Last Updated on September 26, 2020 by Anisa
Niagara Falls is a popular vacation destination for honeymooners, adventure-seekers, and even families. Some people may think of it as a tourist trap, but to me, it’s one of those places that everyone should see.
I had a fabulous time during my visit to Niagara Falls and would go again in a heartbeat. Based on my experience, I wanted to share a few tips for visiting Niagara Falls to help you plan your trip, save money, and make sure you have an amazing time.
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Overview of Niagara Falls
There are three main waterfalls that makeup Niagara Falls: the Horseshoe Falls, the American Falls, and the Bridal Veil Falls. Both the American Falls and the Bridal Veil Falls are in the US, while the Horseshoe Falls is across the border in Canada. Not only are the Falls breathtakingly beautiful, they are a valuable source of hydroelectric power.
The largest falls are the Horseshoe Falls which are about 2,600 feet wide. The American Falls are less than half that width (1,060 feet). The Bridal Veil Falls are relatively tiny at only 56 feet wide! The Horseshoe Falls drop about 188 feet compared to between 70 and 100 feet for the American Falls and the Bridal Veil Falls which have giant boulders at the base. The average annual flow rate over the Horseshoe Falls is 85,000 cubic feet per second!
Why You Should Visit Niagara Falls
I am sure you have seen pictures of Niagara Falls and it looks impressive. Having been to Niagara Falls, I can tell you pictures don’t do it justice. It is something that you must see and experience for yourself. You will be amazed at the power of the Falls and being close enough to feel the power is an unforgettable experience. You have to see the height of the spray and hear the roar of the Falls. My Niagara Falls travel tips will help make sure you have the best experience.
How to Get to Niagara Falls
We drove from New York City to Niagara Falls. It’s actually a long 6-7 hour drive, so not ideal for those limited on time, but it makes for a nice stop on your US east coast road trip. Amtrak operates trains from NYC to Niagara Falls, but that takes 10 hours. Greyhound buses are also an option but also take 10 hours including a transfer in Buffalo. It might be best to fly!
If you want to book a flight to Niagara Falls, there are three airports to choose from:
- Niagara Falls International Airport is located on the New York side, just 4 miles from the city’s downtown area.
- Buffalo Niagara International Airport is located about 25 miles east of Niagara Falls in the city of Cheektowaga, New York.
- Toronto Pearson International Airport is about a 76-mile drive from Niagara Falls.
The Niagara Falls Airport sounds ideal but unfortunately, very few airlines fly into the airport. Even if you do find a flight option, it is likely to be expensive.
The Toronto Airport is likely to be the cheapest option for flights, but the public transportation options to Niagara Falls are not ideal, so it would be best to rent a car for the one and half hour drive. There are occasional (~1 per day) direct Greyhound buses that take you to the Canadian side of Niagara Falls, but the other options take 3-4 hours.
The Buffalo Airport has slightly better public transportation options to Niagara Falls. You can get an Uber or Lyft (which will cost around $40), a shared executive van, a shuttle, or rent a car and drive yourself. A bus will be cheaper, but take a lot longer. Make sure to have some cash though, they do not give change. To get from the Buffalo Airport to Niagara Falls, Ontario, first take a bus (either #204 express for $2.50 or #24 for $2) to the Downtown Bus terminal and then transfer to the #40 bus ($2) for Niagara Falls USA. If you want to go to the Canada side, take a Greyhound bus.
You don’t need a car to visit Niagara Falls since there are plenty of attractions and restaurants within walking distance of the hotels on the Canadian side. Taxis, ubers, and buses are available for attractions like the Niagara Helicopter or the Whirlpool Aero Car that are further away. There are also plenty of tour options for excursions to Niagara on the Lake and they do hotel pickups.
Tips for Visiting Niagara Falls
Once you arrive the fun starts! My Niagara Falls travel advice will help you make the most of your time and money during your visit.
See the Falls from Both Sides
Any Niagara Falls travel guide you consult says that the view of Niagara Falls is better from the Canadian side. While I think that may be true, the view from the American side is impressive as well. Plus, you need to go to the American side of the Falls to do the Cave of the Winds, also a must.
If you plan on taking your rental car across the border, please make sure to check with your car rental company first. If you don’t, it may cause issues with your insurance. Some rental car companies may charge fees.
Be Prepared for the Border Crossing
When you cross the border, whether in a vehicle or on foot, you will need to have proper documentation. This means you will need to carry your passport. Depending on your citizenship you may also need a visa. If you are not sure, find out if you need a visa to enter Canada here or if you need a visa to enter the US here.
Children traveling without their parents (i.e. with other adults) need to have a notarized signed handwritten note by the parent indicating how long the child will be in the country along with telephone numbers for the parents. If one parent and not the other accompanies the child, a notarized letter from the other parent or guardian authorizing them to take the minor across the border is still needed.
Depending on where you cross the border, you may also need money for tolls or fees. To walk across the Rainbow Bridge from Canada to the US, it costs $1.00 (either USD or CAD) per person in cash. It’s a good idea to keep some small bills as many border crossings require cash and will not provide change.
