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So, you’ve decided to take the famjam to the # 8 experience WORLDWIDE, Niagara Falls!
This natural wonder of the world has exploded over the years into a tourist mecca, that ranges from absolute cheese ball to stunning natural beauty.
And it’s ALL fun.
I’m breaking down the major things to do and see, and what you don’t want to miss when planning your family vacation.
Best Ways to See the Epic Niagara Falls
The epicenter of the trip, the majestic Niagara Falls, are a wondrous natural phenomenon, created by ice, water, wind, and time. Here are the best ways to experience the roar of the rushing water, the sprinkling mists, and the unbridled power of nature.
Simple and free, there is a long, safe, stone walkway along the entirety of the main basin as well as the Falls. Have a look at the American Falls, Bridal Veil Falls, and arrive at the unparalleled Horseshoe Falls. All along the way, stop and take in the sights through permanently stationed binoculars. While meandering, see if you can find the grown-to-the-ground umbrella tree my kids (and husband) love to play under. Of course, don’t forget your camera! This is where you can take your frame-worthy family photo with the Falls in the background.
The Table Rock Welcome Centre
As you reach the Horseshoe falls, and have your fill of just how loud and fast 681,750 gallons of water per second is, step inside the Table Rock Welcome Centre and up to the two-story glass Observation Complex. Table Rock also features Niagara’s Fury, a 360 theater experience on the formation of the Falls. Though this doesn’t sound like the most exciting thing on paper, my kids LOVED it. I loved it too — we learned a lot! Now, grab your tickets to go behind the Falls.
Journey Behind The Falls
This is not only my kids’ favorite attraction, but it was my favorite as a kid as well. It’s the closest you’ll ever get to the power of the water without jumping over the falls in a barrel. Journey Behind The Falls takes you 125 ft. down by elevator, and then through a series of tunnels that lead to two observation decks and two portals behind the falls. You will be ⅓ of the way behind the sheet of water, and make it to the very foot of the waterfall. This is how you see the Falls! Biodegradable ponchos are supplied, you will get wet. If your family is anything like mine, that makes it even more fun.
Hornblower Niagara Cruises
Center yourself between all three Falls and come at the Horseshoe from another angle, aboard the Hornblower Niagara! Another Niagara Falls right-of-passage, the Hornblower takes you right up close to the falls and into the mist. You can add another poncho to your collection and take some incredible family photos from the boat. They are also the only operation that offers a night cruise to watch the fireworks. We didn’t do this, and I’m a little sad about it! The boat deck is safe for kids, even though my mom-anxiety ratcheted itself up occasionally.
While we chose to spend our money on the more experiential attractions, these next few options will keep you nice and dry, and some have a more mellow sensory experience. You’ll still get those stunning views of the entire Niagara basin!
Hop into the enclosed glass elevator and take a 52-second trip to the top of the Skylon Tower and the highest views of Niagara. Experience the “jello-legs” feeling of being 775 feet above the falls! Try the outdoor deck if you’re of the risky persuasion, and if you head around to the other side of the observation decks, you can see the CN Tower in Toronto on a clear day. The view extends over 77 miles. Head up again at night when the falls are lit up, or during the fireworks. Children under 4 are free!
Another great way to see the Falls? At 175 feet, in a temperature-controlled gondola! We went up at night, and the falls were a sight to behold. Though in true Smith Family fashion, my kids were more captivated by the giant exploding volcano at the dinosaur mini golf game beside us. But hey! A fun time was had by all, no matter what we were looking at. Niagara Skywheel is an easy one for people of all ages to enjoy together.
No matter which way you choose, you will be looking at something that everyone in the world wants to see. It’s an incredible sight, whether you’re below it, above it, or behind it. Make sure you come back at night for the light show year-round, and fireworks on the weekends during the summer.
Have Fun Like A Kid
There’s something about a family vacation that lets that inner child run wild. Here are some super fun attractions that kids old and young will love!
