Ultimate guide to visiting Niagara Falls

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A world wonder, the Niagara Falls roars majestically on the border between the USA and Canada. To take full advantage of this powerful New England waterfall, marvel at it from different perspectives (as many as the season allows). The best things to do when visiting Niagara Falls include admiring the falls from the overlooks, taking an iconic boat tour and, if you’re not afraid to get wet, feeling the waterfall pound against your skin.

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The Maid of the Mist in front of crashing Horseshoe Falls
The adorable Niagara Falls.

What to expect when visiting Niagara Falls

At the southern end of Niagara Gorge, the three falls that Niagara Falls consists of are the American Falls, Horseshoe Falls and Bridal Veil Falls. In summer, as much as six million cubic feet (168,000 m3) of water passes through the falls every minute — wow!

Having the highest flow rate of all North American waterfalls, the enormous Horseshoe Falls straddles the border of the US and Canada. In contrast, the smaller siblings American Falls and Bridal Veil Falls are entirely located on the US side of the border.

There’s no shortage of ways to enjoy this gift from Mother Earth. Observe Niagara Falls from the overlooks, take a boat ride up close, feel the extreme power at its base — only feet from the overwhelming masses — or admire it all from the air.

The waterfall is pretty during daytime but also special after dusk, especially in combination with the colorful lightshows and beautiful fireworks that are proud Niagara traditions.

Want to take your stay to the next level? Some Niagara Falls hotels offer fallsview enabling you to even admire the cascading water from the comfort of your own hotel room.

In the picture below, the three falls appear.

From left, you first have the American Falls and Bridal Veil Falls, separated only by the tiny Luna Island (can you spot it?). Across Goat Island and crossing the international border, Horseshoe Falls is the waterfall furthest to the right.

Niagara Falls thundering into Niagara Gorge
From left the American Falls, Bridal Veil Falls and Horseshoe Falls.

Best things to do to at Niagara Falls

There are several memorable ways to experience the Niagara Falls. Sure, just viewing the falls from the overlooks is spectacular, but there’s much more you can do to take it all in. Here are the best things to do when visiting Niagara Falls.

Admire the falls from the overlooks

Gazing at the Niagara Falls is an experience you never forget. You get the best view from Table Rock Welcome Centre on the Canadian side of the border, brilliantly located within steps of the thundering water that rushes over the Horseshoe Fall’s brink.

There’s no entrance fee to the breathtaking overlooks — this is a totally free thing to do!

Take a Niagara Gorge boat tour

The cliffside vantage points are one thing, while the duck perspective, from the water surface, is something completely different. Taking a boat tour through Niagara Gorge, you look up on masses of water tumbling over the brinks and down into Niagara Gorge. So close to the action — the American Falls, Bridal Veil Falls and Horseshoe Falls — you even sense the mist created by these huge water quantities.

You can take a boat ride from either the US side or the Canadian side of the border. In the US, the boat ride is called Maid of the Mist; in Canada, it’s Hornblower Niagara Cruises. They offer very similar experiences, with the main difference that they depart from different sides of the gorge.

Niagara Falls as seen from the USA-Canada border
The US/Maid of the Mist to the left and Canada/Hornblower to the right.

Seasonal closure: The Niagara boat rides don’t run during the colder months of the year. Typically the tours operate from April to October; check with Maid of the Mist or Hornblower Niagara Cruises for exact dates.

Feel the Cave of the Winds

Cave of the Winds, on the US side of Niagara Falls, lets you walk closer to the falls than you ever could imagine. Put your poncho on and take the elevator down to Niagara George, where wooden walkways lead to the aptly named Hurricane Deck. Here, you find yourself only feet away from the Bridal Veil Falls. This may be the very edge of the mighty Niagara Falls, but its power is still unmistakable — prepare to get wet.

Cave of the Winds boardwalks below Bridal Veil Falls
Beware: Cave of the Winds may get you soaked.

