Niagara Falls is one of the world’s best known and most visited natural wonders, featuring on many a travel bucket list. Situated right on the border between the United States and Canada, it can be visited easily from either side. Below, we’ll look at all the key things to know about visiting Niagara Falls on a variety of budgets.
Getting to the Niagara Falls
The nearest major city to Niagara Falls is Toronto. It is only around 130 km by road, taking around two hours or just less by regular bus services. It’s so close, you could easily do the Falls as a day-trip from Canada’s largest city with some rail services also serving the route although they are less regular. Go Transit and Megabus are among your options for getting there with return trips starting at just 25 Canadian Dollars (approx US$20) and leaving from Toronto’s Union Station or nearby bus stops.
Both the rail and bus routes loop around the shores of Lake Ontario to reach the Falls which can provide some great views if you travel in daylight. Niagara Falls (ON) Train Station and Bus Station are situated a few kilometres to the north of the central tourist area, close to the Whirlpool Rapids Bridge which separates Canada from the US. The Flixbus Bus Station is more conveniently located on Fallsview Blvd close to the Falls and many major hotels.
From New York
While the town on the US side of the Niagara Falls is in New York State, it is still over 600 km away from New York City. Some visitors do arrange helicopter trips to the Falls which is certainly the fastest way to reach them from NYC for anyone with a limited amount of time but clearly those do not come cheap.
An alternative option is to take the scenic Maple Leaf Amtrak Train from New York to Niagara Falls. The route follows the Hudson River and offers some spectacular views, but takes almost 9-10 hours with tickets costing $68 as of summer 2022. Daily trains leave New York’s Penn Station at 7:15 and arrive at Niagara Falls (US) at 16:41 They continue on to Niagara Falls (Canada) on the other side of the bridge, and Toronto but it works out cheaper to get off at Niagara Falls (US) and cross the border on foot if you decide you’d rather be on the Canadian side. Going back to New York, trains leave Niagara Falls daily at 12:17 and arrive at Penn Station at 21:55.
There are also two daily Empire Train Services between New York and Niagara Falls at the time of writing. Departures are at 3:42 and 6:31 in the morning from Niagara and 10:20 and 13:20 from New York with the total travel time just over 9 hours, although the Maple Leaf services seem to often be cheaper.
If you have more time, you can do a slower trip up from New York and potentially even take in some of the best places to visit in New England on your way up to Canada.
Although most international visitors do the trip from New York or Toronto, flying to Niagara Falls without visiting either city is an option. Niagara Falls International Airport is located on the American side, around 15 minutes by road from the Falls themselves. However there are only a few daily flights to the cities of Orlando, Tampa and Punta Gorda, all in Florida.
Buffalo Niagara International Airport, located near the city of Buffalo but only around 40 km from the Falls offers more connections. However again the “international” tag is a bit misleading as the only direct services are currently within the United States to cities including Atlanta, Dallas, Los Angeles, Chicago, Denver and Boston. Therefore you may need to first fly into one of the major US airports and then connect to Buffalo.
Niagara Falls USA vs Niagara Falls Canada
Many people wonder whether Niagara Falls is better from the US or Canada. The general consensus is that visiting the Falls from the Canadian side is the better option, although you can relatively easily cross the border on foot at the Rainbow International Bridge and experience the Falls from both sides (just remember your passport!).
Overall, the Canadian side has a slightly nicer and safer feel than the American Niagara Falls city. It also has far more in the way of hotels, restaurants, bars and attractions, meaning there is more to see and do away from your actual visit to the Falls which is relatively short. It does have a very touristic feel though with a slightly Vegas vibe which may not be to everyone’s taste. The popular river islands such as Goat Island all lie on the American side though and those offer great views of both the American and Horseshoe Falls.
In terms of the most popular boat trips into the Falls, the highlight of the visit for most travellers, there isn’t really any difference between visiting Niagara from the American or Canadian side and you will be taken to the same points and have an almost identical experience. The only real difference is the colour of the free waterproof macs which all passengers are given (pink in Canada, blue in the US).
There are some additional trips that can be arranged on both sides of the border too but most visitors opt for the common 20-minute boat trip which takes you right into and under the main section of the Falls. You will get wet!
Niagara Falls Tickets – Boat Tours
The boats depart every 15 minutes from both sides and tickets can be booked online in advance or on the day.
