Most visitors to Canada or Toronto usually have Niagara Falls on their bucket list. This I know from personal experience as whenever I tell anyone Niagara Falls is my birthplace, there’s an immediate and obviously positive reaction. That initial “Wow you were born in Niagara Falls?” response is often followed by a volley of questions about things to do in Niagara Falls.
So there’s no doubt in my mind Niagara Falls is a bucket list favourite for visitors to Canada (of course I’m biased but justifiably so!).
Dear reader, now that you know I was born in Niagara Falls, please keep reading to find out my 10 favourite Niagara Falls attractions.
Things to do in Niagara Falls
1- Ride the Whirlpool Jet boat over the Devil’s Hole
Every time I gather up my courage I head to the choppy waters, the rolling rapids of the Niagara River, to do battle on a watery canyon ride that’s guaranteed to make you wish you hadn’t.
It’s the ultimate challenge and one of the best things to do in Niagara Falls to test your courage.
So, I go for the ultimate courage test but I also go because I hope next time it won’t be so bad.
A ride on the Whirlpool Jet Boat is not an easy sail in the park.
Last time I did it, I sat either in the third or fourth row which we discovered far too late is the wet zone, the wish you hadn’t-sat-there-zone.
Picture a boat ride that passes by rapids like “Devil’s Hole” now you know.
2- Take a helicopter flight over Niagara Falls
Whenever I want to feel the rush of Niagara Falls pouring over me, I take the famous boat ride passing the American Falls en route to the Horseshoe Falls (that’s the other name of the Falls).
Hornblower Niagara Cruises, which is famous in its own right for ferrying folks around Manhattan and taking tourists around the infamous Alcatraz Island in California, has taken over from the Maid of the Mist.
The boat is bigger and gets you right up close to the mighty Niagara Falls.
The ride will take your breath away.
Of all the things to do in Niagara Falls, this one is not to be missed.
3- Visit Niagara Parks butterfly arboretum
This stunning two-story butterfly arboretum located on the grounds of the Niagara Parks Botanical Gardens brings out the kid in all of us.
I love how they majestically flutter by and if you’re super still, you might be lucky enough to have one of these gorgeous creatures rest on your shoulder.
Sometimes, depending on the season and butterfly lifecycle, you can see them emerge from their cocoon.
It’s especially wonderful to visit during winter or spring as this climate controlled interior feels like a tropical paradise.
Run by the Niagara Parks Commission, the agency reports there are over 2,000 tropical butterflies.
4- Ride the cable car over Niagara Gorge
Running as smoothly as a well-greased motor this iconic aero car trip crosses the great Niagara Gorge and offers unparalleled views of the whirlpool.
You also get a bird’s-eye view of the crazy jet boats whipping by the fast-flowing currents below.
Operational from spring to autumn, a trip aboard the Spanish-designed antique cable car is truly wonderful.
A classic ride that’s been around for years, it’s definitely one of the things to do in Niagara Falls to put at the top of your list.
5- Explore Niagara Falls by bicycle
If you don’t have a bike, bike rental companies can be found either in pretty Niagara-on-the-Lake or in Niagara Falls.
For a good workout, I recommend renting a bike in Niagara-on-the-Lake and cycle the legendary Niagara Parkway passing historical landmarks, wineries then further ascending the steep Niagara escarpment by Queenston Heights.
6- Learn Canadian history at Fort George
There’s a lot to see in nearby Niagara-on-the-Lake (about a 20-minute drive from The Falls).
This historic town was the first provincial capital of Upper Canada before Toronto (York) became the capital of Ontario.
See countless historic plaques in this region.
One of my favourites is Fort George. The Fort was involved in the War of 1812 and played a key role in the defense of Upper Canada.
This National Historic Site is open from May through October. One of the highlights is to sign up for a ghost tour to experience Fort George after dark.
Head to Laura Secord’s homestead, for a glimpse into the private residence of Canada’s most famous heroine, a key figure in the War of 1812.
