On many traveler’s bucket lists and as a top honeymoon destination, Niagara Falls is an impressive spectacle including three waterfalls: American Falls, Bridal Veil Falls, and Canadian Horseshoe Falls. Niagara River marks the border between Ontario, Canada, and New York, United States. As the gateway between Niagara Falls, ON and Niagara Falls, NY, Rainbow Bridge, looms over Niagara Gorge at the bottom of the falls. You can walk or bike across the bridge for $0.50 (USD or CAD) each way, and driving across costs $3.75 USD or $4.75 CAD roundtrip (toll prices as of 2017).
With 3,160 tons of water flowing over the falls every second and postcard-worthy view from every different angle, Niagara Falls is one of the most well-known waterfalls in the world. Because of its extreme popularity and pricey tourist traps, it can seem like an endlessly expensive destination, but there are plenty of things to do for free or cheaply, including numerous ways to enjoy the outdoors in this beautiful corner of the world. Here are a few things to do to make your trip to Niagara Falls more affordable and fun.
Many say the Canada side is the best and most beautiful side. The highlight of Ontario’s Niagara Falls is the panoramic views of the falls and many hotels and restaurants have these grand views right out of their windows. There are also numerous outdoor activities not only right where the falls are but also 10-20 minutes outside of the downtown area.
Queen Victoria Park is the perfect spot to begin your trip to Niagara Falls. It’s location opposite of the American Falls and Canadian Horseshoe Falls has some of the best views in town and all for free. (However, parking is expensive, so try to walk there if possible.) Additionally, Queen Victoria Park features a variety of native and international plants, a rock garden, numerous park benches, pathways, and well-kept green lawns. This park is also a great place to come to at night for the colorful illumination of the Niagara Falls and the fireworks displays which is Monday through Friday at 10:00 pm during the summer (in 2017, it’s June 12 to September 4).
Tip: Grab a picnic and sit on the lawn under a tree. You’ll have an incredible view of the falls, and it’s the perfect spot for people-watching.
Queen Victoria Place Restaurant is located in the heart of Queen Victoria Park. The building was built in 1904 and was used as the former residence of the Niagara Parks Commissioners. Now one of the oldest restaurants in the region, Queen Victoria Place Restaurant is Feast ON certified, which is a certification honoring restaurants for using local ingredients from Ontario. Additionally, it offers a variety of craft beers and wine made in the Niagara area and Ontario. There is indoor and outdoor seating with stunning views of the American Falls and Canadian Horseshoe Falls right from your seat.
Tip: Just need a snack? Order the beer cheese soup and a local beer with a view overlooking the falls.
Oakes Garden Theatre is at the foot of Clifton Hill and is a pretty marvelous entrance into (or exit from) Queen Victoria Park. It was opened in 1937, marking 2017 as its 80th birthday. The garden is bordered by decorative iron gates and is the most tranquil spot in downtown Niagara Falls, Ontario. The curved pergola looks onto a central amphitheater, a popular spot for concerts and special events. Take a wander through the beautifully manicured gardens that overlook the American and Horseshoe Canadian Falls.
Tip: Grab a cup of coffee or tea and take a seat on a bench facing Niagara Falls
Niagara Parkway is a scenic drive along Niagara River from Lake Erie to Niagara-on-the-Lake. About 34 miles (55 kilometers) in length, the route features stunning views of the falls and river and passes parks, hiking trails, wineries, small villages, and historic sites, in addition to a floral clock, botanical garden, and nature center. Winston Churchill called this stretch of road “the prettiest Sunday afternoon drive in the world.” Along the whole parkway is the Niagara River Parkway Recreational Trail for pedestrians and bikers, in addition to offering wheelchair accessibility. It’s a relaxing way to get away from the mayhem of downtown Niagara Falls.
Tip: Don’t only see the parkway from your car. Stretch your legs along the Niagara River Parkway Recreational Trail. Give yourself plenty of time, so you can stop when you come across something that interests you.
Niagara Parks Botanical Garden has 99 acres of beautiful gardens displaying a variety of plants and has been open since 1936. Be sure to stop and smell the roses as the rose garden is definitely the highlight of the garden with 2,400 roses in vibrant colors. Near that section of the park is the Niagara Parks School of Horticulture, which provides training to horticulture students. Located along the Niagara Parkway, you can see “Niagara Parks Botanical Garden” spelled out with flowers from the road. Open dawn to dusk, the impressive botanical garden is free to visit, but it costs $5.00 CAD to park on-site.
Tip: With the Butterfly Conservatory located on the premises of the Niagara Parks Botanical Garden, be sure to plan your visit to the gardens while the conservatory is also open.
The New York side of Niagara Falls allows you to get up close and personal with the three falls. It’s easy to see and feel the intensity of the waterfalls from many of the lookouts on the New York side. Maid of the Mist and Cave of the Winds is the typical tourist attractions here, but there are also other ways to get out and explore this area.
Niagara Falls State Park is the United State’s oldest state park and boasts 400 acres to be explored 24 hours a day and 365 days a year. The park is free to visit but parking costs $10 USD a day, however, there is street parking throughout the city of Niagara Falls, New York for $3 USD per hour. Walkways and hiking and biking trails from easy to hard fill Niagara Falls State Park, and you can get stunning views of the falls from a variety of different angles within the park.
Tip: Don’t skip out on exploring the walking trails around Niagara River and the pedestrian bridges that cross it. It’s quieter than the popular lookouts and gives you a different perspective to the falls area.
Goat Island is a small island located in Niagara River between Horseshoe Falls and Bridal Veil Falls. There are no residents on this island, but it’s a popular spot for exploring more of the beauty of Niagara Falls. The island’s most impressive view is Terrapin Point located right next to the Canadian Horseshoe Falls and is probably the closest you’ll get to the falls without going on a boat ride or doing the Cave of the Wind tour. Goat Island also has some great trails in wooded areas, in addition to bridges connecting it to Green Island, Luna Island, and Three Sisters Islands.
Tip: Bring a rain jacket with a hood to Terrapin Point if you don’t want to get wet. The mist coming off the Canadian Horseshoes Falls can be pretty strong.
Have you visited Niagara Falls in Ontario and/or New York? What fun things did you do that were free or affordable?