It’s no secret that there’s a lot of trash in Niagara Falls. The funfair, the main strip and the casinos would put anyone off. But, beyond all the consumerist horror, there’s the main attraction: the mighty Horseshoe and Bridal Veil waterfalls. The thunderous force is hypnotic, the plumes of rolling icy mist eerily comforting, and the ethereal veil of water plunging off the precipice, rainbows and all, downright mesmerising. Despite all the tack, nature reigns supreme and in the most spectacular ways possible. Here, Luke Abrahams skips all the commercial tat to give you the ultimate guide to Niagara’s loveliest spots, from snazzy hotels to cutesy towns, and some of the finest vineyards this side of North America bottles up.
Niagara Falls: The Ultimate Travel Guide
The Giacomo – New York, USA
If you are looking for a dose of art-deco glam, check into this period hotspot. Swagger and glamour best sum it up and it’s perhaps the most characterful of hotels on the Niagara strip. The bar dons a sexy mish-mash of Lana Del Rey-esque country club meets a wannabe Casa Cipriani, and the cavernous reception hall is what you’d expect to see in your bog standard throwback Netflix flick. The rooms are plush. Expect all things showy by North American standards: extra big beds, luxe fabrics and linens, and some kitted out with fireplaces and spa baths. Views of the falls are limited from the bedrooms, but there’s a public gallery on the hotel’s tippy top. thegiacomo.com
Red Coach Inn – New York, USA
Styled like an English country house hotel, once you are inside the Red Coach Inn’s firm and pretty walls, you escape the dregs of All-American capitalism and are transported into what’s best described as a time warp. The historic inn is very much granny in her comfort zone: old-fashioned interiors of endless creams and beiges, the odd floral print, canopied beds, darling cabinets chock-full of itty-bitty crockery and a mock-Tudor exterior fit for Instagram. There are doses of modernity throughout in the form of Tesla charging points and those all-important USB-ready charging points, so it’s not all a sketch from the past. In short, the Red Coach Inn gives some much-welcome character to the corporately charged spots this side of the Niagara River. redcoach.com
Hyatt Place Niagara Falls – New York, USA
Those in search of something on brand, reliable and super close to the US-Canadian border will love this dose of modern Hyatt cool. Rooms are big, and all come with large double beds and views of the city and beyond. There’s also a pool, fitness centre, bar and terrace which, come night-time, springs into life with all sorts of antics. But the best thing about this place is its close proximity to Niagara State Park and the Rainbow Bridge. Its central spot means you’ll easily beat the crowds come tourist rush hour, and if you are going to head into Canada, the Rainbow Bridge is quite literally a two-minute walk from the main reception. Concierge are also high on endorphins and can sort out tours, excursions and adrenaline thrills in milliseconds. hyatt.com
Niagara Falls Marriott Fallsview Hotel & Spa – Ontario, Canada
The best upscale views of Niagara Falls are from this mega hotel, period. Marriot went all out with this brutalist beast hunched over Canada’s portion of the so-called Horseshoe rim. Think 432 rooms (all with views of the tumbling torrents) and destination restaurants that plate up posh grub alongside the theatrics of its gushing neighbour. Rooms are big and are kitted out with all the expected Marriot mod-cons, from roomy bed to well-lit bathrooms and ample desk space for business types in search of keyboards with natural spectacles. Another plus is the delightful spa: pool and treatments are on offer and, if you are a travelling family, a break from the kids when needed. marriott.co.uk
Sheraton Fallsview – Ontario, Canada
Though a bit of an eyesore from street level, once you’re inside the Sheraton’s 22 stories, you’ll quickly forget about the somewhat dated CN-Tower wannabe appearance. Its greatest asset, aside from the obvious stellar viewpoints of the falls, is its central location on Route 1, the home of many of the city’s go-to attractions, restaurants, and bars. Top end digs are worth the extra splash of cash: balconies, fireplaces and jet baths are just some of the perks, as are the best 360s. If that’s not enough, the Sheraton also shares its walls with a casino (ready your wallets) and a fun waterpark, too. marriott.com
The Hornblower, Canada
Forget the Maid of the Mist – if you really want to experience a 360 panorama of the falls, cross the border into Canada and jump on the Hornblower (AKA Niagara City Cruises). It’s the best way to see the falls and experience the might and thunder as 3,160 tons of water flow every second off the precipice. It’s a quick stint – a ride usually lasts 10 to 15 minutes – but be warned, you will get absolutely drenched once you hit Horseshoe Falls. Tip: hold on to your phone and pack a raincoat, because the free poncho does little to protect you.
