Niagara Falls is arguably the biggest tourist destination in Ontario, Canada. People come from all over the world to see this magnificent beauty. Considering I was born in the Niagara Region, I’ve definitely taken the Canada side of Niagara Falls for granted. Growing up in St Catharines, the go-to adventure for any visiting out-of-towner was Niagara Falls. This turned from day trips to overnight adventures as I got older, and I’ve learned a thing or two throughout my visits. The area can be overwhelming (especially in peak season), but these insider tips for visiting Niagara Falls should help calm your nerves and save you some dollars too!
When I visited Niagara as a kid, the area wasn’t nearly as built up nor as busy as it is now. The power of the internet and social media has only driven people to the area. Let’s be honest – who doesn’t want to get that epic selfie with the Horseshoe Falls? I’ve probably taken it at least 12 times by now… and some are much prettier than others.
Wondering if you should visit Niagara Falls? I 100% say yes! It’s a given for any Canadian bucket list whether you’re from the country or otherwise. The area is ever-changing with new restaurants, attractions, and more. This means you can easily have a different adventure each time you go! The only thing that comes with a tourist mecca is the tourist traps which can really take a toll on your bank account. I don’t want you to come and say aww man, these are the things I wish I knew before visiting Niagara Falls. So hopefully these tips from an almost-local should help you plan your Niagara Falls visit!
SOMETHING TO NOTE: Before I dive in, I want to clarify that these tips are for visiting the Canadian side of Niagara Falls. While there is plenty to do on the American side, that will have to wait for another post.
Let’s Start With the Planning Logistics
Before we even get to your Niagara Falls vacation, let’s talk about planning your trip. We all know a fair amount of planning goes into every adventure so let me help you make the most of it.
Do I Need a Passport?
Niagara Falls is a popular destination for Canadians, Americans and international travellers alike. A popular question is “Can I visit Niagara Falls without a passport?” If you’re travelling within Canada whether that be by air, train or car, it is possible to visit without one. However, if you’re visiting from outside of Canada, you will need a passport to enter the country. It doesn’t matter whether you are crossing by land, air or sea, a passport valid for at least 6 months past your visit is required to enter Canada.
You also might be required to have an Electronic Travel Authorization or eTA in order to enter the country. This costs $7 and you can apply online on the Government of Canada website. One thing to note is that there are a number of scam websites out there that will try to sell you the eTA for upwards of $50. Don’t fall for it! ONLY apply via the Government of Canada website and you should never pay more than $7 for it.
Things International Visitors Should Watch For
While this might be obvious to some, I know I’ve been caught a few times by these when crossing the border and I’m sure I’m not the only one! Niagara Falls might be just a short drive and border crossing for some of you, but it’s still in another country which could mean some additional fees you might not be aware of!
If you’re driving to Niagara Falls from the USA, you’ll be crossing at one of four bridges. Each of these has a toll that you will be required to pay in order to cross into Canada. The cost depends on the size of your vehicle as well as if you have a valid Nexus Card. I’d recommend having either some Canadian or US cash on hand so you’re not caught by surprise!
Another thing to look into is your cellphone carrier. The last thing you want to do is rack up an insane bill because of roaming fees! It’s not uncommon to find wifi at hotels and restaurants within Niagara Falls, I wouldn’t depend on it. I highly recommend looking into a roaming package with your cellphone provider to ensure you keep your costs at bay!
While cash is widely accepted, chances are you’ll be using a credit card during your visit to Niagara Falls. It’s easy, convenient and you don’t have to worry about exchanging more money than you need. However, you’ll want to look into your credit card and see what your bank’s rate of exchange is and if they charge any additional fees. In the long run, it might be worth exchanging a set amount of money rather than relying on your card.
When You Should Visit Niagara Falls
One of the most expensive elements of a trip is accommodation and it can get pricey, especially during the peak summer season. Visiting in the off-season is honestly the easiest way to save some cash. Not only do the prices come down to help entice tourists to visit, but the hotels and attractions be quieter too.
