Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Niagara Falls Canada | The Ultimate Travel Guide

I enjoy visiting exotic destinations like Dubai, Croatia, Thailand and Belize but here in Ontario one of my favorite places to spend an afternoon is Niagara Falls.

Each year millions of tourists are astonished as 681,740 gallons of water cascade over Niagara's rocky precipice every second. This breathtaking natural wonder should definitely be on everyone's bucket list.

I’ve been going to Niagara almost every summer since I was a kid and it never ceases to amaze me. If you only have a few days in the area and need help deciding what to do, this guide features the best attractions, restaurants and tours. (All prices are in Canadian dollars and do not include taxes. Ticket prices may vary).

~ Tourist Passes ~
Whether you're planing a romantic getaway, family retreat or girl's night, Niagara Parks offers several great deals to help save you money on popular attractions. 

Adventure Pass
(Adult: $65 Child: $43)
The classic Adventure Pass includes: Journey Behind the Falls, Hornblower Cruise, White Water Walk, Niagara’s Fury 4D Experience, WEGO Bus for 2 days and a coupon book for additional savings. You can also upgrade your package to include more attractions.

Clifton Hill Fun Pass
(Adult: $29.95 Child: $19.95)
Includes 6 popular attractions: Niagara Skywheel, Zombie Attack, Wild West Coaster, Movieland Wax Museum, Ghost Busters Dark Ride and Dinosaur Adventure Golf.

Go-Transit & WEGO Pass
($16 - $30)
This seasonal summer package includes round-trip to Niagara by GO Train, a 2 day WEGO hop-on hop-off bus pass for all the main attractions and a new extension that goes to Niagara-on-the Lake. (For more information click HERE)

~ Best Ways to See Niagara Falls ~
Niagara Falls is breathtaking no matter what your vantage point. Many visitors simply walk along the sidewalk until they reach the ledge but there are other options worth exploring.

1. Hornblower Cruises (included with Adventure Pass)
(Adult: $25.95 Child: $15.95)
Hornblower (formerly known as Maid of the Mist) is the most thrilling way to see the falls up close. Slip on your poncho, hop aboard and get ready to be amazed as you sail directly towards the plunging water. The boat takes you as close as possible so prepare to get wet. For more info click HERE (fireworks and night cruises also available)

2. Journey Behind The Falls (included with Adventure Pass)
(Adult: $19.95 Child: $13)
This underground expedition takes you on a wonderful journey through 130 year old bedrock tunnels leading to unique viewing portals. In the winter it looks like an icy wonderland.

3. Clifton Hill Skywheel (included with Clifton Hill Fun Pass)
(Adult: $11.99 Child: $6.99)
For an amazing bird’s eye view of the falls and park, head to Clifton Hill and ride the Skywheel. The climate control, fully-enclosed gondolas operate all year and rise 175 feet (53 meters). The wheel is also a great way to see the fireworks display that takes place from Friday to Sunday at 10 pm during the summer and select holidays.

4. Niagara Helicopters
(Adult: $145 Couples: $280 Child: $89)
If you’re not afraid of heights, embark on a scenic helicopter tour above the falls, whirlpool and gorge. For photographers, this is a wonderful opportunity to capture stunning photos of Niagara.

Where to Stay
There are many hotels in Niagara Falls and they range in price based on location, chain and class. There are luxury hotels, charming bed and breakfasts, family resorts, historic suites and budget-friendly motels. Rates are highest during the summer (peak season) and tend to be lowest in the winter. 

I've stayed at many of the hotels near the falls but since I can't review them all, here are my top picks for a relaxing getaway.

Sterling Inn and Spa takes comfort to a new level. This luxury boutique hotel is known for their award-winning fine dining restaurant and beautiful suites that cater to couples.

This is the perfect place for a spa weekend because each room has a steam waterfall shower with body jets OR a deep soaker jacuzzi tub, comfortable king size bed, robes, slippers and a cozy fireplace. 

We had the large double suite with a spacious living room, jacuzzi tub, sitting area and wetbar. At Sterling, breakfast in bed is always included. (Rates often start at $115 - $176 per night on Expedia)

My Second choice is Marriott on the Falls (the one with the Milestones Restaurant). Our suite was on 31st floor - there is only one room per floor in this category ($799.00 per night).