This was probably the pinnacle of the trip for my kiddos. It was SO much fun! Kids 7 and up can ride this 2200 ft. WildPlay Zipline toward the falls observation deck, going 40+mph. A definite do-not-miss! My kids were windblown and didn’t stop talking about it for days. Bonus: try the night time ride!
WildPlay Whirlpool Adventure Course
These are not in the same location, so don’t let the name fool you. When we did our nature day, we included the WildPlay Whirlpool Adventure Course, and I think it was my favorite day of the trip. Not only did we see lots of cool natural elements (more on that below), but this adventure course was a complete blast.
My younger two did the Kids Course, for ages 5-12, and my older four did the Extreme Course, for ages five and up. They took about an hour and a half but never stopped the whole time. There were jumps, climbs, ziplines, log ladders, rope swings…so many things they can run their energy out on. Plus, you’re right alongside the gorge and river, it’s a lovely spot.
Niagara Speedway…AKA…Mario Kart
We called this one Mario Kart because, well, that’s exactly what it looks like. I want to say I loved it, but the truth is, I was terrified the whole time! Niagara Speedway assured me the track was built safety-first, but it didn’t stop me from having at least ten separate moments that I’ll liken to being the passenger in a car with someone you don’t trust – pumping those brakes on the passenger side. Anyway, this is super fun for kids and nice and scary for moms. Make sure to check the height minimums for both riders and passengers before committing to this one.
Wild Magic with Greg Frewin
This is another one we skipped because it wasn’t at the top of our list. But Wild Magic sounds like an incredible show, so I included it in the list. Greg Frewin is a master magician, and his shows include live tigers and exotic birds (I read that he does a lot for wildlife conservation – which I liked). You can buy tickets to the show, or include a buffet dinner or appetizer menu (and full bar). Three and under are free on your lap!
Ah, Clifton Hill. It’s loud. It’s bright. It’s over-the-top. It’s a kids dream come true (unless they have sensory issues, then it’s a nightmare and best to pick some other ones on the list!). Clifton Hill is the epitome of “tourist” Niagara Falls. Some people love it, some hate it. Either way, there are some fun things to do with the kids.
It’s home to the Skywheel and the Niagara Speedway. But also check out The Great Canadian Midway for a massive arcade experience, and our family favorite, Dinosaur Adventure Golf. There are giant dinosaurs, jungle sounds, fire, and a giant 50 foot volcano that explodes every few minutes. It’s one of the things we never miss when we go, and part of the Clifton Hill Fun Pass (more on that below).
There are wax museums. So many wax museums. MovieLand is the best one we’ve found. Then there are haunted houses, and 3D rides, and Ripley’s Believe It or Not. We skipped most of these, but did the Zombie Attack because it was included in our passes. The kids loved it, of course. But my kids are wild and crazy, and would absolutely survive a zombie attack, so take from that what you will. It’s not good for anyone who scares easily.
Don’t forget your fudge from the Fudge Factory! It’s a must.
Waterpark Day Passes
If the weather turns and you just don’t want to spend the day walking around outside, consider grabbing a day pass from Fallsview Indoor Waterpark or Waves Indoor Waterpark at Americana. I detail them both below.
Connect With Nature
The majority of tourists that head to Niagara Falls stick close to the Clifton Hill area, as well as the falls, and miss the natural beauty on display all around them. If you’re craving more nature in your natural wonders, here are some fantastic, off-the-beaten-path places you can enjoy.
Butterfly Conservatory and Niagara Botanical Gardens
The Butterfly Conservatory is another family favorite, and another great one for a rainy day (sunny days too!), because it’s all enclosed. Take a stroll past waterfalls and lush vegetation, and make sure to wear your brightest colors, so the butterflies land on you!
