March 5, 2017: Niagara Falls
For day 2 of my weekend trip to Buffalo, my high school friend and I decided to visit Niagara Falls. Niagara Falls is located a mere 30 minutes from downtown Buffalo. The city offers a public bus from Niagara Square in downtown Buffalo to the Falls for just $2 each way! My friend and I had a rental car, so we opted to drive.
We breezed through the town of Niagara Falls, New York, which has clearly seen better days, and crossed the Rainbow Bridge into Niagara Falls, Ontario. Customs was a breeze- they didn’t even stamp our passports.
By all accounts, the Canadian side is the better side to visit because it has a better angle to view the Falls. As a result, Niagara Falls, Ontario has the lion’s share of the tourist attractions and infrastructure. The town is quite built up.
We followed signs and ended up parking near a gigantic dinosaur-themed mini-golf course. Parking cost $10 either American or Canadian dollars (a sneaky move to steal money from unsuspecting American tourists who did not exchange money. Pay with credit card to avoid this). After 10 minutes of struggling where to go, we finally found our way onto the main street, Clifton Hill.
In-season, Clifton Hill is packed with tourists, but in off-season it was a ghost town. We strolled past the Ripley’s Believe It Or Not Museum, multiple Wax Museums, mediocre restaurants, and low quality arcades to reach a gigantic Tim Hortons to get breakfast. I ordered the signature maple-glazed donut.
Now high on sugar, we walked down to Queen Victoria Park to check out the Falls.
The park sits directly at the edge of the Gorge. The American Falls are directly across the gorge from Clifton Hill. The more powerful Horseshoe or Canadian Falls are about a mile upriver.
Most of the attractions along the cliff-top walk including the famed boat rides were closed for the winter.
Before reaching to the Horseshoe Falls, we got caught in the mist of the Falls. It was only 20 degrees out, but the force of the Falls kept the water liquid. However, once the water hit us, the droplets suddenly turned to ice. Our jackets and hair were coated! We were so cold, we skipped the Journey Behind the Falls, which is open year-round. Had I done the trip again or had more time, I would have done this.
Freezing, we headed over to a second Tim Horton’s location just across the street from the edge of the mist- genius placement. There, I got a second maple-glazed donut. This one was arguably more delicious than the first because I earned it.
Sufficiently thawed, we walked up the hill to the Skylon Tower (Canada really likes their observation towers). We paid $12.50 and rode the elevator to the observation deck 775-feet above the Falls. The view from the observation deck was undoubtedly the highlight of our trip to the Falls.
From the Skylon Tower, we walked back to the car and drove north along the Niagara River. 20 minutes later we reached the Inniskillin Winery, which in 1974 received Canada’s first winery license since 1929. They had two wine bars- one for table wines and one for icewines. We went to the icewine bar.
Icewines are extremely late harvest grapes that have frozen on the vine. As a result, the taste is totally different from a normal wine- almost tangy. Icewines are hard to produce due to geographical constraints- some wine regions like Missouri and Indiana will take a late harvest grape and freeze it to create an artificial icewine. The Niagara Peninsula produces 80% of the world’s icewines.
They had 4 different flights, but for $15 Canadian, you can get a 4-wine sampler flight. It was so delicious. I would have loved to take some home, but the cheapest bottle was $80 Canadian, I only had a carry-on bag and they only ship within Ontario. They gave us free wine tastings at their sister winery 10 minutes away.
Just 5 minutes north of the winery is Niagara-On-The-Lake, named for…you guessed it, where the Niagara River meets Lake Ontario. It is actually one of the oldest towns in Canada and is a popular couples getaway destination because it is a really cute town.
Due to time constraints, we did not get lunch in town, but did wander over to the Prince of Wales Hotel, where the high tea was booked solid for the day. We then wandered down to the lakefront, which has views of both Toronto and Fort Niagara across the river in the US.
We then went to two more wineries: the Jackson Triggs Winery (with the free tasting courtesy of Inniskillin) and Pillitteri, a smaller winery we passed by on the way back to the border.
It was now past 3pm and time to head back to catch our 6pm flights. We drove back to Niagara Falls and crossed the Rainbow Bridge back into the US. The border security guard gave us a solid interview, but we made it through just fine. We then drove to Charlie the Butcher to quickly try Buffalo’s famous beef on weck sandwich before heading to the airport.
All in all, Niagara Falls and the Niagara Peninsula is an awesome and friendly travel destination. In my opinion, a day is plenty to see enough and a weekend would be enough to see everything. The summer is definitely a better time to visit Niagara Falls because more attractions (including the Maiden of the Mist boat ride) are open, but the rest of the Peninsula was great in the off-season.