There's Niagara Falls, and then there's Niagara-on-the Lake. For most tourists, the ride ends at the beauty of the Falls, with a few hundred photographs and some souvenirs. Nothing wrong with this if you're terminating your sojourn on the US side of the Falls, but you've left much unexplored if you are in Canada.
Straddling the border of the United States and Canada, the Falls are a natural wonder, but as most Canadians know, they are better on the northern side of the continent. So get your Canadian visa and take in the best view.
The Niagara Falls are a perfect example of how a veritable township of manmade attractions can spring up around a natural wonder. Of course, the Falls remain where they are, but there's a weekend full of things to do around them. Your best bet is to get a hotel close to the Falls, like we did. Remember you will be spending most of your time outside the hotel, so don't splurge on a brand name unless you are on your honeymoon. There are a host of budget hotels located less than a mile away.
If you're in Niagara Falls for a weekend, it's best to divide your time - one day each for Niagara Falls and Niagara-on-the Lake. Once we checked into our hotel, we put on our walking shoes and headed straight for the Falls. Clifton Hill, which leads you to the Falls, houses everything that's ever talked about at Niagara, from the House of Frankenstein and Louis Tussaud's Wax Museum to Ripley's Believe It or Not and The Fudge Factory. We spent a couple of hours exploring the street and all it had to offer before heading off to the main attraction. The main highlights for us were the deliciously inviting Fudge Factory and the skywheel that offered a bird's eye view of Niagara Falls and around. We really didn't need to be enticed with the tiny blocks of free fudge being distributed outside the store - we were sold anyway. Try it all and don't forget to pack some for later.
The Niagara Skywheel is really a distant cousin of the London Eye, if you've been on the latter. Nonetheless, at 175 feet, this ferris wheel offers breathtaking views of the Falls and the Niagara River. The 10-minute ride costs $10 per adult (plus tax) but is worth every buck. Other attractions on the way to the Falls include the FX Ride theatre, where a motion simulated show takes you on a wild ride through a broken-down fun house and a Dinosaur Park, where prehistoric creatures meet modern-day sport. It's a family favourite, and tourists line up to play mini golf beside dozens of life-size, roaring dinosaurs. There's plenty of shopping too, but I suggest you leave that for later, depending on time and budget, because everything that could be turned into an overpriced souvenir is available.
The show stealer, however, has to be the Falls. It's nature at its best, and it's amazing how water gushing down from 173 feet can look so stunningly beautiful. The Falls aren't exceptionally high but wide enough to form the famous horseshoe shape, and you'll be staring at them for a few uninterrupted minutes. Enough cafes and seating arrangements have been made to ensure you enjoy the view at eye level, while listening to live bands. And if you happen to be celebrating a special occasion like we were, sitting in the shadow of the Falls and listening to a live rendition of the Bee Gees' How Deep Is Your Love couldn't be more romantic.
Most tourists, though, flock to the Maid of the Mist, a boat ride that takes you close enough to the Falls to get drenched (they provide raincoats) and come back with plenty of photographs. It is definitely worth the ride, but with a couple of hundred people packed onto each boat, there's little room for a personal encounter with the Falls. For those with extra dough, spend it on a helicopter ride for a true sightseeing experience.
Once you've experienced the bustling commercial district that is Niagara Falls, drive over to Niagara-on-the Lake to take a history lesson or two and possibly get a bit tipsy.
This little town with just 15,000 residents was named the prettiest town in Canada. Along with its prettiness, it offers historic forts and monuments, grand mansions, boutique stores, golf courses and vineyards. All this, along with a downtown perfect for shopping, dining and art appreciation. What more could you ask for? If it's autumn, you could ask for tree-lined streets flanked by gorgeous flower gardens, offering a dizzying array of colours and views. But don't mistake the town for just a flower garden - it's here that the first anti-slavery legislation was passed in the British Empire. Even harder to believe is the fact that Niagara-on-the Lake was a war-ravaged site in 1812-1813, when it became the headquarters of the Centre division of the British Army. That's why Fort George National Historic Site is an interesting place to stop at, to learn what transpired and how the town transformed itself over the years. When that becomes too much to handle, rent a bicycle or even take a buggy ride.
For theatre enthusiasts, there's the Shaw Festival Theatre, producing the works of George Bernard Shaw and Shavian playwrights. Since its first performances in 1962, the theatre has drawn several thousand patrons. In 2011, the Shaw Festival celebrates its 50th year with special exhibits and performances - a heads up for those planning a visit next summer.
Be sure to follow up your lessons with ice-cream at Cows, voted the best in Canada by Reader's Digest. And what's Niagara without a swig of wine, produced locally at the many wineries dotting the region? The wineries are open all year round and welcome visitors into their tasting rooms, wine stores, vineyards and cellars. That's not all - there's an Icewine Festival in January, Days of Wine and Chocolate in February and the Niagara Wine Festival in September, among others.
Art, history and wine aside, Niagara-on-the-Lake is ideal for a quiet walk along the Niagara river. The sunsets are beautiful, and so are the flocks of Canadian geese flying over the waters. After a long day, a few moments spent at the gazebo are worth a lifetime of memories.
Niagara-on-the-Lake is filled with stores and restaurants
When to go
Niagara Falls is at its glorious best in summer from May to October. The Maid of the Mist boat ride also operates during this season. However, some enthusiasts do opt to see a frozen Niagara Falls, with huge blocks of ice falling off the cliff.
Visa: Indian citizens need one. http://www.vfs-canada.co.in/
Flights: A number of airlines operate flights to Toronto from Mumbai, but all involve at least one stopover. Official website: http://www.niagarafallstourism.com/
Food and drink
Plenty of vegetarian and non-vegetarian options available, from fast food to fine dining. However, this isn't a place for experimenting with different cuisines. Best to grab a pizza and spend your time exploring. Most pizza outlets will even deliver to your hotel room.