While Niagara Falls themselves are a pristine natural work of art, the surrounding areas have become a controversial topic. We have been to the falls several times over the last few years. That’s why we wrote this article, where we will let you know if it is worth a visit and which activities and attractions are the best.
Niagara Falls is worth visiting because it is such a spectacular sight to see. The roar of the waters rushing over the Niagara ledge and the mist coming off the falls creating majestic lights and colors is definitely a world wonder and a must-see.
It actually consists of three waterfalls forming together, producing the largest flow rate of any waterfall in the world:
- American Falls
- Bridal Veil Falls
- Horseshoe Falls (Canadian Falls)
The history available to learn is astonishing, and the relaxation and peacefulness one gets from the nearby natural settings are idyllic. Everyone should get the chance to visit at least once!
On the downside, the town of Niagara Falls itself has become quite commercialized, on the Canadian and American sides. It has become touristy with an abundance of restaurants, souvenir shops, tourist attractions, and casinos.
Is the American or the Canadian Side Better?
Niagara Falls is one of the most popular vacation destinations in North America. It is often a tough decision to choose which side is better, or are both sides are worth visiting?
The Canadian side definitely draws in more tourists each year, offering a better view of all three falls without a tour. Additionally, there is an abundance of attractions for tourists to enjoy, so it is impossible to run out of things to do.
The American side, on the other hand, is less commercialized and tends to give visitors more opportunities to connect with nature. While the views are still breathtaking on the American side of the falls, they still aren’t as big and jow dropping as on the Canadian side.
The boat tours from both sides have the same route, up to the American Falls to the Horsehoe one, and finally, into the mist. The boats however are different. Read more in our tips below!
So, which side is better? We recommend visiting the American and the Canadian side as both are worth your time! The experience on each side of the falls will be unique and enjoyable in its own ways and will give you the chance to see the beauty of Niagara Falls from multiple views and angles.
Attractions on the U.S. Side (all explained and rated in the middle of this article):
- Maid of the Mist Boat Tour
- Cave of the Winds
- Observation Tower
Attractions on the Canadian Side (all explained and rated in the middle of this article):
- Hornblower Boat Tour
- Journey Behind the Falls
- Niagara SkyWheel
- Skylon Tower Observation Deck
- Helicopter Flight
- Jet Boat Tour
- Zipline Experience
Cons: The American side tends to be less crowded, however, there aren’t as many options for tourists, especially the number of attractions. Most major attractions and more upscale hotel chains are located across the bridge in Canada.
Is It Worth Visiting in the Winter?
It is worth visiting in the winter months because you’ll be able to see a partially frozen Niagara Falls, surrounded by snow and ice, which is really intriguing. The mist from the falls freezes on everything around the falls and is a breathtaking sight. Another advantage is the fewer crowds.
While boat tours on both sides won’t operate in the winter, most other attractions are open in the colder months. If you can choose, however, visit the Canadian side in winter as more attractions are open there.
For example the Journey Behind the Falls, SkyWheel, and the Skylon Tower Observation Deck. On the U.S. side, you can only enter the Observation Tower and the Cave of the Winds, however, it is still wonderful in the winter!
Is the Maid of the Mist Boat Tour Worth It? | American Side
- Operating: From April or early May to November 8
- Color (Boat/Ponchos): Blue
This is the oldest boat tour of Niagara Falls and departs from the American side.
This tour is one of the most attractive Niagara Falls tours available and tends to land at the top of many ‘must-see’ lists while visiting. They take you down into the falls, up the American side, and up the horseshoe to the Canadian side and back.
The Maid of the Mist Boat Tour is worth it and the best way to get up close and personal with the falls is by seeing them from river level. The force of the waves and the breeze and mist from the waters gives you an incredible feeling and leaves you a sense of how small we really are in the world.
Poncho/Water: Each visitor gets their own poncho to wear during the journey. If you are someone who doesn’t want to get wet or gets easily seasick, this may not be the tour for you.
Seating: The boat has no seating areas either on the lower deck or the upper deck. That means everyone is standing during the ride. However, it is wheelchair accessible.
Book the tour in advance for a hassle-free experience (you will get a mobile voucher, which you can also print if you like. Very comfortable):
Best Time: For the best possible experience, it is also advised to enjoy this tour during summertime, when the temperatures are higher and the sun is shining. However, we highly recommend this tour throughout the seasons (spring to fall).
Most of the time, we personally enjoyed this experienced when it was not so hot outside. And while the views and experience alone were incredible, it was cold and cloudy. Keep in mind, when visiting, this region sees winter temperatures a lot earlier than southern parts of the country.
This could very well be the most popular attraction and tour available in the whole area of Niagra Falls, other than the falls themselves of course.
Is Cave of the Winds Worth It? | American Side
- Open: Year-round (closed on December 25 and January 1)
- Limitation: Hurricane Deck is closed from November to May (but still worth it!)
