There are always high expectations when visiting a famous destination like Niagara Falls. Your hope is that the reality will live up to the hype and that you will leave with memories that will last forever. I honestly believe that visiting Niagara Falls is one of these bucket list destinations that truly delivers on its promise. I also believe that visiting Niagara Falls is better in Canada, (and not just because I’m Canadian).
Why Visiting Niagara Falls is Better in Canada
First off, this isn’t just my opinion. Most tourists, including many Americans will agree that visiting Niagara Falls from the Canadian side of the border is just better. Here are 8 reasons why.
1. Pretty Parkland
To begin with, the area near the Falls in Canada is pretty parkland filled with gardens and walkways that provide picturesque surroundings that frame the natural wonder of the Falls.
Everywhere you look there are seasonal flowers in bloom in well-tended gardens and with occasional whimsical touches that you can only find on the Canadian side.
Yes, there is a kitschy side, too, with Clifton Hill’s tourist attractions and souvenir shops, but if you just want to see the beauty of the Falls, you can avoid the schlock and enjoy what is simply a beautiful park.
TIP: For a special treat, visit the Falls in the spring, when the magnolias and lilacs are in bloom. You can walk under a canopy of pink on the pathways near the Floral Showhouse just upstream from the Falls.
2. Superior Vantage Point
The second reason why visiting Niagara Falls is better in Canada is quite simply that the view of Niagara Falls from the Canadian side is better. Visitors can see all 3 of the cascades that collectively make up Niagara Falls (the spectacular arc of Horseshoe Falls, the linear American Falls and smaller Bridal Veil Falls to its right).
Plus there are some unique viewing locations that only Canada has…
3. You Can See Niagara Falls from Above at Table Rock Welcome Centre
We don’t just offer one way to see Horseshoe Falls, the most spectacular of the trio of falls that makes up Niagara Falls (and let’s face it, the one that everyone considers to BE Niagara Falls.) Visitors to the Canadian side can see the Falls a number of different ways, so let’s start with the top – literally.
Short of actually being IN the water, the closest you can get to the top edge of Niagara Falls is at the Table Rock Welcome Centre and the viewing area located right above the brink of Horseshoe Falls.
Staring down as 75,000 gallons of blue-green water thunders over a rocky ledge and plunges 156 metres into a sea of mist below is nothing short of mesmerizing. And it’s all happening right below where you are standing, making you grateful for the stone wall and railing that prevents you from taking one step too many! While there are many places along the river that can give you great views of the Falls, only this viewpoint gets you this close to edge. (And it’s only in Canada!)
TIP: The Table Rock welcome centre has a newly-renovated upscale restaurant that offers a great locally-sourced menu and one of the best views of the “brink” to go along with your drink.
4. You Can See Niagara Falls From Beside and Behind at Journey Behind the Falls
You’ll definitely want to add Journey Behind the Falls to your must-do activities when visiting Niagara Falls, because this experience takes you both beside AND behind Horseshoe Falls. An elevator in the Welcome Centre takes you down 12 stories or so and gives you access to tunnels that were carved into the rock more than 130 years ago. One branch of these tunnels takes you to two portals that are directly behind the Falls where you can stand a few meters away from the opening as an impressive wall of water smashes – and occasionally splashes – down right in front of you.
But I think it’s the 2-level observation deck beside the Falls that is the more impressive viewpoint, because you can actually see more of Horseshoe Falls from this platform. Emerging from the tunnel, the massive cascade is immediately to your right, and you get a pretty spectacular perspective of this tumbling deluge of water.
TIP: Niagara Parks offers morning yoga classes on this platform on summer weekends with a brunch to follow that is included in the price. This Namaste Niagara yoga experience is a one-of-a-kind experience and one that even yoga newbies like myself can do. (Read more here.)
5. You Can See Niagara Falls From Below on a Hornblower Cruise
You’ve seen it from above, behind and beside, now it’s time to see Niagara Falls from below and get right #inthemist with a Hornblower Cruise.
Once again, Canada does it up right with a water’s edge experience all its own: it starts with a funicular ride that gives you another great view of the falls before bringing you down to the Riverside Patio, a licensed outdoor cafe right on the water’s edge.
Before or after their cruise, visitors can enjoy a casual bite or a grown-up drink at this one-of-a-kind location with a front-row view of the American Falls as a bonus.
Once on board the Hornblower boat there’s music and a licensed bar, but the real thrill is being on deck as the boat powers upstream past the American and Bridal Veil Falls en route to the main attraction: the base of Horseshoe Falls. You can really appreciate the force of all that water as the boat pushes against the powerful current bringing you into the midst of the mist.
