Every second almost three quarters of a million gallons of water explode over the knife-edge Niagara Falls, right on the border with Canada. This awesome spectacle is made even more impressive by the variety of methods laid on to help you get closer to it: boats, catwalks, observation towers, and helicopters all push as near to the curtains of gushing water as they dare. At night, the falls are lit up, and the coloured waters tumble dramatically into blackness, while in winter the whole scene changes as the falls freeze to form gigantic razor-tipped icicles.
Some visitors will, no doubt, find the whole experience a bit too gimmicky; corporate big-hitters like the Hard Rock Café and various casinos on both sides have pushed the place closer to an aquatic Vegas, although the green fringes of the state park provide some bucolic getaways. Don't expect too much from the touristy small city of Niagara Falls, New York, or the more developed tinseltown of Niagara Falls, Ontario. Once you've seen the falls, from as many different angles as you can manage, and traced the Niagara Gorge, you'll have a better time heading back to Buffalo.
It was a very good year The year 1885 was a pivotal year in the life of Niagara Falls, NY, a 16-square-mile city about 25 miles north of Buffalo and on the border between Canada and the U.S. If it weren't for what happened that year, we might not have been able to view the Falls from the U.S. side—at least not without having to pay dearly for the privilege.
Already, by that time, the area around the Falls was being built up with factories, mills, warehouses, taverns, hotels, and other commercial structures. As well, these business people and property owners were blocking access by putting up high fences and other barriers and charging people to see the Falls. And that might have led to the slow death of the town rather than the healthy 55,000-population resort destination it is today.
So, what exactly did happen in 1885? Bowing to pressure from the 'Free Niagara' lobby, led by the famous landscape artist Frederick Law Olmsted, who designed New York City's Central Park, the New York State legislature passed a law creating the 200-acre Niagara Reservation State Park , the first-ever attempt to use public money to preserve natural beauty. The result is what we have today, a zone around the Falls and rapids that is off-limits to commercial development and free to the public, a zone filled with landscaped gardens, parks and woodlands, hiking and biking trails and places for a quiet family picnic.
Cascade and they will come Thanks to these efforts, today's Niagara Falls, incorporated in 1892, is a bustling place with a thriving tourism industry that, with its sister city on the Canadian side, annually attracts between 14 and 18 million people and brings in something like USD1 billion a year in revenue for the region. The proximity of the Falls to the metropolitan areas of New York and Toronto put it within easy reach of more than 100 million people.
At the same time, the cheap electrical power generated by harnessing the Niagara River and Falls attracted numerous industries to the area during the early part of the 20th century. Some of these industries, such as Occidental Chemical, EI Dupont, Nabisco, US Vanadium, and Goodyear, remain, providing work for those in the population who aren't connected to the hospitality and tourism trade. Many industries, however, either shut down in the last 30 years or moved to the suburbs or surrounding small towns. After a prolonged economic downturn, the city has been revitalizing its downtown area, thus making it more attractive and viable for both residents and businesses.
But there is no doubt in anyone's mind what the prime pump for the economy is: without the Falls, this city would be simply one more border crossing fallen on hard times due to the collapse of heavy industry and shipping. The Falls form a cascade in more ways than one, including a trickle-down effect for the economy.
High rise to low-slung It is the Falls that supports the 3,000 hotel/motel/bed & breakfast rooms in the region. They allow luxury high rises such as Comfort Inn The Pointe and Holiday Inn at the Falls , low-slung motels such as the 3 Star , and classic Victorian B&Bs such as Rainbow House Bed & Breakfast to fill with guests anxious for a glimpse of the famous cataracts.
It is the Falls that bring 50,000 honeymooners a year (drawn, some say, by the negative ions released by the falling water and believed to be strong aphrodisiacs). And it is thanks to the Falls that attractions such as Cave of the Winds , Maid of the Mist boat ride, and Schoellkopf Geological Museum exist. Not to mention the dozens of tour companies coming from all over North America to deposit tourists to the spot where the 'Thunder of Waters' takes place.
Around Niagara Falls proper lie a series of historic towns and villages including: Lewiston, home of the Outdoor Fine Arts Festival and Lewiston Museum, Lockport, with its Erie Canal heritage and Underground Boat Ride , and Youngstown, with Old Fort Niagara where the Niagara River empties into Lake Ontario.
Geologic shift makes good Niagara Falls has its own international airport , featuring the fourth longest main runway in New York State, as well as the nearby Niagara Aerospace Museum, with displays of rare planes and helicopters. It has a vast, 580-acre public park with an 18-hole golf course, and a massive downtown shopping mall-cum-music plaza right next to the Convention Center with 152,000 square feet of meeting, exhibit and banquet space.
All made possible thanks to a quirky geologic shift 12,000 years ago that sent the Niagara River plunging down the edge of the escarpment.