The other main attraction on the American side of Niagara Falls is the Cave of the Winds experience. It’s an incredible experience and definitely worth it as it takes you closer to the falls than you could ever imagine.
First, you go into a small exhibit area and watch a 10-minute movie about the history of this place. Then, you take an elevator down and walk out on the boardwalk. Now you are THERE. You will notice several levels of stairs that go in and out of the falls.
You will only get soaked on one part because a section of the walkway is built so that you actually have to walk through part of the falls. It’s really intriguing, as you get up close and personal with the falls. Everything is self-guided and you can stay as long as you want.
Good to know: Ponchos and a pair of strap-on sandals are provided. When we went, they gave visitors a plastic bag to keep their belongings and shoes dry. However, other visitors report that they didn’t get the bag. Bring one to be on the safe side.
From our first visit: What a sight! It is impressive to see the power of the falls as well as the views from the bottom looking up. There are quite a few steps to get on the Hurricane Deck. However, even for the people in their mid-60s, that wasn’t an issue.
We recommend booking a Maid of the Mist Tour, which includes Cave of the Winds after the boat tour: Niagara Falls American Tour. That way, you can experience both stunning tours and don’t have to pay twice. Another advantage: The poncho from Maid of the Mist is better than the one you’ll be provided at Cave of the Winds. So, save the poncho from the boat tour for later.
Summer vs. Winter: Cave of the Winds is excellent year-round. From spring to fall, you can walk up the stairs to the highest deck. In the winter months (from November to May, depending on the weather) the Hurricane Deck (upper part) is closed.
However, it’s still fantastic in the winter, as you will experience a magical view of the waterfalls with mist, ice, and snow. Even better: Visit on a weekday and you will have the place almost to yourself:
Don’t go if you don’t like getting wet at all. In that case, Cave of the Winds might not be for you. As the boardwalks take you directly behind the falls, you will get very wet, especially if you walk to the upper deck. However, you are still wearing a poncho and won’t get soaked through!
Is the Observation Tower Worth It? | American Side
- Open: Year-round (closed from December 24-26)
The deck of the Observation Tower extends out over the Niagara Gorge. This is the only location on the US side to view both the American and Horseshoe Falls at the same time, so it’s definitely worth it. The small fee of 1.25 USD is also waived if you have a boat tour ticket.
You also start your Maid of the Mist Boat tour here, as you ride down the elevator to board the boat.
Is the Hornblower Boat Tour Worth It? | Canadian Side
- Operating: From April or early May to late November
- Color (Boat/Ponchos): Red
The Hornblower Boat Tour (also called ‘Voyage to the Falls) is essentially the same concept and journey as the Maid of the Mist Boat Tour, rather this tour departs from the Canadian side. This tour is rather new, operating since only 2014, but gives the famous Maid of the Mist tour a run for its money.
The boat departs from the Canadian side of the falls, taking you down the Horseshoe and over to the American side and back. Just like Maid of the Mist. Those who take part in this tour have the opportunity to feel the mist and breeze from the falls, allowing visitors of only the Canadian side to get a chance to experience the falls in a closer location.
We did the Hornblower (‘Voyage to the Falls’) boat tour before and this was the third time. It was as stunning as our previous experiences. The roar and splash from the falls, combined with the thrill of being so close to the falls, make the Hornblower tour a spectacular and unique experience. It is so amazing to be that close to the water crashing down.
The Hornblower Boat Tour is pricey and popular, and the catamaran-style boat holds up to 700 passengers. The tour itself only lasts about 25 minutes, and usually takes longer to get on and off the boat, rather than the tour itself. Like with the Maid of the Mist tour, they provide you with a poncho:
Seating: The Hornblower boats have seating, bathrooms, and enclosed viewing areas on the lower deck. That means you can choose not to get wet. However, the upper deck offers a better viewing experience. The boat is wheelchair accessible.
So, is the Hornblower tour worth it? If you have already been on the Maid of the Mist, probably not. However, if you are only getting the chance to visit the Canadian side of the falls, it must be on your bucket list.
Is Journey Behind the Falls Worth It? | Canadian Side
- Open: Year-round
- Limitation: When it’s too icy, the lower deck will be closed
The Journey Behind the Falls is very similar to the Cave of the Winds tour, but not as big and on the Canadian side. The tour takes visitors behind the falls of the horseshoe, starting with an elevator ride, and through a series of tunnels. The experience itself is definitely amazing overall.
While both tours are very similar, the Journey Behind the Falls tour allows you to get up close and personal, with so much of you getting wet. Ponchos are provided, and there are two observation decks beside the foot of horseshoe falls, while the tunnels have portals to the backside of the falls.
Is Journey Behind the Falls really worth it? We recommend doing both Journey of the Falls and Cave of the Winds tour if possible, if not, do the one on whichever side of the falls you are staying on. The two experiences sound similar but are very unique in their own way.
We loved the experience behind the Falls. The proximity to the falls and the vantage point are both unique when taking the ‘Journey Behind the Falls’. The portals are not gigantic, but it was still a fantastic adventure.