The view is spectacular and I loved the jacuzzi tub and comfortable bed. Parking is an additional $30 and although the suite is spacious, amenities and decor is quite basic. 

Embassy Suites is also quite popular for its fallsview rooms and proximity to the casino. The hotel has a pool, nice patio, gym, arcade and a few restaurants including The Keg Steakhouse and Starbucks. 

Rates start at around $163 per night and onsite parking is $70 per day (offsite parking nearby is available for $30 - $35). 
The best thing about Embassy Suites is the location and view! You can take the funicular/cable car at the back of the hotel directly down to the falls.
~ Attractions & Adventures ~ 

Clifton Hill
No visit to Niagara is complete without exploring Clifton Hill and at night the street comes alive with colorful lights, music and the scent of delicious treats.

Some highlights including: laser tag, bowling, Midway games and arcades, mini golf, Guinness World Record Museum, Mystery Maze, Ripley’s 4D Theater, The Beer Garden Karaoke Bar, patios, restaurants, several haunted houses and many souvenir/specialty shops. Indulge in whatever peaks your interest - there is something for everyone!

The Fudge Factory
The Fudge Factory is a Clifton Hill classic and one of my favorite places to get candy apples and chocolate dipped everything. To satisfy your sweet-tooth I also recommend Sweet Jesus Ice Cream Shop (at the bottom of the hill) or head to The Hershey Store for delicious chocolate covered strawberries.

Madame Tussauds Wax Museum
(Adult: $14.00 Child: $8.00)

Go-Carts Niagara Speedway
(Driver: $12 per 5 mins Rider: $4.00)

Dinosaur Adventure Golf with erupting volcano
(Adult: $10.00 Child: $6.00)

Ripley’s Believe it or Not
(Adult: $18.99 Child: $11.99)

Milestones Restaurant at the Marriott Hotel
At 6755 Fallsview Blvd you will find one of my favorite spots to enjoy a romantic dinner. This particular Milestones Restaurant serves delicious food and has a phenomenal view of Niagara Falls.

Pizza is my favorite food so if you’re looking for a decent slice try Zappi’s Pizzeria on Stanley Avenue. The crispy dough is loaded with fresh toppings and mouth-watering spices.

Zappi's also makes the best sweet potato fries!

Kasbah Mediterranean Restaurant serves a wide selection of Greek food with 4 course dinner specials. I love their large covered patio and laid-back vibe. 

Whirlpool Jet Boat Tours
(Adult: $67 Child: $45.00)
For the adventure of a lifetime, a Jet Boat Tour is the most thrilling experience in Niagara. I took my friends last weekend for a girl’s trip and everyone had a blast!

This tour is not for the faint of heart. The boat plunges through turbulent rapids – dipping and diving between crashing waves.

The open boat provides the most exciting ride but if you prefer to stay dry, opt for the fully-covered Jet Dome instead. To give you an idea of just how choppy the water is, the rapids are classified. 1 is the easiest and 6 is the most treacherous. The jet boat ventures into class 5 rapids for the most intense adrenaline rush!

If you sit in the front, prepare to swallow a lot of water and be hit in the face by powerful waves. There are no words to describe the unrelenting force but the water often fills the boat waist high. Plant your feet, hold on tight and brace yourself because it feels like being completely submerged under the cold river.

Enclosed Dome Boat

If you have trouble holding your breath, sit towards the middle or back. You will still get wet but you won't inhale as much water. Before the real fun begins, the guide will reveal interesting facts about the Niagara Gorge. Take a moment to appreciate the beautiful landscape.

All the gear you need is provided but I brought my own water shoes. Lockers and change rooms are also available on-site so bring extra shoes, clothes and a towel.

There is a Jet Boat shuttle bus pick-up and kiosk at the Flower Clock which is also a stop for the WEGO Bus. For more information or to book your tour, visit the website at whirlpooljet.com.

