Obviously, the answer is nothing, except for the volume of tourists the falls brings in. With over 30 million visitors a year it should be no surprise that Niagara Falls, minus the Vegas strip, is the most touristy place I’ve ever been. Even though I was caught off guard by the tourist junk, I made a b-line past it and on to the main attraction. With that in mind here are 5 things to do in Niagara Falls that are actually about the Falls.
Where it Went Wrong
Before we get into this list of things to do Niagra Falls that are actually about the falls, let’s look at how we got to this tourist trap and my personal hell of a place.
Many visitors to Niagara Falls are surprised by the kitsch and Americana on the Canadian side, especially when the American side is underdeveloped in comparison. How did this come to be?
To truly understand we have to go back to the early 1800’s when Americans decided to develop their side as a source of power and industry instead of tourism. Fast forward to the late 60’s when factories were starting to shut down, leaving a rough area to visit in its wake.
Over on the Canadian side, Niagra Falls was a place to honeymoon and admire the powerful force of nature. Its tourism was always in the forefront but nothing like it is today. So what changed? In short, the addition of a casino.
With that came the shops and “Vegas of the North” garbage. Unfortunate yes, but understandable. Niagra Falls Ontario wanted to be a destination, not a day trip. There is only so long people (and especially children) can look at rushing water. The city wanted heads in beds and tourist dollars in local pockets.
The result is a less-than-authentic experience for something as simple as running water.
On the plus side, the water is still running and there are plenty of non-touristy ways to enjoy it.
With a background on how we got to the point of wax figures and haunted houses, let’s try and look past it with this list of 5 things to do in Niagra Falls that are actually about the falls.
1) Walk Along Niagra River
First up on this list of things to do in Niagara Falls that are actually about seeing the falls is, simply, seeing the falls. Along the banks of the Niagra River, there is an excellent footpath that provides great vantage points to see the falls from a distance and up close. Best of all, it’s free. If you’re travelling on a budget, pack a lunch and take a slow stroll. There’re several shaded grassy spots along the way to take a break and enjoy a picnic.
The walk is just over a kilometre long and takes you past the American and Bridal Veil Falls and up to Horseshoe Falls. Along the way, there are vendors selling food and drinks (at a premium) and there is Table Rock Welcome Centre (with public washrooms) next to Horseshoe Falls.
If you want to get closer to the river consider the White Water Walk! This self-guided walk offers incredible views along the raging river with plenty of spots to stop and take it all in.
2) Go Behind the Falls
Now that you’re at Horseshoe Falls, why not head behind-the-scenes and experience this natural force of nature up close? Within the Table Rock Welcome Centre, you will find Journey Behind the Falls, a tour company that lives up to its name. Armed with souvenir ponchos, guests take an elevator 150 ft down and access two separate observation decks behind the falls. Tickets range from $12-$16 depending on the season.
3) Take a One-of-a-Kind Cruise
Another great way to get close to the falls is by taking a soggy trip aboard the Hornblower. This famous cruise ship offers a variety of tours, day and night, and costs between $25-$35 CAD. Daring visitors embark on 20-40 minute rides into the mist. Naturally, you will get wet however ponchos are provided.
4) See the Falls from Above
Now that you have experienced the falls from below (and behind), why not get a view from above…like, way above. Niagra Helicopters offers 12-minute flyovers of the falls for $145 per person, $280 per couple, and $89 for children under 12. It may sound steep for such a short ride but the view is, obviously, unique to say the least.
Flights take you over the Whirlpool Golf Course, Niagara Whirlpool, and the city before making a couple passes at Horseshoe and American Falls.
The best seats are in front so request this before boarding, although this will depend on weight distribution.
5) Cross the Niagra River in a Cable Car
Last up on this list of things to do in Niagara Falls that are about the falls is taking a ride on the super unique and super awesome Whirlpool Aero Car. Although this ride is downstream from the falls, it is still a sight to see and is part of the Niagara River system. Dangling 200 feet over the turquoise and blue waters of the Niagara Whirlpool, this historic 100-year-old cable car takes visitors on an unforgettable ride.
Tickets are $15 for adults, $9.75 for children and include a round trip across the gorge with a Niagra Parks tour guide.
Make it about the Falls
So there you have it, five things to do in Niagara Falls without the tourist bunk. All of them are sure to provide a unique perspective and encounter with one of Canada’s largest waterfalls.
If you’re looking for more unique views of the falls that are a touch touristy check out the WildPlay MistRider Zipline to the Falls or even a jet boat ride down the river but for God sakes, skip the wax museums.
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