On the decks, the proximity to Horseshoe Falls was similar to what we experienced on the Hornblower Boat tour. However, this attraction was slightly less exciting, I would say. The advantage is that you don’t get as wet as on the boat.
Avoiding Crowds: It can get quite crowded, especially in the peak season and/or on weekends. Be there as soon as they open (usually 10 AM) if possible for a less busy experience. Online tickets here:
Personally, we liked Cave of the Winds a little more but would recommend JBtF every time!
Is the Niagara SkyWheel Worth It? | Canadian Side
- Open: Year-round
The Niagara SkyWheel is worth it as it allows you to get a once-in-lifetime view of the Niagara Falls at 175 feet high. You can enjoy the beauty of the falls from a bird’s eye view, in a climate-controlled glass gondola without getting cold or wet.
The visit to the SkyWheel was incredible. Much better than we expected. The view was excellent and the ride lasted quite a while. Well worth the time and money. We will definitely do it again in the future. Try it, you’ll love it.
The Niagara SkyWheel is located on the Canadian side of the falls and the journey lasts around 12 minutes. It takes riders around the wheel three times, giving them the chance to enjoy the views from different angles. This is a great attraction for kids and an optional way of seeing the falls from something other than a boat.
We loved this experience and can recommend it to everyone, especially if a jaw-dropping view is what you are looking for, through an attraction a little drier than the boat tours.
Is the Niagara Helicopter Flight Worth It? | Canadian Side
- Operating: Year-round
Helicopter tours over any city are usually breathtaking excursions and leave you with some long-lasting memories, especially helicopter tours over Niagara Falls.
Seeing the falls themselves is one thing, but seeing them from up above is a completely different experience. If your budget allows, The Niagara Helicopter Flight is definitely an attraction to splurge on.
While a helicopter tour will give you some of the best views possible, keep in mind there are a few downsides. The weather is a big one; you can’t control it, and cloudy skies and rainy days can really damper the experience. The tours themselves are also quite pricey, but we did them three times and never regretted a penny.
- Experience the stunning and scenic bird’s-eye views of Niagara Falls
- Fly aboard one of the world’s quietest helicopters in its class
- Listen to informative audio commentary about your flight path
- Admire the American Falls and Bridal Veil Falls from a jaw-dropping view
- Enjoy the flexibility to fly when the weather is best
Is a bird’s eye view of the falls from the Niagara Helicopter Flight really worth it? If you can afford it, yes. However, there are other options to get an overlooking view of the falls with other attractions.
Is the Skylon Tower Observation Deck Worth It? | Canadian Side
- Open: Year-round
The Skylon Tower Observation Deck is a perfect alternative for 360° views of Niagara Falls if a helicopter ride is out of your budget. It is located on the Canadian side of the falls, actually 750 above the Canadian side. The tower allows spectators to enjoy a panoramic view of the Niagara River, and the 3 waterfalls of the great Niagara Falls.
You will be taken up the tower in a glass-enclosed elevator, up the 750-foot tower to the top observation deck. You are allowed to stay as long as you would like, allowing you an ample amount of time for views from different angles, and taking dozens of pictures as the photo ops are endless. Make your reservation here:
While the views are undeniably incredible, is the Skylon Tower Observation Deck really worth it? Yes and No. If you are opting out of other ways to enjoy the falls from above, then don’t miss this popular attraction.
Is the Jet Boat Tour on Niagara River Worth It? | Canadian Side
The Jet Boat Tour on Niagara River gives you an opportunity to see not only the falls but the rapids and other parts of the river as well, up close and personal. The beauty and amazement that the river itself brings is something to see. It is an activity that you will want to take in and enjoy every minute, with no distractions from cameras and cellphones.
The tour itself is definitely a water activity, so if you’d prefer to stay dry, this tour might not be for you. It contains a lot more adrenaline than regular boat tours, as the jet boat skims across the river.
There are splash suits provided and tour guides as well throughout the journey, which lasts around 45 minutes. If you are a nature lover, or an adrenaline junkie at all, looking for an attraction to spice up your trip or face your fears, this is the one.
It should go without saying, unless you hate to get wet, the Jet Boat Tour on Niagara River is worth every minute!
Is the Zipline Experience Worth It? | Canadian Side
The Niagara Falls Zipline Experience starts with you climbing a wooden ladder and onto a wooden platform. From there, participants will soar across the falls for 2200 feet. The zipline really gives you a chance to see the best panoramic view available.
When coasting on the zipline, participants will feel the mist on their faces, and really submerse themself into the ecosystem. It is an attraction that you will get wet one, and are high up above the ground. If you aren’t a fan of heights and prefer on staying dry, you may want to opt for other activities instead.
So, is the Niagara Falls Zipline Experience really worth it? If you are an adrenaline junkie and want the rush of energy, then absolutely. If you prefer to have more relaxing experiences on the ground, then probably not.