See the chrysalis’ where the butterflies are in the process of becoming. Watch different species of butterfly eat from little slices of fruit left out for them. Once you’re finished inside, head outside into the beautiful Niagara Botanical Gardens, home to the Niagara Parks outdoor school of horticulture. It’s 99 acres of beautifully manicured plants. Pack a picnic and enjoy the gardens, including the world-famous rose garden, featuring over 2400 roses.
Bird Kingdom was more fun than I expected it to be and quickly became another favorite. Maybe I was prejudiced, because of my deep fear of birds (thanks Hitchcock), but there were so many fun features that we all loved. We especially loved the giant tortoise, and spent a very long time with him.
The darkroom with the bats was a fun spot for the kids, but the best part was the open-air areas where birds flew around you. There was another giant waterfall in here (that I hid behind, because…birds), and a really fun experience where you can have them land on your arm (or in my case, shoulder, neck, and head). Really, we loved it and will definitely go back. I’ll get over my fears. I’m sure of it. Ah, the things we do for our kids.
White Water Walk
Fun and free. Walk along the lower level of the Niagara River, past Class 6 rapids, along a boardwalk. The White Water Walk has a couple of lookout points, but mostly we just enjoyed nature, the raging river, and the neat rocks.
Endorsed by Accessibility Niagara, Heartland Forest is an outdoor area of wheelchair accessible hiking trails, fish ponds (catch and release with your own gear), animal carvings, and a tree house in the middle of the woods.
Also enjoy their playground, with a custom merry-go-round, swing, and unique fire pit that accommodate wheelchairs safely and easily.
We had a lot of fun here, just letting the kids explore. When every hour is structured, and we were shuttling the kids from this attraction to that attraction, it was a huge breath of fresh air just letting them run around and play.
There are three waterpark hotels within Niagara Falls, and our family has stayed and played at all three. We are a little obsessed with waterpark hotels, so here is a small breakdown of each, and the best time to visit them.
Great Wolf Lodge
The most immersive of the three, Great Wolf Lodge, also comes in with the highest price tag. There is SO much to do and see here, from the giant waterpark, to Magi-Quest games, to bowling, and the arcade. There’s story time each evening around the big magic tree, parent-free PJ parties (parents – that’s 2.5 hours of parent time to spend how you please! We hit the waterslides…just sayin’), and Cub Club activities, a kid and grown-up spa, restaurants, and more.
As for the waterpark, it’s incredible. Relax in the hot spas, take a ride in the lazy river, swim in the pool, or climb the massive structures. And let’s not forget the best waterslides of all three options. My wild bunch loved challenging each other to the Wolf Tail. They had to challenge mom too!
We LOVE coming here, and usually get the inclusive dining package when we do, as well as the Paw Pass for each kid. This covers all of the major things to do onsite, at a bit of a discount. You can also usually find a coupon code on their website under “deals” for around 20% off, so don’t skip that section!
In my opinion, the best time to visit is October – April, when some of the outdoor things to do at the Falls are closed, and you can spend more time in the hotel. It’s really a vacation experience in and of itself. I also think this is best for ages four and up; they can use more of the features of the waterpark.
The only downside is that it’s a couple of miles outside of the main Niagara Falls area, so you need to rely on WeGo (more on that below), or drive yourself, to do any other activities.
Fallsview Indoor Waterpark
This falls in the middle for me for price and value. Fallsview Indoor Waterpark is North America’s largest indoor waterpark and resort, and sits on top of the Casino Niagara parking garage, giving it awesome views of the Falls. What I do like is that it is in the heart of the tourist district, meaning you can easily walk to all amenities.
The waterpark has a wave pool, an outdoor pool, 16 waterslides, a huge play structure with a 1000-gallon bucket, and a warm water tiny tots play area (heads up: tiny tots is closed daily from 1:30-3:00 pm – naptime!). Rent yourself a private cabana for a dedicated meeting place, meal discounts, and luxury.
There’s also a dry playground and restaurant inside the waterpark, perfect for when you need a break from the water and a bite to eat!
