Niagara Falls is one of the classic North American tourist destinations of lore. This place has been drawing tourists since the 19th century. Situated on the border between Canada and the United States, it symbolizes the cooperation and, sometimes, tension between the two countries, with agreements and treaties to maintain both its appearance and industrial utility, but also disagreements over where the international boundary actually lies.
Any honest account of Niagara Falls’ role for the region cannot fail to note the generation of hydropower for hundreds of thousands of people on either side of the border. The incalculably vast rush of water has indeed been calculated to an exact figure, and engineers on both sides of the border make sure it stays that way. If its sole value lay in hydroelectricity, however, Niagara Falls may not be as awe-inspiring as it is today. Bilateral agreements have included provisions to maintain the beauty of the Horseshoe, American, and Bridal Veil Falls.
The most famous legacy of tourism development at Niagara Falls is the Maid of the Mist cruise. This is the definitive Niagara Falls experience. Ferries take visitors beneath the falls from the U.S. side of the border, giving them a closer view from a bottom-up vantage point in the Niagara River. Clouds of mist enhance the awe inspired by millions of gallons of water flowing over craggy, sheer cliffs by the second. Cave tours in the rocks underneath the falls can add to the heart-pounding sense of proximity to this wonder of nature.
Observation towers and parks on either side of the border offer iconic views of the falls from above. The Canadian side features a more robust tourist infrastructure, with museums, art galleries, a range of restaurants, as well as arcades, wax museums, and haunted houses. The American side tends to embrace the vibe of a hokey honeymoon, but has also built on the natural surroundings and history to present a few interesting exhibits and even thrills. The Daredevil Museum, for example, chronicles the history of those who have tumbled over the falls both with and without protection, an alternately tragic, inspiring, and baffling act that continues to be performed to this day. Both the American and Canadian sides also feature popular, high-end casinos and resorts, for those who’d like to pass some time placing bets and tempting fate. Shopping is available on both sides in large malls on par with most major global tourist destinations.
From Niagara Falls, Canada, one can drive a half hour to elegant Niagara-on-the-Lake, a preserved colonial town on the shores of Lake Ontario. In the immediate area, find a surprisingly impressive wine country. Tastings and tours can occupy the days, while the resort and spa treatment closer to town and strolls through 18th-century streets can fill evenings. The farms and valleys of southern Ontario and the vibrant, pulsing multicultural sprawl of the Greater Toronto Area await beyond.
Moving east from the American side the border, Buffalo offers rich history and low-profile, high quality dining and art scenes. Upstate New York is full of lush forests and remote, mountainous territory, as well as deep historical tracks leading along the trade route to the Big Apple.