There’s a very good reason this place attracts swarms of tourists.
- Transit: Car and bus are the easiest. The falls and tourism area are easily walkable.
- Cost: The falls are free, but everything else costs you. Attractions can get very pricey.
- Crowds: From heavy in the low (winter) season to hard-to-breathe in the high (summer) season.
- Attractions: Some pretty impressive waterfalls, as well as casinos, wax museums and assorted touristy things.
- Accessibility: It’s mostly fairly flat, though there’s a steep hill up to the main street from the falls. Getting to the American side means wading through a US border crossing.
- Click here for map.
I often avoid going to touristy places close by. And, until recently, I remembered Niagara Falls, like many people who live around here, as a place where visitors go. It’s where you take your out-of-country friends after they’ve been to the CN Tower and seen one of the Great Lakes. Add to that the image of Niagara Falls being surrounded by tourist traps and suddenly it doesn’t sound too attractive to us locals. But when looking for a couples getaway before the Victoria Day weekend in late May (when the tourism high season starts in Ontario), the deals at the hotels overlooking the falls were hard to beat. I could get us a room at the Marriott with a panoramic view, hot tub, ginormous bed – the works – for a song.
Why not, then? we thought. Let’s try it.
Awe-inspiring, majestic, unbelievable, all of those epithets that are routinely applied to Niagara Falls, that may feel like sales talk when one is removed from the spectacle, are hard to deny when you’re standing face to face with the collected waters of five inland fresh-water seas cascading down in one nexus.
Now, I’m not here to review the city of Niagara Falls – really just the falls and park itself. But that “miasma of tackiness” I mentioned in a previous post? I was pleasantly surprised to find that what I remembered in my head as some kind of horrendous vortex of trash was really no big deal at all. There’s a bunch of haunted house type attractions, restaurants, and yes, some sketchy motels. There’s also a knot of huge hotels by the falls, but none of it was the oversized, carnival themed Wal Mart parking lot I had somehow constructed in my memory. So if carnival type attractions and casinos are your thing, they’re there in spades. If not, you can zoom right past it all to the main attraction. Like I said, NBD, really.
There I was again getting between me and having a good time.
Because all of those hotels and tourist attractions are there for a very good, majestic, monumental, thunderous reason. The same reason that, wherever I go, people mention Niagara Falls as one of the top places they want to go in Canada.
Look at the size of the people in the top right of that photo. They’re getting a front-row view of over a half-million litres of water taking a 57 metre plunge every second. Every second.
Some of the touristy stuff crusted around the falls may feel contrived to me, but the Niagara Falls themselves are something raw, magnetic, astonishingly real.
The falls are one of those sights in the world that are simply hard for your brain to believe. I think part of the endless staring that people do when they get to the falls is about letting our brains catch up to reality – about actually believing what we’re seeing. Awe-inspiring, majestic, unbelievable, all of those epithets that are routinely applied to Niagara Falls, that may feel like sales talk when one is removed from the spectacle, are hard to deny when you’re standing face to face with the collected waters of five inland fresh-water seas cascading down in one nexus.
The after-dark light show, the heavily-manicured parks and attractions around the falls, all feel like gilding the lily, to me. You don’t need to do anything to this place to make it more of what it already is. But there’s no reason to let any of that detract from the main show, either.
When we were there last year, after a very long, cold, snowy winter, there were still sheets and cones of ice on the shadier American side. I had never really thought of the falls as a place to see because of its seasonal variation, but I was left wishing I’d been there in the dead of winter to see how the falls had looked in the worse-than-usual cold.
Since this trip, I’ve been more agreeable to being a tourist in my own back yard. If I were coming from somewhere far away, I couldn’t see myself missing this. So why, when it takes me very little time at all to get there, would I skip it?