Is there a best day to visit Niagara Falls? Not really, but the best time, in my opinion, is the winter from about mid-January to late-April. It’s even better if you can manage to plan to visit during the week. Hotels often have mid-week deals so why not cash in on them! They might even have a falls view room if you’re lucky. That leads me to my next point…
How to Get to Niagara Falls
As with any major travel destination, there are a number of ways you can get to Niagara Falls. Here’s the lowdown on all the transit options for Niagara Falls.
Niagara Falls by Air
If you’re looking to fly to Niagara Falls, you have a few options. While Niagara Falls has its own airport (code IATA), the only passenger airline that flies into it is DirectAir which flies from a handful of destinations.
The closest airport on the Canadian side is the John C Munro Hamilton International Airport (code YHM) located about 70km away. It’s an hour drive from Hamilton to Niagara Falls and you can sometimes find some great deals as it’s a smaller airport. From here you can rent a car for your trip or get a taxi or shuttle instead.
Chances are though, you’re flying into Pearson International Airport (code YYZ) in Toronto which is the largest airport in the area. Similar to Hamilton’s airport, you can either arrange a shuttle or rent a car to get you to Niagara Falls for your getaway.
Lastly, you can also fly into Buffalo-Niagara International Airport (code BUF) but this is located in the United States. It’s a little over 30 minutes away from Niagara Falls but can offer some great deals if you’re looking to visit from a US destination.
Visiting Niagara Falls by Car
I’d say the majority of people who come to Niagara Falls visit by car. Niagara Falls is a popular destination not just because of the sheer beauty of the falls but because of its accessibility. It’s a popular Ontario road trip destination for day trips, weekends and more! From downtown Toronto, you follow the Gardiner Expressway westward to the Queen Elizabeth Way. Follow it until you see the exit to the Ontario 420 and you’ll be in Niagara Falls!
Train and Bus to Niagara Falls
The majority of tourists travel to Niagara Falls via car, but that’s not the only way to get into the area. VIA Rail, Canada’s national passenger rail service, offers direct trains from Toronto and New York City once a day with a returning train in the evening. If you’re travelling from a different destination, there are a number of connecting trains that can get you to Niagara Falls. It’s best to buy your VIA Rail ticket on Tuesdays as that’s their deal day which will save you some money. You can also travel to Niagara Falls from a number of American cities with Amtrak including Cleveland, Albany and more.
If you don’t manage to snag a VIA ticket on a Tuesday, GO Transit offers a cheaper alternative. GO Transit provides transit from the Greater Toronto Area as well as Hamilton. GO Trains run from Toronto to Niagara Falls on weekends from the Canada Day weekend in July until Labour Day, as well as during the May long weekend. From the Niagara Falls GO Transit terminal, you can either walk 30 minutes to Clifton Hill or hop on the WeGo bus to take you to your destination. GO buses only run in the summer months as well. However, by 2023 there is said to be regular service from Toronto to Niagara Falls year-round so that gives you something to look forward to!
Lastly, you can always hop on the bus. Both Greyhound and Megabus have daily buses from Toronto and Buffalo to the Niagara Falls Bus Terminal. While it’s not the fastest as traffic on the highway can slow you down, you can get a ticket for $3 Canadian one way if you book early enough!
When Choosing Your Niagara Falls Hotel
One of the first things I do once I’ve chosen a destination is to look for accommodation. I have a few tricks I use to save money on hotels, though there are few more things you should look out for while choosing where to stay when visiting Niagara Falls.
Watch Out for Pesky Parking Fees
One of the downsides of being close to the falls is that many of the hotels charge for overnight parking, especially ones you’ll find in Travelzoo or Groupon deals. While it’s a bummer, it’s not a deal breaker if you’re visiting for one night. If you’re planning an extended stay however, I’d highly suggest opting for a hotel that includes parking.
Don’t worry, I’ve done all the research for you to see which hotels are close to the core area of Clifton Hill. Below is a list of hotels which includes parking with your stay. (This is subject to change without notice so if it does, I apologize in advance!)
