Fame can be a giant hassle – take Niagara Falls. (Please!) Even if you’ve never beheld their magnificence in person, you’ve probably got an opinion about the place. You probably think it's a tourist trap. (It can be.) People go to hang out in heart-shaped Jacuzzi tubs. (Some do.) It used to be a really big deal, sure, but then again, so was disco. So was Detroit.
Okay, sure. Niagara's luster can be a little faded, at least on the American side. Which can be a bummer. But then you cross to the Canadian side, where a rather unholy cluster of humanity awaits in a setting that feels like a sleazy Branson. Whether you choose windswept and decrepit or chaotic and completely overwrought, it's all kind of unfortunate.
And yet! The falls themselves are a triumph, one of the most inspired and inspiring natural wonders of the West. Everyone should see them, at least once. Better still? Once you've cross-posted those selfies (don't fall in!) to your various social media channels, there's so much more to do.
Sitting between two Great Lakes (Ontario and Erie), the region boasts not one, but two great wine-producing regions (one among Canada’s best; the other a hidden New York State gem), world-class theater and music for months out of the year, plus outstanding little towns like Niagara-on-the-Lake and Lewiston, each with their share of charming places to stay (and plenty to eat, too). Canadians love it – the Niagara is one of the most popular weekend getaways from Toronto, the country's largest city. Americans? Not so much. For now, anyway.
So what are you waiting for? Here are five reasons to go now. Quick-like, though – this is Buffalo-adjacent we're talking about – winter comes quickly. For the lowest available fares to Buffalo (BUF) right now, click here.
1. It's Harvest Time in the East's Most Seductive Wine Region
No matter how many times Canada offers proof to the contrary, a surprising number of people can't accept that Canadians know wine. Not that Canadians care – they're too busy drinking the stuff. Skeptical? Kick back on the vineyard-facing patios at stunning tasting rooms like the ones at Jackson-Triggs, Peller Estates or Stratus with a glass of something (and maybe a bite to eat) and you’ll wonder why you didn’t get there sooner. Don't leave without drinking all of the Riesling at Cave Springs, out in the tiny town of Jordan – also, sparkling rosé and Pinot at Henry of Pelham are absolute musts. And, speaking of, it's probably the most touristy of all the wineries, but you really need to stop at Inniskillin, forefather of the Canadian industry and home to some of the world’s most sought-after ice wines. Pick up a bottle of their sparkling Vidal — a glass of that, served just-this-side-of-frozen (maybe in a heart-shaped Jacuzzi tub, with someone special?) is something you won't soon forget.
2. Of Course, It's Also Harvest Time in New York's Most Underrated Wine Region, Just across the River
Cross the gorge back into the United States and you’ll find a similar geographical setup that favors grape growing. But when it comes to wine, let’s just say that the folks in Niagara County have a lot of catching up to do. They're hard at it, though — for proof, look to wineries like Arrowhead Spring, near the historic Erie Canal town of Lockport. Mead, cider and many more wines can be sampled along the region's growing Niagara Wine Trail, where enthusiasm often exceeds expertise, but there's a pleasing, grass-roots feel here, rather refreshing after the sometimes too-slick commercialism of the Canadian side.
3. One of the Best Theatre Festivals on the Continent Is Still in Full Swing
Drawing on an incredible pool of talent in nearby Toronto, the annual Shaw Festival takes over a variety of venues in the quaint Ontario town of Niagara-on-the-Lake. Forget scenery, forget wine – the Shaw alone is plenty of incentive to make the trip up here, featuring everything from flawless executions of Broadway favorites to thought-provoking smaller productions. Started more than half a century ago to celebrate the plays of George Bernard Shaw and his contemporaries, the festival – which runs through November 1 – has evolved into one the best of its kind in North America. Tickets can be very reasonable.
4. The Region Is Home to What Sir Winston Churchill Dubbed "The Prettiest Sunday Afternoon Drive in the World"
Sir was speaking of the Niagara Parkway, which winds above the river from Niagara-on-the-Lake and south toward the thundering falls. He was and is still 100 percent correct, particularly during the fall, when the leaves begin to change. Of course, driving is so last decade – these days, what you want to do is rent a bike in town and strike out along the 35 mile-long Niagara River Recreation Trail. Along the way, plaques and markers brief you on the historic relevance of the region, particularly to the War of 1812, a minor kerfuffle that Canadians can't stop banging on about, all these years later. (Totally kidding, guys!)
5. The Region's Small Towns Can Be Beyond Charming
Speaking of Niagara-on-the-Lake – maybe you've never heard of it, so here's the deal: This is one of the most perfect little weekend spots you could hope to find, east of the Rockies. A firm favorite with Toronto's fancy crowd, Niagara-on-the-Lake is about as far as you can get from Niagara Falls as most people know it. Back over on our side, Lewiston, New York remains a largely undiscovered gem, offering similar charm at a fraction of the cost, simply because Americans just don't get up this way as much as they used to. Add in the tiny and impossibly quaint towns of Queenston, Ontario and Youngstown, New York (up in the shadow of ye olde Fort Niagara), and you’ve got four very unique and appealing addresses, all along one stubby little stretch of river. Impressive? You bet.