The city of Niagara Falls, NY, is eternally grateful and shows that gratitude by making sure each and every one of the millions of visitors gets a free and unobstructed look at that Seventh Natural Wonder of the World.
Roaring Falls, rumbling stomach When it comes to figuring out why those millions of eager tourists flock to Niagara Falls, New York, each year, it's definitely a no-brainer. But even the most die-hard, honeymoon-bound, just-can't-get-enough Falls gawker has to stop and get a bite to eat at some point, right? That's when you might be pleasantly surprised to discover that there is more to Western New York cuisine than beef on weck, Buffalo chicken wings, and Friday night fish fries!
In fact, restaurants in the Niagara Falls area run the whole gamut from upscale hotel dining spots with fancy-garbed waiters to delightful mom and pop emporiums, from theme-based establishments and fast-food eateries to ethnic delights and deli diners. And we haven't even mentioned the country inns whose dining halls take you back to a simpler, less confusing time.
There's an old saying among restaurant reviewers that, when visiting a place you don't know anything about, you can't go wrong eating at a hotel. You might not get the best meal in town but it won't be the worst either. And the service is bound to be beyond reproach. That's definitely the case here where hotels such as Sheraton Four Points and Holiday Inn at the Falls have their own on-site restaurants in the casual Country Kitchen and Phin's Seafood Bistro respectively. Among the best is the Greenery at the Travelodge Hotel Fallsview , offering an eclectic choice of dinner dishes from spaghetti to surf and turf.
A family tradition Becoming a little more adventurous, you'll find plenty of fine restaurants in the area. Many are family-owned and operated establishments serving delicious authentic cuisine. Whatever your pleasure, there is sure to be a chef ready to tame your growling stomach.
The first Indian chef in the city, Jaswant S Chahal, owns Sardar Sahib, an authentic Indian restaurant in the downtown area with a menu that includes family recipes passed down for generations. Make that centuries. The food is mouth-watering and not as scorchingly hot as you might have been led to believe.
Other generational restaurants include Fortuna's , whose secret is the Old World recipes and the use of only the freshest ingredients, and La Palermo, boasting mama's own recipes. And we mustn't forget Como Restaurant , the dream of Italian immigrant Francesco Antonacci when he came to the United States. Opened for business in 1927, today, the restaurant is the largest of its kind, with line-ups to get in.
Running on empty There are also a fair number of the newer trendy restaurants in the city. If you're running on empty after an exhausting day sightseeing, race on down to Duncan's for a Tex-Mex fill up guaranteed to get the engine revving again. Speed is the featured item on the menu. But no, it's not something they serve. It just happens to be a car racing-themed establishment.
For a rocking good time, try Tommy Ryan's Rock & Roll Diner . You can listen to the jukebox belting out your favorite oldies but goodies from the 50s and 60s while you enjoy a king-sized breakfast, lunch, or dinner. And both you and the kids will get a kick out of the 1959 Cadillac... with its front-end hanging above the entrance to Niagara's version of the Hard Rock Cafe , located at the foot of the Niagara Reservation State Park . Enjoy loud music and good food at this museum of the stars with guitars, clothes and other memorabilia from the likes of John Lennon and Eric Clapton.
Good food meets affordable prices There are a number of restaurants in the area aimed at the traveling family where good food, hefty portions and low prices meet. The Goose's Roost might look like your average family diner from the outside but the food is definitely above average. The Alps Chalet is known as a place to get an affordable home-cooked meal. Here, your little tyke under five eats free. Further out near the Niagara Falls Prime Outlet Malls, the Timber Lodge Steakhouse , with log cabin motif and deer antlers on the walls, serves large portions of delicious food for the hungry traveler with a big appetite for red meat.
Top of the Falls Restaurant , on Goat Island, serves both delicious fare and a spectacular view of the American Falls. It's great for the romantic night out as well as being the perfect location for an unforgettable dinner with the family. The upscale Atrium Restaurant is set in a lush garden atmosphere, and a glass ceiling permits a view of the beautiful sky over Niagara. The Red Coach Inn Restaurant , with its British pub ambience, prepares unforgettable cuisine which you may enjoy fireside when there's a chill in the air. As an added bonus, the restaurant, set within an inn of the same name, offers a spectacular view of the Upper Rapids of The Falls.
Heading out to the country One of the best kept secrets in the Niagara Falls region is the plethora of historic and picturesque small towns and villages in the surrounding areas—each with its own hot dining spots.
Just a short trip north, a brilliant scenic drive, lies the village of Lewiston, located on the banks of the Niagara River. It is the home of the Riverside Inn where you will be treated to delectable cuisine and an awe-inspiring view of the Niagara Gorge from its summertime patio. As well, if you happen to come down at the right time of year, you can take part in the Taste of Lewiston food festival, bringing together restaurants and food shops for a smorgasbord of delicious samplings.