- Clifton Victoria Inn at the Falls
- Quality Hotel Fallsview Cascade
- Holiday Inn By The Falls
- Knights Inn By The Falls
As you know, I always recommend staying as local as possible when visiting a destination. As Niagara Falls is a popular tourism destination, there aren’t as many local options as there are chain hotels. To support local, you’ll need to get a little further away from the core area. The Crystal Inn on the Parkway and the River Rapids Inn are great choices for this and both include free parking. You might not be able to walk around as easily but it also gives you a little peace and quiet as you’re away from the hustle and bustle that come with the core area. The WeGo bus is also here which will give you transit if it’s too far for you to walk!
If you’d rather have a homier vibe when in the area, there are a few Airbnb listings that can easily save you some cash! They’re great rates so they fill up fast – make sure you book ahead if this is the option you want. Never used Airbnb before? Sign up with my referral and you can save $45 on your first trip! Or see what savings you can snag on hotels near Niagara Falls with this Booking.com deal finder.
Make the Most of any Travelzoo or Groupon Deals
Those mid-week Niagara Falls deals? They can come with a lot of perks as many of them offer things to do in Niagara Falls for couples or families with children. My most recent trip came with coupons for a number of restaurants in the immediate vicinity, attractions like the arcade and magic shows, casino credits and more!
Every time I’ve utilized these deals, I’ve never been able to use all of the perks that came along with it. Luckily the majority of them don’t expire on the day you receive them, so that means you can use them on another day or come back again and still save money. Some are even valid until the end of the year! I highly recommend signing up with Travelzoo so you don’t miss out on these incredible deals.
What About Things to Do in Niagara Falls?
While the main draws are the Horseshoe Falls and American Falls themselves, the area offers plenty of other activities to entertain you. This especially comes in handy if the weather is not on your side. Whether it’s a frigidly cold winter day or a rainy summer afternoon, there’s plenty to do both inside and out.
SIDE NOTE: if you’re unsure of what to wear to Niagara Falls, I always suggest layers. In the winter, indoor attractions can be quite warm compared to outside and vice versa in the summer, so dress like a Canadian and opt for layers. It’s how we survive all of our seasons.
Remember how I mentioned travelling in the winter is the best time to visit? The Niagara Parks Wonder Pass is another reason to do so as you get great discounts on a number of Niagara Falls attractions. For just $25 per person, you’ll get access to the Journey Behind the Falls which offers the best views of Niagara Falls (well, the Horseshoe Falls) in my opinion, the Butterfly Conservatory, Floral Showhouse and the 4D adventure film called Niagara’s Fury.
Not only this, but you’ll also get plenty of coupons. These include a 2-day Falls Incline pass which will take you from Table Rock up to the Fallsview Casino area and a 2-day WeGo pass which is the transportation service that operates around the main tourist area. You can use the WeGo to get to a number of incredible areas that are a bit off the beaten path like the Niagara Glen. It’s seriously not to be missed when visiting Niagara Falls! This is literally savings of $40+ so you’re getting all of these attractions for less than half price. The only downside is it’s only available from November to April.
In the warmer months however, there is more selection as more attractions are available. If you’re planning on doing the Hornblower Boat Cruise (formerly known as Maid of the Mist) and one or two more other attractions, I highly recommend grabbing the Adventure Pass. It’s worth it for the money you’ll save! Visit the Niagara Parks website for more details.
If you’ve done all the typical attractions before, there’s always your own two feet to take you elsewhere! Take a trip up the parkway to the Niagara Glen where you can enjoy some beautiful hiking trails and great lookout points. Keep going a little further and you can head to the Floral Clock, the Niagara Glen (seriously, you can’t miss out on these trails!) and even the Bruce Trail’s Southern Terminus. If you head south along the Niagara Parkway to access the ever beautiful Dufferin Islands (a hotspot during the Winter Festival of Lights you won’t want to miss), Kingsbridge Park and what’s left of Fort Chippewa.
