In 1860, thousands watched as Charles Blondin walked a tightrope across Niagara Falls for the third time. Midway, he paused to cook an omelette on a portable grill, and then had a marksman shoot a hole through his hat from the Maid of the Mist boat, fifty metres below. As attested by Blondin - and the innumerable lunatics and publicity seekers who have gone over the falls in every craft imaginable - the falls simply can't be beat as a theatrical setting. Yet, in truth, the stupendous first impression doesn't last long and to prevent the twelve million visitors who arrive each year from getting bored by the sight of a load of water crashing over a 52-metre cliff, the Niagarans have ensured that the falls can be seen from every angle imaginable – from boats, viewing towers, helicopters, cable cars and even tunnels in the rock face behind the cascade. The tunnels and the boats are the most exciting, with the entrance to the former right next to the falls and the latter leaving from the bottom of the cliff at the end of Clifton Hill, 1100m downriver. Both give a real sense of the extraordinary force of the waterfall, a perpetual white-crested thundering pile-up that had Mahler bawling "At last, fortissimo" over the din.
Trains and buses from Toronto and most of southern Ontario's larger towns serve the town of NIAGARA FALLS, 3km to the north of the action. The availability of discount excursion fares makes a day-trip a straightforward proposition, although, if you do decide to spend the night, quaint Niagara-on-the-Lake, 26km downstream beside Lake Ontario, is a much better option than the crassly commercialized town of Niagara Falls itself. The problem is that hundreds of people agree, the result being that accommodation there can get mighty tight in high season, when you'd be well advised to book up a couple of days in advance. Both the Niagara Parkway road and the Niagara River Recreation Trail, a jogging and cycle path, stretch the length of the Niagara River from Fort Erie, 32km upstream from the falls, to Niagara-on-the-Lake.
Monstrous Water Conduit Niagara Falls, Ontario: Pop. 79,000. Or should that be 18 million plus 79,000? That's approximately the number of visitors the region gets each year, as they come by plane, train, boat, bus, automobile and sometimes by foot to get a glimpse of what has been called one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World.
Known simply as the Falls , with the Horseshoe on the Canadian side and the American and Bridal Veil on the U.S. side, these raging cataracts serve as the conduit for shifting water from the four Upper Great Lakes to Lake Ontario and eventually out to the ocean. That's an awful lot of water, as the Great Lakes hold about 20 percent of the world's fresh supply of the precious liquid. The 2,600-foot wide Horseshoe Falls, for example, blast 600,000 gallons per second down their 170-foot face.
Yet, this amazing flow of water (or part of it) has come to a standstill on at least two occasions—once accidentally and once on purpose. On March 30, 1848, an ice jam in the upper river caused the Falls to slow to a trickle for several hours. People actually went out and pulled artifacts from the riverbed. In 1969, the American Falls were deliberately blocked by engineers to see if they could remove some of the rocks at their base but the project was abandoned as too expensive.
More Power to It The Falls aren't just a tourist attraction—it is also the engine for one of the world's greatest generators of hydroelectric power with a combined 4.4 million kilowatts shared by the U.S. and Canada. As an offshoot of this water diversion, the annual erosion rate for the Falls—at one point about one meter a year—has been reduced to three centimeters.
With the late 19th-century Industrial Revolution, this cheap source of electricity brought many industries and manufacturing plants to the region, especially in the Chippawa and Fort Erie areas south of Niagara Falls. It also opened up transportation routes both by land and by sea with the construction of the first Welland Canal in Canada and the Erie Barge Canal in the U.S.
The city of Niagara Falls itself has undergone many changes and facelifts through the years: from being the site of the Seventh Wonder and the Honeymoon Capital to being the present day all-season family vacation destination featuring Marineland and the immensely popular Casino Niagara with 100,000 square feet of gaming space! It is thus a city that rejuvenates itself with almost constant renovation and revitalization, while at the same time respecting the traditions that got it to this point.
