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Niagara Falls – New York or Canada? Plus 8 Awesome Things to Do Nearby

Niagara Falls New York or Canada

Everyone says Canada is the “best side” of Niagara Falls, but those who live and work in Niagara Falls, New York or have traveled there will tell you otherwise. We’ve been to both. The verdict? You should go to both, too.

Niagara Falls, New York

Niagara Falls, New York, USA.

What It’s Like
Niagara Falls, NY doesn’t seem very exciting at first glance, admittedly. It feels dreary and run-down, with one high-rise casino (Seneca Niagara Casino & Hotel) and some hotels and restaurants scattered throughout. Dig a little deeper, and you’ll see the area offers quite a lot for families. In fact, some of Niagara Falls’ most famed attractions are in New York, offering the best opportunities to get up close with the falls.

Attractions

Maid of the Mist
You can’t go to Niagara Falls and not ride Maid of the Mist, which has hosted tourists since 1846. The iconic ride doesn’t just provide unparalleled views of the falls; it takes visitors into the falls. Prepare to get soaked.

Cave of the Winds
This is another unique experience that allows visitors to get up close with Niagara Falls; in fact, you probably can’t get any closer to the falls than this. You can walk right up to Bridal Veil Falls via walkways and viewing decks. You’ll be given a souvenir rain poncho and some nifty sandals to wear.  Tip: Go at night when the falls are lit up in different colors. You might be lucky enough to see fireworks, too. Fun fact: the multi-level platforms and connecting stairs are dismantled and rebuilt every year!

Goat Island

Cave of the Winds is on Goat Island, but so are a number of other cool things to do. Right next door to Cave of the Winds is Luna Point. A viewing platform that puts you right in the middle of the top of Bridal Veil Falls. Wander past the Welcome Center on the other side and you’ll find yourself on Terrapin Point. When I tell you this is a “don’t miss it” spot, I’m not kidding! The waters of Horseshoe Falls will be spilling into the gorge right at your feet. You really can’t get any closer than this. Drive around to the other side of Goat Island to take a short hike onto Three Sisters Islands. Literally, three small island connected by a foot bridge. The views from the third island are spectacular.

Niagara Falls State Park
Walk or drive right into Niagara Falls State Park — there’s no cost (you’ll just have to pay for parking). You and the kids will, once again, have an amazing opportunity to get close to the falls, as well as the rapids. Pack a picnic lunch.

Old Falls Street
Old Falls Street, which spans just three blocks, plays host to festivals, concerts and activities just for families. Saturdays are actually dedicated to “Free Family Fun,” with cooking demonstrations, arts and crafts, life-size board games and more.

Recommended Hotels
If you’re looking for a hotel right on Niagara Falls, you won’t find it in New York — Canada wins in that category. You can, however, find reasonably priced hotels within walking distance of Niagara Falls State Park.

Holiday Inn Niagara Falls

The Red Coach Inn

The Giacomo

 

Niagara Falls, Canada

 

What It’s Like

Niagara Falls, Ontario feels glitzy, and livelier in comparison, with flashy arcades, oddball museums and dozens of chain restaurants on Clifton Hill, Lundy’s Lane and Victoria Avenue (where all the action is, aside from the actual Falls). Niagara Falls, Ontario also offers more tourist-centric attractions, including its own version of New York’s Maid of the Mist.

Attractions

Hornblower Niagara Cruises

Hornblower is Canada’s Maid of the Mist. It takes riders right to Horseshoe Falls. The company has a catamaran that holds up to 700 people, but families can also elect to ride a private charter (150 people). You’ll get a bright red rain poncho, but still plan to get wet! This boat ride is one of the most exciting experiences of all. Don’t miss it!

Skylon Tower
Every city’s tower and observation deck is advertised to offer the “best views,” but sometimes, those views aren’t really views at all. That’s not the case at Skylon Tower, which rises 775 feet to provide vistas of Niagara Falls in New York and Canada. It also offers two restaurants.

Niagara Sky Wheel
Situated on Clifton Hill, Niagara Sky Wheel provides another means to view Niagara Falls. It’s the largest observation wheel in Canada, towering 175 feet.

Journey Behind the Falls
Journey Behind the Falls is similar to New York’s Cave of the Winds, but this experience allows visitors to go to the Cataract Portal and Great Falls Portal, one-third of the way behind the water.