Niagara Belle Lunch or Sunset Dinner Cruise
A short drive from Niagara Falls you will find a secluded little hideaway where the Niagara Belle River Boat docks (same location as the Jet Boat Tours). This old-fashion cruise serves a hearty meal while serenading you with live music as you sail past Niagara-on-the-Lake and Fort George. Enjoy the sunset and warm breeze while sipping delicious cocktails and lounging on the open deck.

*Fallsview Casino Resort, Shops & Dragonfly Nightclub
Try your luck at the slots or dance the night away at Dragonfly.

Casino Atrium

Things to do in Niagara-on-the-Lake

Niagara-on-the-Lake is a picturesque little town with exquisite architecture, horse and carriage rides, scenic roads, bed & breakfasts, boutiques, parks, restaurants and fresh produce markets. The region is also known for award-winning wine.

Explore the downtown area and browse the specialty shops for unique souvenirs.

Enjoy a scenic drive along  River Road, bring your bike or explore the shaded hiking trails along the escarpment. There are many great spots for picnics.

Snap a photo in front on the iconic Prince of Wales Hotel. 

Grab a delicious Chimney Cake at Budapest Bake Shop. My favorite is the JalapeƱo Cheddar - it is soft, flavorful and savory. 

If you're in the mood for something sweet, try the Nutella Walnut Chimney fresh out of the oven and lightly coated in sugar. The shop also serves gourmet ice cream sundaes and tasty sandwiches. Visit their website at budapestbakeshop.com

The Niagara region is popular for fresh local produce and one of my favorite spots for delicious pastries, fruit, homemade ice cream and pie is Walkers Country Market. In June you can get strawberry, apple and cherry pie.

Fresh baked strawberry pie

Right beside Walkers Market you can take a photo in front of the world's smallest church - Living Water Wayside Chapel.

Stop for a refreshing ice wine slushie at The Ice House Winery and check out Brock's Monument.

Take a family photo in front of the Flower Clock.

Marvel at Cham Shan's Buddhist Temple.

Stop at The Garrison House for juicy burgers, Cast Iron Cheesy Fire Chicken and Sticky Toffee Pudding. This restaurant was featured on the Food Network's So You Gotta Eat Here!

Niagara-on-the-Lake Wine Tours

If you are booking a wine tour, I highly recommend Diamond Estates Wines & Spirits (look for the Lakeview Wine sign on Niagara Stone Road). This company is the third largest producer of VQA wines in Ontario and makes a wide variety of tasty blends with many brands to choose from.

The beautiful vineyard is perfect for date night or a unique outing with friends and the cozy boutique is a wonderful place to discover some new favorites.

The facility is very accommodating if you are interested in booking a private tour or celebrating a special occasion. They even host fun events including paint night, wine tasting paired with food, cocktail mixology classes and live music in the vineyard every Friday in July. 

Ice wine is quite expensive but Diamond Estates offers great deals. I purchased two of my favorites as a set for just $60.00. 

For more information or to book a tour, visit the website at lakeviewwineco.com.

The Niagara Grape & Wine Festival
The Niagara Wine Festival is always fun. It takes place from September 14-29th and the Ice Wine Festival  begins January 10th - 26th (weekends only).

To save money and get the most value, book the Discovery Pass which usually includes wine and food pairings at several vineyards. Plan which wineries you'd like to visit, purchase some Groupon deals and look for discount codes online. 

Peller Estates is a must because they have a lovely cellar and a unique ice bar kept at -10 degrees Celsius. 

For more information on the Grape and Wine Festival visit the website HERE.

Wine Tasting in the Winter
Escaping to the falls can be a wonderful winter getaway when you need rest and relaxation. There aren't as many tourists, it is much quieter and hotels are less than half price.
One of my favorite places to go wine tasting in the winter is Konzelmann Winery. You can book a private tasting for up to 4 people in their luxurious vineyard dome overlooking the entire property.
The experience costs $50 per person and includes a 60 minute tasting paired with a locally sourced charcuterie (with or without meat). If you visit, make sure to try their bestselling Peach Wine. 

