A few months back, Kristi and I discussed the idea of visiting Canada for the first time. We had always heard great things about Montreal, Toronto, and the Niagara region, and the heat of summer began calling us north for a new experience. As we began planning our trip, we asked fellow travelers for recommendations and began hearing that the southwestern shores of Lake Ontario had much more to offer than its legendary Niagara Falls. Apparently we were only a road trip away from wineries, orchards, beaches (ok, “beaches” is a stretch), and quiet artsy towns. The details we heard convinced us to give the Niagara region a try and to use our long July 4th weekend to celebrate Independence Day just across the border in Canada. We’re happy to report what we believe to be five of the best things to do in Niagara.
1. Niagara Falls
The Falls were every bit as amazing as we hoped they would be. Yes, they are a tourist trap, so be prepared to fight traffic and long lines upon arrival. In our opinion, however, catching a glimpse of the Falls was worth it and so was spending a few bucks to do the various tours available at the welcome center.
We chose to ‘Journey Behind the Falls,’ where you can walk through tunnels behind the Falls and witness just how powerful and beautiful they are. Amazingly, the tunnels dated back to the 1890s.
A word to the wise: do enjoy the tours and snap lots of pictures, but you may want to plan to avoid eating the food offered at the Welcome Center (wink).
2. Niagara Wine Country
Wine country in Canada? This was something we had to see to believe. Sure enough, we discovered hundreds of vineyards in Niagara and plenty of delicious wine. (We have since heard that Niagara’s wine country is well known for its white wine.)
The wine enthusiast could spend an entire week touring wineries here. Our favorites were the award-winning Trius for its beauty and outdoor grill, Strewn for the most amazing on-premises restaurant called OLiV, and a fun German winery called Konzelmann. For those who are wondering, it is perfectly legal to bring wine back over the border to the States (cue our sigh of relief). We certainly did.
Though we didn’t plan it, we found ourselves back in the little town called Niagara-on-the-Lake almost each night of our trip. It’s a charming, 19th-century-style village and it just felt like the kind of place you’d want to end the day (assuming you wanted to end the day with a nostalgic, peaceful walk through town).
With its impeccably maintained houses and streets, beautiful parks, solid restaurant offerings, and cute shopping options, it just kept bringing us back. Because it sits right on the lake, you can stroll just a few blocks to a beautiful beach and walking path.
We also tried a few of their restaurants, and we were huge fans of the Irish Harp Pub, and Treadwell Farm To Table Cuisine. A note about dessert: it would not be an exaggeration to say that Niagara-on-the-Lake has over 10 ice cream shops. I mean, this town is super into their ice cream. That said, we sampled Cows, which claims to be the best and we were certainly not disappointed. OK, maybe we sampled it twice.
4. Port Dalhousie
It’s always a good idea to ask the locals for suggestions on places to visit during your stay in a particular area. When we asked the Niagara locals where they like to hang out, a few of them mentioned the little beach at Port Dalhousie (pronounced, ‘daloosey’…we think). Port Dalhousie is a small boating town that seems close to revitalization. There were new buildings mixed with old, artisanal coffee shops, and ice cream stands popping up everywhere. The tiny beach we came across was like stepping back in time to the 1950s.
There was a concession stand, a shave ice cart, a small light house, a beach volleyball net, and walking paths. Simply put, the town and beach were a hipster’s paradise.
5. The Niagara Gorge
The minute we got to Niagara Falls, I began asking about the possibility of nearby hiking trails. The area is truly magnificent and pristinely maintained, and the existence of nearby hiking and climbing opportunities seemed like a strong possibility. We were immediately directed to Niagara Glen, a beautiful region a few miles north of the Falls that allows visitors access to both the Niagara Gorge and the Niagara River. This designated Nature Reserve sits as a testament to the pride Canada has for their parks. You could spend hours hiking, climbing, or picnicking right along the river. Up on the road and away from the hiking trails, they have free parking, public restrooms, pavilions, and even grills. We spent a few hours there on our last night hiking along the river, and it was a highlight of our trip for sure.
Being in Niagara for a few days wet our appetite to visit more of Canada. Toronto and Montreal, we’re coming back for you!
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