Niagara Falls is a must-see destination on the US – Canadian border, between Lake Ontario and Lake Erie. We visited both the Canadian and American sides in one day, while staying in Toronto.
While planning the trip, we faced many questions. How much time should we spend on each side? What could we see and do there? Which side is better?
Now that we have seen it for ourselves we are going to clarify how it really is, and how to plan your visit to make the most of it.
There are four airports nearby:
- Niagara Falls International Airport (IAG), USA
- Buffalo – Niagara International Airport (BUF), USA
- John C. Munro Hamilton International Airport (YHM), Canada
- Toronto Pearson International Airport (YTO), Canada
Niagara Falls is also easily accessible by car. It is just a short drive from Toronto (Ontario, Canada) or Buffalo (New York, USA). There are also many bus and train connections.
The falls are not the highest, but they are rather wide. The combined water flow rate is the highest in the world.
The most impressive waterfalls (Horseshoe Falls) are located on the Canadian side. They are 51 metres (167 feet) high and the length of brink is 792 metres (2600 feet).
Two more falls are located on the American side (American Falls, Bridal Veil Falls). They are 53 metres (174 feet) high, but because of the rocks at the base, the actual fall is just 21 metres (69 feet). The length of brink is 323 metres (1060 feet).
The Horseshoe Falls and American Falls are separated by Goat Island.
All the waterfalls can be seen from both sides. There are no entrance fees (excluding the paid attractions). The views are better on the Canadian side because you can see the front of the falls across the Niagara River. You get only sideways views on the American side, but you can get closer to the falls there.
The Rainbow Bridge connects USA and Canada. It is the closest bridge to the downtown of Niagara Falls. You can drive or walk across, and a toll applies. You will be crossing a border so you will need your passport (and possibly a visa or visa waiver).
We were driving from one side to the other and all the bridges in the area were tolled. Make sure you have some Canadian or US dollars in cash because some of the toll booths don’t accept credit cards.
Wear waterproof clothes and be ready to get wet, even if you aren’t planning to get close to the falls or take a boat ride. The wind might bring the mist from the waterfalls quite far. It is a good idea to wear a hooded rain jacket and good waterproof shoes, or just flip flops or sandals.
Canadian Side (Niagara Falls, Ontario)
We arrived at the Canadian side first. We have to admit that our first feeling was disappointment. The town was tacky and lacked any charm. It reminded us of outdated Las Vegas. It was an example of commercialisation going too far. Except for the waterfalls, there wasn’t any nature left. We enjoyed the walk along the river and the stunning views of the waterfalls, but unfortunately the town itself spoilt the experience.
The Whirlpool Aero Car was the first attraction we encountered. It is a historical cable car that travels above a huge whirlpool created by the falls.
Then we followed Niagara Parkway and got to the entertainment centre of the town (Clifton Hill) with its cheesy attractions, hotels, restaurants and casinos. Parking in the vicinity of the falls was expensive but we found a reasonably priced spot a little further. It was located behind the Bird Kingdom (entrance from Hiram Street). The rate was 2.50 CAD (1.88 USD) per hour. It was about a 30-minute slow walk to the main lookout point.
After we parked, we walked along the river towards the Rainbow Bridge.
We saw the American waterfalls first. Even though they are smaller than their Canadian counterparts, they are still impressive. The never-ending flow of water crashes onto the rocks below.
We passed by the booths selling tickets for the boat rides and we were approaching the Horseshoe Falls and their mist.
Table Rock is the spot for the closest views of the Horseshoe Falls. There is also a big Information Centre where you can buy tickets, souvenirs or get something to eat. The falls are indeed spectacular – we could have been watching the huge amounts of falling water forever.
There is no need for a car to be able to get around, as walking is the best option. You can also use public transportation.
American Side (Niagara Falls, New York)
The American side was more quiet and green. Niagara Falls State Park is America’s oldest State park. There are also some casinos, hotels and attractions in the town, but not as many as in Canada.
The falls are surrounded by a nice park with a few walking paths. The site consists of a few islands with many nice views. Everything is within easy reach by foot or by the trolley.
Parking close to the falls is limited. We parked on Goat Island between the American and Horseshoe Falls, where a full-day parking ticket was 10 USD.
The best views of the Horseshoe Falls are from the Terrapin Point. You can see the water coming from the side. Due to the horseshoe shape of the falls you can still see a big part of them (mist permitting).
We followed the trail along the coast to the Three Sisters Islands. This is a nice walk without crowds. There isn’t much of the waterfalls to be seen (only the fast rapids) so you can skip it if you don’t have much time.
We came back to Terrapin Point and kept walking in the opposite direction, towards the American Falls. After crossing the bridge over the Bridal Veil Falls, we got to Luna Island and could watch the American Falls from above. The views here were amazing.
Then we followed the trail leading to the bridge that connects Goat Island with the mainland. There is another visitor centre here that is perfect for a break.
You can get more great views of the American Falls from Prospect Point and the Observation Tower. The boat boarding area is located below the tower. You can buy cheap tickets just to access the tower and the elevator downstairs, even if you aren’t planning to take the boat. If you come later in the afternoon, you might get to the Observation Tower for free (we did).
We also tried to get to the Crowe Nest area for more views but we were told that it was already closed. It was around 5 pm then, so we walked back to our car.
Both sides are well prepared for tourists. There are a few options on how to get closer to the waterfalls.
The most renowned are the boats that go very close to Horseshoe Falls. They are called Maid of the Mist. There isn’t much difference between the Canadian or American boats and the prices are similar. It is a good idea to check your currency exchange rate to see where you can get better value.
Both the boats have the same routing – they pass by the American Falls first and continue to the Canadian Falls to get the passengers soaked. The boats take turns. The Canadian boats (and ponchos) are red, the American ones are blue. The American boats didn’t seem to be as packed as the Canadian ones.
After a long thought we decided not to go for the boat ride. We had already been and got drenched under a few waterfalls in the past. This attraction was super touristy and the idea of being squeezed on an overcrowded boat just didn’t seem appealing to us. But if you have never done anything like this before, go for it, because being so close to a waterfall is a great experience.
You can also walk down to the bottom of the falls for another close (and wet) encounter. The attraction is called the White Water Walk on the Canadian side and the Cave of the Winds on the American side.
If you are planning to do some of the activities, order the tickets online, as it is cheaper. If you would like to visit a few attractions, buy the Niagara Falls Adventure Pass in Canada or the Niagara Falls USA Discovery Pass for the US side.
You can also choose from some tours or helicopter rides for a different, but pricey, experience.
So Which Side Is Better?
We recommend that once you are there, you should visit both sides, because they are different and you can easily see them both in one day. If you like walking and being outdoors, you will enjoy the American side more. If you prefer to stay in a town and have many shopping and entertainment options at your fingertips, the Canadian side is the one for you.
We personally liked the American side more because it was less tacky, and more green and quiet. We really enjoyed the walk in the park.
But at Niagara Falls there is something for everyone. Even though the area has been commercialised too much, the waterfalls are still a beautiful wonder of nature that you should not miss.
What do YOU think about the Niagara Falls? Let us know!