Waxing romantic One of the Niagara Falls' traditions is the Clifton Hill area where brand-new luxury hotels vie for space with gaudily-coloured, neon-lit honeymoon motels. Couples step into dark funhouses such as Screamers and NIGHTMARES Fear Factory to see who flinches first. Another tradition is the line up of off-the-wall museums such as Ripley's Believe It Or Not! , Louis Tussaud's Waxworks and Guinness World Of Records that continue to draw the curious.
But any accusations of tackiness are quickly dispelled once you get out into the surrounding countryside. It's no surprise that the first explorers who saw this region thought they'd discovered a new Eden, what with the relatively warm, rich, lush, verdant landscape anchored by those roaring waters!
Today, you'll find fruit trees and vineyards and sun-dappled winding country roads along the river. Jogging and biking paths stretch all the way up to Georgian Bay to the north. Tucked-away bed & breakfasts bear antique furnishings and welcoming hosts. Historical museums and period homes are in mint condition. Not to mention the incredibly beautiful Niagara-on-the-Lake that is at the end of it all. If Niagara Falls is all hustle and bustle and humming tourism, this town seems frozen in a Victorian-era time warp, complete with the Shaw Festival with its world-class theatrical tribute to the era of George Bernard Shaw, with the addition of Jacuzzi suites, of course!
Mist Gets in Their Eyes So, while the Falls serve as the obvious focal point in this city straddling the U.S. border, the real secret to this area's success as a resort destination lies in its ability to be all things to all people. Golfers, sailors, fisher folk, campers, hikers, bikers, park and garden aficionados, business travellers, tourists from across the sea, thrill-seekers, wine lovers, history and art buffs, those who enjoy the quiet and reserved and those who revel in loud and tacky—they all meet here in tolerance, bonhomie and misty-eyed wonder.
Okay, okay. So maybe the mist comes from the Falls! But it only goes to show that you can't escape its influence, no matter what your reason for coming here. Maybe those negative ions from the falling water will rub off on all of us so that we, too, will become more tolerant and full of wonder.
Award winners and more From award winner to your basic family eatery, chain to mom-and-pop operation, big theme or just big portions, with a view or hole in the wall, Niagara Falls, Ontario, has a restaurant to suit your taste and wallet.
If money is no object, treat yourself to a meal prepared by an award winning restaurant team. Michael Heeb, executive chef of Mulberry's Dining Room in the Renaissance Fallsview Hotel , took home the silver medal at the World Culinary Olympics in Germany, competing grill to grill with chefs from around the globe. Now he's sharing those dishes with both hotel guests and anyone else who cares to have a taste.
On top of Clifton Hill sits the Beef Baron Restaurant , an impressive joint that has won Family Restaurant of the Year honors three times. Go west to the nearby town of Jordan where you will find On the Twenty Restaurant , part of the Inn on the Twenty complex. The decor includes work by local artists and the menu features local produce and from-scratch entrees. It's no wonder it is a Distinguished Restaurant of North America award winner.
For the good of the family If you are traveling with the family or simply trying to pinch a few pennies, there's always the search for places where you can take yourself or the crew for good grub at an affordable price. Niagara Falls has plenty, including Victoria Park Restaurant (where Princess Di and the kids ate during their visit), La Fiesta Fish & Chips (English-style), and the Village Restaurant , located in the village of Chippawa, just minutes from Marineland . The Flying Saucer Restaurant is perfect for the family on a budget with its 99-cent breakfast, while Betty's Restaurant is the place to go for the home-cooked meal away from home.
There are other family eateries that will force you to dig a little deeper into your pockets. But what's a tourist destination without one or two theme restaurants, right? Get up close and personal with your favourite celebrity at the Hard Rock Cafe or Planet Hollywood , both located right in the heart of the action next to Casino Niagara . Both spots feature rock music and movie photographs, clothing and other cultural artifacts. But be ready to wait in long lines for the privilege of these close encounters of the starry kind. Oh yes, the food's okay, too.
Seal of authenticity For a break from all-you-can-eat buffets, chain and theme restaurants, try an authentic meal from a varied selection of ethnic cuisines. The chef at Tandoor Hut serves up traditional home cooked Indian food with recipes dating back generations. Yukiguni Japanese Restaurant & Sushi Bar has been rated as having some of the best sushi in Southern Ontario—and that's really saying a lot with all the sushi bars in Toronto. And when that honeymoon hits your eye...you've got to go Italian. Try Delduca's for that avant garde yet personal feel. Or Mama Leone , winner of the coveted Niagara's Best Fine Dining Award.