Ascend the narrow spiral staircase at Brock’s Monument for great panoramic views of Niagara farm country and see Lake Ontario on the horizon.
The monument was made to commemorate the death of Major-General Sir Isaac Brock who died during the Battle of Queenston Heights in 1812 and is also a tomb for two British soldiers.
Brock’s Monument is the largest monument of its kind in Canada and bears an uncanny resemblance of Nelson’s Column at Trafalgar Square in London.
7- Go behind the scenes at Niagara Falls
Can you walk behind the Niagara Falls? Yes. Journey Behind the Falls has been taking curious visitors down to see the catacombs that weave behind the Horseshoe Falls.
As a kid, I remember sporting rental wellies and buttoning up a heavy rubber raincoat for this thrill.
Those retro accessories are gone now but white-water thrill seekers instead get a souvenir rain poncho needed to see this wet’n’wild experience.
You’ll never forget the rush and gush of six million cubic feet of water again. It’s by far one of the most memorable Niagara Falls attractions.
8- Ride the yellow bug up Skylon Tower
Take a ride up the yellow bug.
The Skylon Tower is a retro tower constructed in the swinging sixties that still has a fun vintage feel to it as sightseers take a ride on the iconic elevator that now looks more like a Minions character.
While the property is sadly in need of a redo you still can’t beat the fabulous view you get once you reach the observation deck.
The Skylon Tower has been the stage for many events, one of which included 81 high wire performances with the legendary high wire artist Jay Cochrane a few years ago.
9- Have fun at Clifton Hill
Clifton Hill, Niagara Falls’ answer to Vegas with all the flashy lights but minus the casinos, is the strip that’s rife with tacky and big.
Get some big frights at the Nightmares Fear Factory, learn about the weirdest discoveries at Ripley’s Believe It or Not, or see if you can beat a world record at the legendary Guinness Book of World Records museum, home to bizarre displays, some which are interactive exhibits.
The new fun thing to do: hang out at the Niagara Skywheel, Canada’s largest observation wheel, looming atop Clifton Hill.
The Clifton Hill fun pass offers access to six attractions, including the Skywheel. There are several Clifton Hill hotels to choose from for an overnight stay.
10- More fun things to do in Niagara Falls
Niagara Falls is home to two casinos, the larger Fallsview Casino Resort is the preferred place due to its shops, entertainment, and restaurants.
Located at the top of Murray Hill imagine the falls views.
The older Casino Niagara while smaller has two action-packed floors and is within walking distance to the mighty Niagara Falls.
The four seasons of Niagara Falls
Located on the Canadian-U.S. border the mighty Niagara Falls is an all-time favourite vacation destination and there are plenty of Niagara Falls attractions for all seasons.
Things to do in Niagara Falls in winter
It was once nicknamed “The Honeymoon Capital of the World” (you can still see remnants with some old motels sporting that classic heart-shaped Jacuzzi in the honeymoon suites).
To boot, the renowned Horseshoe Falls has been the inspiration for many who have peered at this magnificent natural wonder. It truly is spellbinding, and especially so in winter.
Come winter Niagara Falls takes on a dramatic look, as the icicles and frothy white snow caps magically appear against the roaring Niagara Falls.
Photographs of the ice jams are world-renowned.
Tuck inside one of the pubs and sample the highly revered Icewine.
For annual events, during the holidays the Niagara Parks morphs into a winter wonderland as the Winter Festival of Lights takes over the park every November through January.
The pretty snow-draped vineyards are also celebrated in neighbouring Niagara-on-the-Lake as vintners, outdoor lovers, and Icewine fans mingle for the annual Niagara Icewine Festival which takes place in January.
One of the biggest shows is the annual New Year’s Eve parYear’s huge crowd pleaser at Queen Victoria Park that headlines some of Canadas biggest musical acts in the business.
