Niagara Falls Guide

Niagara Fall, Canada, USA

Niagara Falls, viewed from Ontario, Canada. American Falls, Bridal Veil Falls and New York state are on the left, Goat Island in the middle and Horseshoe Falls on the right. Photo by MamaGeek

Visiting Niagara Falls

Also known as Les Chutes du Niagara by French Canadians, these massively wide falls on the Niagara River link the the Canadian province of Ontario with the American state of New York, on North America’s upper east side.

The falls were formed some 10, 000 years ago, remaining unblemished until the 1800s when they first became a battleground for competing recreational, commercial and industrial use.

Sad to say, by the beginning of this century cheap and nasty development was the victor with the hinterland on both sides of the falls scarred by tacky offerings and sprawling urbanisation, most recently in Canada.

The by-line of the Niagara Falls Tourism official website ‘One Wonder After Another‘ should really be ‘One wonders about the modern world‘.

Niagara Falls seen from the Canadian side, Ontario. Canada

The Falls seen from the Canadian side, Ontario. Photo by Ujjwal Kumar.

Niagara Falls today

Even just 40 years ago the majesty of the ‘falls were fairly unsullied and most visitors just wanted to admire one of Nature’s most awesome sights (if they weren’t on honeymoon). But a couple of decades later ‘modern’ commercial development, aimed at the mass tourist market, took root on the American side and over the last ten years the Canadians have followed suit.

The result is a grotesque contrast of ‘Beauty and the Beast’ – the magnificence of the falls and their immediate surroundings set against a ghastly backdrop of high rise hotels, amusement park attractions, shops hawking tatty souvenirs and chain eateries.

Niagara Attractions

Niagara Falls, Canadian side, near Toronto, Canada

The Maid of the Mist approaching Horseshoe Falls. Photo by Bosintang.

Mercifully set a little back from the banks of the Niagara River is the Clifton Hill Tourist District, built around a ‘street of fun’, boasting a range of so called delights from a Guinness World Records venue through The Haunted house to Bronto’s Adventure Playland.

Nearby, the IMAX has the ultimate Niagara Falls Movie Experience ‘Legends and Daredevils’, Bird Kingdom promises a tropical paradise and Souvenir City competes with many other outlets selling the tackiest of gifts.

The Skylon Tower, admittedly worth the pay-to-ride view, claims to have world famous Fallsview Dining at its top but the midday and evening food offerings are plugged on the basis of all you can eat buffets and, unsurprisingly, the basement is an amusement arcade.

The whole system is driven inexorably by multiple discount coupons that are widely available. Nowadays it is clearly not enough to let nature do its own thing. ‘Tack ’em high’ is the name of the game.

The Canadian side of Niagara Falls, Belvedere

American Falls and New York state seen from Canada’s Skylon Tower.

To be fair, the falls themselves are magnificent and the views splendid. However, construction of several tall buildings nearby has changed the direction of the airflow over the falls, often causing the viewing areas on the Canadian side to be veiled by mist – as I approached Table Rock on a recent visit I mistakenly thought it had begun to rain.

Happily, the borders of the Niagara River are relatively untouched and there are some agreeable vestiges of the past. The original hydro power buildings (dating back to 1906, for instance) were made to last and their serious, classic lines fit in quite well with the imposing flow of water behind – it’s just a pity that they are so run down.

walking up misted stairways at Niagara Falls, Canada

Traditional Niagara exercise, departing from the Maid of the Mist.

Going over the top

Many people, by accident, for thrills or for financial gain have gone over the falls, mostly in barrels.
The first recorded jump (and survival) was in 1829, while the first barrel job was by 63 year-old Annie Taylor in 1901. Since then many have followed in their soggy footsteps, and many have died or been seriously injured in the process. It is illegal to deliberately go over the falls.

Niagara Falls weather

Frozen Falls. Photo by DeRahier.

The coldest months in Niagara Falls are November – March, when temperatures are generally between -6 and 4°C (21 and 39°F). June, July and August are warm, with temperatures running from 15°C (59°F) to 25°C (77°F). Visitors close to the falls can get wet from the mist if the wind is blowing in the wrong direction so prepare to wear rain gear if necessary.

Where are the Falls?

The falls are 17 miles (27 km) north of Buffalo, New York and 75 miles (120 km) southeast of Toronto, Ontario, between the twin cities of Niagara Falls, Ontario, and Niagara Falls, New York.

If you are a citizen of the USA, you will not need a passport to enter Canada but should carry convincing ID such as your Green Card.

Top tip – always check the exchange rate and pay in the better value currency. When I visited the Canadians were gladly accepting American dollars on a 1: 1 basis although the actual rate was 0. 80 : 1.

Comments from American visitors about Niagara Falls

“Bucket list? More like bucket of s***! ”

“We were underwhelmed. It looked nothing like the photos. The falls were full of litter and in every direction there were neon lights and overpriced burgers. ”

“There is nothing beautiful about these falls. Big grey walls sourrounding the area. Ugly hotels are built next to it. ”

“Lame and boring. The place was packed with foreigners who always walked into our pictures in the middle of taking them. “