Niagara Falls Travel Guide: Awe and Adventure

There’s more than you think to Niagara Falls.

Zip-lining at Niagara Falls | Photo: iStockphoto

This Canadian border town has a reputation for being schmaltzy and touristy. Overrun with chain restaurants. A leftover 1950s honeymoon spot with heart-shaped Jacuzzis. All of those things are basically true. But the magnificent falls themselves — and the bounty of adventure activities surrounding them — make Niagara Falls more than worth a long weekend, especially if you’ve got kids. 

Where to stay: If you want to be right at the falls — and you do — choose Embassy Suites Niagara Falls Fallsview, which, as the name suggests, offers suites that overlook both the American and Canadian falls. The windows in your room can be cracked open, so you can let the roar of the water lull you to sleep. 6700 Fallsview Boulevard; from $150 per night, but spring for a “Fallsview” suite, from $300.

Where to eat: Love chains like Outback, TGI Fridays and Applebee’s? Great news: They’re everywhere. But if you prefer to avoid spending your dining dollars on publicly traded corporations, you should do breakfast at the locals-only, hockey-themed (Canada, remember?) Blueline Diner, where they sell freshly squeezed OJ by the pitcher. We also found an exceptional dinner at the mom-and-pop Italian spot Four Brothers Cucina, which rivals anything on 9th Street. Finally, if you’ve got wheels, consider a quick trip back over the border to Niagara Falls, New York, for old-school Polish food and beer pitchers at Gadawski’s, which the locals pack every Friday for the traditional fish fry.

Great adventure: Sure, you’ll do the very-wet Hornblower Niagara Cruises boat ride “under the falls,” (it doesn’t really go under), but if you’re more the thrill-seeking type, there’s no shortage of activities, from the Whirlpool Aero Car cable-car ride over the Class 5 rapids nearby to the Whirlpool Jet Boat ride through them to the new WildPlay zip line (a family of four can go together, enjoying panoramic views) to the, um, exhilarating helicopter trip over the falls, which is mercifully only 16 minutes long. If that all sounds like a heart attack waiting to happen, perhaps the air-conditioned Niagara SkyWheel Ferris wheel is more your speed.

Insider tip: There’s no place that doesn’t take credit or debit cards, in case you don’t feel like exchanging money and trying to figure out what stuff really costs. Just note that your card will probably hit you with a foreign transaction fee.

How to get there: Wanna fly? You’ll have to book a nonstop flight to Buffalo and then rent a car or get a ride to Niagara and across the border. If you don’t hate a family car trip, make the easy seven-hour drive.

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First published as “Awe and Adventure” in Philadelphia magazine’s September 2017 issue.