Niagara Falls is one of those destinations that you can visit again and again and still miss some attraction or exciting activity. You can spend weeks in Niagara Falls and still fail to get the complete experience. Then again, you can jam-pack a whole bunch of Niagara Falls adventures into a day or two and feel relaxed and fulfilled.
If you are overwhelmed by the idea of planning a short Niagara Falls vacation, here’s a truism: You can’t go wrong, even if you stay holed up in your hotel. Still, if you want to make the most of your weekend in Niagara, consider this ready-made itinerary just for you:
Because you don’t have much time in Niagara Falls, you should check into your hotel and immediately start exploring. It’s a good idea to consider hotels in Niagara Falls proper for the sake of convenience; if you have to spend an hour commuting to and from a B&B or hostel on the outskirts of town, you won’t be able to enjoy as much of Niagara Falls’ beauty and attractions. Plus, Niagara Falls hotels offer views of the falls themselves, which means you can take in the scenery while you relax and unwind at the end of your day.
Your first stop after your hotel should be Queen Victoria Park, which is a vast public park that borders the Niagara River, providing some of the best views of Horseshoe Falls. When festivals come to Niagara Falls, Queen Victoria Park is home to live entertainment, arts and crafts, food vendors and more. During the high tourist season of the summer, the park can be crowded with travelers like yourself. Still, it’s worth strolling through the park to get your first great glimpse of the falls. From here, you have a few options — but all of them are about seeing the falls in new and exciting ways.
Before you leave for your trip, you should purchase tickets for a Hornblower Niagara river cruise. This tour takes you up close to the base of Niagara Falls, where the crashing water is usually shrouded in mist. While you might be tempted to book space on the more famous Maid of the Mist river cruise, that tour launches from the American side, and journeying across the border will take too much of your time. Hornblower offers a near-identical experience — replete with plastic ponchos — from the Canadian side, making it more convenient for short-term travelers like yourself.
You should also devote some time to the Journey Behind the Falls tour, offered by Niagara Parks. Like the river cruise, this tour takes you down near the base of the falls, but instead you will venture through tunnels carved into the rock behind the falls. This provides another unique view of the falls — one akin to that of the true maid of the mist, who was trapped behind the falls by the river god, according to native folklore.
There are also several options for seeing the falls from above. The Skylon Tower is perhaps the most accessible for most travelers; if you plan to enjoy lunch or dinner in the rotating dining room, you gain a free pass to visit the observation deck, which provides stunning panoramas of the falls, the city and the surrounding countryside. The Niagara SkyWheel is another option, located in Clifton Hill; the largest observation wheel in Canada, the SkyWheel provides a safe, smooth ride up and above Niagara Falls. Finally, you can book a helicopter tour of Niagara, which is an experience you won’t soon forget.
Seeing Niagara Falls in these ways will take up most of your day and leave you exhausted. You should spend your evening in leisure, dining at a quality restaurant near your hotel and watching the nightly Falls Illumination, which includes fireworks and a light show above the waterfalls.
Most weekend travelers won’t have a full second day to explore; you probably only have a few hours before you need to hit the road back home. Thus, you have an important decision to make: Will you explore the American side of the falls, or will you venture away from the falls into the Niagara Valley?
On the American side, you can see the other two falls, American and Bridal Veil Falls, up close, and you can wander around Goat Island and Luna Island to enjoy the natural scenery. There is a visitor’s center on the American side that details a brief history of Niagara Falls, including the important innovations in hydro-electric power developed by Nikola Tesla.
Alternatively, Niagara Valley is filled with quaint towns and some of the best vineyards and winemakers in the world. You can book a wine tour, which will take you to a handful of top wineries in the region, or you can organize your own tour by selecting the wineries that interest you. Then again, you can focus on exploring adorable hamlets like Niagara-on-the-Lake and St. Catharines, which offer stunning architecture and pitch-perfect nostalgia.
You’ll certainly leave a weekend trip to Niagara Falls with plenty left undone — but that just means you have much to look forward to when you plan your next vacation to the falls.