Renowned around the world, Niagara Falls is without doubt one of the States’ most stunning natural sights with millions visiting each year. Straddling the US-Canada border, it lies right in the extreme northwest of New York State with the countries’ twin cities of the same name lying on each side.
Understandably, many of the main things to do in Niagara Falls relate to the incredible falls with all kinds of tours, viewpoints and adventure activities being on offer. Besides taking epic boat trips and zipline rides to see them up-close, you can hike alongside their rushing waters and bask in commanding views from the islands, bridges and observation towers around them.
While it is quite touristy and tacky in places, the city has loads of fun entertainment and shopping to enjoy with the falls of course being the main reason everyone visits.
In this post, we'll cover:
16. Three Sisters Island
As well as being home to some splendid scenery and nature, Three Sisters Island also boasts unique and unforgettable views of the Upper Falls. Located just off of Goat Island, it has picturesque stone bridges, romantic waterside walks and lots of lush foliage for visitors to enjoy.
Actually made up of four small islets, their forested confines lie just upstream from the humongous Horseshoe Falls. While the largest are named after General Parkhurst Whitney’s daughters Asenath, Angelina and Celinda, the smallest is known as Solon or Little Brother Island.
Aside from ambling about its gorgeous green spaces and across its pretty little bridges, you can also bask in fine views of the falls off in the distance. The raging Niagara River all around you only adds to the majesty and magic of the secluded island site.
15. Walk the Rainbow Bridge
Connecting Niagara Falls in New York to its Canadian counterpart on the other side of the gorge is the pedestrian-friendly Rainbow Bridge. Thanks to its spellbinding views of both the falls and river, many visitors stroll across it with lovely rainbows often spotted forming in their spray.
Officially opened in 1941 after the earlier Honeymoon Bridge collapsed, it showcases some striking architecture with one huge arch spanning the entire gorge. Stretching 1,450 feet in total, the bridge’s roads and pedestrian walkways are propped up by massive metal abutments and approach spans.
As you are literally entering another country when you cross the bridge, you will need to take your passport with you to walk across it. While the US side has numerous souvenir shops and restaurants clustered about the bridge, a casino, water park and sightseeing cruises can be found near its foot on the Canadian side.
14. Old Fort Niagara
Not to be missed, Old Fort Niagara offers up an interesting look into what was once one of the most contested sites on the continent. Fought over by everyone from the British and French to Americans and Indians, it occupies a scenic and strategic spot at the entrance to the Niagara River, overlooking Lake Ontario.
One of the most important and impressive forts of the eighteenth-century, it was built back in 1726 with later extensions adding yet more batteries, cannons and fortifications. Nowadays, history buffs can wander about its grounds and walls with its sturdy French Castle being the undoubted highlight.
Its fantastic visitor center also has plenty of interesting old artifacts and informative exhibits for you to peruse. In the summertime, historical reenactments of old battles brings the fort back to life with period dances and community events also taking place here.
13. Skylon Tower
On the opposite side of the river and gorge is yet another site that offers up simply fantastic vistas of the falls: the soaring Skylon Tower. Rising dramatically above the Ontario side’s sparkling skyline and entertainment district, it has long been one of the area’s most iconic man-made landmarks and top tourist attractions.
Now surrounded by lots of busy hotels, bustling restaurants and a couple of glitzy casinos, the lofty observation tower was completed back in 1965. Standing 520 feet tall, the sleek concrete structure certainly makes for a stupendous sight with glass-enclosed elevators whisking you to the top in just 52 seconds flat.
Asides from basking in its commanding views of the city, falls and gorge, you can also sit and enjoy a delicious meal at its revolving restaurant. At night, it is delightfully lit up against the dark sky with fireworks shows also sometimes taking place on special occasions.
12. White Water Walk
If you don’t have a head for heights, you can still catch a great up-close glimpse of some wild rapids at the White Water Walk. Set just a short drive up the river from Rainbow Bridge and the Canadian side’s city center, its treacherous waters promise to awe you with their relentless power and beauty.
Only open between April and November, its boardwalk sees you pass alongside one of the wildest stretches of water in the world. As the surging Niagara River bursts through the deep and narrow Great Gorge, its waters and rapids froth and foam and create a turbulent whirlpool in the process.