One last thing… a fun fact you may not know is that you can actually be in two places at once. All you’ll need is a quarter and your passport. It isn’t really advertised but the Rainbow Bridge across from Casino Niagara is pedestrian-friendly! Just throw a quarter in the turnstile and walk towards the US side. Halfway you’ll find a plaque which illustrates the exact border between the two countries – meaning you can have one foot in Niagara Falls on the American side, and one on the Canadian side. How cool is that?! An added bonus is the view is pretty fabulous too!
How About Things to Do for Families in Niagara Falls?
Niagara Falls and families go hand-in-hand as there is plenty to do for families of all shapes and sizes. The majority of the attractions mentioned above are great for families with small children, and there is plenty more to do around Clifton Hill. With fun houses, wax museums, bowling, mini putt and more you could easily spend one day just in Clifton Hill alone! Everything is also paved sidewalks and easily accessible for those with strollers. However, the sidewalks can get crowded in the busier months.
Also if you’re looking for a real treat, dinner at the Rainforest Café is a must if you haven’t been before. With animatronic animals and ‘thunderstorms’ every 30 minutes, it’s bound to entertain the youngin’s… it still entertains me! Although it can get loud, so if your little one has sensitive ears, a pair of earplugs might be a good idea.
What About Things to Do in Niagara Falls for Couples?
For all the lovebirds, there is plenty of romantic spots for a memorable trip. You can get some of the best sights of the area from the top of the Niagara Skywheel. Just you and your partner in crime snuggled up enjoying each other’s company and the views from your own personal little pod. If that doesn’t make you go aww… then you’re a tough crowd.
Looking for a more easy-going, low-key adventure? Grab a drink and enjoy some friendly competition at the arcade! Go old school with some ski ball, rip up the dance floor with some Dance Dance Revolution and more at the Great Canadian Midway. The upstairs arcade next to the Boston Pizza is licensed so you can enjoy an adult beverage while kicking your partner’s butt… I mean, celebrating each other’s wins. Yes.
What about the guys looking to woo their new main squeeze? How about a trip to a haunted house. Protecting her from the wrath of Dracula and his goons is bound to earn you some points… unless you’re the one hiding behind her. If you’re a pair of horror buffs, you can always take on Screamers… if you dare!
For those looking to celebrate a big night, dinner at the Skylon Tower‘s revolving restaurant is a great spot. Get a little fancied up and enjoy the great food and service. I highly suggest going around sunset, if not to have dinner while the sun is saying goodbye for another day then to enjoy it from the observation deck which is included at no extra cost! Although if you’re really looking to kick it up a notch, there’s the Ruth Chris Steakhouse across from the Fallsview Casino. I can honestly say it was one of the best meals I’ve had in the area, but the price tag shows it… so I’d save this for a big event or if you’ve gotten lucky at the casino prior. Although if you cashed in on one of those Travelzoo or Groupon deals, it’ll help ease the pain on your wallet.
In all honesty though, whether you’re going for the low-key fun or fancy dress & tie, I’d avoid the peak travel times. I don’t know about you, but fighting through crowds really isn’t my idea of a romantic getaway!
Additional Things to Know For a Trip to Niagara
Each time you visit Niagara Falls, you’ll discover something about the destination. It’s from multiple visits that I’ve gained this wealth of knowledge! Here are a few additional things to know for your visit to Niagara Falls.
What to Wear When Visiting Niagara Falls
What many don’t realize is that Canada is infamous for fluctuating weather. We’ve had snow in May, scorching temperatures of almost 40°C (~100°F) in August and Niagara Falls even came close to freezing over a few winters back. As you can imagine, it’s hard to pack when the temperature is all over the place!
As I briefly mentioned earlier, I always recommend dressing in layers. If you visit in the summer, it could be incredibly hot outside but then you’ll have air-conditioned restaurants and stores. As someone who almost always finds the AC too cold, I don’t leave home without some sort of hoodie or zip-up sweater to ensure my teeth aren’t chattering. As for winter, it’s pretty much the reverse. Freezing temps outside with warm and cozy inside. You’ll want to wear a t-shirt under your hoodie in case you get too hot!