The White Water Walk, Canada
This one is for those who truly want to escape all the tourists and embrace the perks of Mother Nature. The setting is in the beauteous Niagara gorge. The quarter-mile or so boardwalk will take you all the way up to the Great Gorge Rapids, and there are plenty of scenic spots along the way to take in the falls from an entirely different viewpoint. Plus, you’ll get sights of the uber turbulent, somewhat terrifying Niagara whirlpool for premium reel content.
Journey Behind the Falls, Canada
Again, on the Canadian side, this Niagara excursion takes you up close and personal behind, you guessed it, the falls. The tour starts with a plunge down an elevator to a series of observation decks where you can marvel at the view of the Canadian Horseshoe Falls and the mighty Niagara River. The caverns are well worth a snoop to get to see the water from a different perspective (you are literally behind the water). Go early as the crowds can get pretty intense.
Cave of the Winds, USA
America’s answer to Journey Behind the Falls, Cave of the Winds follows a series of boardwalks that takes you along the tropical-esque boulders forming the mighty Bridal Veil Falls that flow straight out of New York’s pretty portion of Niagara State Park. The best part is how close you get to the falls: think seriously windswept hair, sodden trousers and, if you wear them, misty specs.
Niagara Glen Nature Reserve, Canada
Hikers, especially beginners, will love it here. There are over 2 km of trails, much of them beautifully preserved, sprawling through the Carolinian Forest. Autumn is the best time to visit when the foliage turns bright red, maple and orange (photos op!), and there’s also an on-site nature centre to explore and learn all about the local flora and fauna – don’t worry, no bears in these parts either.
A Little Further Afield…
Niagara on the Lake, Canada
The definition of cute done right. A favourite for Torontonians, this lakeside town is splattered with all sorts of adorable tea shops, indie stores, amazingly manicured porch houses and restaurants that give off major Disney Main Street USA vibes. Must visits include the Vancouver export Cows on Queen Street (the ice cream is incredible, and comes loaded with a variety of whacky toppings); the Niagara Apothecary, one of the oldest pharmacies in Canada; the Lake Museum, which is home to over 8,000 artefacts telling the town’s indigenous history; and, if you are in town May through to December, don’t miss a show in one of the town’s three theatres.
The Vineyards, Canada
Once you get bored of the falls, head for the vines. Aside from the main attraction, Niagara is known throughout Canada for its stellar bottles. As we all like the word ‘free’ (especially in these money crunching times), hit up the Inniskillin Winery. The place is known for its ice wine made from grapes that are left to freeze during the very unforgiving and exceptionally cold winters. If that’s not your thing, Peller Estates dons a lovely high-end restaurant (wines, too), or try Ravine Vineyard Estate Winery, a family-owned farm, for organic corks and excellent pizza.
What To Pack
How To Get There
The two closest airports are Buffalo and Toronto. No UK airports fly directly to Buffalo, but one-stop journeys are plentiful. You can fly directly to Toronto from London Heathrow and Manchester airports.
If you’re flying into Buffalo, book a taxi in advance to avoid a lengthy bus journey and the scarce shuttle. Note that many cab drivers will not drive you across the border, so make sure the one you book operates out of New York State.
From Toronto, a regular GO train service will whisk you from Union Station straight to the falls for as little as $25 each. Be warned: the journey takes roughly 2 hours and 30 minutes, so if you are looking to make a day of it, take the first service out of the city.
Featured image: An aerial view of Horseshoe Falls, including the Hornblower Boat, via Getty.