7 best things to do in Niagara Falls – American side
Situated along the U.S. / Canadian border, Niagara Falls State Park (the American side of Niagara Falls) is open 365 days a year. It is from this side visitors can experience the Maid of the Mist Boat Tour, Cave of the Winds, and get a spectacular view of Horseshoe Falls, Bridal Veil Falls, and the American Falls.
While Niagara Falls is not listed as one of the seven official natural wonders of the world, those who witness the sheer power and majesty of these massive waterfalls are, as I was, left in awe. Niagara Falls is arguably the most famous natural landmark in New York State, and certainly among the most famous in the United States and Canada.
Niagara straddles the border between the United States and Canada and consists of three waterfalls: Canadian Falls (also known as Horseshoe Falls, located in Canada); American Falls and Bridal Veil Falls (both on the American side).
While a visit to the waterfalls is a must, there is so much more to do in and around the falls and the Niagara River. Here is a quick guide to the seven best things to do in Niagara Falls (American side).
This is the center point of any Niagara Falls waterfall viewing experience. Designed by famed landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, Niagara Falls State Park is the oldest state park in the United States. Its creation in 1885 helped inspire the establishment of the National Park Service. In this 400-acre park, you can walk right alongside the American Rapids just above the waterfalls, take a “Maid of the Mist” boat ride, walk along the wooden walkways at Cave of the Winds Mountain Park to “Hurricane Deck” (you will absolutely get soaked since Bridal Veil Falls pounds down above you), and view the falls from Prospect Point. Prospect Point is also where you will find the observation tower and the park visitors center. Enjoy lunch at Top of the Falls restaurant for an amazing view.
One thing you absolutely must not miss doing is viewing the falls from Prospect Point at night to witness the Illumination of the Falls (see cover image). I guarantee it will take your breath away.
The park is open 365 days a year, 24-hours a day.
Upon discovering this fort for myself, I was stunned at the quality of the living history – some of the very best demonstrations on how to use traditional weapons and how soldiers and Native Americans lived I have seen in any park.
Wander the grounds of this 18th Century fort to learn how French, British and American soldiers traded ownership of the fort in a struggle over the region. It is open year-round, and there is an admission fee.
Thanks to the lake effect climate of Lake Ontario and the rich soil in the area, Niagara Falls region is becoming known for its wines – especially ice wine and Riesling. Officially recognized in 2005 as an American Viticultural Area (AVA) and one of the fastest growing wine regions in the state of New York, the Niagara Wine Trail allows you to experience all of the various varietals.
Save on wine purchases and wine tasting with a Vino Visa Passport – available for sale through the website above or at wineries on the wine trail. I personally fell for an ice wine at Schulze Vineyards & Winery and, yes, Chocolate Ecstasy red wine (surprisingly delicious) at Victorianbourg Wine Estate.
Street Art at Art Alley
If you are a fan of street art, as we are, you have to check out Art Alley. The installation was completed in October 2016 and is a public mural project located at 425 Third Street in Niagara Falls. The 19 colorful wall murals have transformed a pedestrian walkway between the street and a parking area into a wonderful outdoor urban art gallery.
If you are into Instagram, then take the mandatory selfie in front of the “Greetings From Niagara Falls New York” art.
It was raining when I arrived for my tour, but that didn’t dampen the enthusiasm of our group or guide who led us on a walk beside the Erie Canal, regaling us with the history of the era of Industrial Revolution.
Walking along the canal is one thing, but the main attraction is entering into a tunnel that was blasted out of the rock in order to channel water from the canal to provide power for factories above. On the walk you see artifacts from miners, and then, indeed, you get to go on an out-and-back boat ride inside the Lockport Cave (really just a tunnel but who’s quibbling).
This is an amazing museum, and I’d rank it on par with any other science museum anywhere in the world — and it’s free. The Niagara Power Vista Center uses interactive exhibits that will allow you (as a power user) to design your own dam (oops, mine failed tragically), operate a power grid during a huge storm (I earned maximum points here to make up for my dam failure) among other activities. It is fun and, excuse my poor pun, rather energizing. Get your own power user badge to keep afterward. You also get an amazing view of the Niagara River Gorge from here.
Located inside the former U.S. Custom House inside the Niagara Falls Amtrak Station, this relatively new experiential museum (opened on May 4, 2018) offers an eye-opening trip back in time through stories told via audio and film by both Underground Railroad freedom seekers and abolitionists from the 1850s. The “One More River to Cross” permanent exhibition showcases the important role Niagara Falls played as the place so many escaped slaves came to find their freedom by crossing the river into Canada – or lose their lives or freedom by trying.
Where to stay in Niagara Falls. During my three days visiting the area, I stayed at The Giacomo – an amazing boutique hotel with a very cool history and a wonderful view of the falls from the 19th floor.