If you’re heading to Niagara Falls then I can’t recommend staying in Niagara on the Lake enough. Sure it’s not overlooking the falls and you’ll have to pay for parking when you visit the falls – but it’s worth it. Niagara Falls, as a city, was overall a disappointment. Hear me out. The walls are beautiful and breathtaking, but the city is the epitome of a tourist trap. Overpriced food, silly souvenirs, and expensive hotels – I’m sorry I wasn’t impressed. For a fifteen minute drive, you can enjoy a bit of the countryside, mom-and-pop shops, and wineries!
Niagara-on-the-Lake encompasses all of these and is where I’d recommend staying when visiting the Falls. There are a few hotels and plenty of AirBnB’s to stay at. We stayed at an AirBnB but had some issues, so book cautiously.
We chose this small town so we could have a mixture of sightseeing and relaxing in the countryside. Let me tell you, it did NOT disappoint at all. But let’s start with Niagara Falls. As you may know, I love all things nature. The fact that I live within a drive of (albeit, a long drive) of Niagara Falls and haven’t been there, I was disappointed in myself.
From our house, it’s about a 6 and a half hour drive so we left first thing in the morning. With breaks for bathroom and food we arrived at our AirBnB around 4pm. That gave us time to get settled and explore a little before heading to Niagara Falls for dinner at Prime Steakhouse. I cannot rave enough about this restaurant. The food was delicious and the view was perfection. (Pictures are from my phone)
However, I would NOT recommend seeing the falls for the first time from up high. From that high up, the falls don’t look nearly as powerful or as large as they do up close. So do yourself a favor and save the romantic dinner for after the falls.
Since we were staying Canadian side, we did not do the Maid of the Mist, but rather the Hornblower. Don’t be fooled by the name – it’s not just mist on the boat. You will get wet. There were people with their DSLR cameras and the iPhones out, and it made me cringe. We were soaked afterward.
There are only two companies that do these tours – Maid of the Mist on the American side and the Hornblower on the Canadian. We didn’t even have a wait to get on the boat, but you are packed in like sardines. Ponchos are provided with the ticket. When you purchase your ticket, it’s good for three days so you have a bit of flexibility.
The other tour that we did was Journey Behind the Falls. Unless you’re really dreaming of Niagara Falls, I’d say skip this. You pay a decent amount of money for an elevator down to three walkways – two of which is simply the water coming down. No you can’t see through it – it is a very powerful waterfall after all. The third walkway brings you very close to the falls – and you actually got to see the water pouring down. They also give you a stylish poncho – this one is in yellow. Below are us before and after – you will get wet when you get near the falls.
Travel Tip: Recycle your ponchos! At each place there is a place to recycle them. Be kind to our earth!*
Overall, one day exploring Niagara was enough for two adults without kids. It felt like it tried too hard to be a tourist spot. Overpriced gadgets at street vendors, a slice of cheese pizza for $7, and all the big name restaurants you could ask for (Ruby Tuesday’s, Margaritaville, TGI Fridays). We debated about spending one night overlooking the falls (as that’s what everyone recommends) but with a price tag of over $250 for one night, it didn’t seem worth it. We spent a lot of time looking at the falls throughout the day and night, that I had my fill of looking at it.
This is why I will reinforce spending time in Niagara-on-the-Lake.
One place I always have to go when I’m in Canada is Smoke’s Pouteniere. Yes, that’s all they serve – poutine. In all it’s glorious forms. I could eat poutine all day, and Spencer never really understood my love of it. Nor did he believe me that Smoke’s only makes poutine! I introduced him – I got buffalo chicken (pictured top right) and I was in heaven. The sizes can be shared or you can eat it all yourself, no judging here. I don’t like to share my poutine, so I brought some home. Smoke’s is a chain and you can find them throughout the Toronto area and in some other parts of Canada. Needless to say, Spencer was converted to a poutine lover after Smoke’s.
Then it’s time to explore some wineries in Niagara-on-the-Lake. There are 40 wineries in this town! Since we had a bottle of Inniskillin with our dinner at Prime we decided to skip that winery (it is one of the most well known wineries and came recommended). Since we didn’t have time to explore all of the wineries (much to my dismay), I found a few smaller ones that I thought would give me a better glimpse into the Niagara region – Rief and Ravine Wineries.
Both of these wineries were quaint stops with rich family history. Reif Estate Winery (pictured below) had a small bar area with a garden and trellis where you could sit and enjoy the company of the people you’re with. The garden had plants that represented the various types of wine (i.e. light green for a sweet white), which is the first time I’ve ever seen something like that. Tastings were $8 but that fee was waived if you bought two bottles (which of course, we did).
Ravine Winery was my favorite, but I may be biased because of the live musician. Is there anything better than sitting outside on a couch, with perfect weather, live music, a glass of wine, and a local couple? Honestly, it was a perfect afternoon. The tastings were $8, again waived if you bought two bottles – Spencer had to stop me from buying 5 due to customs on the way home! They had some unique flavors too – my favorite being the Small Batch Riesling which was aged in stainless steel tanks, and had flavors of lemon, green apple and nectarine! They had a small shop in the back of the winery for local goods – including homemade cheese!
All in all, our weekend away to Niagara and Niagara-on-the-Lake was perfect. We could not have asked for better weather – it was sunny and not too hot all weekend! I am so happy that we spent the majority of our time in the country side rather than in the city – and if you are heading to Niagara be sure to stop over even if for a short time – to Niagara-on-the-Lake.
What are your tips for visiting Niagara or Niagara-on-the-Lake? Comment below!