The city of Niagara Falls, New York received a lot of hype this past week due to Nik Wallenda’s highly publicized tightrope walk across the massive waterfall. While this stunt provided a small shot in the arm for the struggling economy, it also brought some attention to just how much Niagara Falls is struggling. The city’s population has fallen so much that it is in danger of no longer being populous enough to even be considered a city. Perhaps the most humorous take on the city’s struggles came from Stephen Colbert on his show on Wednesday. In a segment on the event Colbert called Niagara Falls, “home to a breathtaking and majestic cascade of crushing poverty.”
As a Niagara Falls native and Stephen Colbert fan, I was not offended by Colbert’s shots. We in Niagara Falls are the first to poke fun at ourselves and our struggling city, but at the same time we realize that our city still does have a lot to offer as a tourist destination; it’s just that it is so poorly marketed that people who come to visit have no idea where to go. Niagara Falls can be a great vacation spot if you know where to go. Here is a list of the places you should visit if you come to Niagara Falls:
1. Maid of the Mist
The Maid of the Mist is boat ride that takes you right to the very bottom of both the American Falls and the Horseshoe Falls. The view from below the Horseshoe Falls is undeniably beautiful. I have been on the maid of the mist at least 10 times in my life and the experience never gets old. Looking up through the mist at the towering waterfall will most certainly leave you in awe.
2. Cave of the Winds
This series of decks built around the American Falls gives you the opportunity to feel the powerful water up close. An elevator takes you down near the bottom and you walk up the decks alongside the Falls as the water pours down on you. It is like being right in the waterfall. With your ticket, you are provided with a poncho and sandals to protect your clothes from getting wet.
3. Gorge Trail/ Devils Hole
If you like hiking or just enjoy beautiful views, you should check out the Niagara Gorge Trail. About a five-minute drive from the falls, the scenic Gorge Trail takes you down the gorge – over 167 feet down – to the Niagara River where you can see the rapids up close. The views from both the top and bottom are awesome. I live about a ten-minute walk from the gorge and I go hiking there at least once a week and never lose appreciation for the natural beauty of the gorge. If you like nature and hiking, you must take the Gorge Trail if you come to visit Niagara Falls. There are picnic sites both at the bottom and the top and none of it costs you any money.
4. Whirlpool Jet Boat
If hiking down to see the rapids isn’t enough for you, you can take the Whirlpool Jet Boat and feel the rapids up close. This high-speedboat ride takes you through the rapids of Devil’s Hole to the edge of the whirlpool and back.
5. Little Italy
Perhaps the section of Niagara Falls most frequently missed by tourists is Little Italy. In this charming section of town, you will find some of the best Italian food in the state. One of the greatest failures of the city is it’s inability to advertise that it has so many good places to eat; tourists who do not venture far from the Falls themselves will only find overpriced, overrated chain restaurants and fast food. If you are in Niagara Falls make your way to Pine Avenue (less than 10 minutes from the Falls) and try some of the best Italian food you will ever have. I promise you will not be disappointed.
6. Art Park Concerts
If you are in town on a Tuesday or Wednesday you have the opportunity to see very good live music at a very scenic outdoor venue overlooking the gorge, for very little money. Tuesdays in the Park are $5 to 10 per ticket. while Wednesdays at the Gorge are free. This year’s concerts include Kansas, Foreigner, Sublime with Rome, Steve Miller Band, Sheryl Crow, Peter Frampton, Ziggy Marley, Of a Revolution (OAR) and my personal favorite, The Machine (the best Pink Floyd cover band you will ever see). If you like live music and are planning a trip to Niagara Falls, check out the schedule and come on a Tuesday or Wednesday.
7. Center Street
Lastly, if you would like to go out for a drink at night, I would recommend going to the Village of Lewiston. The village is adjacent to Niagara Falls, further down the river and is only a 15-minute drive from the falls. Center Street is full of nice bars and restaurants all within walking distance of each other. My top recommendation is Water Street Riverside Bar which has a beautiful patio overlooking the Niagara River just before it empties into Lake Ontario.
Just because Niagara Falls is struggling economically does not mean that it is not a great place to live or take a vacation. The city has struggled to market itself effectively, but it still has much to offer if you know the right places to go.