8 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions & Things to Do in Niagara Falls, NY
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The Niagara Falls are among the most impressive and best-known falls in the world. They lie in the extreme northwest of New York State along the U.S./Canadian border, which is formed by the Niagara River. Here, masses of water from Lake Erie plunge over an almost 200-foot drop to flow into Lake Ontario, attracting more than 12 million visitors a year.
There are three waterfalls in total: Bridal Veil Falls; American Falls; and the widest, Horseshoe Falls. Downstream, the river rushes through a tight passage in Niagara Gorge then churns in a giant whirlpool. There are a wide variety of ways to view the falls, both from dry land and right up close in the spray. Once you have soaked up the spectacular falls, there are plenty of things to do in this lovely upstate town, as well as just across the river in Niagara Falls, Ontario.
Plan your next visit with our list of the top attractions in Niagara Falls, New York.
See also: Where to Stay in Niagara Falls
Note: Some businesses may be temporarily closed due to recent global health and safety issues.
1. Niagara Falls State Park
Niagara Falls State Park is New York's oldest state park, opened in 1885, and home to a trio of impressive waterfalls and five islands on the Niagara River. Overall, the park covers 400 acres that include nature and bike trails, picnic facilities, and scenic photo-ops.
For those whose legs need a break, the park's vintage-style trolley brings visitors to the park's main attractions, like the Observation Tower, where there are panoramic views of all three falls. There are also sightseeing tours available, including boat tours like the Maid of the Mist and other close-up experiences.
The park's visitor center also has a lot to offer, including historical exhibits, a gift shop, multiple restaurants, and the Adventure Theater. Here, visitors can enjoy a 40-minute "4-D" presentation that combines film and sensory effects, like spray from the falls, to provide an immersive experience for the whole family.
Maps, area information, and tickets for the park's attractions and top places to visit can also be found at the visitor center. The falls are lit at night, and there are fireworks presentations throughout the year.
An excellent way to see the highlights of the falls while enjoying door-to door service is the Niagara Falls American Side Highlights Tour. This five-hour guided tour includes admission to Niagara Falls State Park, the Maid of the Mist tour, as well as tours of the Cave of Winds, the Niagara Falls Observation Tower, and Goat Island.
Official site: http://www.niagarafallsstatepark.com/
2. Maid of the Mist
The Maid of the Mist is the longest-running boat tour of the falls, in operation since 1846. It is also the most popular of attractions at Niagara Falls State Park, and for good reason. Tourists embark from the base of the Observation Tower, donning the blue ponchos and setting out in the river into Niagara Gorge on a double-decker boat.
The 30-minute tour visits both American Falls and Horseshoe Falls, riding up close to the base where hundreds of thousands of gallons of water crash down each second. This unforgettable tour operates in season from April through November, and tickets are purchased in the state park's visitor center.
3. Goat Island's Cave of Winds
From Prospect Point, a path crosses a bridge on to little Green Island, in the middle of the rapids just above the American Falls, and then over another bridge on to Goat Island, between the American and the Horseshoe Falls. On Goat Island, at the foot of the American Falls, is the entrance to the Cave of the Winds from where boardwalks lead to just under the falls.
Prior to descending the 175-feet into the gorge, visitors to the Cave of Winds are provided with ponchos and souvenir sandals - a must for anyone who doesn't want to spend the rest of the day in soggy shoes. Named the "hurricane deck" for its constant state of stormy conditions, the wooden platform stands only 20 feet from the tumbling water of Bridal Veil Falls.
Tourists can also access Luna Island by gangway from the northern tip of Goat Island, and a network of walkways provide additional chances to see both American Falls and Horseshoe Falls from a different perspective.
4. Whirlpool Rapids
Three miles below the American Falls, the river changes course again, forming a whirlpool in the great cauldron originally created by tectonic movements, then turning northeast over the Lower Rapids towards Lake Ontario. These rapids are some of the world's most dangerous, with 100,000 cubic feet of water moving through the narrow Whirlpool Gorge each second.
From the New York side of the river, visitors can hike down a series of paths and stairs to an observation point that was once a stop on the Great Gorge Railway. A more navigable way to view the whirlpool and rapids is the Whitewater Walk, which is wheelchair accessible, but does require a visit to Canada's Niagara Park in Ontario.
Whirlpool Rapids Bridge is also a popular way to view the falls from above, spanning the Niagara River between the United States and Canada.
5. Aquarium of Niagara
The Aquarium of Niagara is a fun diversion for families and a great option for chilly or rainy days. Here, you will find more than 200 species of aquatic animals, as well as 30 educational exhibits. Aquarium presentations include a sea lion show, harbor seal presentations, and the penguin feeding.
