Niagara Falls, Canada is a destination bursting with activities for families with kids of all ages. Whether you are in town for a week or just a weekend there is more than enough to keep the kids busy and begging to come back for more. Here's our list of the Top 10 Things to Do In Niagara Falls. (Need more than 10 things to do on your trip to Niagara Falls? Then check out 5 Fun Things To Do in Niagara Falls (That You Might Not Know About) for five additional suggestions.)
1. Maid of the Mist/Hornblower Cruise
There's absolutely nothing to debate here - once your family has seen the Falls then they need to get up close by taking a thrilling tour on The Maid of the Mist. Passengers don blue plastic rain ponchos and board one of the Maid of the Mist boats to sail right into the basin of the 170 foot high Horseshoe Falls. As the boat nears the Falls the roar from the millions of gallons of water thundering into the basin becomes deafening and squealing passengers realize that "mist" is a bit of a misnomer. It's an absolutely soaking good time!
UPDATE: After more than century of ferrying tourists to the base of Horseshoe Falls, Maid of the Mist ceased operations on the Canadian side. Hornblower Niagara Cruises started operating tour boats in the spring of 2014. The experience is the same but now on new state-of-the-art 700 passenger catamaran boats. The Maid of the Mist will continue to operate tours on the American side of Niagara Falls.
2. Journey Behind the Falls
Once the Falls has been seen up close then it's time to go behind the scenes. Journey Behind the Falls is an attraction that involves descending 150 feet through bedrock to tunnels that lead to the upper and lower observation decks at the base of Horseshoe Falls. From that perspective visitors can stand in the mist and experience the water crashing into the basin below from the Falls which is 13 stories up.
Rain ponchos are needed as protection from the mist on the lower deck during the spring and summer season. During other times of the year the lower deck is closed as it ices up. The upper deck is protected and remains open year round. The entire experience takes about 30-45 minutes but will be remembered for a lifetime.
Anyone who has ever watched television or listened to the radio in southern Ontario knows how the jingle goes - "Everyone Loves Marineland!" - and it's difficult to dispute the truth of that statement. From May through October, visitors to the park can view killer whales, feed a beluga, and attend fun-filled shows starring dolphins, walruses and sea lions.
The marine mammals are the highlight of a day at Marineland, however, there is much more to do. The park also has a variety of amusement park rides - from the Sky Screamer to Ocean Odyssey to the Lady Bug Coaster - there's a ride to thrill kids of all ages and sizes. There's even an animal park where visitors can purchase food to feed the eager deer.
(Editor's Note: In light of the animal cruelty charges that Marineland is facing, I no longer recommend Marineland to visitors heading to Niagara Falls, Canada.)
4. Stay at a Water Park Hotel
There are a number of choices of family-friendly accommodations in Niagara Falls which include water parks and are very popular with kids. The only downside is getting them to leave the hotel to explore the Falls area. They include:
- Great Wolf Lodge Niagara - Guests can check into cabin-themed rooms and then enjoy a 100,000 sq.ft. indoor water park with thrilling slides for the big kids and zero-entry pools for the little ones. The fun doesn't end in the water park as the resort also has an arcade, miniature golf, a Kid's Spa and the Cub Club activity and craft centre.
- Located directly across the street from Niagara Falls, The Fallsview Indoor Water Park is the area's largest indoor waterpark featuring 16 thrilling slides, an indoor wave pool, a year round outdoor sun deck and much more. The Fallsview Indoor Waterpark has direct indoor connections to three hotels - Sheraton on the Falls, Crowne Plaza Niagara Falls - Fallsview and Skyline Inn at The Falls. (Gone with the Family readers will receive $10 off regular admission to the Fallsview Indoor Water Park by using this link.)
- The Americana Niagara features the 25 000 sq.ft. Waves Indoor Waterpark with a retractable roof for year-round fun.
5. The Niagara Parks Butterfly Conservatory
Visiting the Niagara Parks Butterfly Conservatory is one of our favourite things to do in Niagara Falls and it only takes about an hour. The Conservatory is located on the Niagara Parkway only about a 10 minute drive from the Falls. Families can take a self-guided walking tour through the conservatory which features over 2000 colourful butterflies floating freely in the rainforest setting. It is impossible not to be fascinated by all the beautiful butterflies fluttering around. There are also horse and carriages that provide pleasant rides through the Botanical Gardens.
6. Visit Historical Sites
The Niagara Falls area has a number of historical sites that are both educational and fun to explore. Families can learn about the Canadian heroine of the War of 1812 at The Laura Secord Homestead, learn how British soldiers lived at Fort George and Old Fort Erie, or climb Brock's Monument to look over the territory that the British were defending in 1812.
7. Niagara Skywheel
At 175 feet high The Niagara Skywheel is Canada's largest observation wheel and provides passengers with memorable aerial views of the Falls and the surrounding landscape. The Skywheel is open year-round as the fully-enclosed gondolas are equipped with heating and air-conditioning to ensure the comfort of passengers for the 8-12 minute flight. The bird's eye view of the Falls is sure to impress even the most jaded of youngsters and net some pretty impressive photographs.
8. Clifton Hill Amusements
If your kids like midway rides and games then they will love Clifton Hill, known as the world-famous street of fun. Attractions in Clifton Hill include:
- The Great Canadian Midway - with over 300 games
- Dinosaur Adventure Golf - miniature golf among prehistoric giants
- Ripley's Believe it or Not Museum - over 500 mind-boggling displays of rare and amusing oddities
- Movieland Wax Museum of the Stars - take pictures with the wax versions of top television, movie and music celebrities
- FX Ride Theatre - motion simulator ride through a fun house
The Clifton Hill area is also home to a number of chain restaurants popular with families including The Rainforest Cafe and The Hard Rock Cafe. The kids will also enjoy shopping on Clifton Hill where they can browse for novelties and wax hands at The Fun Factory, satisfy a sweet tooth at The Fudge Factory or find a Canadian souvenir at Canada Trading.
9. Skylon Tower
The view from The Skylon Tower Observation Decks (775 feet off the ground) can't be beat. It takes only a 52 second elevator ride for visitors to reach the Observation Decks and experience the unparallelled views of the Falls and surrounding area. The Tower has two dining facilities - The Revolving Dining Room for award-winning continental cuisine and the Summit Suite Buffet Dining Room for family-affordable casual dining. The lower concourse of The Skylon Tower also has a indoor entertainment centre and a food court with convenient quick-service restaurants like Pizza Pizza, Dairy Queen, Mr. Sub and Starbucks.
10. Drive to Niagara-on-the-Lake
This one is a little bit of a cheat, however, if you are in Niagara Falls you simply have to visit the quaint village of Niagara-on-the-Lake located just a short drive away. This is one of my favourite places on earth - it's a charming village with unique shopping and boutiques, lovely hotels and world-class theatre at The Shaw Festival. The village also has the only Ontario outlet of COWS Ice Cream, the world-famous ice cream from Prince Edward Island that is a favourite of our family. It is very easy to while away an afternoon in Niagara-on-the-Lake - it simply doesn't get much better than this.
Now you have your itinerary set, it's time to visit the Falls. Don't worry if you don't get to everything on the list - if there is one thing for certain it's that your kids are going to want to come back.