Don’t Just Plan A Day Trip to Niagara Falls
While some might say you can see Niagara Falls in one day, I think you need to stay longer to get the full experience. If you do a one day trip to Niagara Falls, you will not have time to see all the attractions. Additionally, you need time to the Falls from different viewpoints, and you will also want to stay for the fireworks which don’t finish until late. (Keep reading for more details on all the Niagara Falls attractions and the fireworks).
Some people want to do a day trip to Niagara Falls from New York City, and I am guessing these people don’t realize how far it is between NYC and Niagara Falls (over 400 miles!). It’s too far to drive for a day trip, so you would have to fly.
Unless you can get a flight into the Niagara Falls Airport, traveling back and forth will take up most of your day. It’s probably easiest to book an organized tour. You can either do this tour which includes flights or this overnight bus tour to Niagara Falls from NYC. Note that the bus tour only goes to the American side of the Falls.
You could do a day trip to Niagara Falls from Toronto or Buffalo if you rent a car, but you would need to prioritize which attractions you will visit. It might be best to just book a Niagara Falls tour from Toronto – click here to check details, prices, and availability – or from Buffalo – click here to check prices and availability.
Stay in a Hotel with a View of Niagara Falls
When choosing a Niagara Falls hotel, location is key! It is amazing to be able to sit in your hotel room and look at Niagara Falls. I loved watching the Falls change colors when they were illuminated at night. There was something almost mesmerizing about it and worth splurging a bit.
The area has many hotels that have rooms that offer views of the Falls. We stayed in a Falls View room at the Marriott. Another popular option is the Sheraton which also has Falls View rooms.
For more information about hotels, please check out my post about the best places to stay in Niagara Falls.
Do a Boat Ride
The Maid of the Mist is iconic, but you could also do the Hornblower Niagara Cruise. It doesn’t matter which, but you need to go on a Niagara Falls boat tour. We had quite the experience on the Hornblower – you can see what it was like in our video. Check out my post to help you decide between the Hornblower and the Maid of the Mist and get more tips for your Niagara boat tour.
Choose Cave of the Winds over Journey Behind the Falls
Both the Cave of the Winds and Journey Behind the Falls are exciting ways to get up close and personal with Niagara Falls. We went to both attractions and while I enjoyed both, I preferred the Cave of the Winds.
The Journey Behind the Falls allows you to get close to the Horseshoe Falls, which are the largest. The Cave of the Winds allows you to touch the Bridal Veil Falls on the Hurricane Deck. On the Hurricane Deck, you experience tropical storm force conditions. It is intense! I felt like the Cave of the Winds was a more exhilarating experience. You can see why in my video below.
Note that the full Cave of the Winds experience is only available during the summer months, so at other times the Journey Behind the Falls might be your best option.
See the Falls from Above
From the air you get a different perspective of Niagara Falls. We did the Classic Tour with Niagara Helicopters and it was an experience we will never forget. We flew over the Whirlpool Rapids, the American Falls, the Bridal Veil Falls, and the Horseshoe Falls. Our pilot circled over the Horseshoe Falls to make sure everyone got an amazing view. It is a splurge but you aren’t going to do it everyday. Check out our video to see some of our Niagara Falls helicopter ride.
Bring the Kids
Niagara Falls for kids? It used to be the honeymoon capital of the world, but now it has turned into a popular family-friendly destination. Many of the attractions like a boat tour, Cave of the Winds, and the Niagara Skywheel are enjoyable for all ages. Plus, the Great Canadian Midway, Dinosaur Adventure Golf, Fallsview Indoor Waterpark, and Niagara Butterfly Conservatory are other Niagara Falls attractions for kids.
Do an Excursion to Niagara on the Lake
Niagara Falls is the main attraction, but I think it is worth it to visit Niagara on the Lake too. Tours are a great option because most will pick you up at one of the hotels in Niagara Falls for free. We were on a tight timetable so we did a half day wine tour. Our tour took us to three wineries and then we had a lovely gourmet dinner.
It’s a beautiful area and I enjoyed the wine. They make lots of different varietals but ice wine is their specialty. Ice Wine is a sweet wine that goes well with desserts. It was interesting learning more about how ice wine is made. Now, I can understand why it is so expensive!
Check out some of the wine tours available through Viator here. Most will pick you up at your hotel, so you don’t have to worry about driving.
Although Niagara on the Lake is known for its wineries, there is more to see in the area. Other Niagara on the Lake attractions include:
- Fort George, which served as the headquarters for the British Army during the War of 1812.
- The Outlet Collection at Niagara, perfect for those looking for some retail therapy.
- Niagara Apothecary Museum – Learn about old medicine and how it has influenced modern practices.
You may even want to consider staying a night. Most of the Niagara on the Lake hotels are located in the Old Town Historic District. (Click here to check out the options on Hotels.com)
Prepare to Get Wet
You are given a poncho free with your admission to most of the major attractions. Don’t let that fool you! You’re going to get wet. That’s part of the fun though. The water is cold, but on a warm day, it feels pretty refreshing.
