Explore The Falls and Beyond - Includes a map of Niagara-On-The-Lake wineries
Niagara Falls has always been in my backyard. Only an hour-and-a-half away from Toronto it’s pretty easy to get to. But here’s the mistake that most people make, they think that Niagara Falls and the 5 km surrounding the falls are the heart and soul of the area. And they couldn’t be more wrong.
I hope to show you that yes, Niagara Falls is badass, BUT Niagara-On-The-Lake is where you want to spend your time. This guide includes some of my favourite highlights and a map of Niagara-On-The-Lake wineries, perfect for biking around and doing tastings.
Oh, and to answer your question - the Canadian side is better.
GO IF YOU LIKE:
VINEYARDS | CYCLING | SMALL-TOWN CHARM | GETTING WET | LAKE VIEWS | BED & BREAKFAST LIFE
A map of Niagara-On-The-Lake Wineries and Sights
Click to expand the legend.
Here’s my most important advice:
Once you’ve seen the falls, leave the area and visit Niagara-On-The-Lake.
Unless you’ve got kids or really enjoy over-commercialized things like ferris wheels, touristy museums and casinos, then stay. You do you. But for me, I find it too much and I seek refuge elsewhere.
Niagara-On-The-Lake (NOTL) has green paths and charming houses, many of which are bed-and-breakfasts. The main attractions are the vineyards, where you can enjoy different regional wines. Summer is the most popular time to visit but I love May and September. And if you’re there in the winter (January) you can sample some of the region’s famous ice wines.
So let’s jump in - my highlights are:
See The US Falls from The Canadian Side
There’s no way around it, Niagara Falls is the highlight of the area. Of the three falls two are on the American side (Bridal Veil and American Falls) but the Canadian side has the behemoth that is Horseshoe Falls.
Canada offers you better views of both the American and Canadian Falls. Walking down on the red stairs (pictured above) is done on the American side, however you can go behind the falls at Horseshoe Falls.
Walk Beside The Falls and Get Up Close AND PERSONAL
This is a must. Why? Because it’s free! You can simply walk along the path beside the falls and take in the views. This path runs all the way along the falls, and continues behind it. Most people (myself included) will stop once they get close enough but that’s a mistake, keep going!
See the power of the Upper Rapids
The views from the upper rapids are also incredible and often overlooked. You can see the rush of water leading up to the edge. Note, you’ll get wet right at the overhang so make sure you’re wearing waterproof clothes.
The Niagara Scow Shipwreck
If you keep walking further you will eventually see the the Niagara Scow shipwreck. I had visited the Falls so many times and never knew this existed. Now that I’ve seen it, I think it’s worth the time to visit.
I mean aren’t you curious? How did it even get there?
THE STORY OF THE SCOW SHIPWRECK
So how did the Scow shipwreck get there? Great question, I had to do some digging to learn about it. The story goes like this.
On August 6, 1918 The Scow was being used for some dredging activities about 1.6km from Horseshoe Falls. It was being pulled along by a tugboat and accidentally broke loose with two men on board. The men, Gustav Lofbeg (51) and James Harris (53) panicked but were smart enough to open up the dumping doors of the scow which slowed it down enough and helped catch it along the rocks, only 600 metres away from the top of the falls!
The men were now stuck, and rescue efforts got underway. The U.S. Coast Guard shot a life line across to the men. This initially seemed to work but then the lines got tangled.
In enters the hero of our story, William “Red” Hill Sr., A Niagara Falls resident, and First World War veteran. He went out twice to untangle the ropes which led to the safe rescue of both men.
The scow couldn’t be salvaged so it sits in the rapids, deteriorating every day.
Get Up Close with the Hornblower
You will get wet, the boat will be rocky, but the views are impressive. Every day The Hornblower takes thousands of passengers right up to the front of the falls. They’ll equip you with some full-body rain ponchos and give you some Niagara Falls facts on the boat. Here’s a guide to the different boat cruises offered by the Hornblower and Maid of the Mist on the American side.
See the falls from Behind
I have not done this personally, so I’d love to hear from someone who did but there is a path that goes behind the falls, and this will be closest you’ll get to them. Apparently it’s very wet and loud and you can feel the intense vibrations of the rushing water.
Bike Through The Vineyards And Sample Some Local Wines
One of the best ways to enjoy the wines in the area is to bike through the different vineyards. There are several companies that offer bike tours and this may be a good option if you’d like to follow a guide.
I created a long and short bike route, so if you want to go at your own pace you can simply rent the bike and follow the below maps.
My Long Self-Guided Bike Tour of Niagara Wineries
I personally have done this route (roughly 29km). It was a beautiful ride and the lunch at Ravine was excellent as usual. But I won’t lie, I don’t frequently bike and I was pretty tired after lunch.
If you’re looking for an active day, and you’re used to cycling then this would be a good option for you. Ravine is my favourite winery for food and the scenery was so beautiful that I would do it again, even with a sore butt.
My Short Self-Guided Bike Tour of Niagara Wineries
If you want to do something shorter, I made a second route (roughly 10km) which hits up lots of the famous wineries in the area. The only downside to this route is that it’s on larger roads, which means you have be more aware of traffic.
When you pick up your bike, you can also discuss your plans with the shop owners. They have a great understanding of the different roads, and if you tell them your comfort level with biking they can help you develop an itinerary.
My Favourite Wineries
Everyone in this area has their personal favourites. I’m not a sommelier but I enjoyed my time and tastings at these places:
Ravine Winery - This is a charming winery that’s further out. While I like the wines, I really go because of the amazing food. It’s perfect for lunch.