Seeing the startling force and fury of the river from so close makes for an awe-inspiring experience that perfectly complements viewing the rest of the city’s falls from afar or above.
11. Aquarium of Niagara
Home to hundreds of amazing marine mammals, fish, birds and reptiles, the excellent Aquarium of Niagara lies just to the north of downtown. A firm favorite with families, its innumerable tanks and exhibits are a treat to peruse with live demonstrations, feeding sessions and even shows all regularly taking place.
Since opening in 1965, the aquarium has grown and grown with it now housing around about 1,500 animals of more than 125 species. These include not just California seal lions and sharks but playful Peruvian penguins, poisonous lionfish and scary piranhas too.
Young and old alike can enjoy stroking starfish, sea snails and hermit crabs in its terrific touch tank with cute penguin presentations and impressive sea lion shows only adding to the fun.
10. Seneca Niagara Resort & Casino
If you’re looking to relax and unwind in comfort while visiting the falls, then you’ll be hard-pressed to beat the luxurious Seneca Niagara Resort. As well as pampering yourself at its spa and staying in swanky suites, you can also enjoy top-class entertainment and games at its state-of-the-art casino.
The largest hotel in the state outside of Manhattan, its gigantic glass tower block lies just steps from Niagara Falls. Besides trying out its over 2,500 slot machines and countless table games, visitors can also indulge in boutique shopping, exquisite dining and exciting nightlife.
On top of all this, the resort’s live entertainment venues constantly put on jaw-dropping shows and must-see concerts. Over the last two decades, everyone from Diana Ross and Steely Dan to Blondie, Lynyrd Skynyrd and Tracy Morgan have performed at the Seneca.
9. Clifton Hill
Back on the Canadian side of the falls is another fun and family-friendly place to head to: the lively yet laidback Clifton Hill. Lining the vibrant promenade are all kinds of enticing arcades, attractions and eateries to stop by with the heaving tourist area also being known for its extensive nightlife and entertainment options.
Since the twenties, it has attracted hordes of visitors thanks to top attractions like Louis Tussaud’s Waxworks, Ripley’s Believe It or Not and the enormous Niagara SkyWheel. While these each count among its main sights, there are also plenty of awesome arcade games, simulator rides and go-kart tracks to try out.
Miniature golf courses and haunted houses are also dotted about as are lots of souvenir shops, snack stands and chain restaurants.
8. Whirlpool Jet Boat Tour
An experience like no other, the Whirlpool Jet Boat Tour sees you navigate the rushing rapids of the relentless Niagara River. As the plucky open-top boat skims across the surface and plunges through rough waves and whirlpools, you’ll enjoy the ride of a lifetime as the spray soaks you to the bone.
While both the Maid of the Mist and Cave of the Winds will certainly get you up-close to the falls, this wet and wild tour is as exhilarating as it gets. This is because you really see and feel the power of the rapids with almost everyone raving about the exciting boat ride afterwards.
Only adding to the experience are the friendly and knowledgeable crew members who will get you laughing the whole way along – even while you’re sitting there soaked.
7. Zipline to the Falls
Another amazing and memorable way to view the colossal cascades is to glide gracefully down the Zipline to the Falls on the Canadian side. While reveling in the thrilling ride, you can bask in phenomenal panoramas of the American Falls and Horseshoe Falls before you.
Lying just a short distance up the river from the waterfalls, the enticing attraction is set not far from both the Niagara SkyWheel and Rainbow Bridge. As you shoot your way down the 2,200 feet-long zipline at speeds of over 40 mph, you can gaze in awe at the giant river gorge all around you.
Before alighting at the base of Horseshoe Falls, you soar past Angel Falls and see the city’s skyline rising up above the rim. The highly professional team of staff make sure everyone is safely secured before whisking you off on your unforgettable journey.
6. Fashion Outlets of Niagara Falls
With over 120 stores, restaurants and cafes located across its sprawling site, the Fashion Outlets of Niagara Falls is undoubtedly the biggest and best place to shop in the city. Recently remodeled and expanded, it lies just ten minutes’ drive directly east of Niagara Falls State Park.