The waterpark is connected via indoor walkways to 4 different hotels: the swanky Sheraton on the Falls, charming Crowne Plaza Fallsview, family-style Skyline Hotel, and the Clifton Victoria Inn. We stayed at the latter, and the rooms were TINY. Not a great choice if you have kids, though there are open areas outside of the rooms, which helped to stretch our legs a bit. The Skyline is the best bet for affordable family fun.
The downsides: there’s no actual pool just to swim in, only the wave pool, which I am not a fan of on the best days.
There is, however, an awesome outdoor pool, so I would recommend this as the best place to stay during the summer months. That way you can have indoor and outdoor fun, and close access to all the other amenities at the Falls. It’s also an excellent choice for families with children of all ages because there’s lots for littles and bigs to do.
You can also buy day passes to Fallsview Indoor Waterpark, which would be a fun way to spend an afternoon no matter which hotel you’re at.
I have a soft spot in my heart for the Americana. The most affordable of the three, it also comes with lots of perks and benefits for the hotel and other Falls attractions.
They regularly have deals on Groupon and WagJag, and if you snag one of those, you’ll also get 2-for-1 admission to the Bird Kingdom. If you book directly, you can still get a small discount on Bird Kingdom tickets, as they’re available for guests of Americana for $15 each.
Though Waves Indoor Waterpark is a little smaller than the others, it still has plenty to do, including 3-story waterslides, a wave pool, a giant playhouse with tipping bucket, and a great toddler area with in-water swings and small slides. Rent a cabana to keep your things and have a home base you can meet at. There’s an arcade as well, a playground outside, and a spa.
Restaurants onsite include Boston Pizza, a bistro, and a cafe. They offer a hot and cold breakfast buffet as well.
There are a couple of cons to the Americana. Parking is $20+tax per night, and, like Great Wolf Lodge, it’s a couple of miles outside of the main Niagara Falls area, so you need to drive into the other attractions or use WeGo.
Americana is fun all year round, but especially in the colder months from October to April, and if your kids are mostly under 8, this is the best pick of the three.
You can buy day passes to Waves Indoor Waterpark, so even if you’re at another hotel, this is a fun way to spend an afternoon!
There is an unending number of hotels and motels that line the streets of Niagara Falls. And I’ve stayed in some pretty beautiful and some downright scary ones over the years. I’m going to highlight my top three for you, and why they rank high on the list.
This is always the hotel I check first when we’re doing a weekend trip. It has the BEST view and is the closest hotel to the Falls. It’s affordable for the area and view and includes two WeGo passes. The onsite restaurants are really yummy, and overlook the Falls. It’s a close 7-10 minute walk to everything. There is an indoor pool, though it’s quite standard. I love that we can watch the fireworks from our window, perfect for those littles with aversions to loud sounds.
Great for families because kids stay free. And complimentary cookies! There are nice big rooms, a pool, and a hot tub. It’s only a five-minute walk to all the major attractions, making it the perfect location because those legs get tired after all that walking around. The free breakfast offers something for everyone; my kids were obsessed with making waffles.
This is, in my opinion, the best family-friendly hotel in Niagara Falls apart from the waterpark hotels. It features an indoor courtyard with big trees and gardens, a pool, two hot tubs, an arcade, and a 2-story play structure. Definitely get a courtyard room, all these amenities are right outside your door. It’s a 10-15 minute walk to the Falls, but the WeGo stops right out front and can take you to and from any major attraction and the Falls. Doc Magilligan’s Restaurant & Irish Pub is onsite and is a delicious Irish experience. We absolutely love it here.
Steer clear of the chain restaurants — they tend to overprice – a LOT. For example, I had chicken fingers and fries, and my boyfriend had a burger and fries…at Denny’s…for $50…in 2003. You will overspend, so try and steer clear of those. The food tends to be pricier here, but these are my family’s favorites.