If you plan on going out to a fancy dinner or hitting up the casino, it’s not uncommon to get a little dressed up. I’d recommend packing at least one outfit that’s at least business casual if you plan on splurging a little with a sophisticated night out. It never hurts to throw in a little black dress (and whatever the male equivalent of that is)!
Tips for Saving Money in Niagara Falls
Visiting Niagara Falls itself is free, but it all depends on what you do and where you go within the city. If you’re stopping in just to catch a glimpse of the Horseshoe Falls and wander around the city, then you can do so without paying a dime. However, chances are you’ll be spending the day there meaning you’ll probably spend a bit of cash at some point.
One of the easiest places to save money in Niagara is by where you eat. Many of the restaurants along Clifton Hill, near the Fallsview Casino and on Table Rock are convenient but expensive. Your best bet is to go a little off the beaten track and support local establishments. Not only this, but chances are you’ll get an amazing meal as they’re concerned about having repeat customers while many of the big restaurants are more focused on the number of one-time visitors. Oh, and pizza delivery is always a great option especially for a big group or after a long day of walking around to see the sights!
For those looking to get a little crazy, alcohol can get expensive. The best place to get alcohol without breaking the bank is at the LCBO (there’s one right on Ferry St and Fallsview Blvd – perfect for stopping on your way in) or the Beer Store. There is a Wine Rack in the Fallsview Casino complex which will do in a pinch, but the selection will be small.
What Do I Need to Visit Niagara Falls?
If you’re Canadian then all you need is your two feet and your transportation! If you’re coming from the United States, you will need a valid passport or NEXUS card in order to cross the border. This goes for the pedestrian bridge too! You will also be required to pay a toll for the bridge as you enter Canada. You can find a list of what the current toll price is here.
Are you a citizen of another country? Chances are you will need an Electronic Travel Authorization or ETA in order to visit Canada. This is easy to obtain and is connected to your passport. All you need to do is fill out this form online and pay a $7 fee. However, some countries may even require a visitor visa in order to visit Canada. If you’re unsure which one you need, take a look at the Government of Canada website to see if you require an ETA, visitor visa and how to go about getting either one.
Is There Any Time I Can’t Visit Niagara Falls?
Contrary to what some may say, Niagara Falls never closes. The stores, restaurants and other establishments may close, but the falls are always there for you to admire. Yes, you can visit Niagara Falls at night. Yes, you can visit Niagara Falls in April or December or any month of the year. If you’re looking for a specific time on when to visit Niagara Falls, well that’s entirely up to you! You can have a different experience depending on when you visit. If you’re wondering whether you should visit in December or any other time for that matter, I think the answer is yes. Each season has its perks and quirks, you just have to decide what time is best for you!
Looking for Other Things To Do in Niagara?
The city itself is great and all, but there are plenty of things to do in Niagara Region that shouldn’t be missed. The picturesque town of Niagara-on-the-Lake is perfect for an afternoon of wandering shops, delightful boutique eateries and to catch a theatre show. If wine is your thing, I highly suggest heading to one of the many wineries in the area. There’s a reason why this region is the 2nd highest for Canadian wine exports!
You have two options for this – a bus tour that leaves right from one of the hotels in Niagara Falls or you can assign a designated driver and hit the open road. There are perks and downsides to both, but if you want my insight on what wineries to hit, I suggest Inniskillin, Peller Estates, Pillitteri, Konzelmann and Small Talk Vineyards. I’ve got all the details on these Niagara wineries and more! Most wineries can get really busy in the summer so if you’re looking for somewhere on the quieter side during that time, the wineries in Vineland are a great option!
If you’re looking to do a little shopping, you have the option of two outlets in Niagara. There’s the Canada One Factory Outlet which is closest to Niagara Falls or the newer Outlet Collection at Niagara. Both offer a different ensemble of stores, but if you had to choose I’d select the latter.
