Ultimate Ontario contributor extraordinaire, Chris Ryall, walks us through some of the top ways that we can visit Niagara Falls if we’re looking for experiences that aren’t necessarily on everyone’s bucket list, but perhaps should be!
Niagara Falls has attracted First Peoples, explorers, photographers, and visitors from around the world for centuries. The Falls is the star attraction but Niagara Falls has a stellar supporting cast of historical sites, fascinating personalities, and an array of lesser-known points of interest that any history buff, culture seeker, and nature lover would appreciate.
Living in Toronto my parents would bring my brother and me to Niagara Falls as an inexpensive family getaway. Observing the Falls, getting wet on the Maid of the Mist, strolling along Class VI rapids, and enjoying the fun games and cavity-generating treats of Clifton Hill were how I know the city.
I continued that tradition with my kids and added in other Niagara Falls attractions like the Whirlpool Aero Car, Journey Behind the Falls, and the brand new Ontario Power Generating Station light show. Add this to the incredible list of Niagara Falls restaurants, and it’s no surprise as to why this is the second most popular tourist spot in Ontario.
*Please note that there may be some affiliate recommendations in our articles. That means, very simply, that we make a small commission from some of our suggestions at zero extra cost to you.
How to Visit Niagara Falls in a Different Sort of Way
On a recent visit to Niagara Falls, I tried a new way to explore the city which is a lot more fun and provided the opportunity to get beyond the Falls’ typical tourist spots and learn what the city has to offer beyond thundering waters.
Have Bike, Will Pedal (Maybe)
Knowing that I will be indulging my sweet tooth and appetite in calorie-spiked meals and treats I figured while touring Niagara Falls why not burn a few calories and explore by bike. A compromise was made with my body and its accompanying pandemic paunch – an e-bike.
Snap E-Bike came to my out-of-shape rescue. It is conveniently located by the old train station a few blocks from Clifton Hill. Snap E-Bike owner Michael Lucid equipped me with sage advice on how to handle the e-bike, rules of the road, and suggested stops in Niagara Falls and the surrounding region.
I was ready for full-throttle Niagara Falls exploration.
The Power is Back On at the Niagara Parks Power Station
Niagara Falls has been a source of awe with its thundering waters for 13,000 years.
Since 1905 the Niagara Parks Power Station (originally named the Canadian Niagara Power Company generating station), has also been a source of awe for its architectural and engineering wonders as it supplied power to the Niagara region on both sides of the Canada/U.S. border.
This one-of-a-kind structure is the only fully intact, decommissioned hydroelectric power plant of its era in the world and is now open to the public for daytime tours and as of September a mesmerizing night-time immersive sound and light multimedia experience called “Currents: Niagara’s Power Transformed.” Follow the water in this impressive light show and riveting musical score.
Decommissioned in 2006 and acquired by Niagara Parks in 2009 it will no doubt be generating lots of buzz and visitors for Niagara Falls for decades to come.
Learn the Full Story of Canada’s History at the Landscape of Nations 360⁰
Missing from history books but now brought to life in a powerful commemorative memorial, was the valuable and key role Indigenous peoples played in the defence and founding of Canada.
This moving Landscape of Nations public art and cultural project and memorial located in Queenston Heights showcases, through symbols and interpretive installations, the significant contributions made which had a direct impact on the outcome of the War of 1812 and Canada becoming a nation. The commemorative memorial representing the Six Nations and Native Allies with its poignant installations is a place of education and reflection.
Want to learn more about how Indigenous peoples shaped this region? Landscape of Nations offers Indigenous Niagara Living Museum Tours – a tour without walls that takes visitors to multiple locations throughout the Niagara region which represent a historical and cultural significance to Indigenous peoples.
There’s a Lot of Chirping Going On at Dufferin Islands
Tourists have always been attracted to Niagara Falls but I never realized another group of visitors is drawn to the area – birds.
More than 280 bird species call the Niagara River Corridor home including bald eagles, red tail hawks, Great Egrets, and black vultures. This corridor became North America’s first site to receive international recognition as an Important Bird and Biodiversity Area.
