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Destination Guide: Niagara Falls – Canadian Side vs American Side

 Introduction

 

Niagara Falls. One of the most famous and iconic destinations within the United States and Canada. Definitely worth a visit for most first time tourists to the region. First surveyed in the early 1700’s, the three different falls that form the overall area have also become a popular weekend getaway and honeymoon destination for folks based close by.

But if you plan a visit to Niagara Falls, you’ll have to decide which side to stay on – the American side or the Canadian side. I’ve heard mixed reviews on both sides – though we’ve long heard the Canadian side is “better”.

Here we dive (not into falls literally, unfortunately) the pro’s and con’s of either side and how it depends on what experience you’re looking for to decide on which side of the falls you’d like to stay at.

Know Before You Go 

  • Currency: Depending on which side of the falls you’re at, the currency you’ll need will either be US Dollars (on the American side) or Canadian Dollars (on the Canadian side)
  • Airport: The closest airport to Niagara Falls is Niagara Falls International Airport (IAG) in New York. While it’s only about a 20 minute drive away, there are only a few nonstop routes run from Florida and South Carolina out of this airport. You’ll find more flights out of Buffalo Niagara International Airport (BUF) on the American side, which is a 30+ minute drive from the falls. You’ll also find plenty of flights to Toronto Pearson International Airport (YYZ) on the Canadian side, though it’ll be about an hour and a half drive.
  • Language: You’ll find English spoken on both sides of the falls, though if you’re a French speaker, you might find good company on the Canadian side (though not as widely spoken as in, say Montreal, there is a population of French speakers).
  • To/From the Airport:
    • Taxi:
      • From BUF – About $60-$80 USD
      • From IAG – Around $30 USD
      • From YYZ – Over $200 CAD
    • Uber: At this time, Uber or other rideshare companies are not available in the area.
    • Other Options: Shuttles are common from all three area airports to the falls, however, if you’re traveling in a group, a car rental might prove to be the most economical and convenient way to get from the airport to the falls.
  • Getting Around: While you can easily find a taxi (especially if you’re staying at a hotel), renting a car might be the best option, especially if you’re going to cross from one side to the other. Ours cost $90 USD for three days at the Buffalo airport.
  • Tipping: About 15-20% is the norm.
  • Credit Cards vs Cash: You’ll find no shortage of restaurants and hotels that accept credit cards, but if you’re planning on crossing the Rainbow Bridge, be sure to have cash on hand!
  • ATMs: While there is no shortage of fee-charging ATMs everywhere where, you’ll also find an M&T Bank, Bank of America, Citizens Bank, and Keybank ATM on the American side, while on the Canadian side, there’s a BMO Bank of Montreal, RBC, and a TD Canada Trust in the area.
  • Discovery Pass – If you plan on visiting the Maid of the Mist, Cave of the Winds, Aquarium of Niagara, and Niagara Adventure Theater (all on the American side), it might be worth picking up a Niagara Falls USA Discovery Pass, which goes for $45 for adults and $35 for children.

The Falls

So, you’ve come all the way to Niagara Falls. What are you looking at exactly? Here’s a few points of interest to get you started:

  • The Falls
    • Horseshoe Falls – Sometimes referred to as the Canadian Falls, it’s the largest of the three, it’s located between Goat Island in the United States and Table Rock in Canada. Most of the Niagara River flows through Horseshoe Falls (an estimated 90%). If you’re looking to get on a boat that gets you close to the falls, you’ll be heading towards this one.
    • American Falls – Located entirely on the American side, the falls are notably different from its Canadian counterpart as rocks sit at the base of the falls.
    • Bridal Veil Falls – Blink and you’ll miss it – located right next to the American Falls (nestled between Luna Island and Goat Island) some might not even realize this is separate from the American Falls.
  • Goat Island – Located right between Bridal Veil Falls and Horseshoe Falls, this island is a great spot to get up close to the falls. Accessible by foot from Niagara Falls Reservation Park in New York, you can take in some pretty great views (Terrapin Point is a popular spot to view Horseshoe Falls)
  • Luna Island – A sliver of land located between the American Falls and Bridal Veil Falls, it’s accessible by foot through a bridge from Goat Island.
  • Rainbow Bridge – The bridge that connects the United States to Canada, this can be crossed either by foot or by car.  The toll for pedestrians is currently $0.50 each way, while autos pay $3.75 USD or $4.75 round trip (payable as you enter Canada).