I would recommend that you plan on getting wet and bring a change of clothes and allow time to dry off. After our Hornblower Cruise, I was glad we had time to go back to our hotel and freshen up before dinner. Also considering getting a waterproof cover for your phone (like this one) and shoes (like these).
For more suggestions on what to bring, check out my post about what to pack for Niagara Falls.
Visit During the Summer if You Can
Summer is the peak travel season, but it’s still the best time to visit Niagara Falls. Many of the attractions revolve around the water and as I mentioned you will get wet. It’s not fun to be wet when it is cold.
Some of my favorite attractions are not even open during the off-season. Still, visiting Niagara Falls in winter is better than not at all. I would love to see the Falls frozen, but I wouldn’t want to be out in that cold.
Watch out for Phone Roaming Charges
You need to check your mobile plan before you cross over to Canada to see what kind of international data coverage you have. Some carriers (like T-Mobile) have plans that include free international roaming. If your plan does not, then you need to manually turn off the roaming (in your phone settings) so that you do not get any hefty bills.
Ask to Have the Niagara Tourism Tax Removed
On the Canadian side of Niagara Falls, restaurants and hotels will add an extra tax/fee of up to 10% to your bill. Look for either DMDF (destination marketing and development fee) or TIFF (tourism infrastructure funding fee) on your bill. You may even want to ask your hotel about it in advance. It is debatable whether these fees are mandatory or optional.
I have read stories of travelers who have asked to have the Niagara Tourist tax removed and have been successful, while others have been told it is mandatory. Unfortunately, I didn’t realize you could ask to have the tourist fee removed until I read about it after I had returned, so I am not sure how well this tip will work. Regardless, it doesn’t hurt to ask (nicely), the worse that can happen is that the business says no.
Pay in Canadian Dollars in Canada
While most businesses on the Canadian side will accept American dollars, you will not get the best exchange rate. Either get Canadian Dollars from an ATM or use a credit card that has no foreign transaction fees. (Paying in local currency and using a credit card with no foreign transactions fees is a smart idea on any international trip).
You also might want to check out this guide to tipping in Canada.
Try Birdwatching by Niagara Falls
I didn’t expect to see lots of birds when I went to Niagara Falls, but now I can see why the area is popular for birdwatching. Several different types of gulls, ducks, geese, and even swans call the area home.
You can see the birds right along the Niagara River. We saw the most birds close to the Cave of the Winds. Beamer Memorial Conservation Area, Mud Lake Conservation Area, and Wainfleet Wetlands Conservation Area are other popular bird watching spots around Niagara Falls.
Take Advantage of the Free Things to Do in Niagara Falls
There are many free viewpoints where you can see the Falls and other free Niagara Falls attractions as well! These ideas are great if you are visiting Niagara Falls on a budget:
- Fireworks over the Falls – Catch fireworks shows over the Horseshoe Falls on select nights only. (Click here to check the schedule)
- Botanical Gardens – 99 acres of beautifully landscaped grounds including a world-famous rose garden
- Dufferin Islands – Park located half a mile south of the Falls with a number of islands connected by footbridges
- Niagara Glen Nature Reserve – Great spots for hiking with views of the Whirlpool Rapids.
- Floral Clock – One of the largest floral clocks in the world, it has a diameter of 40 feet and uses 16,000 plants.
- Queen Victoria Park – A lovely park on its own, but a must-visit for its view of the Falls.
Consider buying a Niagara Falls Attraction Pass
There are plenty of things to do in Niagara Falls and the admission prices will add up fast. Purchasing a Niagara Falls tourist pass can save you money. These passes are valid for an entire season. I wish they had one pass that covers everything but the USA and Canadian attractions are on separate passes. The table below summarizes the options for Niagara Falls passes for attractions.
If You are Feeling Brave, try the Zip Line or Whirlpool Jet Boat
Niagara Falls is an ideal destination for adventure seekers. You can go on the zip line from the Grand View Marketplace into the gorge. You’ll travel down 2,200 feet, before landing at the observation deck at the base of the Horseshoe Falls. Click here to read the reviews and book Zipline to the Falls.
Another attraction for adventure seekers is the Whirlpool Jet Boat Ride. It’s a 45-minute ride through the class 5 whitewater rapids of the Niagara River. Click here to read the review of the Whirlpool Jet Boat on Tripadvisor.
Note: These attractions are not included in any attraction pass and must be purchased separately.
Those are my Niagara Falls tips! I encourage you to plan a trip to Niagara Falls for yourself. My Niagara Falls vacation is something I will always remember. It’s an iconic destination with stunning natural beauty and plenty of attractions to keep you entertained.
Have you been to Niagara Falls? Do you have any tips on visiting Niagara Falls to share?
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Expert Tips for Your Trip to Niagara Falls:
- Make sure you see Niagara Falls from both the Canadian and American sides and be prepared to cross the border.
- It’s a bit of a trek from NYC to Niagara Falls – over 400 miles. If you’re short on time and want to see Niagara Falls in one day, it might be best to book an organized Niagara Falls tour from NYC.
- Splurge on a hotel room with a view of the Falls and Helicopter ride.
- Consider buying a Niagara Falls Parks Pass.
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