Niagara Falls is a pretty incredible sight. In our day and a half there, we covered it all. This blog post will go into the details of how we got to Niagara, what we did while we were there, and how we navigated the crowds of tourists. First, a quick recap list.
Things you’ll need for a successful Niagara Falls trip:
- One FULL day, out and about from 8am to 10pm (if you have two days, I’ve got some suggestions on how to split this up a little better)
- The knowledge that “Niagara Falls” is actually several waterfalls together – Horseshoe Falls, Bridal Veil Falls, and American Falls
- A waterproof camera and phone cover case
- Good walking shoes
- Tickets to Cave of the Winds (timed ticket – arrive early!)
- Tickets to Maid of the Mist (runs every 15 minutes, no need to purchase in advance)
- Drinks at Top of the Falls restaurant
- A sense of ADVENTURE
We flew from Austin to Buffalo, New York. In Buffalo, we rented a car and drove from Buffalo to Niagara. It took about 45 minutes at 5pm. We drove to other places after Niagara, so a car made sense, but if you were willing to spend the cash, you could easily Uber there. Once in Niagara, you won’t need a car. We stayed at the Holiday Inn. The location was great and we walked everywhere. It’s right “downtown” but I have to tell you – the city of Niagara Falls is not much to see. Just know you’ll be spending your time at the falls themselves, not exploring the town. If you had a passport and were interested in exploring the Canadian side, you could definitely spend more time here. However, if the actual waterfalls are your main reason for visiting, you DO NOT need a passport to fully experience them. We didn’t have passports on this trip.
This definitely wasn’t a foodie trip, but hey, that’s ok sometimes. We did McDonald’s for a quick breakfast and snacks along the way at tourist stops. Anchor Bar wings are everywhere! The Anchor Bar in Buffalo is where the original Buffalo wings come from, but we just stopped at the one that was connected to the Holiday Inn. It was fine. Slow service, but affordable and tasty enough. Another possible spot is Cantina Falls. It’s a tasty taco spot. My parents went there and really enjoyed it. I also found (of course) a soft serve place that’s shaped like an ice cream cone! Twist o’ the Mist was a fun place to take a break.
Itinerary and Attractions
While all Niagara Falls has to offer can be tackled in one day (the US side, at least), I’d recommend splitting it into one and a half. That’s what my family did and it made for a much smoother, more relaxing trip. We spent the first day traveling, mostly, but went out to the falls after dinner. We walked across 1st Street to Goat Island.
It got dark shortly after arriving, but that’s part of the fun! Every night, they light up the falls and it’s an incredible sight! We admired the view of Bridal Veil and American Falls from Goat Island, then walked back across the pedestrian bridge to the observation deck. The observation deck is pretty crowded at night, but if you wait for a spot long enough, people cycle through. The view of Bridal Veil and American Falls is incredible from the observation deck (red and dark blue in the photo below). NOTE: The times of attractions varies depending on the time of year. Please make sure you check when things are open/closed before you visit! When we visited, fireworks went off nightly at 10pm. After looking at the colored falls, we stayed for the fireworks. I’d say the observation deck is definitely the best place to view them. After the fireworks, we walked back to our hotel (less than a mile) and called it a night.
The next morning, we outlined several goals for our full day. We wanted to do the Cave of the Winds tour, the Maid of the Mist boat ride, and see Horseshoe Falls. If you have a family with small kids, they might be interested in other things like the aquarium, the discovery center, and the adventure theatre. You can purchase a Discovery Pass to save a couple bucks on those things. If you’re just interested in the main attractions – Cave of the Winds and Maid of the Mist – it’s about a push. Crowds during the summer can be unpredictable, so we decided to get up early and head to Cave of the Winds first.
You receive a timed ticket for Cave of the Winds, so if there’s a crowd, you may end up having to kill a few hours before you can enter. We arrived at 8:30am (it opened at 9am) and walked straight in. No waiting at all! I highly recommend arriving right when they open. When you enter, you watch a very impressive 5-minute video about the history of the falls before heading to get your gear. At Cave of the Winds, you receive a poncho and sandals. Honestly, I did not get as wet as I thought I would! I fully anticipated having to go back to the hotel and change, but I stayed pretty dry! The hardest part was that the hood of the poncho kept blowing off due to the force of the wind! I had another waterproof jacket on underneath to help with that, but ultimately, I would have been fine without it. We had a waterproof camera and a GoPro to take photos with.
Basically, Cave of the Winds is a pathway that takes you RIGHT to the base of Bridal Veil and American Falls. It’s pretty incredible. I’d say overall, Cave of the Winds was my favorite experience at Niagara. You can choose to go on the “Hurricane Deck” which is the most intense part, or you can easily walk around it. Brian and I went all in! It’s also amazing to look up at the people standing on Goad Island. You can stay as long as you want down there, taking fun photos and selfies.
I’d say we spent about 20-30 minutes walking around on the deck. It’s not a huge space and it’s pretty loud and intense! You’re not going to, like, sit on a bench and hang out down there.
After Cave of the Winds, we went to check out Bridal Veil and American Falls in the daylight. We first looked at them from Goat Island, then we went to the observation deck. Both views are a must.
Right below the observation deck (you take an elevator down) is where you catch the Maid of the Mist boat ride. The boat ride is only about 15 minutes, but WOW is it intense. The boat takes you in front of Bridal Veil and American Falls then continues on to Horseshoe Falls. The boat parks right in the center of the falls and the POWER of the water is insane. I’ve never experienced anything like it. We went at about 11am and again, walked right onto a boat. Maid of the Mist gives you another poncho, but NO shoes this time. Since we had already been to Cave of the Winds, we just kept our sandals on. I’d highly recommend this as your feet definitely get wet on the boat.
Honestly, it’s so misty when you’re on the boat, photos don’t really come out. My recommendation would be to keep the camera away on the boat and just BE in the moment.
After the boat tour, we took a walk back to Goat Island and on to Terrapin Point. This is where you’ll be able to see Horseshoe Falls from above. After viewing Horseshoe Falls, we ate lunch at Top of the Falls restaurant. While I did say the foodie scene is non-existent in Niagara, Top of the Falls is definitely the one exception. It’s not overly pricey, has a large selection of food, drinks, and desserts, and you can see Horseshoe Falls from your table! We went there twice in one day and it was totally worth it. Because #vacation, I ordered a rootbeer float cocktail. It was SO good!
After lunch, we walked back to our hotel (just under a mile if you take the pedestrian bridge) and took a nap. I don’t know if it’s the extreme sensory overload of Niagara Falls or what, but we were EXHAUSTED by midday. After a nap, we walked back to Horseshoe Falls to see them at night. While waiting for the lights to come on, we went back to Top of the Falls to get some drinks (again).
If you hadn’t seen the fireworks yet, you could make your way from Horseshoe falls back to the observation deck for fireworks. However, since we caught the show the night before, we were able to head back to our hotel around 8:30pm.
Overall, I was highly impressed with the Niagara Falls tourist areas. They have plenty of parking, restrooms, places to grab snacks… they’ve really thought through crowd management and it shows. It’s all very clean, well-marked, and well kept. There’s a trolly that takes you around as well if walking is more difficult. We took it one evening for fun and it was actually really nice! I was pretty UNDERWHELMED by the city itself. For having such an incredible natural wonder, I was expecting more. I also just didn’t know what to expect. So there – now you know! Be ready for all nature, no city wandering.
Also, to prep for your trip, I highly recommend listening to Stuff You Should Know’s “How Going Over Niagara Works” podcast. All I could think about while I was there was how people have gone over the waterfall…
Have you been to Niagara Falls? What was your favorite part?