Southbrook Vineyards - These guys offer organic and biodynamic wines so you can feel good about all the sampling. The wines are flavourful and I love the modern design of the building.
Pillitteri Estates Winery- I really enjoyed my tour at this winery. I got a good understanding of the process and I found the family history also very interesting. This is a great place to try ice wine and make sure you see their barrel cellar.
Peller Estates - These guys have tons of different tour options, including wine pairings with chocolate and cheese. They also have an ice wine lounge - yeah it’s as cool as it sounds.
Enjoy some Seasonal Fruit
Depending on the time of year, the Niagara region is home to some delicious fruit. You can drive around and find local vendors on the side of the road selling fresh berries, peaches and other fruit or local preserves.
It’s also a great pit stop for when you’re biking. For an easy 50 cents you can eat a fresh peach. Perfect for an energy boost. Once you try fresh, seasonal fruit it will be hard to buy anything from the grocery store again.
Prefer Beer over Wine?
If you’re not into wine, that’s ok! There’s also a few breweries in the area too. I stopped in at Oast House Brewers to check out their stock.
The people there were very friendly. They offer tastings and tours of the facilities and they have a massive smoker that they’ll sometimes use for lunch. I visited too early in the day to sample this fine meat so if you try it, please let me know how it was. You can eat on their deck or inside with lovely view of a vineyard.
Stroll and Shop in The Historic Old Town
If you visit Niagara-On-The-Lake you will eventually find yourself in the Historic Old Town, more specifically, Queen Street. Here you’ll find local shops, art galleries and restaurants.
If you’ve got the time and you’re there during the season, then check out a play at the Shaw Festival.
Fill that Belly
So you’re going to Niagara? Well, consider yourself extremely lucky because that means you have the opportunity to visit my favourite restaurant in Ontario.
Wow, that’s a bold statement right?!
For me, Treadwell Cuisine is nothing short of perfection so I have no problems recommending it.
The food is seasonal and local. I’ve been during three different seasons and every time it’s delicious. I love sitting at the bar, so I can watch the chefs in action. The servers are really knowledgeable and can help you pair your meals with a delicious regional wine.
If you’re a fan of oaky Chardonnays then try my favourite from the region “The Christine” from Rennie Winery in Jordan. I would love to know what you think.
Ravine Winery for Lunch
I absolutely love the food at this winery. It’s local, and seasonal (noticing a theme yet?) and you get to enjoy it all with a lovely view of their vineyard. Pair it with some of their wines and you’ve got yourself a solid lunch.
While you’re on Queen Street, perusing the stores, make sure to stop at Balzac’s coffee to grab a drink. They’ve got hot and cold specialities to keep you happy regardless of the season.
If you’re craving something sweet, that’ll perk you up, try the Café Canadienne. It’s a latte with a shot of Canadian maple syrup. Yum! Plus the baristas love working on their latte art so you’ll want to appreciate their design before sipping.
Try Some iconic Canadian desserts
You can’t leave Niagara without trying two iconic Canadian desserts.
The butter tart - a sweet pastry filled with a mixture of butter, sugar, maple syrup and sometimes toppings like walnuts or raisins.
The Nanaimo Bar - A chilled dessert named after the city of Nanaimo. It consists of three layers; a wafer crumb base, maple syrup icing and a chocolate top.
Where to stay in Niagara
The link below is an affiliate link, meaning, at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you click through and make a booking. As always, I only recommend products and services I trust.
When in Niagara I highly recommend booking a b&b. There are so many in the area and it allows you to connect with locals and get insider tips. I have to admit, my parents live near NOTL so I personally haven’t stayed anywhere. But here’s a list of b&bs with excellent ratings online.
Niagara Photography TIPS
You’re likely going to be shooting Niagara Falls. So here’s some of the challenges I faced.
Sunset at Niagara Falls isn’t really existent. The sun sets on the other side of the city so don’t go expecting bursts of beautiful light in the sky. You’ll get a bit of this on The American Falls but not the Canadian ones.
Sunrise is when you’ll get the light on the Canadian Falls but this doesn’t necessarily mean it will happen for you. I was up at 5am and setup in time but all I got was mist. So much mist that it completely blocked the sun and falls.
I was about to quit when I decided to focus on shooting other things. I ended up using the mist to get some eerie shots I absolutely loved. Sure they’re not of the falls, but when you’ve got mist and fog, be creative and improvise!
Know that shooting close up (whether you’re on the path, boat or visiting behind the falls) will be very wet. You’ll want to make sure you and your gear stays dry.
Bring lots of wipes to keep your lenses clean and avoid changing lenses if possible or you risk getting your sensor nice and spotty.
Getting Around Niagara
Getting to Niagara isn’t too difficult. Most people drive from either Toronto or Buffalo. Americans are likely going to save money by flying to Buffalo.
While in Niagara, a car is the best way to get around. It provides freedom to visit different areas and attractions. Visiting the wineries can be done alone or through a tour company. The latter is useful if you plan on drinking all the samples.
I love biking through the wineries. I was able to visit 6 wineries and enjoy small tastings. Biking really allows you to take in the surrounding area as well. Zoom Leisure bikes offers rentals and guided tours.
Safety In Niagara
Niagara is a very safe area, you’ll just want to take precautions when visiting the vineyards. If you are driving, or even biking, and start to feel like the tastings may be affecting your ability to continue then make sure to get picked up. The tour companies can arrange ways to get the bikes (likely for a fee) if you feel like you can no longer get back to the starting point.
Also note that a few of the roads in the areas do not have specific bike paths so be aware of your surroundings and know the basic hand signals to let cars understand your intentions.