The Canadian Side

The Canadian side is easily the more popular side to visit, and it’s no surprise – it’s more built up (literally) and there’s more stuff to do on this side.

To see the falls on this side, the easiest (and cheapest; read: free) way to do so is right on the walkway, which falls right on the edge of the Canadian side on Queen Victoria Park.

Niagara Falls

As you can see, one of the reasons the Canadian side is the “better side” is that it’s on the opposite side of where most of the falls (well) fall, so you will get the best photos, and general views of the waterfalls.

While I prefer to walk around and take in the view, there are a handful of other things you can do on the Canadian side:

  • Queen Victoria Park – The park, which runs up and down the river, offers the best free views of Niagara Falls on the Canada side. There are plenty of shops to pop into for snacks or souvenirs, though be prepared to pay a premium for just about anything you buy. The Welcome Center (where you can find tons of trinkets to buy) is located at the side of the park closest to the Horsehoe Falls
  • Skylon Tower – One of the most iconic spots on the Niagara Falls skyline, it’s also one of the most popular spots to take in the views of the falls. Tickets cost $15 CAD to go to the top, but you can buy them online ahead of time at a discount for $12 CAD. If dining at great heights is your thing, the tower also has two restaurants – the Revolve Dining Room and the Summit Suite Buffet. As expected, the cost of your meal will be pricier than it should be – you’re paying for the view.
  • Voyage to the Falls – If getting up close to the falls is your cup of tea, you can pick up a boat tour on either side. On the Canadian side, it’s called Voyage to the Falls (you can tell the difference because they hand out red ponchos on the Canadian side and blue ponchos on the American side). The ride will cost you about $30 CAD.
  • Journey Behind the Falls – To get up close to the falls but stay on land, Journey Behind the Falls takes you 150 feet down (via elevator) to two outdoor observation decks behind Horsehoe Falls. This experience will run you just under $20 CAD with tax. In the winter, only the Upper Observation Deck is open (the Lower Observation Deck remains closed for safety reasons), so prices are typically reduced at this time.
  • Fallsview Casino & Resort – If you didn’t come to gamble, there’s plenty of food and shops to keep you entertained – a good escape if the weather isn’t cooperating.  
  • Clifton Hill – Located on the side near the Rainbow Bridge, this area just screams “Times Square” to me. Clearly built for families who are visiting the falls, it’s not a bad place to pop into if you’re looking for a quick bite at a familiar chain restaurant.
L-R: View of the American Falls from the Canadian side with a Voyage to the Falls boat on in the water, Skylon Tower, Niagara Falls Welcome Center, Grand View Marketplace area

The American Side

So while the views from Canada are the American side does offer one key thing – being right at the falls. By walking around the Niagara Falls State Park, which walks runs right on the falls, you’ll get to walk up close to the river that flows over into the waterfall. Right on the edge, you’ll get some breathtaking views of the water as they crash down on the rocks below.

Niagara Falls

As far as the view goes, it’s easy to see why the Canadian side is considered the “better side”. Well – this is your view from the American side –

Niagara Falls

The view across the river from the American side of Niagara Falls

Not too exciting, huh? While the view isn’t quite as good, there’s something about being right where the water cascades over the edge. Definitely something you won’t get from the Canadian side.

L-R: View of the falls from Luna Island, View of the falls from the base of the observation deck, The American Falls up close

Things to do on the American Side:

  • Niagara Falls Reservation Park – The park that runs up and down the falls, it’s a great outdoor area to walk around and take in the sights – walking right up on the river that turns into the waterfall. There isn’t a ton to do in the park by means of entertainment (there are a few food stands here and there, but they’re closed during the off-season), but the park is beautiful to walk around and explore. Don’t forget to cross over to Goat Island and get close to Horseshoe Falls from the American side.
  • Niagara Falls Observation Tower – You’ll have to buy tickets to enter (currently $1.25 USD), but it’s one of the best views you’ll get on the American side, and frankly, one of the cheapest in general. You’ll be able to take the elevator to the base of the falls, but the view isn’t quite as captivating.
  • Maid of the Mist – If you want to get up close and personal from the American side, you’ll be doing so from the Maid of the Mist. Tickets will cost you $18.25 USD (you can buy tickets online), and the boat is accessed by taking the elevator down from the Niagara Falls Observation Tower. You’ll have to show your ticket as you board, so be sure to have it handy.
  • Cave of the Winds – Those who prefer to be on land can have an alternate option between May-October. The Cave of the Winds attraction is a set of wooden walkways located at the base of Bridal Veils Falls. Visitors take an elevator 175 feet down into Niagara Gorge to  Yellow ponchos and footwear are provided, and are very much needed – the walkways get you as close as 20 feet from the crashing falls. Adult passes are $17 and cannot be purchased online.
L-R: Entrance to Niagara Falls Reservation Park, Ticket booth for the observation deck, View of the park, Bridge to Goat Island

