Guide to Niagara Falls, Ontario
What to do in Niagara Falls
If we asked you to picture Niagara Falls, we suspect you’d picture a waterfall, and you’d be exactly right–but do you know how many waterfalls there are at Niagara Falls? Three! This stunning natural attraction is one of the most popular tourist destinations in North America, welcoming millions of visitors each year. If you’re wondering what to do in Niagara Falls, there are tons of activities to explore in Niagara, Ontario, but no visit is complete without giving these waterfalls their due. So in this Niagara Falls guide, we share everything you need to know about this incredible natural wonder—including information on all three falls and the most popular ways to explore them yourself.
The American Waterfalls
Niagara Falls is made up of three separate waterfalls. Two in the United States and one in Canada (but all of which can be viewed from both countries). The most impressive waterfall on the US side is American Falls. Over centuries, erosion has dumped thousands of large boulders over the falls into the water below, so in 1969 the US Army Corps of Engineers dammed up American Falls to get a better look at these rocks.
Many people thought all the boulders were very unsightly, so the engineers ‘shut off’ the waterfall to determine whether it was feasible to remove the boulders. In the end the Corps realised the stone was actually necessary to prop up the falls—and after five months, they turned the falls back on.
In 1969 they stopped the flow of water to American Falls, making it look very different than what you’ll see today.
The smallest of the three waterfalls, Bridal Veil Falls is named for the misty, veil-like appearance created by the strong winds and powerful spray of the nearby American Falls.
Canada’s Horseshoe Falls
As any Niagara Falls guide book can tell you, the largest waterfall is called Horseshoe Falls. Care to guess where it gets its name? Horseshoe Falls is in the shape of a huge horseshoe and at 167 feet is the tallest waterfall in Niagara—though there are over 500 waterfalls around the world that are taller. What Horseshoe Falls lacks in height it more than makes up for in power, however, with more water flowing over these falls than any other on Earth.
You might have heard stories of daredevils who have tried to challenge Horseshoe Falls in different ways, the two most common being to either go over the waterfall or walk across it on a tightrope.
The first person to go over Horseshoe Falls and live to tell the tale was a schoolteacher named Annie Edison Taylor in 1901. She designed a custom-made barrel of oak, iron, and padding, and tested it by sending it over the waterfall with a cat inside—that happily survived. Two days later, on her 63rd birthday, Annie herself went over and into the history books.
One of the most recent falls feats was when tightrope walker Nik Wallenda crossed over Horseshoe Falls. While most tightrope walkers go across the Niagara Gorge away from the waterfall itself, Nik was the first to walk directly above it, meaning he had to contend with mist and wind coming off the water. Leaving from the American edge of Horseshoe Falls, the journey took him 25 minutes and he was greeted by two Canadian border officials on the other side—who dutifully checked and stamped his passport as he stepped off the wire.
The Best Ways to Experience Niagara Falls
For most people, the most impressive site to see in Niagara are the waterfalls, in particular the giant Horseshoe Falls. In the rest of this Niagara Falls guide, we’ll tell you everything you need to know about what to do in Niagara falls and the six most popular ways to do so, each one offering its own unique experience.
Table Rock Centre
Table Rock Centre serves as the gateway to Niagara Falls and is the perfect place to start your adventure. The welcome centre has all the amenities you need including a gift shop, local attractions info kiosks, restaurants and takeaway food options, bathrooms, and interactive exhibits that provide historical and ecological information about Niagara Falls. This is a good place to learn about what to do in Niagara Falls (besides this guide of course!). More importantly, its outdoor terrace is the closest you can get to the top of Horseshoe Falls, making it a most popular spot for photos or to simply take in the falls in all their glory. Enjoy breathtaking views over the railing of thousands of gallons of water pouring into the churning Niagara River below.
For those so inclined you can purchase tickets to the Niagara’s Fury show, a multi-sensory simulation of the last Ice Age and the story of Niagara Falls. The temperature drops, mist and snow fall, and you’ll be surrounded by stunning visuals in this immersive 4D experience that tells the story of the creation of Niagara Falls. Table Rock Centre is also home to Journey Behind the Falls, discussed below, and is a great place to pick up a Niagara Falls visitor guide if you would like a paper copy. Open year round.
