Niagara Falls remains one of the most popular destinations in the world, as the raw power of the falls and nearby entertainment possibilities create both an inspirational experience an ideal getaway. But there’s a lot more to the area than a host of great restaurants and night spots surrounding a natural phenomenon, as it’s also an underrated launching point for further adventure and exploration. Here is just a sampling of the nearby options worth adding to your Niagara Falls itinerary.
Go wine-tasting in Niagara-on-the-Lake
The Niagara Peninsula squeezed between the Niagara River and Lake Ontario is where you can find an excellent collection of wineries and scenic areas. Either by tour or on your own, you can easily taste the vintages of a handful of acclaimed wineries in a single day around Niagara-on-the-Lake, including popular spots like Chateau des Charms, Konzelmann Estate Winery, and Wayne Gretzky Estates Winery and Distillery. In warmer months, it’s hard to top biking through the lush green landscape from winery to winery, which is why biking tours have spiked in popularity in recent years.
In addition to more than two dozen wineries in the region, Niagara-on-the-Lake also is renowned for its restored Heritage District that is a window into the past. The 25 blocks at the heart of the town are highlighted by both colonial-style and mid-19th century buildings along with rows of quaint stores and restaurants, which are typically abuzz with both locals and visitors. From April through October, the popular Shaw Festival strings together a smattering of different plays connected to the famous namesake, playwright George Bernard Shaw. Operated since the early-1960s, Shaw Fest is more popular than ever and features an endless carousel of both classic and modern works.
With its proximity to the main features of Niagara Falls and wealth of activities and sites, Niagara-on-the-lake is a fantastic option for most of the calendar year.
Explore the scenic trails and state parks around the falls
The falls themselves aren’t the only awe-inspiring sites in the area, as the surrounding gorges offer spectacular hiking on either side of the Niagara River. At Devil’s Hole State Park on the American side, the calm gush of the water accompanies a snaking trail that cuts through lush green forests and rocky bluffs, with plenty of sensational river lookouts along the way. Particularly in warmer months, visitors sprawl out around the rocks down by the river for impromptu picnics, making for a peaceful transition away from the thundering rush of Niagara Falls. The state park also is also a hot spot for fishing for much of the year and is even a popular site during the winter, when locals come out for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing through the pristine white landscape.
Other parks and trails also impress as well, including the Whirlpool State Park just a little further downriver from Devil’s Hole. Whirlpool has both tranquil river scenes and spots with some pretty intense white water, capped by an enormous, naturally-occurring whirlpool that is a popular draw on its own. Keep going north – only 10 or so minutes by car – and you’ll end up at Fort Niagara, a 17th century stone fort with a front row seat of gargantuan Lake Ontario, one of the five Great Lakes. Across the Niagara River, meanwhile, Ontario’s Niagara Glen Nature Reserve also showcases rich forests and more terrific views of the treacherous waters downriver from the falls.
Take a train to Toronto
Less than two hours by rail on the Canadian side, Toronto is an ideal add-on to any trip to Niagara Falls, whether as a day trip or an extended stay. The train ride – provided by VIA Rail – also shows off some nice scenery as you twist around Lake Ontario on your way up to Canada’s largest city. A true international city with an intimidating number of options, Toronto is particularly well-known for having a thriving concert scene along with a wealth of other live shows, fine-dining options from around the world, and premier sporting events that help cater to myriad interests.
Always near the top of the list, Centre (formerly the Air Canada Centre) is where many of the biggest events in Toronto happen throughout the year, including home games for the NHL’s Toronto Maple Leafs, the NBA’s Toronto Raptors, and just about every iconic concert tour since it opened in 1999. A short cab ride away, Rogers Centre hosts Major League Baseball’s Toronto Blue Jays along with an impressive concert list of its own under its fully retractable roof, the first of its kind. Add in outdoor shows at the Budweiser Stage and RBC Echo Beach and it’s easy to see why catching a concert in Toronto has become a very popular companion trip to a honeymoon or romantic excursion in Niagara Falls.
For those looking for a fancier night out, the rest of Toronto’s famous entertainment district has a spread of top-notch restaurants and other live-performance venues to choose from. At venues like Ed Mirvish Theatre, patrons have caught some of the biggest plays and musicals in the world alongside an eclectic set of other live shows throughout the calendar year. Just down the street from Mirvish, Roy Thomson Hall is the backdrop for the Toronto Symphony Orchestra and is one of the main sites for the renowned Toronto International Film Festival. Whether you’re with a family, a group of friends, or looking for a romantic escape, Toronto is a no-brainer as an extension to any trip to Niagara Falls.
Transportation note: Although you likely want to book any train tickets in advance, there is also very regular and reliable bus services from either side of Niagara Falls to Toronto.
Check out Canalside in Buffalo
About a half-hour from Niagara Falls, Buffalo’s rejuvenated Canalside has quickly become one of the region’s most prominent hangouts for any age or demographic. Especially beloved by boat lovers, Canalside offers long waterside parks (e.g. Veterans Park) and walkways along with a revolving door of prominent festivals and outdoor concerts. Canalside is an ideal spot to hop on a calm boat tour of the harbor or to grab a meal from one of the popular local vendors, which range from quick and casual to plenty of more formal options.
A terrific hangout during the day, Canalside is also a great launching point for a night out in Buffalo’s entertainment district. Like Scotiabank in Toronto, KeyBank Center (formerly HSBC Arena) has some of the biggest concerts and live events in the region, including home games for the NHL’s Buffalo Sabres, and is a short walk from the heart of Canalside. Some of the trendiest bars and restaurants in Buffalo are also nearby along Elmwood Avenue and Pearl Street, which are particularly popular during the summertime and early part of fall. For history lovers, the Buffalo and Erie County Naval and Military Park has three retired naval vessels that act as floating museums while they keep watch over the harbor.
While Canalside especially flourishes during the warmer months, it remains a popular attraction at the coldest parts of the year as well. As the canal freezes during the winter, it’s turned into an enormous outdoor ice-skating rink, making it a favorite for both families and couples alike. No matter what time of the year you’re planning on heading to Niagara Falls, Canalside in Buffalo is a quick jaunt away that is well worth the effort.
The neighboring regions surrounding Niagara Falls are filled with great options for both outdoors lovers and entertainment seekers, providing ample incentive to keep exploring once you’ve had your fill of the falls. While most will try to stick with warmer months, there is no shortage of wintry options in the area that can just as exhilarating. As long as you plan for the weather and keep a few backup options in mind, a trip to Niagara Falls and beyond can be a fun and unforgettable journey any time of the year.