Situated a little further north in the town of Youngstown, home to Old Fort Niagara , the Fyfe & Drum Restaurant allows you to feast on contemporary cuisine, while stepping back in time with its 19th century decor.
There you have it, just a sample of some of the fine restaurants in the Niagara Falls, New York, region. And, of course, if what you really desire is a beef on weck, Buffalo chicken wings, or Friday night fish fry, go right ahead. You're sure to find these delights at just about any of the eateries we've mentioned.
Getting that closer look If you think that standing on the edge of Goat Island and looking out at the mighty Falls is a thrill, wait until you literally step behind them during the Cave of the Winds tour. You descend by elevator onto a set of scaffolds to the base of the Bridal Veil Falls. It's wet and wild.
Also wet and wild is the adventure that comes from hopping aboard the world-renowned Maid of the Mist boat. This is a tour that takes you so close to the thundering waters, you'll feel your heart beat just a little faster as the spray washes over your face. And the noise of the water makes it difficult to hear anything else. The boats leave from the base of the Niagara Reservation State Park Observation Tower at Prospect Point every 15 minutes.
Did you know that Niagara Falls was once a strategic military post? Two hundred years ago battles and sieges took place only minutes from the Falls as the young American Republic and the British Empire fought the War of 1812. Today, Old Fort Niagara , located in the village of Youngstown where the Niagara River flows out into Lake Ontario, is a registered National Historic Landmark. Guided tours of the fort include battle re-enactments, musket demonstrations and interesting exhibits and displays.
History of a different sort For another history lesson stop by Murphy's Orchards, about 25 miles northeast of the Falls. It is more than just a great place to stock your shelves with homemade jam. The farm played a vital role in the Underground Railroad. A guided informative tour of the land includes a view of an actual barn where slaves hid in hopes of crossing into Canada and freedom.
Anyone looking for museums that offer more than the usual wall hangings and sculptures has come to the right place. Niagara Falls has a number of interesting museums to tour, starting with the Daredevil Museum of Niagara Falls, a look into the history of the brave fools who attempted to go over the falls in one contraption or another. Here, you'll find the barrel Steve Trotter and Lori Martin used to make Falls history.
The Aquarium of Niagara features a large tank of fish and other aquatic life from the Great Lakes and Coral Reef. Going up? The Niagara Aerospace Museum, just outside the Niagara Falls International Airport , features planes, engines and other such memorabilia.
For the student of architecture and building styles, the Cobblestone Museum Complex in Childs, a National Historic Landmark, is a collection of seven cobblestone structures constructed in the 1800s. It is an interesting tour with photographs, architectural plans and over 1000 land-claim and survey files.
Letting excitement swirl If you're into a little more excitement, the Whirlpool Jet Boat Tours will take you on the ride of your life. Speed down the Niagara River and through the whitewater rapids on their 40-passenger jet boat. The adventure begins at the Riverside Inn in the historic village of Lewiston.
For group tours that are a little more genteel, try one of the many bus tour companies plying their trade in the Niagara region. The Over The Falls Tours company provides guides who make the trip entertaining while making sure you don't miss a thing. In winter, you can journey through the colorful light display that is The Festival of Lights in a comfortable, heated van. Niagara Majestic Tours , starting out at the Comfort Inn The Pointe , takes passengers to both sides of the border on a three-four hour tour which can include dinner overlooking the Falls. A unique trip with Motherland Connextions Inc follows portions of the Underground Railroad to give people a feeling of what it must have been like.
Touring nature's green spaces After a day battling crowds and traffic, take delight in a tour of one of the many state parks in the area. Western New York is known for its natural beauty and the preservation of that beauty. Witness the Niagara Reservation State Park , on which the American Falls sit, and one of the first such parks in the country. This large, 400-acre recreational area includes Goat Island, Three Sisters Islands and the Cave of the Winds excursion.
Joseph Davis State Park, outside Lewiston, is perfect for picnicking, long walks on the nature trails, fishing and skiing. The Reservoir State Park , overlooking the Robert Moses Powerplant Reservoir, is the most popular park in Niagara County. One of the reasons is the reservoir where there are always plenty of fish biting.
Devil's Hole State Park overlooks the lower Whirlpool Rapids in all their glory. It is 42 acres of lush grass, trees and a pond for the avid angler. Plus, you can tour the nature trail and Gorge caves within the park. Whirlpool State Park offers a spectacular view of the Whirlpool itself across the border in Canadian waters. For a tour that combines nature and art, try the Earl W Brydges Artpark State Park on the southern edge of Lewiston. This Artpark becomes a hive of activity during the summer months with outdoor displays of art, art camps and workshops, theater and musical performances.