Visitors can also choose to have an animal encounter with a behind-the-scenes look at the care, training, and social lives of seals and Humboldt penguins. The aquarium also serves as an animal rescue center for injured wildlife.
Address: 701 Whirlpool Street, Niagara Falls, New York
Official site: www.aquariumofniagara.org
6. Castellani Art Museum of Niagara University
The Castellani Art Museum was founded by the Castellani family in 1976 to further the study and appreciation of art at Niagara University and the region. The permanent collection includes more than 5,600 works in a wide range of media that dates from the 1850s to the present.
Examples include paintings, drawings, photos, and sculpture, as well as pre-Columbian ceramics. The bulk of the museum's collection is focused on artwork created since the 1970s and features prominent and emerging contemporary artists. The museum is located on the Niagara University campus.
Address: Niagara University, 5795 Lewiston Road, Niagara Falls, New York
Official site: www.castellaniartmuseum.org
7. Old Fort Niagara
Old Fort Niagara offers visitors the opportunity to explore one of the most important forts of the 18th century, crucial in maintaining control of access to the Great Lakes during the colonial wars. The visitor center and the fort's many restored original buildings include exhibits and artifacts. During the summer, there are living history interpreters who demonstrate what daily life was like, from routine chores to working artisans.
Guided tours are also available in-season, and during the off-season, visitors are encouraged to enjoy an orientation video and self-guided exploration of the grounds. The fort also hosts special events, including re-enactments, and there are hourly musket demonstrations year-round.
Address: 102 Morrow Plaza, Youngstown, New York
Official site: www.oldfortniagara.org
8. Excursions to Canadian Sites
One of the best things about Niagara Falls is its proximity to its twin, Niagara Falls, Ontario. Here, you will find a variety of tourist attractions, including some unique ways to enjoy the natural wonders of the river and falls. Visitors can take a peek at the underside of Horseshoe Falls from portals carved into the rock beneath, accessed by tunnels that were carved more than 130 years ago.
To get a thrilling view of the whirlpool, the vintage 1916 aerial cable car called the Aero Car offers unparalleled views from above. Visitors will also enjoy the Clifton Hill amusement park with a plethora of entertainment options, from midway games to bowling, arcades, and coaster-track go-karts. It is also home to the Niagara Skywheel, Canada's biggest observation wheel, which offers stunning views of the falls and Niagara Gorge.
Where to Stay in Niagara Falls for Sightseeing
While there are several things to see and do in Niagara Falls, the main attractions are the waterfalls themselves, so the best option is to find a hotel within walking distance of the falls and Niagara Falls State Park, or along the river gorge. This is where most of the best hotels are found. Below is a list of some highly rated hotels in convenient locations.
- The Red Coach Inn Historic Bed and Breakfast Hotel is a charming and romantic 1923 English Tudor style inn, with a fantastic location overlooking the rapids, and just a short stroll to the edge of the falls and Goat Island.
- With a more modern feel, The Giacomo is a boutique hotel set in a 1923 Art Deco tower, and is within easy walking distance to the falls and the Cave of the Winds.
- A little farther back, but still within walking distance, the Sheraton at the Falls has an indoor pool and is close to several good restaurants and cafés.
- Just a short distance upstream from the falls and Goat Island is the Hampton Inn Niagara Falls, with an indoor pool and a complimentary breakfast.
- The Comfort Inn The Pointe is in a great location, just steps from Niagara Falls, and close to the aquarium and Rainbow Bridge.
- For something a little more cozy, the Bedham Hall Bed and Breakfast has tastefully decorated guest rooms with private baths while offering top-rate amenities, including free Wi-Fi, a mini-fridge, and use of the hot tub; rates include a fresh-cooked breakfast.
- Within walking distance of the falls, Rodeway Inn & Suites Niagara Falls is a good-value hotel, with some rooms offering a microwave and fridge.
- In a little better location, closer to the falls, the Howard Johnson is a pet-friendly hotel with a pool and complimentary breakfast.
- Further downstream, the Gorge View is a popular hostel with a variety of accommodation options for those who are on a tight budget.
Frequently Asked Questions
When is the best time to visit Niagara Falls?
The summer months are the most popular time for tourists to visit Niagara Falls, and as a result, this is when the hotel prices will be highest. Visitors can get better rates during the late spring and early autumn. Most outdoor tours, including the Maid Of the Mist boat tour, operate from the beginning of May through the end of October, with the winter and early spring months usually proving to be too cold to enjoy some the attractions.
Is it easy to cross the border to see the falls from Canada?
There are three bridges crossing the Niagara River into Canada near the falls, two of which have pedestrian lanes. The most important thing to keep in mind is that the border crossing here is just as stringent as any other, so be sure to have valid passports at the ready. Those traveling with children should be sure to have a valid ID and all appropriate paperwork showing permission, if needed.