As a former Buffalo resident who has been to Niagara Falls more times than I can count, it was time to write a complete guide to Niagara Falls with tips for travelers visiting these epic waterfalls.
Visiting Niagara Falls is a magical experience, especially for families, and it ranks high on many people’s bucket lists. Here you’ll find tips to help you decide which side of Niagara Falls to visit, where to eat in Niagara Falls, when is the best time to visit Niagara Falls, and logistics on how to get to Niagara Falls.
This guide includes a FREE Niagara Falls map that you can download offline with Google Maps at the end!
What is covered in this ultimate Niagara Falls guide:
- Where is Niagara Falls located?
- Why visit Niagara Falls?
- What to do in Niagara Falls? What are the Niagara Falls attractions?
- Best viewpoints of Niagara Falls
- Where to stay in Niagara Falls: Hotels in Niagara Falls
- How long to spend in Niagara Falls?
- Which side of Niagara Falls is best: American side or Canadian side?
- Is Niagara Falls a tourist trap? / Should you go to Niagara Falls?
- 1 day itinerary for Niagara Falls
- Where to eat in at Niagara Falls, Ontario and Niagara Falls, New York
- When is the best time to visit Niagara Falls?
- How to get to Niagara Falls; Do you need a car to visit Niagara Falls?
- What do you need to pack for Niagara Falls?
- Safety tips for Niagara Falls
- Do you need a tour to visit Niagara Falls?
Where is Niagara Falls located?
It’s on the New York and Canadian border along the Niagara river, which flows between Lake Ontario and Lake Erie (two of the Great Lakes). It’s in the westernmost part of New York State, which is part of the East Coast.
Niagara Falls to New York is about about 8 hours each way by car (without stopping) or about 10-12 hours with Megabus/public transit, so this is not a day trip from New York City. It is a nice stopover if you’re traveling from New York to Toronto. (Scroll to the bottom for a free map of Niagara Falls!)
Why visit Niagara Falls?
Niagara Falls is actually composed of three waterfalls although the most famous waterfall is Horseshoe Falls. The combination of flow rate and height make the falls epic to see in person. This does not include the loud roar of the waterfall.
Niagara Falls is the perfect family getaway as there are lots of kid-friendly activities nearby and it will impress your kids (I promise!). It’s a perfect day trip if you’re traveling in between the United States and Canada.
What to do in Niagara Falls and day trips from Niagara Falls
You will see many things to do in Niagara Falls while reading online… and while in Niagara Falls, you’ll find that Niagara Falls tourism is mostly unrelated to the falls. Just be aware of the tourist traps.
See Niagara Falls from both sides: American and Canadian!
Take the Maid of the Mist / Hornblower [Canadian side] or Cave of the Winds for a unique view of Niagara Falls.
Hornblower v. Maid of the Mist. Which one to choose? If you’re trying to decide whether to take the Hornblower or Maid of the Mist, note that the Hornblower boat goes from the Canadian side while Maid of the Mist departs from the New York side.
Both boats follow the same route, however the Hornblower boats carry more passengers. (You can purchase both tickets in advance.)
Take a day trip from Niagara Falls to visit the adorable town of Niagara-on-the-Lake for the summer Shakespeare festival and its famous ice wine.
You can taste ice wine (bring a designated driver!) in Canada’s wine capital. Ice wine is made by allowing the grapes to freeze on the vines, which makes the wine extra sweet–and very alcoholic.
(You can take a day tour with ice wine tastings from the Canadian side for about $60 USD, including a designated driver!)
See the Niagara Falls light show (at night). The schedule for the Falls Illumination varies throughout the year with the sunset, but if you’re taking a day trip, see if you can stick around for the magic of the lights!
For those with kids, add some of the many kid-friendly attractions in the area to your list. One of the main attractions is the Fallsview water park.
Niagara Falls has a lot to offer for adults as well.
You’ll find plenty of clubs/bars (admittedly with lots of drunk 19 year old Americans) and gambling.
There are two casinos in Niagara falls: Fallsview on the Canadian side and Seneca Niagara Casino on the New York Side.
Have a cocktail at the Sheraton bar overlooking the falls.
Best viewpoints of Niagara Falls
- Goat Island on the New York side for the crazy over the edge view.
- Sheraton hotel if you’re into a cocktail with a view (Canadian side)
- Maid of the Mist boat / Hornblower [Canadian side] (requires fee)
- Cave of the Winds (requires fee)
- The Rainbow Bridge
- Journey Behind the Falls if you want the epic tunnel shot (requires fee)
- Footpath leaving up to Journey behind the walls (for the wider angle shot!)
Where to stay in Niagara Falls? Hotels in Niagara Falls
How long to spend at Niagara Falls?
One day is all you need to visit Niagara Falls. (It is the perfect day trip from Toronto.) If you want to visit the ice wineries, you’ll need an extra day. It’s possible to visit Niagara Falls and Niagara on the Lake in one day if you take a tour from Toronto!
Which side of Niagara Falls is best: American side or Canadian side?
Canadian side hands-down. The falls are magnificent, but you can only see the height/views of the falling water with a partial view…but the Canadian side of Niagara Falls gives you the epic view/feeling that made you want to visit.
If you don’t mind getting drenched in the midst (which gets more intense as you get closer to Horseshoe Falls on the Canadian side), you’ll feel like you’re in a superhero movie.
Is Niagara Falls a tourist trip? Should you go to Niagara Falls?
One day itinerary for Niagara Falls
If you’re day-tripping from within the US with a car, park your car (bring cash to pay for parking!) on the American side and walk across the Rainbow Bridge (the Canadian/American pedestrian border crossing) to the Canadian side, which has an epic view of the falls.
