First stop is Niagara Falls State Park (Niagarafallsstatepark.com). The oldest state park in the country, it has the best views of the falls. It’s worth visiting just for the landscaped grounds, but there are enough other attractions to keep you busy all day.
The Maid of the Mist boat tours travel close to the bottom of the falls to experience the power and roar of the water. The Cave of the Winds is a series of stairs and platforms that hug the cliffs. Plan to make the walk at night, when the waterfalls are illuminated by colored spotlights. Ponchos and slip-resistant shoes are provided, because getting very wet is part of the package.
The Observation Tower overlooks both the U.S. and Canadian falls for good photo ops. The Visitor Center is filled with interactive displays, while the Discovery Center has hands-on exhibits, a climbing wall and a 180-degree theater featuring a film of Niagara’s 12,000-year history. Aquatic denizens from the Great Lakes to the Caribbean swim at the aquarium. A circulating trolley stops at all attractions, including the Top of the Falls Restaurant where diners enjoy their meal with a view of — what else? — the waterfalls. The trolley fee allows unlimited on-off access. There’s a comprehensive admission pass that includes most of the attractions. The Maid of the Mist will operate through early November but requires a separate ticket.
Were it not for Fort Niagara (Oldfortniagara.org), the falls might not be an international border, and we’d be singing “God Save the Queen.” The self-guided audio tour explains how Native American, French, British and American interests played out in the remote wilderness. There are daily reenactments, including hourly musket firing demonstrations.
A more colorful and lighthearted history is found at the Herschell Carrousel Factory Museum (Carrouselmuseum.org). It’s a museum you can ride, with two vintage carousels, plus a band organ, a kiddie-size carousel and a collection of hand-carved animals.
Most of the Niagara region’s wineries are small, with limited distribution. The Niagara Wine Trail Vino Visa ($40; Niagarawinetrail.org) includes tastings at 22 wineries. If you want to imbibe without driving, Niagara Wine Tour Guides and Grape and Wine Tours are both worth checking.
Foodies should check out the three-hour walking tour of Niagara’s Italian-Canadian food traditions (Niagaraculinarytours.com). Guided by a local historian and former stand-up comic, Niagara Walking Tours (Niagarawalkingtours.com) are highly rated and combine history with humor. Groups are generally six people and never more than 12. Reservations required.