From the American side, it is the Maid of the Mist tours that you want to look for. As of 2022, a ticket costs $25.25. In 2022, they started operating at the beginning of April and will finish on November 6th. Opening times vary between 9:00 and 10:00 with the last departure between 16:00 and 20:00 depending on the time of year.
From the Canadian side, Niagara City Cruises operate the service which is called the Voyage to the Falls Boat Tour. Prices are very similar at $32.75 CAD (plus HST – 13% at the time of writing in Ontario) and are overall quite reasonable given the high cost of travel in Canada. Times are also similar although the tours continue until late November from the Canadian side.
In both cases, trips last only around 20 minutes but this is enough to sail past the key points including the Niagara Gorge, American Falls, Bridal Veil Falls and the Canadian Horseshoe Falls. There is no real difference in the itinerary apart from the departure points which are obviously on opposite sides of the Niagara River.
If you’re on a larger budget or have mobility problems, there are additional packages which can include pick-up and drop-off at your accommodation but for most, simply make your way to docking points which are well signposted. You can book a time slot rather than exact departure time so it’s still possible that you may face queues.
Alternative Niagara Falls tour packages do exist and take in other points of interest such as the Niagara Falls State Park in the US and the Skylon Tower in Canada. These can easily be visited independently if they appeal. There are also other ways to see the falls that may interest the more adventurous including zip-lining.
Niagara Falls at Night
Niagara Falls is not just a daytime destination. Once night sets in, they are illuminated with the use of hundreds of powerful LED lights. This happens every single day until 2:00 in the morning. There are also nightly fireworks displays, set off from within the Niagara Gorge at 22:00 which can be viewed from either side, although Canada’s Queen Victoria Park offers the best vantage point. Note, it can get very crowded during the peak summer months.
There are also various other attractions, amusement parks, casinos, bars and restaurants which should ensure you find something to do during the evening. The Canadian side has more going on.
Niagara Falls FAQs
When is the best time to visit?
Niagara is most popular during the summer months when you stand the best chance of getting warm, sunny weather. It is also busier then but you shouldn’t struggle to get a place on the boat trips even if you don’t book in advance and the Canadian city is a lively, vibrant place at that time of year with plenty of evening and nightlife options.
Can you visit Niagara during the winter?
Yes! There is even an argument that they are at their most beautiful at this time of year when the big freeze sets in. However if you are visiting Niagara Falls in the winter you need to be ready for sub-zero conditions and note that the main boat tours and some other attractions are closed during the winter months due to cold and icy conditions.
Where is the best place to stay when visiting Niagara Falls?
The absolute best place to stay would be high up in a hotel in a room with a falls view. There are several high-rise hotels that charge more for stays on higher floors, but if you can afford it, then having a falls view may be worth the extra cost, although do your research as some places advertise falls or river views which are in truth very limited.
There is accommodation to suit all budgets at Niagara Falls on both sides from luxury hotels to budget motels and guesthouses. Typically you will get better value for money than you would in Toronto or New York for example. Ideally you will want to be within walking distance of the Falls and the departure points for the boat tours, both of which are very centrally located when it comes to other activities and evening entertainment.
Can you see Niagara Falls for free?
You can come to Niagara Falls at any time of year and walk alongside the river bank which offers fantastic views. By walking to the edge of the Horseshoe Falls, you can still truly experience the awesome power and speed with which the water crashes down and there are loads of points where you can get that perfect Niagara photo without hopping on a boat.
Can I walk across the Rainbow Bridge?
Yes. The Rainbow International Bridge is open 24 hours a day to vehicles and anyone on foot and allows you to cross between the USA and Canada. You will need a passport and will need to follow any normal entry requirements and restrictions. Wait times can be up to 30 minutes so allow for at least that if you need to make an onward connection and don’t expect a warm welcome if you’re heading into the US where border officials seem to live on one big power trip and regularly interrogate new arrivals with repetitive questioning.
How many days do you need to visit Niagara Falls?
Truth be told, one day is fine for visiting Niagara Falls. They are something to see and experience and it’s worth taking the boat tour and viewing them by day and night. However many of the additional attractions and things to do that have been built up around the Falls feel quite artificial and mostly resemble the same tourist traps that you can find at any popular place on Earth.
If you’re coming from New York or further afield, then you could perhaps extend that into a Niagara Falls weekend trip but anything more than two nights would probably be too much.
This post on visiting Niagara Falls was published in August 2022 with prices/schedules accurate as of then.