Ahh, Niagara Falls. One of the world’s greatest waterfalls, a wonder of North America, and a true Natural beauty. Right? Well, perhaps it’s not quite the natural wonder I was expecting, particularly if you’ve been to any National Parks in the USA or Canada. Niagara Falls has grown to become a huge tourist attraction, and while the falls themselves are still stunning and very impressive, the area around them might let you down a little.
If you are planning to visit then you might be confused about which side to visit. Niagara Falls is split between Canada and the USA. In fact, the border goes right through the middle of the falls, with a bridge a little downstream making the crossing for most visitors. Some might be lucky enough to check out both sides for themselves, but if you can only reach one side, which do you choose? Having visited both sides, I’ve weighed up the pros and cons to help you decide which side is better and which one might be more suitable for you!
The American Side
We arrived at the American side, which is located in upstate New York. We had driven from Boston through Woodstock and the surrounding mountains and nature of this beautiful part of the state. Then North through the Finger Lakes until we arrived at Niagara. It’s safe to say we were initially a little shocked by what we saw. The area seemed run down, covered in concrete, with huge shopping malls plastered with ‘Made in America’ signs. It’s fair to say it wasn’t quite what I was expecting.
However, after a little exploring and checking out the State Park office, we realised there was more nature here than first meets the eye. In fact, the main asset of the American side is the nature and walks around the falls.
- Get much closer to the Falls: One of the biggest advantages of being on the American side is that you can get really close to the top of the falls, so that you can feel the water spray back at you. It’s also easier to feel the sheer mass of water which goes down the falls from this side – you really get a sense of just how powerful they are!
- More green areas and some hiking trails: The American side is a State Park, which is one category lower than a National Park. That means some effort has gone into the protection of the nature around the falls, and the park has created some hiking trails and short walks through the woodland and along the Niagara River. As keen hikers we found these a little disappointing, but for someone who prefers a leisurely stroll, it’s quite pleasant.
- It’s generally quieter at this side: Due to the range of hotels on the Canadian side, and also due to the distance of the American side from any major city, this side is much less visited than the Canadian side. There are still crowds, but you won’t quite be fighting your way for the perfect selfie like you would on the Canadian side.
- Less accommodation and food options: We found food on both sides limited mostly to fast food chains, but on the American side there’s even less. It is generally cheaper though, and you can stay in nearby Buffalo for more food and accommodation if you wish.
- You don’t get the panoramic vistas the Canadian side offers: From the American side you unfortunately won’t be getting any of those postcard panoramas. In fact, you can barely see the Horseshoe or the Bridle Veil Falls from this side!
- More difficult to get to: Being a long drive from major cities like Boston or New York, you will need a car and a couple of days to get to this side of the Falls. If you do have extra time, driving through upstate New York is more than worth it for the little true American towns, amazing road-side diners and drives through natural areas such as the Adirondacks.
Verdict: If you like nature, hiking and the great outdoors, you will find there is much more to do on this side. Around the falls and the area protected as a State Park, it’s greener, fresher and quieter. However, you might not be so impressed by the views, and the concrete mess of the city is a sure let down.
The Canadian Side
After exploring the American side and taking a few hikes along the river, we crossed over to the Canadian side for the best views of the falls. There’s no doubt that Canada got very lucky with it’s views, with a full panorama of the American, Bridle Veil and Horseshoe Falls. Though the rest of the city on this side was more of what I imagined Las Vegas to be like – bright flashing lights, restaurants and fast food galore and barely a batch of greenery in sight.
- The views are unbeatable! After we crossed the bridge to the Canadian side, we were blown away by the panorama of waterfalls before our eyes. The views here are simply stunning, and THIS really is what everyone wants a photo of.
- Plenty of places to eat, things to do, and lots of accommodation options for all budgets: Although the area is a little like a theme park, you can’t deny that there aren’t tons of places to eat, sleep and party on this side of the falls. Choose from camping, motels, luxury hotels and for food there’s everything from fast food joints, all you can eat diners, to luxury restaurants with perfect views of the falls.
- It’s easier to get here from Toronto: If you want to fly near to the falls from an International destination, arriving in Toronto is going to be your best and cheapest option. The falls are a couple of hours drive from the city, making it an easy day trip if you are staying in Toronto.
- The city is commercialised: The thing that really shocked me about the Canadian side is just how commercial it is! I expected much more of this from the American side, but in fact it’s the Canadians who have cashed in on casinos, novelty rides and nightlife. Niagara Falls City wasn’t for me, but for some people it’s probably heaps of fun!
- During the day, it’s very busy with tourists (although go at sunrise and you’ll have the falls all to yourself!): During the day there are tour buses galore on this side of the falls. It can be a little too much, so I highly recommend heading down at sunrise if you can. At sunset, and after dark it’s also quieter and beautiful to see the falls all lit up.
- There’s no walking or green areas to relax in: This side really is a concrete jungle. While the area around the falls is clean with lots of cafes and places to sit – it really doesn’t feel like you’re at one of North America’s greatest natural wonders.
Verdict: While the views will blow you away, the city is more likely to leave you a little flat. We wanted to see much more nature on this side, but instead got casinos and Taco Bell joints. However, getting up at sunrise and heading to the falls was a beautiful moment which we highly recommend everyone doing! Late in the evening it was also a misty blue dream.
So which side is best?
Despite the fact that the USA side had much more nature to explore, I have to say I enjoyed visiting the Canadian side more. This is simply because of the epic views at times, particularly at sunrise when the area is quiet and the water is tinted pink by the early morning rays.
If possible, I recommend visiting both sides, so you get the views of Canada and the nature and mist from the American side. Whichever side you choose to visit – don’t let the commercialisation put you off. It’s still a beautiful natural wonder of the world and one you won’t be forgetting anytime soon!
Have you ever visited Niagara Falls? Which side did you like best and why? Would you ever like to visit?