Some destinations are on everyone’s bucket list. The Niagara Falls are such a destination, every traveler has them on their bucket list and wants to see them at least once. For me, that was certainly the case. I had traveled the western parts of Canada before, but because of the Niagara Falls, I also really wanted to explore the eastern parts of Canada.
1. Are the Niagara Falls in Canada or the USA?
The Niagara Falls are a special place, as their location is spread across two countries: Canada and the USA. The Niagara Falls actually form the border between the USA and Canada, so they are located in both countries.
From both countries, the Niagara Falls are very easily accessible. Toronto on the Canadian side is the closest city to the falls, it takes about two hours to drive from Toronto to the Canadian side of the Niagara Falls.
2. How far is Niagara Falls from NYC?
From NYC to the Niagara Falls take almost 7 hours. You can easily rent a car and drive up if you are up for a road trip. The Niagara Falls are connected to many East Coast destinations, such as New York, Philadelphia and Washington DC via Amtrak train. Be aware that the drive from these cities takes a bit longer on the American side than on the Canada side.
You can also fly from NYC to Buffalo which only takes 1,5 hours and then drive from Buffalo to the American side of the Niagara Falls in less than 30 minutes.
3. Niagara Falls USA vs. Niagara Falls Canada
They share one thing, these amazing falls and the rather similar activities they both offer to experience these falls. But other than that, these two destinations are completely different. I visited both the Canadian side and the Niagara Falls USA side to check out which one I prefer the most.
I chose to stay at the USA side of the Niagara Falls, a random decision. But after exploring both sides of the Falls intensively, I can say I like the American side of the Niagara Falls much more and would definitely stay there again.
If you want that famous view of the Niagara Falls, that postcard and classic photo view, you have to be at the Canadian side, this is where you’ll get the best view of the Niagara Falls.
Straight after crossing the bridge, and the border, you’ll see that the Canadian side is all about (souvenir) shops, restaurants, bars and attractions. Clifton Hill is the world famous street of fun by the falls. It’s full of attractions and entertainment, like Ripley’s Believe it or Not. To me, it felt like walking through Las Vegas, so many lights and so much noice, it really felt like an amusement park to me and that is one of the reasons why I prefer the Niagara Falls USA side.
Exploring the American side of the falls, I immediately noticed how much more peaceful and quiet this side was. Their Niagara Falls State Park is the center place of most of the Niagara Falls NY attractions. It’s a large nature park where you can enjoy the falls and have a lovely walk around. Focused on nature’s beauty, that’s the way I like it.
Summed up, if you’re looking for entertainment and attractions, more dining options and shops, the Canadian side is your place to be. It’s also the busiest side of the falls, so be prepared for the crowds.
If you’re more like me, and want to visit the Niagara Falls because of its natural beauty, then the American side is your best choice. It’s much more quieter and focused on the nature and beauty of these falls.
4. Niagara Falls USA Discovery Pass
You’re probably not leaving the falls without doing at least one of the amazing and thrilling attractions Niagara Falls USA has to offer.
If you do so, and also want to save some money, consider the Niagara Falls USA Discovery Pass. It is your perfect companion if you want to do it all, and save some dollars at the same time.
Some of the Niagara Falls attractions included are the famous Maid of the Mist and the Cave of the Winds. But you can also visit the Niagara Adventure Theater and the Aquarium of Niagara, plus unlimited rides on the Scenic Trolley. When visiting Niagara Falls USA I would totally recommend the Discovery Pass.
The Discovery Pass becomes valid each year when both famous Niagara Falls attractions Cave of the Winds and the Maid of the Mist are back open and operating, mostly from June to October.
With the Niagara Falls USA Discovery Pass you’ll have one admission to each attraction, which doesn’t need to be used the day of purchase. You can use this pass throughout your stay. Be aware however that all passes will expire at the end of the season.
5. How long do you need to spend at Niagara Falls
There are many awesome and cool things to do at Niagara Falls. To really experience the falls, I would advise to stay at least 2 nights and do minimum one or two of these activities. Step on board the famous Maid of the Mist and get soaked by the falls, or experience the Cave of the Winds and nearly touch the falls.
6. Maid of the Mist
When visiting the Niagara Falls, this thing to do is probably the first to come to mind. These are the boats that are on every photo, cruising passengers right into the falls. If time is limited, or for whatever reason you can only do one excursion while visiting Niagara Falls, it has to be this one!
Like they say on their website, ‘It’s the only way to experience one of the world’s most iconic natural wonders right here in the USA’.
The Maid of the Mist tours go every 15 minutes, and you’ll be on the boat for about 20 minutes. Before entering the Maid of the Mist you’ll be provided with a poncho. And believe me, you absolutely need it!
Even though you’re provided with a poncho, you’re most likely to get wet or even soaked! If you want to take photos or video, make sure to take a waterproof camera (GoPro is a great recommendation) with you, as it will get wet.
I was lucky enough to be the first in line for the next boat. So I could make my way to the very front of the boat and experienced the Maid of the Mist boat ride the best possible way.
When doing the Maid of the Mist, you’ll also have access to the Observation Tower, another Niagara Falls NY attraction. I had a lovely sunny day when doing the Maid of the Mist, so after getting soaked I went up to the Observation Deck to enjoy the views and let the sun dry my clothes a bit.
7. Cave of the Winds
Get even closer to the falls than you ever imagined being possible. Your adventure starts before going down to the falls, showing a short movie. Learn how Nikola Tesla harnessed the power of the Falls to create alternating current. Experience what Niagara Falls USA looked like before it was a park and witness why people from all over the world have been drawn to the edge of the Falls.