Birdwatching has grown exponentially in popularity and one of the best places within bird-calling distance of Horseshoe Falls is Dufferin Islands. This 10-acre bird sanctuary is also a perfect place not only for birdwatching but having a romantic or leisurely stroll along the many islands connected by bridges and footpaths. Sit back and embrace the sounds of nature. Chirping is welcome here.
Drummond Hill Cemetery Home to the Fallen
Despite numerous visits to Niagara Falls I never knew the Drummond Hill Cemetery existed. It is the final resting place for fallen soldiers who fought the “bloodiest battle of the War of 1812.” More than 1,000 perished or were wounded on July 25, 1814, for this Battle of Lundy’s Lane.
Unknown to most visitors, Indigenous peoples were heavily involved in this deadly battle. One of the most famous monuments here is to Laura Secord who walked 20 miles to inform the British of an imminent attack during the War of 1812.
Located a block away from the Niagara Falls History, take your own or a guided cemetery walking tour.
Yes, There is a Downtown Niagara Falls
Most visitors gravitate towards Clifton Hill where restaurants and shops are plentiful and mistakenly think it is downtown Niagara Falls.
Queen Street is the principal downtown Niagara Falls street featuring independent boutique shops, restaurants, and cafes. Here you can demonstrate your artistic side by creating a craft or ceramic at the Painted Turtle, stop for a cup of java at the Queen Bean Cafe, or quaff a beer at the local microbrew, Taps.
Minutes away from downtown, the historic Main & Ferry district is currently being revitalized and in summer 2022 will host the new Niagara Falls eXchange (NFX) Cultural Hub & Market. Musicians, food vendors and artists will all share a space filled with studios, cafes, a market hall, and two multi-functional civic plazas. A Farmer’s Market and music and theatrical performances will be regular features at the eXchange.
Discover Niagara Falls Daredevils, Battlefields, and Geological Wonders
Learn about Niagara Falls’ fascinating history as you do your best Nik Wallenda impersonation walking a tightrope at the Niagara Falls History Museum.
Take a step into Canada’s wartime and pretend you are a soldier as you put on a replica uniform from the War of 1812. Tucked away from Clifton Hill’s more well-known “museums” like Ripley’s and Louis Tussauds, this museum houses many interactive installations that tell stories of Niagara Falls’ origins, its rich Indigenous culture, and how it became a draw for daredevils around the world.
Niagara Falls was originally called Elgin by settlers with Etienne Brule the first European to arrive in 1626. Take the plunge and step into Niagara Falls history and come out with a bounty of knowledge.
Where to Stay in Niagara Falls
There is an abundance of hotels designed to fit all budgets and tastes. If you desire the most spectacular Falls views and want a hotel with restaurants, recreation facilities, and even a spa and casino here are two top choices.
Voted Niagara Falls’ most romantic hotel, it’s easy to see why with cozy nightlife lounges and various restaurants including its Italian Corso restaurant to Brasa, a Brazilian meat lover’s feast. With a convenient walkway to Fallsview Casino Resort, return to your spacious room, some equipped with fireplaces and Jacuzzi tubs. It’s more than a room with a spectacular view.
Located only 100 yards from Horseshoe Falls, it is rated as the number one Fallsview Hotel by TripAdvisor. This AAA 4-diamond luxury hotel features a selection of guest rooms and suites, and dining venues including Morton’s Grille. Need some serious pampering? Book a treatment at their Serenity Spa by the Falls. Reward yourself in one of their modern and sleek bi-level loft suites.
Niagara Falls, like its thundering waters, keeps moving forward with options to suit any taste or budget. Rediscover the many sides including its cultural and historical sides and discover more reasons to fall in love again with Niagara Falls.
Chris has travelled to the far ends of the earth to more than 80 countries on 6 continents from New Zealand to the Galapagos Islands but equally enjoys exploring Ontario’s cultural, historical and scenic treasures. He has written for publications including The Globe & Mail, The Toronto Star, Westjet, Travel Life, Dreamscapes, Travelweek, TravelMarketReport.com, Skift.com, Yahoo, Ensemble Vacations and others. Chris also has a fondness (some say addiction) for spas where he’s experienced everything from whiskey pedicures, caviar facials to massages overlooking the Serengeti. His travel motto – Learn, experience and respect the culture.