Seasonal closure: The full attraction, just like the boat tours, is only open during the warmer months of the year. During the winter season, the wooden walkways and the Hurricane Deck are closed. See the Cave of the Winds opening dates and hours before visiting Niagara Falls.

Embark on the Journey Behind The Falls

Want to discover Niagara Falls hidden side? Descend 125 feet (38 m) and, to the powerful sound of the unthinkable amounts of crashing water, explore the tunnels behind the Horseshoe Falls. Stop for the Cataract Portal and Great Falls Portal, loudly and clearly proving that you really are right behind the world-famous Niagara Falls. Then continue to the jaw-dropping observation decks nestled at the Horseshoe Falls’ very foot — say cheese!

Gawk at Niagara Gorge from the air

From the side, below and behind are all superb perspectives, but you can also soar high above the Niagara Falls. Take a helicopter ride or plane tour to experience the Niagara Falls like a bird. This way you stay dry while getting an amazing view of not only the falls but also the surrounding Niagara River area.

Aerial view of Niagara Falls
Bird’s-eye Niagara Gorge perspective.

Marvel at colorful illuminations

Dusk doesn’t mean that you can no longer appreciate Niagara Falls. Each evening of the year, Niagara Falls transforms into an illuminated masterpiece; think hundreds of decorative LED lights making Niagara Gorge dance in vivid colors.

Celebrate Niagara with fireworks

Niagara Falls boasts Canada’s longest running fireworks series. Fireworks are set off from within the Niagara Gorge — between American Falls and Horseshoe Falls — throughout the year (but with fewer displays in the off season).

From where to watch the fireworks? Any spot facing Niagara Gorge, such as Queen Victoria Park on the Canadian side and Prospect Point on the US side, is an excellent pick.

Niagara Falls light show seen through the windows of Marriott Niagara Falls Hotel Fallsview & Spa
Enjoy the illuminated Niagara Falls.

Getting around Niagara Falls

Queen Victoria Park is the area tying the town and falls together. This is from where you can board a Canadian boat tour and, at the brink of the Horseshoe Falls, access Table Rock Visitor Centre.

Walking is the primary method of transport at the falls. From the Horseshoe Falls hotels, it takes roughly 20 minutes to walk down via Queen Victoria Park to Table Rock Visitor Centre.

Using the Niagara Parks Incline Railway, available for a fee, is another way of getting around Niagara Falls. It takes you from the Horseshoe Falls hotel area to the brink of the falls, giving you easier access to what you came for.

What about shuttles?

On the Canadian side, the year-round WEGO shuttle operates three lines taking you between hotels and attractions. To get north to Niagara-on-the-Lake, there’s also a seasonal line departing from the Floral Clock station.

On the US side, the seasonal (and free) Discover Niagara shuttle runs the “Falls to the Fort Route” along Niagara River, connecting Niagara Falls with Old Fort Niagara on Lake Ontario.

Best time to visit Niagara Falls

Niagara Falls is a nice place to visit any month of the year. However, each season has its own advantages and the best time to visit Niagara Falls depends on what you’re after.

Summer

June to August means peak season at Niagara Falls, with more visitors and higher hotel rates. But if you want that ideal weather, summer is the best time to visit. Now, temperatures tend to be in the comfy high 70s (27 °C). Also, all Niagara Falls attractions, including boat tours and Cave of the Wind, are open during this period.

Swarms of people on the boardwalks of Cave of the Winds
Summer at Niagara Falls.

Autumn

With the crowds gone and temperatures ranging in the lower 70s (21 °C), September offers superb conditions for enjoying each perspective of Niagara Falls. Then, suddenly, temperatures abruptly plummet and some of Niagara Falls’ attractions shutter up — October is when boat tours and Cave of the Winds close for the season. On the upside, the trees framing Niagara Gorge show their brilliant fall colors now.

Winter

December to February is low season, meaning this is the time to score a sweet deal on accommodations. But make sure to bring your favorite coat; weather is freezing and blizzards are not uncommon at Niagara Falls. Expect a beautiful visit although not as much time in the outdoors as a visit in summer would bring.