After the short movie you’re provided with a plastic bag, to keep your shoes dry, and fancy souvenir sandals to wear during the Cave of the Winds experience. Be prepared for another unique experience!
The elevators will take you down nearly 55 meters into the Niagara Gorge. From here you’re free to go. There is a series of wooden walkways that eventually will bring you to the unbelievable Hurricane Deck, the most thrilling Niagara Falls USA attraction. Here you’re just a few feet away from the crashing Bridal Veil Falls and surrounded by tropical storm like conditions. An experience like no other!
The Cave of the Winds is a timed ticketed attraction. Make sure to get tickets before you arrive if you don’t want to miss out. They’re open all year round, please be aware that some parts are closed during the Winter season.
Like I said, they provide you with sandals to wear during the experience. They are yours to take home as a souvenir if you want to. If you don’t want to take them home, please recycle them at the recycle points in the park.
8. Niagara Jet Adventures
This one is for all dare devils! You can experience the Niagara River during all four seasons with their climate controlled and covered boats. They are located a short, 30 minute drive from the Niagara Falls on the US side. The boats are waiting to take you onto the Niagara River. Most seats are covered, however if you want to get soaked (again) they do have some wet deck seats as well. But remember, if you sit on the wet deck, you will be soaked and need a change of clothing!
The Niagara Jet Adventures tours take about 45-60 minutes, so you absolutely get your money’s worth.
9. Fireworks and Illuminations of the Falls
Throughout the year, every night, the Niagara Falls are illuminated. Hundreds of LED lights are housed in three locations across the Niagara Gorge, in Niagara Falls, Ontario. Every evening these lights work to create a breathtaking view, absolutely not to be missed. These illuminations start every evening at dusk. The views of the Falls during these illuminations are magical, and best viewed from Prospect Point, Niagara Falls State Park.
If you’re lucky enough you might even witness the remarkable Niagara Falls US State Park fireworks show, which can also be experienced throughout the year. Check the Niagara Falls State Park website for the fireworks schedule. Fireworks performances are weather permitting.
10. Niagara Falls State Park
The Niagara Falls State park is the oldest state park in America, and a must visit when visiting the Niagara Falls on the US side. This park is open 365 days a year. You’re surrounded by awe-inspiring scenery but can also find most of the Niagara Falls USA attractions mentioned in this article right here in this state park. There are miles of hiking trails and some nice dining options for the whole family.
Visiting the Niagara Falls State Park is an adventure-packed experience, spend your day here to truly experience the amazing falls.
11. Helicopter ride over Niagara Falls
A bit unfair to name the ultimate tourist attraction in this Niagara Falls USA travel guide, because the helicopter rides over Niagara Falls leave from Canada. Crossing the border is easy and so did I book my helicopter tour over the Niagara Falls. Click on the link to read all about it!
12. Crossing the border into Canada at Niagara Falls USA
I visited the Niagara Falls as part of my trip through the eastern parts of Canada and the USA. I traveled from Toronto to the falls first and then crossed into Niagara Falls American side.
Unfortunately I totally underestimated this. It took me nearly two hours to cross the border from Canada into the USA. They took my passport which I had to get back at the immigration office, where many people were waiting for their passport too.
So, if you’re travelling from Canada and staying on the American side of the Niagara Falls, be aware you have to cross the border and that it can take time. Once you have you passport back, and crossed the border, crossing the bridge during the rest of your stay is easy!
13. Always bring your passport
Also good to know, whenever you’re crossing the bridge/border, always make sure you have your passport with you. I crossed several times, because I also wanted to experience the Canadian side of the falls. There are immigration officers on both sides checking your passport. Crossing the bridge (and border) by foot requires a small fee every time you do so.
14. Best time to visit Niagara Falls
Summer is the best time to visit the Niagara Falls, but of course also the busiest time of the year. June to August is peak season, but because of the warmer temperatures the best time to get soaked in the thrilling Niagara Falls attractions like Cave of the Winds, Niagara Jet Adventures, Maid of the Mist. In winter if you are really lucky the Niagara Falls can be completely frozen.
15. Best place to stay American side of Niagara Falls
The Giacomo Hotel is located in one of the most iconic buildings at the American side of the Falls, and it happens to be a lovely hotel too. Experience luxury in the heart of Niagara Falls US side. The Giacomo Hotel was my base while staying at the falls. At walking distance from all major Niagara Falls NY attractions, great service, basic but good breakfast and complimentary valet parking for your car, I couldn’t have asked for more.
The Giacomo boutique hotel is housed in the United Office Building which was built in 1929, completely in art deco architecture. In 2010 it was renamed the Giacomo and was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It has become the premiere luxury boutique hotel in Niagara Falls USA.
Because of its perfect location, the rooftop of the Giacomo is also the perfect place to watch the fireworks and the illuminations of the falls at night.
16. Best restaurant Niagara Falls American side
Located in the state park is the Top of the Falls restaurant, the only restaurant overlooking the Niagara Falls. This restaurant offers visitors to the Niagara Falls State Park a one-of-a-kind dining experience.
Their menu offers a modern American cuisine and classic dishes. And of course every dish comes with these spectacular waterfall views.
Niagara Falls USA blog
The Niagara Falls are one of the most famous waterfalls in the world, and I think they should be on everyone’s bucket list. They are well worth the visit, and very easily accessible from both Canada and United States. I hope this Niagara Falls USA travel guide helps you for your next visit to the falls.
A special thank you to Destination Niagara USA for taking care of us and for making sure we got to experience everything Niagara Falls USA has to offer!
Travel writer and Traveltomtom team member Ashley (Instagram: travelashie) visited Niagara Falls on the American side and the Canadian side, while traveling through the USA. On behalf of Traveltomtom and wrote this destination article full of helpful tips.