Doc Magilligan’s Restaurant & Irish Pub
We ADORE the Irish experience at Doc Magilligan’s, the delicious food (especially breakfast!), and my husband loves the craft beer. They’ll tell you a story, ask them about importing everything from Ireland! Their brunch is definitely not to be missed. We love that it’s affordable, but the quality of the food is outstanding. Try the Reuben Bites!
Bravo Pizzeria and Grill
Let’s face it – kids love pizza. And this is pizza. Fire-roasted pizza. Quite possibly the best I’ve ever had. The atmosphere is so Italian, with exposed wood beams, white marble tables, and stone walls. Fresh, healthy ingredients are used to craft your pizza, which can be cooked in 90 seconds in the hand-built wood-burning oven.
They also serve delicious pasta and sandwiches. Two of my bunch ask for pasta from Bravo’s anytime we visit! Just promise me you won’t miss this one, it’s yummy beyond my capacity for words.
Yes, I know it’s still technically a chain restaurant, but I needed to include the Rainforest Cafe in an Ultimate Family Guide because my kids LOVE it. And let’s face it, I do too. The food is mediocre, and I absolutely will NOT use the kids’ menu ever again, but the service is excellent, and you can’t beat the atmosphere. Fish tanks, thunderstorms, and animals that come alive make eating here a must for the family.
Ways To Save
Once you’ve picked out your ideal itinerary, it’s time to find some deals!
Adventure Pass Classic – $67 CAD
- Journey Behind the Falls
- Hornblower Niagara Cruises
- Niagara’s Fury
- White Water Walk
- Two Day WeGo access
- Exclusive shopping and dining benefits
Wonder Pass – $25 CAD
- Journey Behind the Falls
- Butterfly Conservatory
- Niagara’s Fury
- Floral Showcase
- Two Day WeGo
- Falls Incline Railway
- Exclusive shopping and dining benefits
Clifton Hill Fun Pass – $29.95/adult, $19.95/child CAD
- Niagara Skywheel*
- Zombie Attack
- Wild West Coaster
- Ghostblasters Dark Rider
- Movieland Wax Museum
- Dino Adventure Golf or Wizards Golf
*bonus skywheel spin when you buy passes online. Great opportunity to take a day spin and a night spin!
Parking and WeGo
Parking, especially in the summer months, is a bit of a nightmare. Try the curbside metered spots, but it’s the luck of the draw as to whether you’ll get one or not. There are parking garages and a public lot, and you should expect to pay between $14 and $25 CAD. However, these fill up FAST, especially from day-trippers, so your best bet, if you’re staying in the Falls, is to utilize WeGo.
WeGo is the bus system for fun. It connects accommodations to all Niagara attractions and Niagara Parks. They operate on a “per-day” fare, with as many on-and-offs as you need.
$9 for 24 hours
$14 for 48 hours
$6 for 24 hours
$10 for 48 hours
Five and under ride free!
WeGo is included with some hotels, so ask if they participate in the Host Card program, and both the Adventure and Wonder passes listed above. Look for the “we sell WeGo” signs for participating retailers that sell passes.
We always use a WeGo pass, it’s so much easier than driving and parking, it means we can all relax and have fun, and the kids think it’s fun! It’s also nice even if your hotel isn’t far, because, at the end of the day, the kids are usually wiped and ready just to sit down and enjoy the ride back.
There is truly so much to do and see here — it can be overwhelming. I hope I’ve helped you get a sense of the best offerings for kids, and you can pick a couple that sound like the most fun for your family. But don’t lose sight of why you came. Take a beat and a breath, gather your family and stand in awe of one of the most beautiful feats of nature in the world.
Lindsey Smith is a wicked fun and totally hilarious personal finance and travel writer. She is responsible for 6 small humans, 2 dogs, and a husband. She loves reading and writing fiction, yoga, and living as much as possible outdoors. Check her out at Afford Adventure and on Instagram.
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