One of the first things many tourists do after arriving at their vacation destination is to ask the hotel concierge or B&B host where they can find the best restaurants. Truth is, those restaurants are often under your very nose—or at least in the place where you rest your weary head. For example, those staying at the Renaissance Fallsview Hotel can take advantage of its 18th floor Rooftop Fallsview Dining Room , serving an a la carte dinner nightly with delights such as Blackened Swordfish and Pan-Roasted Steelhead Trout.
B&Bs break out the silver Out in the countryside, many bed and breakfast inns are serving more than the traditional sunrise feast. Inside Niagara-on-the-Lake's Pillar and Post Inn can be found the Cannery and Carriages Dining Rooms , a series of three lovely areas to enjoy breakfast, lunch and dinner. Also situated in the prettiest town in Canada is the elegant Escabeche restaurant, featuring classic French cuisine and ambience inside the Victorian-style Prince of Wales Hotel .
A number of restaurants come not only with good food but also with a spectacular view as part of the price of admission. And yes, you do pay a little extra for the privilege. One of the most amazing is the Revolving Dining Room situated at the top of the Skylon Tower , 775 feet above the Niagara River gorge. As the name implies, this restaurant brings a view of the Falls to your seat, revolving once every hour.
Not quite so heady, La Doria Restaurant , located within Days Inn North of The Falls , offers a view of the Niagara Gorge in a garden-like setting. Queenston Heights Restaurant , inside the lovely Queenston Heights Park , which is home to Brock's Monument and the Floral Clock , overlooks the Niagara River.
Dinner and...on with the show Entertainment with your dinner helps the food go down and cleanses the palate for the next round. Niagara Falls has its share of such offerings, including the Niagara Grand Dinner Theatre , where a witty romantic comedy is performed after your grand meal. At Yuk Yuk's Comedy Club , the rule of the house is to chew with your mouth open. Actually, you won't have a choice when you are laughing aloud as the best in upcoming stand-up comics do their thing. The dinner menu features everything from sirloin to finger foods.
And then there's the unforgettably hilarious Oh Canada Eh?! dinner show. Recently celebrating its 1,500th performance, this musical celebration and gentle send-up of all things Canadian has won numerous awards. And there's a delicious five-course meal to boot, served by wait staff dressed as characters from the show.
If the meal is over and the night's still young, enjoy a cocktail or two at one of the local clubs. There are a number of bars both in the downtown area and along Lundy's Lane Road, including Kelsey's Neighborhood Bar & Grill and 007 Bar Restaurant, claiming the best martinis in town—shaken not stirred.
Whether you are a high roller or just like to watch others gamble, Casino Niagara's Marilyn's Lounge, named in honor of none other than La Monroe, and Twenty One Club are sure bets to help end your evening on a high note.
The reason you made the trip Of course, an up-close and personal view of the Falls is the main reason for making this trip. And there are plenty of ways to tour those Thundering Waters, including a Journey Behind The Falls that brings you to the base of the Horseshoe Falls, the Maid of the Mist boat ride, and a Niagara Helicopters tour from above. Beyond the Falls, the Niagara Spanish Aero Car suspends you high above the Whirlpool Rapids in a cable car while the Great Gorge Adventure takes you on a walking tour along the narrowest point of the Niagara River.
Speaking of walking tours, before and after the Falls, the Niagara River is lined with a series of parks and walking trails ranging from Fort Erie to the south all the way to Niagara-on-the-Lake to the north. Taking the Niagara River Recreation Trail , on foot or on bike, you can make your way up what has been called the prettiest Sunday drive in the world—except no cars allowed!
Start with a visit to Dufferin Islands Park , with interlaced walking paths and bridges, and the Niagara Parks Greenhouse, featuring a gift shop and floral displays. Then move on the Table Rock area and Queen Victoria Park with its celebrated rock and rose gardens.
