Valid Canadian Passport
- Trusted Traveler Program Card (NEXUS or FAST/Express)
- Enhanced Driver’s License
- Special Audiences (Special documents for Native Americans and boaters and birth certificates for children under the age of 16).
Niagara Falls International Airport (NFIA) is the closest airport, but has limited flights.
Buffalo Niagara International Airport (BUF), located just over 30 minutes from Niagara Falls, is the nearest major airport to Niagara Falls in the U.S.
Toronto Pearson International Airport (YYZ), located 1 ½ hours from Niagara Falls, is the nearest major airport to Niagara Falls in Canada.
Niagara Falls is about a 7 hour drive from New York City, New York; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and the Baltimore, Maryland / Washington D.C. area. It’s about 3 ½ hour drive from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, a 3 hour drive from Toronto, Ontario and just a mere 1 hour drive from Buffalo, New York.
Amtrak operates the Maple Leaf line, which connects New York City and Toronto stopping at Albany, Syracuse and Niagara Falls. The Amtrak station is right next to the Queenston-Lewiston Bridge on the U.S. side, which is about 5 miles (8 km) north of the falls.
Finding parking at Niagara Falls can be difficult during busy times of the year. Here are some parking areas near the U.S. and Canadian falls.
Niagara Falls State Park has 4 parking areas, but they tend to fill up quickly. Two are located on Goat Island one is located just behind One Niagara Welcome Center off of Prospect St. and a couple smaller areas just off Riverway Road.
Niagara Falls Official Visitor Center offers free 30 minute parking.
One Niagara Welcome Center offers parking for a fee.
All city parking lots cost between $20 and $30 USD per day.
There is a large parking lot off the Niagara River Parkway just past the Canadian falls main visitor center and additional parking lots another minute or two past the falls. The Guide to Parking in Niagara Falls, Ontario has all the details on car parking, RV or motor coach parking, EV charging and overnight parking along with maps, locations and prices.
The Discover Niagara Shuttle is a free and convenient hop-on hop-0ff bus service that connects all of the major tourist attractions on the U.S. side of Niagara.
The WEGO bus service in Canada is an easy and efficient way to get around the Canadian side of Niagara.
Where to Stay
The U.S. side has mostly moderately prices chain hotels, some within walking distance of Niagara Falls State Park. The Canadian side also has a number of moderately priced chain hotels, but also has a few high-rise hotels perched above the falls providing fantastic views from their falls view rooms.
The U.S. Side
The U.S. side has a number moderately prices hotels within walking distance of Niagara Falls State Park and Goat Island. Comfort Inn The Point, Holiday Inn Niagara Falls and Double Tree by Hilton are all located on the Niagara River above the U.S. falls.
Hyatt Place Niagara Falls, Quality Hotel and Suites at the Falls, The Giacomo, Sheraton Niagara Falls, Seneca Niagara Resort & Casino and Fairfield Inn & Suites by Marriott are located one or two blocks away from Goat Island, but still within walking distance.
Wyndham Garden at Niagara Falls and The Niagara Inn are located just past the U.S. Customs and Border Protection complex at Rainbow Bridge, but still within walking distance of Niagara Falls State Park and Goat Island.
The Giacomo and Seneca Niagara Resort & Casino offer the most upscale experience with the latter having some rooms with a partial view of the falls while The Niagara Inn is the lowest rated of this group.
There are many more places located in Niagara, New York that may be less expensive, but are not within easy walking distance.
There are several campgrounds on the U.S. side, but they are not very close to the falls.
The Canadian side has a few hotels with great views of both the U.S. and Canadian falls. The Niagara Falls Marriott on the Falls, Embassy Suites by Hilton Niagara Falls View, The Radisson Hotel & Suites Falls View and The Oakes Hotel Overlooking the Falls are all perched above Horseshoe Falls with rooms providing amazing views of the falls.
The Fallsview Casino Resort, located between Horseshoe Falls and the U.S. falls, is in the ideal location.
The Sheraton Fallsview and The Crowne Plaza Niagara Falls View are located a little further down the gorge near the Rainbow Bridge, but still offer fantastic views looking up the gorge at both the U.S. and Canadian falls.
The Comfort Inn Falls View, The Days Inn by Wyndham Falls View, The Wyndham Garden Falls View and The DoubleTree Falls View Resort & Spa all claim to offer some rooms with views of the falls, but these views are a bit further away and may only be looking between other buildings located in front of their buildings. If a view of the falls is a must I would suggest one of the hotels in the Best Views category.
The Travelodge by Wyndham Niagara Falls View has rooms with limited views of the falls with the Rainbow Bridge in the line of sight.
There are many more places located in Niagara, Ontario do not offer views of the falls, but are still within easy walking distance.
There are two well appointed campgrounds on the Canadian side: Niagara Falls KOA Holiday and Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park, Niagara. Both are resort style campgrounds conveniently located for visiting Niagara Falls. The KOA is located on the WEGO Red Line so you don’t have to drive to the falls and deal with finding parking.
Niagara Falls USA has lots of useful information for planning a trip to the U.S. side of the falls.
Niagara Falls State Park is another good resource for planning a trip to the U.S. side of the falls.
Niagara Falls Tourism has lots of useful information for planning a trip to the Canadian side of the falls.
City Experiences – Niagara, Ontario offers several tours including the “Voyage to the Falls Boat Tour”.
Niagara Parks has lots of good information on everything going on in the Niagara, Ontario area.
The U.S. Side
Buffalo, New York, home of the world famous buffalo wing, is only a short 30 minute drive from Niagara Falls and has lots of fun and interesting things to see and do.
The Canadian Side
The Niagara Butterfly Conservatory, just a short drive from the falls area, is a wonderful place to visit. Walk through a lush landscape with butterflies all around you, explore the surrounding gardens or grab a bite to eat in the cafe.
Niagara on the Lake is a quaint Victorian era town located nearly 15 miles (24 km) 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.