Niagara City Cruises
If you were to ask any Niagara Falls guide, they’ll likely tell you the boat tour is the most popular attraction at Niagara Falls, and for good reason! This up-close experience gives you the opportunity to stand at the base of the thundering Horseshoe Falls as thousands of gallons of water pour off the rocks. You’ll begin this immersive experience sailing past the American and Bridal Veil Falls, then the excitement builds as you head into the heart of the Canadian waterfall. The boat is specially designed to navigate the current and will idle for about ten minutes at the base of the falls, so close you’ll feel like you can practically reach out and touch the surging wall of water. Mist and spray envelop the ship while rainbows dance all around you, adding a touch of magic to the scene. Hearing the roar of this force of nature from below, you truly feel like you’re inside the waterfall itself.
Pro tip: If you decide to stay outside on the boat, use the poncho they give you and stand right at the front of the boat on the lower deck to shield your lower legs and feet as much as possible. Wear sunglasses even if it’s not sunny, so you can look up at the waterfall without getting water in your eyes. The cruise itself is 22 minutes, but the full experience—including loading and unloading—is closer to an hour. Late spring to early fall operations.
Journey Behinds the Falls
Begin this immersive experience with a 130-foot elevator ride from inside Table Rock Centre to a series of century-old tunnels carved into the rock behind Horseshoe Falls. You’ll feel the thunderous vibration of the turbulent falls as you make your way through the passageway carved into the rock. The experience will be so powerful, you’ll almost feel like you could close your eyes and let the roaring sounds of Niagara Falls guide you forward. Keeps your eyes open though, because you’ll soon emerge onto a viewing platform behind the waterfall. Just a few feet away from the cascading waters, this is literally as close as you can get to this natural wonder, and the sights and sounds are mesmerising as the falls tower above you. Plaques, displays, and other information boards provide insights into the geological history of Niagara Falls, its significance, and the natural processes at work.
The complete experience takes you around 45 minutes, and as with the boat tour, be prepared to get wet (though they do provide you with a poncho). Open year round.
The view from behind a waterfall.
Zipline to the Falls
The zipline is where natural beauty meets adventure, as you leap off a platform 220 feet in the air over the Niagara Gorge. Choose between a seated or “superman-style” (face-down) ride, then let the anticipation build by peering out at the stunning view over the gorge before you take off. Reaching speeds of up to 70 kilometres (40 miles) per hour, you’ll sail the 2,200 feet to the observation platform at the base of Horseshoe Falls. The sensation of wind rushing past you and the sheer drop below together provide an electrifying surge of excitement. Catch your breath and stare up at the waterfall from the observation platform before climbing aboard a shuttle van for a return trip to the summit.
To increase your likelihood of enjoying a shorter wait time—around 30 to 40 minutes—take this ride early in the day or purchase a skip-the-line ticket; otherwise wait times can be up to 1.5 hours. Open year round.
Niagara Helicopters Tour
Thus far, this Niagara Falls guide has told you how to get closer to the falls, but another amazing perspective is from the sky—and there are two options for just such a bird’s eye view. Have your cameras out early if you choose the helicopter tour, because the awe-inspiring sites of Niagara start as soon as you gently lift off the ground, passing the Niagara River then heading to the falls. Appreciate the grandeur of this place from a perspective that only a handful of people ever experience, seeing the water rush towards you from miles away then tumble over Horseshoe Falls into the Niagara River below. Rainbows appear and disappear in all directions as you ride through the mist, your helicopter following the curve of the waterfall. On a clear day, as you return to base you’ll even see the outline of the Toronto skyline on the far side of Lake Ontario.
The helicopter ride is about twelve minutes long, but the complete experience takes around thirty. Open year round.
The 775-foot Skylon Tower offers one of the few ways to experience Niagara Falls from above. Ride the outdoor elevator to the observation decks, with floor-to-ceiling windows offering an unparalleled view of Ontario and New York stretching as far as the eye can see. Visit the outdoor viewing platform to hear the roar of the falls below and perhaps even feel the mist on your face. The tower is home to two restaurants, Revolving Dining Room and Summit Suite Buffet, and there’s no admission cost when you enjoy a meal at either one. At night the view becomes arguably even more enchanting, as an array of lights illuminate the waterfalls to create a romantic and mesmerising atmosphere.
Tickets are required for access to the observation decks, while reservations are not required but strongly recommended for the restaurants. Lunch and dinner served. Skylon Tower and its restaurants are open year round.
Looking to find out what to do in Niagara Falls besides the waterfalls? Check out our visitor guide to Niagara Falls for nature lovers and our guide to Niagara Falls for history buffs! You can also let us do the planning for you on our Niagara Falls guided tour.