When I asked readers what they wanted to hear last October, one of their suggestions was for affordable cities to visit in the US.  I thought I would expand that to North America, since there are some places in Mexico and Canada that would be affordable and fun to visit!  I plan on making this a series, and have asked some guest writers to showcase cities to visit in the US.  For today’s post, I’m going to start with a well-known place in Canada: Niagara Falls.  I’ve been here many times and have enjoyed it every time.  I’ve been there when it’s cold, when it’s hot and when it’s not.  (So winter, summer and fall.)  As of right now, $1 is worth $.70 in Canada.  So $7 gets you $10 worth of items in Canada.  (But don’t think they haven’t inflated their prices a bit to offset the difference!)  There are some parts of Niagara Falls that are WAY too touristy, but there are enough off-the-beaten path places that it makes this an easy-to-reach, semi-affordable, fun destination.



Niagara Falls is an 8 hour drive from Chicago, 8 hours from Indianapolis, 7 hours from NYC and 5.5 hours from Columbus… making this an easy-to-reach destination by car from major US cities on the east coast and Midwest.  You can fly of course, but a car will come in handy if you choose to do a day trip (which I will focus on one in this post!)

For those of you interested in a little historical background on Niagara Falls, I would direct you to this interesting written piece and video by History.com.  Interesting fact: on October 24, 1901, a 63-year-old schoolteacher named Annie Edson Taylor because the first person to take the plunge over Niagara Falls in a barrel.  Niagara Falls is two waterfalls on the Niagara River, marking the border between NY and Ontario.  American Falls is in NY, and Horseshoe Falls is located in Canada.  You can visit the NY side, but the Canadian side offers better views, better hotels and better entertainment options.

Budgeting

If you’re driving, you can plan on whatever you’ll use for fuel, and you’ll want to look into where you’re going to stay in order to budget for parking fees.  Parking fees can be expensive.  Some hotels offer less expensive parking with shuttle transportation to and from.  We did that at Embassy and it only took 15 minutes from the time we picked up our keys, were shuttled to the lot and dropped off at our car.  If you can give some time, you can save money that way.  Meals range anywhere from $20-$100, depending on where you eat.  (Check out my article on Food and Travel for ideas about how to find restaurants and tips for not going over-budget.)  Hotels will range from $120-$150 a night.  Sightseeing activities are relatively reasonable, such as Hornblower tickets for $20.  

Where to stay

Hotels are relatively inexpensive, considering the view you get.  We’ve stayed in both the Sheraton-on-the-Falls and Embassy Suites Niagara, which I would recommend.  Beware that the Sheraton holds the record for one of the most expensive Starbucks in North America.  Embassy Suites offers free breakfast, which is a plus!

Sheraton on the Falls view from bedroom.
Embassy Suites Niagara view from bedroom.  (This is
technically a non-view, so I’m assuming the real
views are much better.

What to do

Hornblower Voyage to the Falls is a must.   ($20/person) The boat ride takes you right up to the bottom of the falls where you have on a very thin plastic jacket that barely keeps you from getting soaked.  Remember to bring a waterproof camera or at least keep your valuables in a waterproof bag!  Interesting fact, the NY side has “Maid of the Mist” boat tours where everyone wears blue plastic capes… this way you can distinguish which tour boats are from which country.  

A great walking path lines the body of water so you can walk down and see the falls directly on top.  This is one of my favorite parts of visiting the falls.  You can get up to the top where you see and hear the rushing water.  This is where you can feel the magnitude of the falls and really appreciate it.  It’s really much larger than you imagine and despite it being so touristy around you, it really doesn’t take away from feeling the falls when you’re right there.

The main strip of downtown Niagara reminds me of Pigeon Forge: loud arcade games, Ripley’s believe-it-or-not, neon signs and of course lots of junk food.  This was not “my thing,” but a lot of the restaurants are down that row so you just have to brave the loud beeping of arcade games to reach your final destination.  



A lot of the activities directly in Niagara are things that have nothing to do with the falls, such as fun houses and IMAX theaters.  Every hotel and street is lined with brochures to do things that frankly, you can do anywhere.  (Not only that, but I don’t even want to do them anywhere!) One place that’s smack dab in the middle of Niagara is a park called Queen Victoria.  This was a nice little place to rest, and it was free!

Even though I don’t gamble, there are a lot of interesting casinos you can walk around in that also have shopping and restaurants around them.
Niagara Fallsview Casino Resort

What to eat

Sandstone Grillhouse was so good, we ate here twice.  It was a little on the pricier side, but it was the best Filet Mignon I’ve ever had.  They have a Chef’s Special in the evenings that comes with local wine.  (On one night, we actually visited the vineyard that day before we went in the evening.)  Let me tell you what to avoid: IHOP.  I know you were going to avoid it anyways, and no one should need to tell you that, but if your hotel doesn’t serve breakfast and you think, “I’ll just go to IHOP.”  Think again.  People actually posted photographs of their bill on TripAdvisor.   There are a lot of mom and pop restaurants, Italian and Asian cuisine that we tried that were all pretty good.  I recommend asking the hotel concierge for recommendations of where THEY would eat.  That’s how we get the good ones.  They usually have a couple restaurants they recommend all their guests because of some partnership they have the establishment.  Ask them where they would eat.  That’s how we’ve found the less expensive real good ones.

Day trip: Niagara-on-the-Lake 

Konzelmann

This was a fabulous day trip, if you like wine and want to drive a bit.  There are a lot of places to do wine tasting and tastings were typically $1 per taste and with each $1 you taste, you get $1 off a bottle of wine.  So really, it’s a pretty good deal.  The most picturesque vineyard we visited was Konzelmann Estate, which has a view of the water from the vineyard.  We took a tour at Jackson-Triggs, which was a great experience.  They take you through the wine production facilities and they even give you tips on how to taste wine.  (So if you’re a newbie and don’t know how to swirl the glass around and act like you can taste the different tannins in each glass, this is a great tour for you!)  Also around Niagara-on-the-Lake is an outlet mall.  If you’re into shopping, that make a fun excursion as well.

 
Enjoy your trip to Niagara Falls!  Let me know what your favorite part about Niagara was (and your least favorite part) so we can learn from each other’s experiences.
 
 

 

Nina Thomas

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