Niagara Falls is a tourist’s wonderland. There is no other way to explain it. The city is filled to the brim with all-ages activities, from the romantic to the exciting to the naturally breathtaking. In fact, there is so much to do, most visitors spend at least five days soaking in the bright sunshine, cool mist, and unique attractions.
However, not everyone has the luxury of long vacations. On my first trip to Niagara Falls, I had barely 36 hours to rush from place to place, and halfway through the first day, I collapsed on my hotel bed and couldn’t get up again. Since that woeful trip, I’ve become a short vacation pro. Even though Niagara Falls remains one of the trickiest destinations to squeeze into a short period, I can confidently present to you the best Niagara Falls has to offer — in a tidy one-day, one-night itinerary.
Happy #CanadaDay! After spending 4 Summers working in this country, it has become one of my favorite ones. Nevermind the not so sharp picture, it’s a 2011 snapshot of Niagara Falls from the Canadian side of the US-CA border taken with an old camera. A Couchsurfing fellow that was working at the tower at that time, got me in and I could finally admire this stunning beauty from above. Is Canada on your list?
1. Bird Kingdom
After waking up early and enjoying a filling breakfast at a centrally located Niagara Falls hotel, you should set out for the Bird Kingdom. Just a short, six-minute walk north from most hotels, you should be able to get there well in time for its 9:30 opening. The Bird Kingdom is a tropical paradise that boasts more than 80 species of birds, most of which are able to flutter around an open aviary as guests walk underneath. The experience will likely last an hour or two.
2. Hornblower Niagara Cruises
Next, walk a cool seven minutes south to find Hornblower Niagara Cruises, the famous bout tours that takes visitors up close to the base of the Falls. Though operators will often talk about facts regarding the Falls geology and history, the tour is popular mainly for its thrill. Usually, the trip lasts about 30 minutes — but you might be feeling the mist for the rest of the day.
3. Queen Victoria Park
Nearing afternoon and well into the hottest part of the day, this is a good time to take a lunch break. An 11-minute walk south is Queen Victoria Park, a vast, well-groomed space perfect for picnics with views of the Falls. You can grab take-out from any nearby eateries, or you can run back to your hotel for food.
4. Journey Behind the Falls
After refueling, you can walk south for five minutes and find another excellent tour of the Falls. As its name suggests, Journey Behind the Falls takes guests down into a cavern behind the thundering water. As the Falls plummet from more than 13 stories above, the sight, sound, and feel of the water is one-of-a-kind — but like the Hornblower Niagara Cruise, you should prepare to get wet.
5. Floral Showhouse
Next, following an 11-minute walk, you can recuperate from such an exhilarating morning by strolling through the beautiful blooms at the Floral Showhouse. More than 60 years old and bursting with roses, orchids, and more exotic flowers, the giant greenhouse is absolutely spectacular — and inspiring to any budding gardeners. The arrangements rotate nearly every month, so I always make time for the showhouse when I’m in town.
6. Dufferin Islands
The longest walk of the day but well worth it to escape the crowds that gather as the day cools off around evening, Dufferin Islands is 17 minutes away. This small chain of walkable, bridge-linked islands is quiet and calm, offering plenty of benches where you can relax and take in the scenery. In the wintertime, Dufferin is transformed into a winter wonderland, and light displays take over the islands, but during the summer, it is a cool, wooded retreat from the more touristy regions of the Falls.
7. Clifton Hill
Before it gets dark, you should hop on a WEGO bus and head back to the center of town. While you wait for the night’s main attraction, you can enjoy dinner and shopping at the bright, bustling Clifton Hill area. Clifton Hill also includes a packed arcade, called the Great Canadian Midway, and a handful of amusement rides, including Canada’s tallest Ferris wheel, the Niagara Skywheel. It is easy to spend hours and hours at Clifton Hill, which is why I leave it until the end of the day.
During peak tourist season, Niagara Falls proudly presents a nightly fireworks show at 9 p.m. You would be remiss to ignore the giant bursts of light and color pluming over Horseshoe Falls. The fireworks can be seen from nearly any open area, but the best spots are Queen Victoria Park — where you had lunch — or from most of the hotels near the center of town.
Are Canada and The US on your list? Here’re some articles to help you plan your upcoming North America adventures: