Niagara Falls straddles the Niagara River, and has lots to see and do on the New York (US) side and on the Ontario (Canadian) side. Each side is not just the city of "a Falls" but a whole region.
In Canada it extends west through a wine-making paradise, the Welland Canal and St Catharines to Hamilton, and collectively called the "Niagara Region". On the New York side, it encompasses Youngstown on Lake Ontario, to Lockport on the Erie Canal, and Buffalo on Lake Erie and this area is called the "Niagara Frontier," harkening back to before the War of 1812 when it was the limits of European settlement and civilization.
WE ARE NOT PAID BY ANY GOVERNMENT, so we are not beholden to one side of the river/border or the other. But we figure if you start in Canada, you are going to visit that side first, and if you are arrving on the US side, you'll cover that side first. Some features are similar on both sides, and some are quite different.
Here are some quick suggestions for visitors with limited time in the city & region: The schedule is only a suggestion -- you may have more fun, or wish to take more time than mentioned below.
To capture the essence of Niagara Falls, here are suggestions for your first day (especially if its your only day).
Start your day walking along the Niagara River as it approaches the Falls from upstream (on the Canadian side, start at Dufferin Island and work your way north, on the American side, walk along Goat Island)
Head underneath and behind the Falls (on the Canadian side, take the Table Rock Tour, on the American side go to Cave of the Winds, also on Goat Island)
Head up an observation tower, to get an overview of the landscape around the Falls (on the Canadian side, there's the Skylon and the newer Konica Minolta, on the US side there's the Observation Tower beside the Maid of the Mist)
Head toward the Rainbow Bridge and take a Maid of the Mist Tour to get a view of the Falls from below. Tours leave every 20 minutes from both the US and Canadian side, and return you to your point of origin.
Head north to The Whirlpool, where you can take the Aero Car Tram across the river and get a bird's eye view of this swirling mass of water caused by a sharp right bend in the Niagara River
Head back toward the Falls and enjoy the many sights, sounds, and attractions around the city of Niagara Falls.
After dark, head back to see the Falls lit each night until midnight. During the summer there may also be witness to spectacular fireworks on special evenings.
To capture the essence of this city, here are suggestions for your second day in Niagara Falls. This day will help you capture the sense of history of the area. If you are on the Canadian side, you should consider getting a ticket on the Falls Shuttle, which covers most of these attractions without needing to worry about parking.
Head north to Niagara on the Lake, and take in the point where the Niagara enters Lake Ontario. This point is guarded by Fort George which was a busy spot during the War of 1812, and the town is one of the prettiest around and is home to the famous Shaw Festival. On the American side of the river is Fort Niagara State Park, and the American's Fort Niagara. You can almost imaging them lobbing cannonballs at each other 200 years ago.
South about a mile is McFarland House historical site, and across the parkway is the Pailey Vineyard (those over 19 years of age may take in a sample).
There are several more wineries along the Parkway going south, including Reif Estate, Inniskillin (renowed worldwide for its ice wines), and Riverview. Across the river, on the New York side is Joseph Davis State Park, and to its south the Stella Niagara Seminary (in the distance, to the east, you may also see the Our Lady of Fatima Shrine)
As you approach the Escarpment, on the Ontario side, you see the Vrooman's Battery Monument, marking the point where British/Canadian forces bombarded American forces attempting to cross from Lewiston during the Battle of Queenston Heights.
The town of Queenston, entirely below the escarpment as several historical sites, including the Laura Secord House, the Riverbrink Gallery and the Mackenzie House
Here you can also catch the Whirlpool Jetboat tours up the Niagara. On the New York side, you catch them at the Water Street pier.
On the US side, there is the Artpark and ampitheatre just south of the town of Lewiston.
Heading up the Escarpment at this point, you see the Brock Monument marking the British general's death at the Battle of Queenston Heights in the War of 1812.
After you pass the Queenston-Lewiston Bridge, take in a tour of the hydro generating facilities, Sir Adam Beck on the Ontario side and the Niagara Power facility on the New York side. Some new restrictions apply since 9-11, including that visitors may not bring bags or purses.
On the Ontario side, take in the Botanical Gardens and the Butterfly Conservatory. Now you are back on familiar ground, covered by Day One, up to the Falls. If you are on the American side, cross over at the Rainbow Bridge to Canada to continue this itinerary
Above the Falls, you can visit Marineland Aquarium (this can take half a day by itself)
When you cross the Welland River, keep in mind it no longer flows into the Niagara River but flows west, filling the Queenston-Chippawa power channel for the hydro generators north of the city.
In the river's Chippawa Channel, you will see Goat Island and on this shore the Battle of Chippawa Monument, as well as the famed Legends of the Niagara golf course. The far shore is the large Grand Island which is American by virtue of the fact that the Niagara River runs deepest on the west side of it.
As the Parkway starts to curve back eastward you pass Black Creek a popular recreational waterway. If you have small children, head SW on Netherby Rd and follow the signs to Zooz, a popular zoo & petting farm.
You can now scoot for several miles/kilometres to Fort Erie, with its view of Buffalo across the International Peace Bridge, and the historic Fort Erie on the shores of Lake Erie.
You can also take in the Fort Erie Railroad Museum and the Fort Erie Race Track, host to one leg of the "Canadian Triple Crown".
If you have some time on your hands, and are not in a rush to get back, you can head west to Crystal Beach, with its several south-facing beaches on Lake Erie, popular with swimmers, sailor and windsurfers.
If you are visiting for a longer period, there are a number of destinations worth visiting (each about a day, including driving):
Take the Lake Ontario scenic route to St Catharines, its Lock 3 Viewpoint of the Welland Canal, its charming downtown shopping & restaurant district and its Port Dalhousie historical district around Martindale's Pond, the original terminus of the Welland Canal.
Head to Port Colborne and Welland to see the upper portion of the Welland Canal, while enjoying the wide open expanses of the Upper Niagara Penninsula. As you head north to Thorld, you get a great view of Lake Ontario and even Toronto from the top of the Escarpment.
Head east from Tonawanda to Lockport, New York, and take in the history of the Erie Canal, which had a similar transforming effect on the Niagara Frontier on the American side, by connecting the rapidly expanding American Interior and Great Lakes to the Atlantic via the Hudson River New York City, where America's agriculture, mined resources, and manufactured goods are traded with Europe.
Take a winery tour of the over 30 wineries in the Niagara Region. You can do this self-guided or take one of the many guided tour buses.
Those visiting several of these ONTARIO attrations should consider getting the Niagara Falls & Great Gorge Adventure Pass
which saves money on admisstion tickets to Niagara's most popular attractions – Niagara's Fury: The Creation of the Falls, Journey Behind the Falls, Hornblower Niagara Cruises and the White Water Walk, plus 2-days unlimited travel on the step-on, step-off "People Mover" bus and the Falls Incline Railway.
The Adventure Pass tickets can be used unlimited days from mid-April until lage October.
2018 Rates: Adults (13+ yrs) $65 ("classic" or "nature") or $110 ("plus"), Children (6-12 yrs) $43 ("classic" or "nature") or $79("plus"). Kids 5 and under get in free! Contact Niagara Parks Information 1-877-642-7275 for details.
Niagara Falls USA Discovery Pass (716-278-1796) offers all-day tranportation and a 20% discount on 8 major attractions on the UNEW YORK side including:
Cave of the Winds
Prospect Point Observation Tower
Niagara Falls Aquarium
Niagara Scenic Trolley
Old Fort Niagara
Historic Wax Museum