Reporting Jay Lloyd
Niagara Falls is a global magnet. It’s a mini version of the United Nations. You’ll hear more languages while gazing at the awesome power of the Niagara River plunging over the high cliffs than you’ll hear in Rockefeller Center at tree lighting time. And it’s all less than eight hours away. Leave the western suburbs in the morning, be there by happy hour. Major highway, all the way. Here’s what you’ll find in Niagara Falls, New York. – Jay Lloyd
NIAGARA FALLS, NEW YORK
We made our base on the New York side – the quiet side. Niagara Falls, New York is a comfortable, walkable, small city bordering a state park that offers scenic access to the river and the fabled falls. A scattering of boutique and chain hotels are conveniently located near a variety of restaurants, pubs and even a casino. The major attraction here is access to the falls aboard the Maid-of-the-Mist, a wildly popular tour boat that carries poncho clad visitors right into the mist and spray blowing off the cascading water. Visitors here have been riding the “Maid” since the mid-19th century. The boats cruise from both the U.S. and Canadian sides of the border and were reviewed in our summer article on must-do boat tours.
NIAGARA FALLS SCENIC TROLLEY
The beauty of the scenic trolley is the ability to get on and off at all the major sights throughout the park. Pack a picnic lunch and ride to an eye-filling destination. Eat lunch, photograph the falls and river, then catch another green trolley to continue the tour. An all-day unlimited-ride adult pass is $33. Kids from 6 to 12 pay $26. Children under 5 ride free. The trolleys run frequently and make stops in town and throughout the park. You can also drive on the park roads, but the narrated tour and convenience let’s you sit back and enjoy the ride.
WHERE TO STAY
The Giacomo is a classic boutique hotel with an observation deck offering a panoramic view of the river, falls and the nearby Canadian shore. “Boutique” translates into super comfortable beds, huge bathrooms, terry robes – even a fireplace. Our room was one of the most spacious we’ve found at any hotel in the price range. September weekday rates start at $199, while weekends start at $249 including breakfast. The intimate bar and lounge is ideal for a nightcap, too.
Conveniently located and familiar chain hotels here include Holiday Inn, Best Western, Hampton Inn, Quality Inn and others.
WHERE TO EAT
For a one night stay, we picked the RED COACH INN. Directly across the street from a scenic river view, the restaurant and lounge offered outdoor seating and a varied menu. Drinks were well made and the staff was friendly and efficient. At $14 and $23 respectively, meatloaf with a hearty mushroom demi-glace and a tender duck breast jumped off the menu and onto the table. It’s the kind of meal and environment that invites after-dinner drink lingering.
LEGENDS BAR AND GRILL is a good stop for weekend entertainment, a massive selection of beers and all the usual suspects for pub food including pizza and, of course, those famous wings from nearby Buffalo. Legends is right in the heart of town at the Quality Inn on 1st Street.
CROSS TO CANADA
Cross the Rainbow Bridge into Canada for the best view of the iconic falls. It’s the spot for families with young children who enjoy the amusement park and boardwalk attractions in and around Niagara Fall, Ontario. The town center holds more tee-shirt and tchotchke shops than Wildwood. Weekend crowds here in summer time become stifling, but they thin out in the fall. Attractions for adults include three casinos with star power entertainment and white tablecloth dining. The trick here is to see the falls early in the morning before traffic at the overlook sights becomes gridlocked. Afterwards, drive along the Niagara River Parkway to hiking trails with scenic stops on the way to wineries and the picturesque 19th century village of Niagara-on-the-Lake.
Remember, when crossing the border into Canada, you must have a passport. Rainbow Bridge is a busy crossing and border checks can be slow. Give yourself plenty of time to cross. Check Canadian and U.S. customs regulations before crossing to make sure you don’t inadvertently carry something that’s prohibited, like Cuban cigars, which are legally sold in Canada but barred in the U.S. American currency is acceptable in border areas, but may not work in Canadian vending machines.
It’s simple: Just head north on the Northeast Extension of the Pennsylvania Turnpike, then pick up I-81 North to I-690 West just outside Syracuse. Take the I-90 exit and continue west to I-290 and follow the signs for the next 22 miles into Niagara Falls, New York. It should take 7 to 8 hours, depending on stops.