Popular with locals and tourists alike, the massive mall contains huge names such as Disney, Nike, Burberry and the Banana Republic. Consequently, visitors can shop for everything from accessories and clothes to jewellery, sportswear and technology.
After shopping ‘til you drop, you can always stop for a delicious bite to eat or drink either at its food court or any one of the other restaurants and cafes scattered about. Although the mall is very shiny, clean and spacious, it is the generous deals and offers that get people returning time and time again.
5. Niagara Falls Observation Tower
Almost directly opposite the zipline on the American side is the massive Niagara Falls Observation Tower. Long one of the most popular places to see the falls, it boasts unobstructed, panoramic views of their white walls of water in all their glory.
Also known as Prospect Point, it was built back in the early sixties just east of American Falls at the bottom of the gorge. From atop of its huge 282 feet-high tower, guests can gape at the cacophonous cascades and snap profile pictures and photos before them.
The tower’s lofty observation deck is perfectly placed to witness the natural wonder with refreshing spray sometimes even reaching people high up outside. After having drunk in your fill of the falls, you can stop by its gift shop and pick up some souvenirs of your time in Niagara Falls.
4. Cave of the Winds
Just a stone’s throw away from Prospect Point is yet another of the city’s unmissable viewpoints: the incredible Cave of the Winds. While you are almost certain to get soaked, its boardwalks at the base of Bridal Veil Falls offer up some of the best up-close views of the falls in town.
Aptly known as the ‘hurricane deck’ due to its stormy conditions, its wooden walkways remarkably lie just twenty feet from the foot of the thunderous falls. Thankfully, souvenir sandals and protective ponchos are provided with your ticket so you don’t spend the rest of the day trudging around in wet shoes and clothes.
Named after a large natural cave that once lay behind the falls, the modern tourist equivalent can be found on Goat Island in the middle of the river. Seeing the beautiful waterfall from so close, hearing its mighty roar and getting doused in its waters really is a special experience.
3. Maid of the Mist
At least rivaling and possibly even outdoing the Cave of the Winds is the ever-popular Maid of the Mist. The longest-running boat tour of the falls, it has impressively been taking tourists out to see them since 1846.
From the base of the Observation Tower, excited poncho-clad passengers clamber aboard and ready themselves for a soaking. As you approach the majestic falls, the anticipation and excitement builds with the deafening noise and spitting spray increasing alongside it.
As you head right into the heart of the tumbling falls, you can really appreciate their staggering size, scale and splendor. While the invigorating excursion past American Falls and Horseshoe Falls will certainly live-long in the memory, tours only take place between April and October.
2. Niagara Gorge Trail
If it is stunning scenery, phenomenal viewpoints and some outdoor exercise that you are after, then you can’t beat hiking the Niagara Gorge Trail. Meandering its way along the US side of the rushing river and falls, it takes you along the huge gorge’s precipitous rim with rapids, rock formations and whirlpools all spied down below.
Starting at the trailhead center, it stretches 6.2 miles in length before terminating at the prominent Prospect Point overlooking Niagara Falls. On the way, you’ll pass through shady woodlands, traipse up steep cliffsides and along the edge of the rim with epic panoramas guaranteed wherever you go.
While some parts can get quite muddy and wet, most of the gravel path is very easy and accessible to hike along. In any case, the sublime scenery, nature and views more than make up for any energy expended along the rambling route.
1. Niagara Falls State Park
Protecting the trio of wondrous waterfalls, several islands and part of the river itself is the Niagara Falls State Park. While most people come to gawk at the falls and snap photos of them, there is also some great hiking, fishing and cross-country skiing to be had along the side of the gorge.
Actually the oldest state park in the US, it was established in 1885 with American Falls, Bridal Veil Falls and Horseshoe Falls of course being its standout sights and defining feature. In total, they span over 3,000 feet in length and reach more than 160 feet in height in places.
While most of the park’s attractions and activities understandably focus on the three fabulous falls, there is also a museum and movie theater to check out. Its idyllic islands are also well worth touring around with pretty picnic spots and divine viewpoints guaranteed wherever you go.