White Water Walk

Take an elevator down to the Niagara River for a stroll along a boardwalk that runs alongside the raging waters. Beautiful and exciting, the class 6 rapids roar just feet away for this 1/4 mile walk.

Recommended Hotels
Niagara Falls, Ontario offers a wealth of hotels with views of Niagara Falls. Of course, the rates to enjoy those views come at a premium — but they’re worth the splurge. Another cool thing about a hotel overlooking the Falls are the fireworks each evening (check local schedule). Families can also find affordable accommodations (some with excellent package deals) sans views.

Skyline Inn

Clifton Victoria Inn

Sheraton on the Falls

Finally, take advantage of the WEGO bus system.  It’s Niagara Falls’ version of a “hop on, hop off” bus that will save you countless hours searching for parking and lots of money on parking lots (most close lots charge $20-$35 a day) Save your sanity and your wallet and park a bit down the road, then let someone else do the driving for you.

Nearby

Many families dream of a trip to Niagara Falls, so they go, see the famed attraction, and then leave shortly thereafter — bypassing all the area has to offer. If you’re planning a vacation to Niagara Falls, don’t overlook these unique attractions located within a two-hour drive (or in most cases, less).

1. Lewiston
Just 15 minutes from Niagara Falls, New York, Lewiston offers a kitschy downtown area with adorable cafes, ice cream shops and boutiques. Down the hill from town, you can take a peaceful walk along the waterfront, or take a wild ride with Whirlpool Jet Boat Tours. Be sure to make plans for lunch at The Silo, which resembles a real silo and overlooks the Niagara River.  There’s also a really neat memorial in the park next to The Silo that honors the last “stop” of the Underground Railroad called the Freedom Crossing Monument.

2. Old Fort Niagara – Youngstown, N.Y.
Old Fort Niagara is situated at the entrance to the Niagara River, and dates back to 1726, when it was occupied by the French, and then the British during the French and Indian War. Today, families can take guided tours of the old buildings; they can also see artillery-firing demonstrations and reenactments. Visit at night for a candlelit tour… and maybe even a ghost sighting.

3. Herschell Carrousel Factory Museum – North Tonawanda, N.Y.
In the early 1900’s, woodworkers used this building to create carousels. The factory is no longer in operation, but a museum offers families a chance to see the carousels of yesteryear — including one that is more than 100 years old. There’s also a carousel you can ride, and kids love Kiddieland Testing Park, which includes four children’s rides and a picnic pavilion. The museum is less than 30 minutes from Niagara Falls.

4. Martin’s Fantasy Island – Grand Island, N.Y.
Martin’s Fantasy Land is an amusement park in Grand Island, New York. If you’ll be flying into Buffalo Niagara International Airport, you’ll likely pass it en route to Niagara Falls. The park runs the traditional gamut of rides, from bumper cars to roller coasters, plus water rides and a separate area just for youngsters. Visit a local Walgreen’s or Wegmans for coupons.

Nearby Hotel: Four Points by Sheraton Niagara Falls

5. Darien Lake – Darien, N.Y.
Darien Lake is another amusement park in the area. It also offers a mix of thrill rides, kids’ rides and family rides, as well as a water park. There is lodging at Darien Lake Theme Park Resort, which offers pull-out sofas, mini-fridges and free Wi-Fi, and families also have the option to rent cabins and campsites. Niagara Falls, N.Y. is less than an hour away from Darien Lake.

Nearby Hotel: Darien Lake Theme Park Resort

6. Bristol Mountain – Canandaigua, N.Y.
You can’t go zip-lining over Niagara Falls (unless you’re Nik Wallenda), but you can glide through the air at Bristol Mountain, two hours away. It features two courses just for kids ages 4 to 7, added in 2015. Visit in the winter for skiing, snowboarding and tubing.

7. Buffalo Zoo – Buffalo, N.Y.
Admission to the Buffalo Zoo is inexpensive — under $15 for adults and even less for children — and kids will especially enjoy the Rainforest and Barnyard. The zoo is small in size, making it manageable for a side trip. The Buffalo Zoo is just 30 minutes from Niagara Falls.

8. Lucille Ball Desi Arnaz Museum – Jamestown, N.Y.
“Lucy! I’m home!” Lucille Ball’s hometown of Jamestown, New York commemorates her and her costar and husband at the Lucille Ball Desi Arnaz Museum. The museum features the duo’s personal belongings, including costumes, photographs, awards, letters and scripts. It is located about two hours from Niagara Falls.