Are you one that heads for the trails? There’s plenty of hiking to be done. As I mentioned earlier you can tackle part of the Bruce Trail or enjoy the views from the Niagara Glen. If you need more waterfalls in your life, Decew Falls is the closest option with Swayze Falls in Short Hills Provincial Park, Louth Falls and Rockway Falls just around the corner. Here’s a round up of over 10 waterfalls you can check out in the Niagara Region! Waterfall hunting is hands down one of the top things to do on the way to Niagara Falls.
If you don’t want to drive far, there’s always the Niagara Glen for some hiking adventures. Yes I know, I’ve mentioned it 3 times now. There’s a reason because it offers some seriously amazing views of the Niagara Gorge and the Niagara River. If you’re going to hike anywhere, it’s gotta be the Glen!
The Biggest Thing to Know When Visiting Niagara Falls Canada
I put this one at the bottom because if you’re going to remember any of these Niagara Falls travel tips – this is the one. The worst is that it flies under the radar so often. If you look at your bills, you may see the acronym DMDF. This refers to the “destination marketing and development fee”, a 3% charge which many hotels and restaurants will add to your bill. Also known as a TIFF (tourism infrastructure funding fee), it is entirely voluntary and can be refused.
Since 2018, a hotel tax of $2 per night has been approved but it is ONLY for hotel rooms and cannot be applied to any other tourism components. However, some hotels have made it mandatory and have increased it as high as 10%, so be sure to read the fine print or call and inquire when booking your accommodation. What makes it even worse? This money isn’t being collected for the joint purpose of helping the region – it’s going right to the establishments for them to spend as they see fit. For some bills, it may only be a dollar or two, but for an extended hotel stay… it quickly adds up. Be sure to ask about it as hotels and restaurants will not say a word unless you do.
Summary of Lindsay’s Insider Tips for Visiting Niagara Falls
For those skimming this post who are looking to just cut to the nitty-gritty, here are the important things to know when planning a trip to Niagara Falls.
- Niagara Falls is always open, meaning you can see both the Horseshoe Falls and Bridal Veil Falls (aka the American Falls) any day at any time.
- While attractions cost money, visiting Niagara Falls is free if you’re there to witness the gorgeous waterfalls!
- You can visit Niagara Falls at any time of the year. Can you visit Niagara Falls in winter? Yes. Can you visit Niagara Falls in March? Yes. Can you visit Niagara Falls now? Of course, come on down!
- If you’re coming from outside of Canada, you’ll need a passport to visit Niagara Falls and possibly an eTA. You’ll also want to check with your credit cards and phone carriers to ensure you avoid any extra fees during your trip.
- When selecting your hotel, watch out for parking fees as they’re daily and can become very expensive over an extended stay.
- Travelzoo has amazing deals where you can enjoy a number of attractions at a great discount.
- Take advantage of the Niagara Parks passes like the Wonder Pass or Adventure Pass to save money on attractions.
- Don’t miss out on the amazing hiking that’s available in Niagara Falls, especially all the waterfalls you can chase in the Niagara Region.
- There are plenty of things to do for families, couples and friends in Niagara Falls making it a great destination for any type of trip.
- Dress in layers when visiting to ensure you’re always comfortable no matter the climate.
- It’s a great idea to get outside of Niagara Falls so you don’t miss out on exploring Niagara-on-the-Lake aka wine country and other great features of the area.
- Never forget to ask to have the DMDF or TIFF to be removed from your bills as it is entirely voluntary and can be refused.
Ready to Visit Niagara Falls?
Phew, that’s quite the lengthy list! As I said before, visiting Niagara Falls can be quite the ordeal, but I hope this round-up of Niagara Falls vacation tips will help make your stay as enjoyable as possible. If you’re looking for tips for visiting Niagara Falls USA, you’ll have to stay tuned for another post. Even though I lived in the area for over 20 years, I still have barely experienced the American side. I think I need to fix that one day!
Are you going to Niagara Falls soon? Have you visited Niagara Falls before? Have I missed any of your questions about Niagara Falls that you’d like answered? Please let me know in a comment below!