Definitely for the birds From there, it's around the Whirlpool Rapids and the edge of the Whirlpool Golf Course to the Niagara Glen Nature Areas . Here, you'll find the Feather in the Glen Country Store , a bird lover's toy shop, and guided nature walks in season.
A little further up and you're into what some consider the most spectacular areas of the Niagara Parks zone: the Butterfly Conservatory with its ever-changing display of fluttering beauty, and the 100-acre Niagara Parks Botanical Gardens , featuring herb, floral, and rock gardens and even a School of Horticulture whose students tend the gardens.
On the other side of Ontario Hydro's generating stations, you'll find Queenston Heights Park , home of Brock's Monument , a tribute to the British general who lost his life trying to re-capture Queenston during the War of 1812, and the Floral Clock , featuring a design with upwards of 16,000 carpet bedding plants. Queenston also marks the starting point for the Steve Bauer Bike Tours , with trips down scenic back roads past wineries, orchards, and Victorian homes.
Get that fortified feeling Several historic forts are located in the Niagara Falls region, including Historic Fort Erie at the south end and Historic Fort George at the north. Fort Erie, an important military post during the War of 1812, features a guided tour including battle re-enactments. Fort George offers a tour with guides dressed in period clothing and also includes re-creations of key battles during the war. A special treat are Ghost Tours of Fort George , a candlelit journey to the other side during which guides tell of real life experiences with the spirits of people dating back to 1812. It's all in fun, of course, but don't be surprised if you find yourself sleeping with the light on that night!
Historically-minded tourists who've had their appetites whetted by the forts can complete their education with a tour of the numerous historical museums in the area, including the Niagara Historical Society and Museum, Willoughby Historical Museum , The Welland Historical Museum, and Fort Erie Historical Museum.
The Niagara Falls Heritage Week, held in February, celebrates 200 years and more of local history with exhibits and other festivities. Participants include Lundy's Lane Historical Museum , Laura Secord Homestead , and Mackenzie Heritage Printery Museum.
Museums with an edge If you find museum exhibits a touch boring, maybe you should try a whirlwind tour of Clifton Hill's special brand of bizarre museum madness. The Guinness World Of Records Museum stands as a 21st century version of a freak show with exhibits featuring the world's tallest man, shortest woman, longest fingernails, etc. Ripley's Believe It Or Not! Museum features wacky exhibits and interactive displays of work inspired by Robert Ripley.
Would you like to rub elbows with the stars? Movieland Museum of Stars includes the wax form of Cher, Jim Carrey and several other celebrity icons. Louis Tussaud's Waxworks lets you touch your favourite celebrity or hero—or at least their waxed identical twins. Railroad history fans can get a closer look at a historic locomotive at the Fort Erie Railroad Museum while sports buff get to see the entire history of lacrosse at the Ontario Lacrosse Hall of Fame and Museum.
No sour grapes here Ontario produces 80% of wine in Canada with about 15 of those wineries and vineyards located in the countryside between Niagara Falls and Niagara-on-the-Lake. Niagara Wine Tours International takes visitors via bicycle or van, on guided or solo tours of various areas in the wine region. Many wineries offer tours of their vineyards and wine tastings, including Inniskillin Wines, Chateau des Charmes and Reif Estate Winery.
Hillebrand Estates Winery teaches the art of wine tasting with lessons on technique, in addition to a tour of the property. The pièce de resistance is the Niagara Grape and Wine Festival, held each fall. Celebrate the harvest of the grape with a 10-day gala, including live concerts and fine cuisine. For the truly brave, come back in the dead of winter to take part in the numerous ice-wine tours and tastings!
If your feet are getting sore and the temperature is rising, inside and out, take advantage of one of Niagara Falls' many tour companies for an air-conditioned ride in a comfortable bus. Companies such as Niagara Falls Scenic Tours and Double Deck Tours Ltd will whisk you away to the major attractions both in the city and surrounding areas, accompanied by your own narrator or interpreter.
Whichever tour you choose, you can be sure there'll be plenty to see and admire, and plenty of memories to bring back home.