By George Mirabelli-Montan
Travelling friend at Travel Nation
Posts (31) See Georges profile
In late April and early May, we planned a trip to upstate-New York to visit family, and this seemed like the ideal time to head north and visit Niagara Falls. Because the falls are such a popular tourist attraction, at the back of my mind, I wondered if they’d be over-hyped. I couldn’t have been more wrong. They are captivating, and I spent several days exploring the various vantage points from both sides until I’d seen as much as possible.
It’s easy to drive to Niagara, but we visited as part of an epic train journey, which I recommend. We began our train journey in Washington DC, and from there, booked the Amtrak train to New York City (about 2.5 hours). After a night in New York, we continued our journey north before crossing the border into Canadian Niagara. The train from New York to Niagara Falls takes around 9.5 hours which you can do in a day, or break your journey (we stayed in Utica, NY). From Niagara, we took the Canadian ViaRail train to Toronto (less than 3 hours) and flew back to the UK from there.
The train from New York city north is called the Maple Leaf train and follows a beautiful route right along the east bank of the Hudson River, which turns into the Mohawk River as you travel north towards Albany. As the name suggests – this route is glorious in the autumn, when you can enjoy the seasonal foliage, as well as charming river views. Have a look at our Maple Leaf train holiday for a better picture. We can book all your trains and issue e-tickets in advance so you just need to turn up in good time and board.
I can highly recommend Amtrak. Bear in mind that there’s no comparison to British commuter trains; these trains are spacious with wide, leather seats, a buffet car and old-fashioned conductors. On this trip, we travelled in both standard and Business Class (free drinks and snacks), but the standard class is so good, you’d think it was Business Class!
The hotels with the best views are all on the Canadian side because they face the falls and offer amazing panoramic views. We stayed in the Sheraton on the Falls which was recommended by my colleague in the Product Team – in a Superior Falls View Room which has spectacular views! I was excited about this hotel for several days before we arrived and discovering our perfect, direct view over American and Bridal Falls was such a treat. The upgraded room comes with two doubles, a sofa and French doors so you can open them up to feel closer to the water.
The night we arrived, we began exploring the Canadian side. You can stroll along the high banks of the Niagara River and watch as the sun sets and the floodlights come on to light up the falls. The sheer volume of water creates crashing clouds of white, which are floodlit in shades of green, blue and pink at night.
If you stroll along towards the visitor centre, you may need your waterproofs, even from the bank. There’s a fine cloud of mist and spray that envelope you as the 2,400 cubic metres per second from Horseshoe Falls crashes over the precipice into the plunge pool. (Pop fact: they control the flow to maintain the beauty of the falls after hydroelectric power generation has taken its toll – flow is reduced at night and in winter when fewer people are watching).
On the Canadian side, the closest you can get to the water is right by the visitor Centre, where you can watch the water plunging just a few metres from your feet – it’s very powerful. It’s so close in fact that I did some digging about how many people have fallen in (or jumped), and although it’s perfectly safe, the facts are surprising. Over the years, several men and women have thrown themselves over in a barrel, or even without – and a few have survived. I got lost in Niagara’s Wikipedia page!
Returning to Horseshoe Falls in daylight, we opted for an even closer experience. We’d booked the Niagara Experience ticket, which includes a journey behind the falls, and Niagara’s Fury – an immersive, 4D story of how falls were formed (for which they give you a poncho because it does involve getting rained and snowed on, even though you’re in a studio!). It also includes all your rides on the WEGO bus, so you don’t have to walk around, although we preferred to stroll. This pass is the best value if you want to see all the main sights, and we can book it ahead for you.
The Journey behind the falls takes you down beneath the falls and out to a platform close to the bottom of the falls, to one side. You’ll get incredible views of Horseshoe Falls from here, and you’ll be really close (which is why you keep hold of that poncho!). There’s also a (dry) tunnel under the falls, with gaps so you can get so close you see the cascades tumbling right in front of you – it’s a thunderous experience but captivating.
Our adventure pass included a journey on the Canadian sides’ Hornblower boat – (the boat that departs from the American side is the Maid of the Mist). Sadly, the temperatures had been so cold in April that there were still large chunks of ice visible in the river, and the boat tour couldn’t run. I think I’ll have to plan to come back in the summer months to experience that one!
Although we stayed on the Canadian side, a word of caution is necessary about the town here; it’s basically one giant theme park. If you (or your kids) enjoy cheesy attractions, chain restaurants and a lot of noise, you’ll be in your element. There’s a waxworks museum, a giant Ferris wheel and a lot of gaming.
If you’re looking for something more refined, or even some healthier eating options, you’re going to be pretty much out of luck. Your best bet is breakfast at Denny’s where you can enjoy a classic American breakfast and a good Italian pizza. We decided the view from our room was just too good to waste, so we got a takeaway and enjoyed our pizza in our room, spending the whole evening admiring the falls, which was just perfect.
Having spent a day and a night gazing over at American side of the falls, I was itching to cross back over the border and get up close. To cross between Canada and America, you cross the Rainbow bridge, and yes, you do need your passport. There are some kiosks and cafes on this side so you can stop for a break, but the main event is the water.
Once back in America, things felt a little calmer. There aren’t hotels on the edge of the falls on the US side, but there are parks and pathways to explore. There is a bridge and a lift to get down to access the Maid of the Mist departures, but you can use these if you’re not booked on the boat. I was fascinated to see what looked like icebergs at the foot of the American Falls. Niagara does freeze up in winter, which I hear is an amazing sight in its own right.
Strolling further around, you can get within a couple of metres of the tipping point of American Falls. It’s mesmerising watching the waters slip over the edge. We walked beside the river and crossed over to Goat Island, which sits at the top of the falls between Bridal Falls and Horseshoe – allowing you to get very close to both. I recommend taking the time to walk along all the paths if you’re up to the stroll and keen for a close-up view because the views change with every corner you turn. On the far side of Goat Island, you can peer over Horseshoe Falls to complete the perspective you’ll have seen from the Canadian side.
If you’re interested in visiting Niagara Falls or including them in a wider itinerary, we can plan a fantastic trip for you, including adding a stopover in Iceland along the way! We can arrange every aspect, including flights, trains and hotels with amazing views. It’s easy to add Niagara to an eastern Canada holiday or with a journey through the northeastern USA, from either New York or Washington DC as I did. For advice and to start planning your trip, call us on 1273 320 580 or request a quote by email.
After finishing her Geography degree, George settled into a digital marketing role and never managed to take a gap year. That didn’t stop her pooling every available week of annual leave to visit the USA, Brazil, Mexico, Vietnam, Australia and Venezuela. She joined Travel Nation in 2011 as Digital Marketing Manager and has since added Japan, Malaysia, Thailand and Cambodia to her visited spots. When George isn't at work you can find her walking her dog and thinking up new ways to use her Travel Nation travel fund to visit any destination accessible from SFO where her American in-laws are based (Hawaii, anyone?)