How to spend 48 hours in Niagara Falls
Niagara Falls is the most obvious weekend getaway from Toronto, but also the one that's easiest to get wrong. There are hundreds of tourist traps spread around the Queen of the Cataracts, most of which should be avoided. Taking in a bit of kitsch is almost requisite, but there's little need to blow a ton of cash at Clifton Hill if you know what you're doing.
Here's how to spend 48 hours in Niagara Falls.
You don't need to spend a fortune on a falls view suite to enjoy Niagara. The most economical bet is to stay at one of the better maintained motels in the city. On the basis of numerous visits, I can recommend the King's Inn and the Advance Inn as solid budget accommodations. If you're looking for a bit more luxury, the Sterling Inn is the way to go.
Presumably the whole reason that you've come to Niagara in the first place is to see the Falls, so why wait to make the trip? To shake things up a little bit, make a point of seeing the Tesla monument in Queen Victoria Park as part of your visit. It's often overlooked, but Niagara Falls is the birthplace of hydroelectric power.
The restaurant options in Niagara Falls are pretty terrible, to be honest. If you're staying in the city for dinner, you best choose your destination wisely. Carpaccio on Lundy's Lane tends to get good reviews, but my standby is the more rustic Italian option in the form of Napoli, which is located right at the corner of Stanley Avenue and Ferry Street.
It's quite close to the action on Clifton Hill, but unlike most of the crappy corporate spots, here you'll find surprisingly good pizza and pasta and a decent wine list that's split between Italian and local offerings. Service can be brisk and the room ain't fancy, but the food is some of the best in the city.
You're not going to escape Niagara Falls without doing some touristy things. If you're not into a trip to the casino, take a ride on the SkyWheel after dinner when the Falls are illuminated and the last light is just fading below the horizon. There will be a bit of a wait, but the view is worth it.
This might be the kitchiest place in all of Niagara Falls, but it's always packed for a reason. The food here is surprisingly good for a diner that's shaped like a UFO. If you're feeling adventurous and very hungry, try the E.T. special, which includes three eggs, two pancakes, eggs, bacon and sausage, home fries and toast. It's enormous.
One of the reasons why Niagara is so pretty is its exceptional parks system, and exploring this attraction is far better than playing mini golf on Clifton Hill. Located on the Niagara Parkway towards Niagara-on-the-Lake, the Botanical Gardens is home to the Butterfly Conservatory, which is certainly kid-friendly but also provides a nice break from the sun during the summer.
Continue along the Niagara Parkway north to Niagara-on-the-Lake, making sure to stop at the lookout over the Sir Adam Beck Generating Station II, which is a marvel of concrete that hides the profound amount of energy created here. The drive along the river is a dream on a sunny day, and you'll encounter numerous fruit and vegetable stands that are worth stopping at.
Once in town, park close to the water's edge so that you can check out Queen's Royal Park, which looks out across Lake Ontario to Toronto. Here you can see the effects of the Earth's curvature as the Rogers Centre appears partially cut-off, sitting as it does under the horizon.
The dining options in Niagara-on-the-Lake are a hell of a lot better than in Niagara Falls, but there's still places that you should avoid. For a simple and quick lunch, head to The Epicurean and grab a sandwich and salad to eat on their back patio, which is sheltered from the bustle of the street. For a sit-down lunch, try Bistro Six One.
Now that you're in Niagara-on-the-Lake with a full stomach, it's time to try some wine. Some of my favourites would be Stratus (which consistently pushes the boundaries of what Niagara wine should be), Nomad (which makes an excellent white wine from Cabernet Franc grapes), and Strewn (which has a lovely property on Lakeshore Rd.). Big Head is a newer option to try for area veterans.
After spending the afternoon tasting wine, it's nice to be able to settle in somewhere and relax. Soak up the full spirit of wine country by eating at Ravine Vineyard, which is a true farm-to-table restaurant located at the winery. The setting is gorgeous, the food is superb, and the wine just tastes better when you drink it on-site.
Head back to the Falls post-diner for a little gambling indulgence. You don't need to hit the casino to enjoy a getaway to Niagara Falls, but the spectacle of it all is worth taking in if you've never seen it. The scale isn't on par with Vegas, but it blows away a place like Casino Rama. Put a limit on what you'll wager, and you won't ruin the rest of the vacation when you blow it all.
Most people head to the Falls and turn back, but a trip along the scenic Niagara Parkway to the little hamlet of Chippawa is worth it. Fortunately, you can pair your visit with breakfast at Abby's, which serves up classic fare in an unpretentious setting away from all activity near the Falls.
Continue your way on the Niagara River all the way to Lake Erie, where one of Ontario's best beaches is located. The water is wonderfully warm and shallow here, and the beach scene is as vibrant as can be. By showing up before noon, you're still likely to get a decent spot, but there's no guarantees later in the afternoon.
For a little throwback to the old days of Niagara tourism, take a trip above the Whirlpool in the Aero Car, which dates back to 1913. You enjoy breathtaking views from the vintage contraption, which perhaps surprisingly boasts a perfect safety record.
Nix a trip to Tim Horton's on the way home from Niagara Falls with a stop in the pretty little lakeside community of Port Dalhousie, which has a Balzac's coffee shop where you can get caffeinated to brave the trip back to the big city along the QEW. It's a remarkably tranquil place with waterfront views of Toronto in the distance.
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