Spring

Niagara Falls goes from frosty to outright pleasant in spring. March is too cold for boat tours and Cave of the Winds, which begin to operate for the season in April. Hitting a sweet spot with nice weather and manageable crowds, May sees daily temperatures hover around the high 60°F (21 °C).

Niagara Falls during winter
Winter shows a different side of the falls.

Where to stay at Niagara Falls

You have two main options for where to stay at Niagara Falls: the US or Canadian side. While there are convenient hotels on both sides, the perspectives on offer are significantly different.

The Canadian side provides those iconic panoramic views capturing the entire trio of Horseshoe Falls, American Falls and Bridal Veil Falls. On the Canadian side, any spot along Niagara River is breathtaking.

For a close up, the Horseshoe Falls’ signature bend means that you can view its cascading water more directly in front of you from Canada than the US.

On the other hand, you get the most intimate views of the American Falls and Bridal Veil Falls on the US side. But keep in mind that the overlooks here are side based, in contrast to the Canadian head-on perspective.

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Hotels offering Niagara Falls fallsview

There are several Niagara Falls fallsview hotels on the Canadian side of the falls. When you visit Niagara Falls, enjoying the power of the falls from the comfort of your hotel room is the icing on the cake.

Here, from north to south, are the hotels offering the closest Niagara Falls fallsview.

More places to visit near Niagara Falls

Niagara-on-the-Lake is often mentioned as one of the prettiest small towns in North America. Embrace well-preserved 19th century Victorian-style buildings with impeccable gardens and pretty tree-lined streets.

Here, where Niagara River flows into Lake Ontario, the pace is slow and the scale small, making for a lovely complement to a trip to Niagara Falls.

But this small town has so much more to offer than just good looks and a pleasant vibe. Niagara-on-the-Lake origins back to 1781 and was once the first capital city of the region Upper Canada.

During the War of 1812, important events took place here. Visit Niagara River-facing Fort George for a good dose of history.

And if you like wine, you really hit jackpot. The climate here is ideal for grape growing, and Niagara-on-the-Lake is literally surrounded by inviting vineyards and wineries.

People exploring downtown Niagara-on-the-Lake
Step into Niagara-on-the-Lake.

Visiting Niagara Falls FAQ

How many days do you need to see Niagara Falls?

Hypothetically, you can tick off Niagara Falls in 15 minutes. That’s how long it takes to park your car at Table Rock Welcome Center, walk to the edge of Niagara Gorge, take that mandatory picture and then get back to the vehicle again.

But that’s far from the most rewarding approach. Niagara Falls is a world wonder, which deserves and can entertain you for at least a full day. Allow time for the awe-inspiring overlooks on both the US and Canada sides, a memorable boat tour and, for other perspectives, Cave of the Winds and Journey Behind the Falls. Add to that the after-dark fireworks and illuminations.

What time of the year is Niagara Falls open?

Niagara Falls is open for visitors 24 hours a day every day of the year. However, some attractions, such as boat tours and Cave of the Winds, are closed during the colder months of the year, typically from October to April.

Is visiting Niagara Falls free?

Gawking at the majestic Niagara Falls is completely free. This includes taking in the falls from the overlooks as well as enjoying the popular light shows and fireworks. Other experiences, including boat tours, Cave of the Winds and the Journey Behind The Falls, require fees.

When is the best time to go to Niagara Falls?

Niagara Falls is a year-round attraction, and each season is beautiful at the breathtaking falls. Some experiences, such as boat tours and Cave of the Winds, are closed during the off season. On the other hand, these colder months mean more manageable crowds and lower hotel rates than during Niagara’s fully operational summer.

Are there any beaches near Niagara Falls?

Both Lake Ontario and Lake Erie offer several stunning lake beaches. From Niagara Falls, it’s 24 km to Lakeside Park Beach in St. Catharines, on Lake Ontario, and 31 km to Crystal Beach in Fort Erie, on Lake Erie.

Related: Also check our comprehensive list of the best things to do in the USA. Do you think Niagara Falls is there?

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