Konzelmann also offers a Fireside Flight Wine Tasting Experience with a cozy campfire and everything you need to make delicious s'mores. For more information visit their website at Konzelmann.ca
Places to Eat Just Outside of Niagara

If you're not in the mood to eat at touristy restaurants or pay high prices for mediocre food on Clifton Hill, there are many options in nearby St. Catherine's.

Rollin' Pizza has a fabulous selection of delicious dishes like this mouthwatering Magic Mushroom Pizza with garlic butter, thyme, rosemary, gorgonzola, mozzarella and creamy white sauce. 

The toppings are fresh, the dough is crispy and the menu is unique. They also serve Greek pizza, pirogi pizza, jackfruit pizza and dill pickle pizza!

If you're vegan and looking for a great meal, Rollin' Pizza has an entire menu just for you (everyone goes home happy and full). 

The 2 ft slice is a pizza lover's dream and you need both hand to holds it! This behemoth is loaded with hot bubbling cheese and scrumptious marinara. You can also order wings, subs, pasta, salads and more. Visit the website at rollinpizza.ca.

For a healthy lunch I recommend Fiesta Empanada. These yummy Filipino style empanadas are baked fresh daily (never greasy) and stuffed with spinach and feta, beef, chicken and veggies. Visit the website at fiesta-empanada.com

In the mood for a little island spice? Place an order with Little Hand Pies. This home-based business makes unique Jamaican-style patties with the perfect balance of heat.

Choose from a delicious assortment of curry chickpea, buffalo chicken, beef, lentil, veggie or barbecue chicken. For orders and inquires head to @littlehandpies on Instagram. (Advanced notice is required for catering and large orders).

Pita On The Run is a great place for tasty Mediterranean food. The meals are a bit small the chicken is seasoned to perfection! (Address: 7000 McLeod Rd, Unit-3, Niagara Falls)
Paesano Pizza in St. Catherines makes the best panzerotti in town! They are huge and stuffed to the brim with delicious filling. The perfectly cooked crust is brushed with garlic butter and sprinkled with fresh parmesan. (Address: 595 Carlton Street, St. Catherines)
More Attractions
If you are looking for a quiet place to take in the scenery and escape the crowds, head to Oaks Garden Theater (at the bottom of Clifton Hill).

There are plenty of trees and benches with a great view of the American Falls.

*New WildPlay MistRider Zipline to the Falls
(Adult: $59.00 – single ride)
If you’re feeling adventurous, the new zipline takes you on a breathtaking ride through the gorge and down 2,200 ft towards the Horseshoe Falls Observation Deck.

Photo: Niagara Wild Play

Bird Kingdom
(Adult: $17.95 Child: $13.95)
The largest free-flying indoor aviary in the world featuring a variety of exotic species.

Butterfly Conservatory
(Adult: $15 Child: $9.75)
Home to thousands of vibrantly colored butterflies.
Photo by: Niagara Parks

Botanical Gardens
(FREE admission, parking is $5)

Greg Freewin Theater
(See Website for ticket info)
Vegas-style magic show with jaw-dropping illusions, tigers and exotic birds (also available with dinner).

Whirlpool Aero Car
(Adult: $15 Child: $9,75)
Antique cable car ride over the Niagara Gorge, rapids and whirlpool. If you are not comfortable dangling from wires, you should still visit this beautiful lookout point.

Skylon Tower Observation Deck
(Prices vary depending on the combo pack you choose)
The Skylon Tower is an iconic part of Niagara’s skyline and the observation deck rises 775 ft above the falls. Plan a romantic evening at the revolving dining room - it is a lovely setting to celebrate special occasions.

Fallsview Indoor Waterpark
(Day Passes: $46.99 - $51.99)
3 acres of indoor family fun, 16 water slides, hot springs, sun deck and massive indoor waiting pool.

Cherry Blossom Season
If you are in the Niagara region mid-April to early May, you’ll catch cherry blossom season! The parks, gardens and country roads are bursting with fragrant flowers. I visited late May (22 – 24th) and many trees were still in bloom.

Kingsbridge Park

Summer in Ontario is also a great time to enjoy the lilac bushes.

For more information or to plan your trip, visit niagarafallstourism.com

Special thanks to all the tours, restaurants and companies that sponsored and contributed to this guide.

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