Eat

As with most tourist hotspots, there is no shortage of TGI Fridays, Hard Rock Cafes, or Red Lobsters in this neck of the woods, so we’ll skip those (for a number of reasons). Here are a few local spots worth popping by if you’re in the area:

  • American Side
    • Wine on Third – Cute spot nestled among a few other mom and pop shops, this restaurant and wine bar boasts a lengthy (and somewhat pricey – no surprise there) wine list. Menu offers a range of eats, from bites to main courses to desserts.
      501 3rd St, Niagara Falls, NY
      http://www.wineonthird.com/
    • The Griffon Pub – Located about a 10 minute drive away from the falls, this bar has a number of (rotating!) craft beers on tap, and a delightful menu of pub food to go with it.
      2470 Military Rd. Niagara Falls, NY
      http://www.thegriffonpub.com/
  • Canadian Side
    • Smokie’s Poutinerie – Can’t be in Canada without having some Poutine! While the traditional signature dish is great, the menu items topped with meat (chicken, steak or pork) are a must for any carnivore.
      5869 Victoria Ave, Niagara Falls, ON L2G 3L6
      http://smokespoutinerie.com/
    • Taps on Queen – About 5 minutes away from the falls, this brewery offers their in-house brews in four sizes – 1/2 pint, pint, pitcher, and my favorite – tasting flight. If you have a beer you love you can bring it home in a growler or keg.
      4680 Queen St, Niagara Falls, ON L2E 2L8
      http://tapsbeer.ca/

Stay

There are a ton of hotels to stay at in the immediate area. The hotels on the Canadian side tend to be nicer (since they generally get more traffic), but similarly, pricier.

  • American Side
    • Sheraton at the Falls – Conveniently located a few blocks away from the Niagara Falls Reservation Park, you can find rooms at a decent price (less than $150/night), plus parking is free for hotel guests. Downside: Nightly $25 “amenity” charge (think: resort fee-type charge). Read our review here.
    • Comfort Inn In The Pointe– Geographically the closest hotel to the park, basically across the street from it. Can’t beat the convenience.
    • DoubleTree by Hilton Niagara Falls – Located a little bit further from the falls, the recently renovated, well-appointed rooms make the extra walk worth it.
  • Canadian Side
    • Niagara Falls Marriott Fallsview Hotel & Spa – Situated slightly upstream from Horseshoe Falls, guests have a great view of the water as it cascades down. Bonus – located merely steps away from Queen Victoria Park
    • The Tower Hotel – Though its appearance and decor are reminiscent of years past (read: dated), guest rooms boast some pretty great views of the falls, as does the restaurant located on the 25th floor.
    • Sheraton on the Falls – Not to be confused with the Sheraton on the New York side of the falls, the property is located across the way from the American Falls, and offers great views of Horseshoe Falls as well.
L-R: Marriott Niagara Falls Hotel Fallsview & Spa and Tower Hotel, Sheraton on the Falls, Sheraton at the Falls King Guestroom, Sheraton at the Falls exterior

The Takeaway

How much time you’d like to spend at the falls is all up to you  – however, according to Google Maps, walking from Terrapin Point (the American side of Horseshoe Falls) to the Fallsview Tourist Area (right by the Canadian side of Horseshoe falls) should take about 45 minutes via the Rainbow bridge, with no stops. This route would give you the full view of the falls, at almost every angle.

That being said, you can certainly get both sides done in a day, or if you’d rather take your time, spend a day on each side, and explore what each area has to offer.

As always, the trip is what you make of it. As we said, it depends on what you’re looking for and how you want to experience the falls. The one thing we can say is that the trip is well worth it, be it from the Canadian or American side. The tourist infrastructure built around the attraction yields options that are wide and far. From relaxation to roughing it, from enjoying the expansive beautiful views to enjoying some of the vices that are available to you close by, Niagara Falls does offer something for everyone – so plan well for your next trip and pay close attention to what you want to get out of it – because we’re pretty sure you can find what you’re looking for if you just pay some close attention to what you’ll get out of it. You won’t be disappointed.

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