When you go to a place that is a well-known bucket list destination for people around the world, it is important to be realistic. Which is why we sought out all the best tourist attractions in Niagara Falls, Ontario. Because if you can’t beat them to the views and enjoy the wonder alone, you may as well join em’, right?
Of course, we were excited to see the majestic falls. But we also knew we would see hundreds of other people with cameras, kids, dripping ice cream cones and an obvious lack of personal space. There would be dozens of shops, quirky attractions, and lines for must-snap photos.
Usually we avoid these places like the plague. But, we wanted to experience Niagara. So, we decided to experience it all and dove right in by signing up for a full day of the top most-touristy attractions. Surprisingly, they were all totally worth-while and made for a great day.
Whirlpool Jet Boat Tours
If you are like us and have a hard time waking up in the morning, this insane activity will leave you energized, sopping wet and excited for your next uniquely Niagara experience. Which is why we suggest making the 60-minute Whirlpool Jet Boat Tour your first stop.
There are three locations to choose from, Niagara Falls, nearby Niagara-on-the-Lake (where we left from) or across the river in Lewiston, NY. While this tour doesn’t take you to see the falls, it does give you a taste of the powerful water of the Niagara river – literally.
Getting on the Water
After locking up our non-waterproof devices and donning our jet boat gear (water shoes, a life vest and optional poncho), we boarded our adventure vessel without much knowledge of what to expect. It wasn’t until we started moving toward the rapids that our guide spilled the beans.
We were about to get rocked by the river. This wasn’t just a fun boat ride with light waves that would splash us while we giggle like school girls. No, we would be going through intense rapids and screaming between gasps for air.
The boat is actually designed to scoop under the water, which means tons of water would be dumped on top of us. TONS. And guess who decided we should sit in the front row? Pshh… not me. That was all Buddy. Looks like we’d be the first to get clobbered with the wall of water.
Inside Class V Rapids
As freaked out as I was, it was also exciting to be able to experience such powerful rapids in a way I had never thought to try. We love whitewater rafting, so it was no surprise that we loved whitewater jet boating!
Once the first wave smashed on top of us and I lived, I realized what an adrenaline-packed blast the experience really was. We went through the rapids again and again and again – to ensure everyone had the opportunity to get thoroughly soaked.
Before heading back to the dock, we also took a short break from rapid scooping to check out the Class VI Whirlpool Rapids. These are some of the most dangerous in the world and off limits, but it was amazing to see them churning and crashing so close.
A Few Tips
- If you are exploring in a small RV like us, the gravel parking lot around the corner from the Niagara-on-the-Lake location should have plenty of room if you get there early.
- It is also important to leave anything you don’t want to lose or get wet in your car or in a locker. Buddy swore his glasses would stay on, but he lost them and many people damaged the phones they insisted on bringing. I kept mine, but had a DIY duct tape strap which I then tied up with my hair.
- Sit up front. I really think this is the best place. In the front row, you get an awesome view. Plus, we think you actually end up under water for less time.
- Time your breathing. The trip got way more enjoyable when I realized I could take a big breath right before the wave hit instead of gasping for air mid-splash.
- Budget for the pictures if you can. We thought we got plenty of good ones on our GoPro, but realized when we finally looked at them, that theirs were far better. At the time of our trip, tickets were CAD$63 and a USB of photos with a highlight video was CAD$40.
Hornblower Niagara Cruises
Okay, okay. Plowing through rapids in a boat is fun and all, but the real highlight is the falls. So, don’t miss the Hornblower boat tour (or Maid of the Mist on the American side). Unless you time it just right, it will probably be really busy and take a while to actually get on board. But it is a must-experience at Niagara. And for CAD$25.95 it is well-worth the price.
You will inch your way down a hill to an elevator (don’t worry there is an elevator monitor making sure too many people don’t squeeze in at once – thank God!), then down another hill, through a snack shack area (in case you get hungry or need a break from line standing), then you will zigzag through one of those Disney-style lines… BUT THEN, you will get on the boat.
And it will be worth it! Just make sure you get a spot on the side closest to the falls. And stand your ground. People will try to push their way up, but don’t move. You deserve this chance for the best experience ever too.
You will feel the mist of the falls before the boat even moves. And as you get closer, the mist and wind will combine into a mini hurricane and you will get battered by it. Gloriously, magically battered.
Had to go for the kiss photo (more of a dementor kiss, but whatever…)
That thin poncho they gave you will blow around and only keep about 40% of you dry. Just embrace it. You are at Niagara-freaking-Falls. This is why you came. Take some pictures and videos with your GoPro or other waterproof device if you want. But just be sure to embrace the moment!
Double rainbow magic!
The views from that boat are the best you will see of the falls, in our opinion anyway. And there is nothing quite like feeling its power.
Clifton Hill Fun Pass Attractions
After grabbing delicious burgers at The Works (they even had a vegan one for me!), we set off for some friendly competition using our Clifton Hill Fun Pass – which gave us access to six activities.
First up was putt-putt. It used to be our go-to date night activity, then Netflix came along… But, we quickly remembered why we enjoyed it. And not to brag, but I am ridiculously better than Buddy. He dominates at real golf, but I am the master of hitting those brightly colored balls short distances.
There are two options to choose from with the fun pass. Since it was hot out, we opted for the indoor, glow-in-the-dark Wizard’s Golf option. But the outdoor, Dinosaur Adventure Golf option looks amazing too. And it is the largest mini-golf attraction in Canada!
However, I will say, Buddy is far better at the shooting games – like the hilarious Zombie Attack “6D” adventure. And the Movieland Wax Museum made for some great laughs for both of us.
However, of the six attractions, the Skywheel was our favorite. It provides a unique view of the falls and is a relaxing change of pace.
It was also pretty romantic sitting in our own little air-conditioned bubble, admiring the lights of Niagara Falls at night.
After our ride, we walked over to say our goodbyes to the majestic falls and were treated to a surprise firework show. I mean, you really can’t beat that.
Know Before You Go
- We paid $10 to park our RV at the Clifton Hill parking lot. It is walking distance to the waterfall, the Hornblower Cruise and all of the fun pass attractions.
- Make sure to see the falls during the day and at night – and at sunset if possible. It is a new experience each time!
- If you are going to get food, venture off the main strip for better options and less crowds. We walked an extra couple of minutes and were almost alone at the place we chose, compared to all the packed options nearby. And the reviews were far better!
- The Clifton Hill Fun Pass is CAD$29.95 for six attractions. The Skywheel alone is about CAD$12, so if you want to do a few activities the pass is probably worth it.
- If you want to see the U.S. side of the falls, you can walk over the nearby Rainbow Bridge. But, as most people will tell you, the Canada side has the best views.
- Also, if you can go in off season it will be way less busy, but it will likely never be a place you will have all to yourself. Just mentally prepare for that and you will have a much better time.
Bonus: Niagara-on-the-Lake Wine Tasting
Over the tourist scene? Spend a day exploring the beautiful nearby wine region. Niagara-on-the-Lake has dozens of wineries. And if you’ve never tried Ice Wine, make it a point to get a sip of this delicious dessert wine during your visit.
Yes, there are tour buses here too. But, it is a much more laid-back feel. And you get wine!