TIP: Getting this close to the falls means you WILL get wet from all that spray and mist, but the cruise includes a recyclable poncho that will keep most of you dry, if not all. Better wear waterproof mascara, though!
6. Only Hornblower Does a Falls Fireworks Cruise
For an even more magical experience, only Canada’s Hornblower cruises offer a Falls Fireworks Cruise which gives you the best of both worlds: a nightime cruise up to the base of the Falls followed by a water-level view of the Niagara Parks nightly fireworks show, the longest running fireworks series in Canada. Not only do you see the American and Horseshoe Falls lit up at night, but you top it off with a show that lights up the sky, too.
TIP: A Hornblower cruise may give you the most exclusive seat in town for an up-close view of the fireworks, but another great vantage point to see the fireworks in Niagara Falls (especially for photography) is from the middle of the Rainbow Bridge. You can access the pedestrian walkway on the bridge from either the U.S. or the Canadian side, but be sure to bring your passport because you will need to clear customs on your return.
7. The Niagara Gorge’s White Water Walk
Visiting Niagara Falls isn’t just about seeing the Falls, although they are definitely the showstopper. The Niagara River gorge is spectacular in its own right and is home to a series of Class 6 white-water rapids, considered to be ‘unrunnable’ because of the sheer force and erratic flow of the water.
While you wouldn’t want to be on or in this river, you can get right up next to it on the White Water Walk, a boardwalk attraction that runs alongside the Canadian side of the river a few kilometers downriver from the Falls.
The boardwalk is part nature trail, part geology tour, with information plaques along the walkway that explain how the Gorge was formed, facts about the river’s speed and depth plus guides to the flora and fauna of the area. (It’s also a beautiful place to be on a warm summer morning with a leafy canopy above you and cool air coming off the river.)
But it’s the power of that massive volume of water rushing right beside you at speed that will truly impress. Waves can get as high as 5 meters with huge crests of water that collide and smash into each other, falling back onto themselves and sending sprays of water high into the air.
The dramatic process repeats itself again and again, but is never the same twice. Trying to capture the scale and power of this in photos or even videos just does not compare to actually being there, which is why the White Water Walk is a must-do in my eyes if you are visiting Niagara Falls.
TIP: Take some time to read the information about Niagara Falls’ Daredevils at the start of the White Water Walk. There are some interesting tidbits here like the story about tightrope walker Jean Francois Gravelet ‘Blondin’ who walked out onto a rope carrying an iron cookstove, set it up and proceeded to cook and eat an omelet!
(Oh, and by the way, no daredevils ever threw themselves over the American Falls, only the Canadian ones…just sayin’.)
8. The Whirlpool Aerocar
If you need further evidence of the power of the Niagara River, (or why visiting Niagara Falls is better in Canada), head to the Niagara Whirlpool a little farther downstream. Here, the river takes a 90-degree turn resulting in a rapid change of direction that causes a turbulent swirling of the waters.
All that force has formed a circular basin that is 125 feet deep where the trapped river twists and turns before continuing on its way. And the best way to see it all is to take a ride on the Whirlpool Aerocar.
Once known as the Spanish Aerocar (because it was built by a Spanish engineer), the Whirlpool Aerocar is a suspended tram that runs on a cable system connecting two sides of the Niagara Gorge. The tram travels 550 meters to Thompson’s Point on the other side, passing over the Whirlpool Rapids and giving you a birds-eye view of both the circular basin and the river running in and out of it.
The ride is short but worth it, since you get a unique view of this natural phenomenon. (Our visit coincided with the arrival of a Whirlpool Jet boat so we got a birds-eye view of that, too!)
TIP: Although it looks like the cable car crosses over to the U.S., the bend in the river means both sides of the cable car are actually still in Canada, so the Aerocar is an all-Canadian attraction!
Amazing No Matter How You See Niagara Falls
All border-bragging and kidding aside, I believe that visiting Niagara Falls lives up to its promise as a bucket list destination, and it’s one that we Canadians are happy to share with our neighbours to the south. The natural beauty and power of the Falls and the Niagara River that feeds them are what makes this a place we would recommend everyone see if they have the chance.
(Just do it from the Canadian side, eh?)
TIP: If you are planning on visiting Niagara Falls, Ontario, definitely look into the Niagara Parks Adventure Pass which gives you a great combo price on Journey Behind the Falls, the White Water Walk, Whirlpool Aerocar, and many more attractions.
Special thanks to Niagara Parks and Hornblower Cruises who hosted Henk and I on our Niagara Falls grownup getaway!
Jane Canapini is a member of the Travel Media Association of Canada and the North American Travel Journalists Association. She established GrownupTravels.com in 2014 to share information and tips based on personal experience so her readers could get the most out of their travels.