Niagara Falls is a truly unique place, and not just for its landscape. Sure the Falls are enormous, majestic, and awe-inspiring, but the community that has built up around the falls offers all sorts of delights to keep all its visitors engaged. There are award-winning restaurants and sky-high cocktail bars, amusement park rides on land and in the whirling water, and positively peaceful gardens and conservatories to get away from all the bustling activity. Next time you head to the Falls, look beyond, behind, and around the rushing water to see what the place has to offer, including these seven great attractions.
1. Journey behind the Falls
You’ve seen the site from the front, but going behind the curtain of water is an entirely different experience. Taking an elevator to the base of the falls, you’ll be led through tunnels and portals behind the falls, or you can sidle up to the adjacent observation platform. It’s a highly sensory experience – the din of the crashing water, the spray from the impact, and the damp, rainy scent of millions of liters pouring around you will remind you just how powerful this natural wonder is.
2. Butterfly Conservatory
Serene and picturesque, Niagara’s butterfly conservatory is a pleasant foil to the loud and boisterous falls. A grove of tropical plants, gentle waterfalls, and the scent of blooming flowers set the stage for the 2000 butterflies that dance and flit through the foliage and the happy crowd of onlookers. You can stroll the pathways through the delicate gardens to watch the 65 butterfly species interact and feed, but special events and programs take place regularly to the delight of wide-eyed children. Stop at the on-site café for a refreshment before heading out.
3. Skylon Tower
There are several ways to get up above the falls for a nice view, but the Skylon tower offers the best panoramic view of the area. The observation deck allows visitors to watch the falls from inside or outside, and it’s famous for the revolving Dining Room, gently turning for a 360 degree view of the area over the course of your meal. There’s plenty of fun at the bottom, as well: the huge fun center has a big food court, 4D Theater and other neat stuff for children.
4. Whirlpool Jet Boat tour
With crashing waterfalls come massive whirlpools; add a jet boat, and you have a liquid rollercoaster. The jet boat tours start off in the tame waters down river, but soon enough you’ll be cresting waves and dipping into whirlpools – don’t fret, the experienced captains will avoid the dangerously deep vortexes. Go on a hot summer day, and you’ll appreciate the spraying, splashing water as you hit the waves. The ride takes about an hour, and it’s suitable for anyone over 6 years old (with a penchant for excitement!)
5. Niagara Parks Botanical Garden
An early 20th century creation, these gardens have a timeless elegance and incredible diversity, owning to the careful expertise of its gardeners. Planted and maintained by top students from Niagara Park’s horticultural school, they are a lesson in agricultural and arrangement as much as a pleasant setting for a summer stroll. An arboretum full of flowering orchard trees, rose gardens showcasing traditional English elegance, and a huge variety of lush and overgrown perennials are just some of the features you’ll find. Visit in the spring and summer for the best array of blooms.
6. Maid of the Mist
Armed with a rain poncho, you’ll file into a small white boat and head straight to the whirling, churning waters at the base of the falls. This is the Maid of the Mist, one of Niagara’s most treasured attractions for over a century, and sort of a rite of passage for first-time visitors. It’s wet, it’s crowded, but it’s also the best way to “feel” the falls. You’ll leave with a new appreciation for the power of nature, and enjoy a camaraderie with your fellow passengers after making it through the loud, rushing ride.
7. Clifton Hill
Niagara’s iconic amusement park is a bit tacky, a bit cheesy, but a lot of fun. Haunted houses and carnival games, sticky sweet treats and dozens of souvenir shops, there’s plenty to keep you wandering through the chaos. Hop on one of the climate-controlled gondolas of the Skywheel, Canada’s largest observation wheel that takes visitors up for a stunning view. Clifton Hill may seem a bit out of place next to the majestic falls, and the brazen commercial scene can be hard to swallow at first, but Niagara’s “street of fun” is as much a fixture in the town as the Maid of the Mist or the rotating restaurant.
Niagara Falls is great in the daytime, but there’s a good deal to do in the evenings, too. Fallsview Casino is a fun spot to spend a bit of time (and money), and since the falls are so nicely lit up at night, a late dinner at a nearby restaurant with a good view can make for a memorable meal. If you have the time, and are up for a bit of a rural excursion, head to the town of Niagara-on-the-Lake, a charming little town dressed in vineyards and steeped in Canadian history.