What to do
Learn the history. A good place to start is the Niagara Falls History Museum, where exhibits explain how the falls and their river were carved out during the last ice age, some 12,000 years ago, as well as the region’s role in the War of 1812 (the downtown museum is located near the Lundy’s Lane Battlefield, site of one of the war’s bloodiest battles).
Get your fill of the falls. To fully (and literally) immerse in the waterfall experience, don a plastic poncho and ride an elevator down into the Niagara escarpment during Journey Behind the Falls ($12.40 U.S.). You’ll emerge into tunnels cut through the bedrock at the base of Horseshoe Falls to feel the thundering vibration and hear the ceaseless roar caused by water coursing over the brink. Venture out onto the accessible upper observation deck and get kissed (or, rather, drenched) by spray as the waterfalls behind you.
Those prone to claustrophobia may want to opt instead for a ride on Niagara City Cruises by Hornblower ($25). These large, stable boats sail past American Falls and Bridal Veil Falls into a swirl of mist beneath Horseshoe Falls; close your eyes and imagine how Annie Taylor, who was in her 60s when she climbed in that barrel, felt after her feat. Wheelchairs are available onboard on a first come, first served basis (for the lower deck of the boat only), and can be requested at the funicular booth at the base of Clifton Hill.
Explore Niagara parks. In either direction from the falls you’ll find preserved parkland that parallels the Niagara River. Active visitors can walk or cycle the Niagara River Recreation Trail, which winds 33 miles between Fort Erie and Niagara-on-the-Lake. You’ll pass attractions such as Niagara Glen, with 2.5 miles of hiking trails that descend from the top of the Niagara escarpment into a Carolinian forest where tulip trees (a kind of magnolia) grow near the river’s edge.
Accessible highlights along the trail include the Whitewater Walk, a quarter-mile wooden boardwalk with interpretive signage adjacent to fearsome Class VI rapids that course through the Niagara Gorge. This is the spot where Lois Lane jumped into the river to try and trick Clark Kent into revealing his superhero identity in Superman II.
Also nearby is the Niagara Parks Botanical Gardens. The 99 acres of beautifully maintained gardens are laced with wide, flat brick pathways and lots of spots to sit and smells the roses. There’s a butterfly conservatory ($13.60) on site, too, where more than 2,000 butterflies, including red lacewings and blue morphos, flit between flowering tropical plants and Romanesque statuary. The two attractions together offer a soothing respite from the crowds near the falls.
Tour wineries. In the past 20 years the number of Ontario VQA wineries has exploded from 44 to 185, with 95 of them located on the Niagara Peninsula. It’s fun to spend an afternoon stopping in at two or three to sample cool-climate varietals such as Riesling for white wine lovers and Cabernet Franc for those who prefer big reds.
Vineland Estates, less than a 30-minute drive from Niagara Falls near the village of Jordan, combines the historic charm of an 1840s Mennonite homestead with the modern trend of farm-to-table dining in its restaurant. This boutique winery makes only 52,000 cases a year and you can sample the range inside a restored 1877 barn that functions as a tasting room and wine shop.
For a grander tour and tasting experience, try Peller Estates near Niagara-on-the-Lake, just 13 miles north of the falls. Embark on the Greatest Winery Tour ($29), an educational vine-to-glass experience that takes you to the vineyard, down into the cellar, and finishes off inside the 10Below Icewine Lounge. You can’t leave Canada without sampling icewine, a dessert wine made by pressing grapes that have frozen on the vine. (Modified tours are available to wheelchair guests. For a complete listing of accessible wineries, visit accessibleniagara.com.)
Visit Niagara-on-the-Lake. This historic town on the south shore of Lake Ontario offers a nod to the past with horse-drawn carriage rides and stores including an apothecary and old-time candy shop. Spend time strolling past colonial buildings and the statue of playwright George Bernard Shaw on Queen Street, the three-block main drag.
Niagara-on-the-Lake is also the home of the Shaw Festival Theatre, Canada’s second-largest producing theater. Performances run this year from May through December at three theaters, plus an outdoor theater, with wheelchair seating available.