Driving across can be time-consuming depending on the line at the Peace Bridge (especially around rush hour), so check the wait ahead although I’ve always found the pedestrian bridge much faster.
Buy tickets for Maid of the Mist / Hornblower as buy a cheap poncho if you don’t have one. (You can take the boat from either side.)
Walk around Clifton Hill (15 minutes) past all the tourist traps to enjoy the view of Horseshoe Falls.
Enjoy the view and catch the illumination show if you’re there around sunset.
Head back to the American side to enjoy the overlook over the American falls from Goat Island (New York side), which allows you to look STRAIGHT down the falls.
Where to eat in at Niagara Falls, Ontario and Niagara Falls, New York
Food on the Canadian side of Niagara Falls
Do you love TGIF’s? You’re in luck. If you can think of every single chain restaurant, …it’s in Clifton Hill (the touristic part of Niagara Falls). I have heard that the new IHOP on the Canadian side has a nice view, but besides Antica Pizzeria,
I’d recommend eating before as you’ll pay tourist prices for food that you could get almost anywhere. There are more options as you get further from the touristy areas, but if you’re on foot, you will be limited by your choices.
You can check off your Canadian bucket list by trying poutine, which is french fries made with cheese curds and gravy, at Smoke’s Poutinerie. (I know it sounds horrifying, but it is so delicious!) If you need a snack, visit the Canadian chain Tim Horton’s for some donuts and hot chocolate.
Food on the American side
Consider stopping by the Third Street Retreat for a cozy meal. Alternatively, you can picnic on Goat Island as well as eat at one of the cafes within Niagara Fall State Park.
If you have a car, stop off at Wegmans supermarket to stock up on picnic supplies or order a delicious handmade sub with special oil dressing. You can also get food to go from the buffet section OR the salad bar. It is truly the best supermarket in the area and it’s 24 hours with a fantastic selection of beer. (I love Wegmans!)
My local friend recommends visiting The Como Restaurant is a classic Niagara Falls institution famous for Italian food. Be sure to try the garlic bread.
Otherwise, stop off at Dicamillo Bread in Niagara Falls for their bread and their cannolis, as recommended by my friend who spent a lot of her childhood in Niagara Falls.
When is the best time to visit Niagara Falls?
Summer without question. Although you’ll have the crowds, it is very windy at Niagara Falls and the extra spray can feel really good on a hot day.
In winter, you’ll just be ready to curl up with a hot chocolate away from the falls after snapping a photo, however if you’re lucky, you’ll get to see the falls frozen over (which is a very rare occurrence).
Niagara Falls’ average temperature in December is 21 degrees F / -6 C in December…so imagine getting sprayed with freezing cold water in addition to being blown around by heavy winds while standing in a blizzard. (That sums up my feelings about visiting in winter.)
How to get to Niagara Falls; Do you need a car to visit Niagara Falls?
If you’re staying in Niagara Falls just for 1-2 days, you don’t need a car.
The best airport for the United States to get to Niagara Falls is from Niagara Falls International Airport OR Buffalo Niagara International Airport. Fares are usually cheaper from the Buffalo AIrport. From the Canadian side, you’ll want to fly into Toronto International Airport.
If you fly into Buffalo Niagara International Airport, I strongly recommend renting a car. This area has public transit, but it is much easier to drive.
If you use public transit to get to Niagara Falls from Buffalo Airport, you will spend a lot of money on a taxi OR spend two hours on a bus (take the 24 towards Downtown Buffalo then transfer by the Greyhound Station [Washington St & South Division St] to the 40 bus to Niagara Falls. (It’s $2 that you can pay on the bus although be sure to ask for a transfer!) Note that the bus only runs 5am to midnight, so if you come in late, you cannot take the bus.
From Niagara Falls International AIrport to Niagara Falls, it will take one hour ($2) on the 55 bus to reach the American side of the falls.
You can also take the train or Megabus to get from Toronto to Niagara Falls, which will take about two hours. It’s much easier with a car.
If you’re going from New York to Niagara Falls without a car, you have four options.
- Take a Greyhound from New York City to Niagara Falls (with a transfer in Buffalo). (10 hours)
- Ride a Megabus towards Buffalo (with taking a Greyhound/public bus to Niagara Falls (12 hours)
- Take an Amtrak train from Penn Station (New York City) to Niagara Falls direct. (10 hours)
- Fly from New York (LGA) to Buffalo (BUF). (5 hours)
What do you need to pack for Niagara Falls?
- Your passport card (for Americans) OR passport to visit the Canadian side (and vice versa)
- A fully charged camera and portable power bank for your phone
- A poncho and/or waterproof bag if you’re planning on going Maid of the Mist / Hornblower
- Your hotel reservations if you’re crossing the border as immigration officials often ask you how long you’ll be visiting and a hotel reservation can speed things up considerably
- Warm clothes in winter, especially a good winter jacket!
- Sneakers as the footpath can very slippery year-round, but especially so in winter.
- Picnic supplies if you’re on a budget
Safety tips for Niagara Falls
Do not dangle your camera or phone over the edge. I promise this will not end well. Hold your phone tight, especially in winter.
Be careful in Niagara Falls, especially the American side. I wish I was kidding, but it has one of the highest violent crime rates in the United States.
High crime is an issue primarily for residents, but still, be careful on the New York side of Niagara Falls. This includes not leaving your valuables visible in the car, which is a bad idea anywhere.
Don’t come hungry and/or broke. You’ll pay tourist prices and …well, it’s just best to eat before.
Wear sneakers as the footpaths near the falls can be very icy in winter or just slippery in summer.