Things to do in Niagara Falls in Spring
After a long winter, it’s time to awaken the senses.
Budding blossoms are beautifully showcased throughout the Niagara Parks Commission.
In early spring head inside the Floral Showhouse in Queen Victoria Park to smell the fragrant forced perennials and come mid-spring outside along the garden beds are a blanket of tulips and daffodils that emit that warm feeling you love about the season.
Popular stops in the Niagara Parks include the famous Floral Clock with its 19,000 springtime flowers just north of the Sir Adam Beck Generating Station; the Centennial Lilac Garden near the Queenston Lewiston International Bridge; and the Botanical Gardens, 40 hectares of beautifully manicured gardens.
In May musicians and revellers get in the groove for Springilicious, a free outdoor music festival.
Things to do in Niagara Falls in Summer
This is high season. Across the city and throughout the Niagara Parks Commission good days are bumper-to-bumper days when traffic snakes to a crawl.
Summertime is also the ultimate sightseeing time. Sightseers head out to see The Falls and the countless attractions available throughout the NPC.
Get sopping wet on a Niagara Hornblower Cruise as visitors cruise close to the bottom of the mighty Niagara Falls watching the wall of thundering water with its thundering sounds. One word: Awesome!
Continue the thrills on another wild and wet visit as you descend an elevator to go through a long, narrow tunnel behind The Falls.
This view is spectacular. Another cool spot to get up close is by the White Water Walk, which is a boardwalk along the Great Gorge that showcases natural surrounds beside the raging river.
Cycling is popular. A good route is along the 56 km multipurpose path known as the Niagara River Recreation Trail that connects from Fort Erie to Niagara-on-the-Lake. You can also start the route anywhere in the park as the paved trail is mostly a separate route away from vehicles.
The fireworks are spectacular. While scheduled at various times throughout the year, summer is fabulous to watch the free fireworks over The Falls so is the accompanied streaming lights that illuminate both the American and Horseshoe Falls.
Niagara’s version of bright lights Vegas style is Clifton Hill. Take a walk up the hill at night to see the colourful lights from local shops, and restaurants.
Clifton Hill is also home to quirky museums. For squirmy fun, head to the Odditorium at the Ripley’s Believe it or Not Museum or scour the Guinness World Records Museum for equally surprising exhibits.
Things to do in Niagara Falls in Autumn
As kids head back to school the city takes on a different vibe.
The local wineries and fruit farms begin to harvest their crops.
One of the nicest drives to explore the bounty of Niagara is a drive to neighbouring Niagara-on-the-Lake along the pretty Niagara River Parkway.
The fall foliage is blazing and beautiful as the road snakes along the river passing historic hamlets and landmarks like Queenston Heights.
At Queenston Heights Park ascend the legendary Brock’s Monument for panoramic views of Niagara-on-the-Lake and Lake Ontario.
Leaf peepers enjoy a thrilling ride in an ancient cable car that crosses the Niagara River. Known as the Whirlpool Aero Car it’s another fabulous perch from which to see the fall season in all its glory.
In fall golf courses continue to attract golf lovers. At the Niagara Parks, the public golf courses have relaxing club houses with great food, drinks and service.
Marathon runners are also getting ready to lace up their sneakers in the upcoming Niagara Falls International Marathon in late October. Thousands of runners race in this picturesque stretch that ends just before the rushing Falls.
A couple of celebrities that have even been caught by its mystical draw are Titanic director James Cameron who claimed he was inspired by the swirling waters as a kid growing up; and Nick Wallenda, the daredevil tightrope artist, who was the first person to walk directly over Niagara Falls on a high wire.
Now it’s your turn to take a plunge at some of the best year-round thrills in and around the fabled Niagara Falls.
Ilona Kauremszky lives in Toronto and ventures to Niagara Falls nearly every weekend (to visit her Mom) when she is not travelling around the globe.
Are you interested in vacations by rail? Try Via Rail’s train trip across Canada.