Touchdown in Toronto! From weeks of endless sunshine and scorching temperatures in the U.K. we arrived in Toronto smack bang in the middle of a storm. And a proper storm at that. Black skies, torrential rain and rumbling clouds. Trial by fire for the first Canadian driving experience then.
After picking up our little hire car from the wonderfully charming and helpful people of Budget Rentals – I know you can hear the irony here – we were away. Kind of.
In theory driving in Canada is like driving at home, just on the other side of the road right? Wrong. They have loads of crazy rules here; being able to turn right at a red light, honk! Pedestrian crossings turning green the same time as the traffic lights go green, honk! Honk! Honk!
Anyway, long story short Scott got us to St Catherine’s in one piece! And without being able to see the road most of the time too. Bravo!
After a few hours sleep at our wonderful hosts gorgeous Canadian home, it was time to get up and at ‘em. We had a waterfall to see!
Niagara Falls is one of the worlds natural wonders of the world and wedges itself nicely between Canada and the USA. Hello ‘merica! There are actually three waterfalls at Niagara; the famous Horseshoe Falls, the American Falls and Bridal Veil Falls. A wonderful surprise to me.
With only a 20-minute drive ahead of us and some handy insider tips from our hosts, we arrived at Niagara Falls ready for a jaw-dropping day of fun.
First insider tip: Parking
As soon as you catch sight of the falls you want to execute an emergency stop, exit your vehicle armed with your camera in one hand, smartphone in the other and a compact camera hanging round your neck (at least I did anyway). I’m sure that’s why the Niagara tourist board have plonked a car park directly opposite, for the princely sum of $25.
Here’s the tip… the further you drive along the falls, the cheaper the parking. Keep going until Duffrin Islands and its totally free! It’ll take you about 15 minutes to walk to Tablerock from here but the views are amazing! You’ll even get to enjoy the architectural delights of their power plant. Trust me, there’s no sarcasm here.
The walk from the Duffirin Islands car park also offers another treat, instead of seeing the falls creep closer in the distance you approach from the other side and only fully see the falls when you’re right at the edge. Mind blowing!
One of the most touristy things you can possibly do at Niagara is to don a poncho and board the Hornblower boat which takes you into the mist of the falls. So obviously, that’s what we did!
Tip number 2: Get tickets
Thanks to the million other tourists congregating by the entrance to the boats, it’s not 100% clear how the whole thing works. So we did what we Brits do best and we joined a queue. The longest queue at that. Ten minutes into standing in said queue, we spotted a sign that said ticket holders only. Ah, right… Oh well, time to leave this queue and join another queue! In short, make sure head to the ticket desks before standing in the main queue, however appealing queuing in a long, unidentified queue may be.
With our bright red ponchos on, we climbed aboard the boat and found a spot. Unfortunately we couldn’t get on the top deck due to the previously mentioned million other tourists, but we managed to find a great spot on the side of the boat.
It isn’t until you’re bobbing around at the base of the falls that you realise the immense power crashing down around you. It’s no surprise that the water here generates power for 3.8million homes. Unbelievable!
The boat experience lasts about 15 minutes and costs around $28. In my opinion it’s worth every penny – or should I say cent. You even get a complimentary shower. Fancy.
Facts about Niagara Falls
• The falls at Niagara have the highest flow rate of any waterfall on the planet.
• 50-70% of water is diverted from going over the falls. They divert less in summer to make it more impressive for tourists.
• It is the largest energy producer in the state of New York.
• The average household would need 7.5 years to use the amount of water that flows over the Niagara Falls every second.
The falls were so impressive that we headed back in the evening to see them lit up. It’s a totally different atmosphere at night with the falls illuminated by colourful lights. If you’re as lucky as we were, you’ll also get to see an epic fireworks show that takes place above the falls.
To the man who let off his finale firework 10 minutes before the show started. Don’t beat yourself up. It was the most shocking trailer I’ve ever seen, or heard!
Nearby must see spots
Niagara on the Lake
This quaint town is about 30 minutes drive from the falls and is home to classic Canadian architecture, horse-drawn carriages and adorable shops including a Christmas shop. Winner! Day one of our trip and I’ve already bagged myself my Canadian tree decoration.
The Niagara Whirlpool is a natural whirlpool downstream from Niagara Falls. It’s a beautiful but slightly challenging 15-minute hike down to the water but totally worth it when you’re there!
Treat one of your other senses to a Canadian treat in Downtown St Catherine’s. Beechwood Doughnuts are pretty famous around these parts and they are delicious!! If you’re anywhere near the area make sure you stop off and get one, or seven…
As always I’ll be adding more photos when I get home