Niagara Falls Observation Tower
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The 16 best things to do in Niagara Falls, NY

Come for the falls, stay for the incredible hiking trails, museums and restaurants

Contributor: Time Out editors
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Okay, it’s pretty obvious what the best thing to do in Niagara Falls is: Niagara Falls. But hey, you’ve got a whole week to fill – you may as well draw up an itinerary, right? Well we’ve got news for you. Niagara Falls is stuffed to the brim with great things to do, that have nothing to do with waterfalls. And though the Canadian side gets all the lovin’, it’s

Here you’ll find historic sights, cultural centers, outdoor concerts and state parks. You can hike around the falls in the daytime and spend your evenings at a famous casino (after sampling the best food it has to offer). Nature is where it’s at here, but there’s enough happening to be able to mix it up throughout your stay. From art and history to the fabulous falls themselves, here are the best things to do in Niagara Falls, NY, right now.

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Best things to do in Niagara Falls, NY

Spanning 400 acres and located at the brink of the Falls, this state park is the oldest in the US. It was designed by Frederick Law Olmstead, of Central Park fame, and features trails, gardens, and a range of attractions. This is your chance to get close to the falls. A ticket to “Cave of the Winds” lets you descend into the gorge and stand within feet of the raging waters. Don’t miss the daily summer fireworks, either.

While technically located in Niagara Falls State Park, Maid of the Mist deserves its own spot on the list. The 20-minute double-decker boat tour takes plastic-poncho-sporting passengers right up to the base of the Horseshoe Falls, which spans an incredible 2,200 feet in width. Maid of the Mist has been a Niagara Falls favorite for generations. The ride provides passengers with a new perspective on the Falls and an appreciation for just how powerful they really are.

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Just 20 minutes from Niagara Falls, Old Fort Niagara lies at the base of the Niagara River. The first military post was established at the fort in 1679, but now this place is best known for its role in the War of 1812. Whether you’re a history buff or looking for a kid-friendly excursion, Fort Niagara is a great day trip idea. Tour 18th-century buildings to learn about life in the fort and catch an artillery demonstration carried out by soldiers in uniform.

This Heritage Center has an important mission: to celebrate the city’s history of Underground Railroad abolitionists and freedom seekers and encourage visitors to acknowledge how injustices today have stemmed from slavery. The permanent exhibition is a must. Titled “One More River to Cross”, the exhibition highlights the brave actions Niagara Falls residents, especially African American ones, took during the days of the Underground Railroad.

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5. Niagara Falls Observation Tower

As the name suggests, it is an observation tower for that perfect view of the falls. The Niagara Falls Observation Tower is the best place to go for the ultimate view of the falls. The vista from the tower gives an incredible example of the power of the falls, while it remains the prime spot for appreciating the nighttime illuminations and seasonal firework displays. The tower closes when the weather takes a turn for the worse, obviously.

Situated in Lewiston, a picturesque town close to Niagara Falls, Art Park is a cultural hotbed that hosts everything from concerts to Broadway shows. The park overlooks the Niagara Gorge and features trails, picnic tables, and family activities on summer weekends. Dozens of outdoor concerts take place here every summer. If you’re lucky, you might be able to catch some big names, too. No matter who is playing, this is a fabulous experience. 

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It sounds like a scary place. That’s because, frankly, it kind of is. This unique park features a stone staircase that leads down the Niagara Gorge and drops you right off at the river’s famous and overpowering whirlpools. Hike down into Devil’s Hole, and you’ll enjoy a beautiful view of the immense gorge. Go ahead and climb onto the rocks at the river bank but watch your balance: the whirlpools are powerful and can easily suck you under.

Once the largest hydroelectric power station in the world, this is a reminder of humanity’s desire to harness the incredible power of nature. While not entirely abandoned, the Schoellkopf Power Station gives off ghostly vibes at every turn. Constructed in three sections between 1905 and 1924, the station suffered a catastrophic collapse in 1956. All that remains of the original site is a stone wall, although occasionally whispers of the past make themselves known.

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The jet boat tour begins in Lewiston and takes you right into Niagara’s Devil Hole Rapids. This crazy ride isn’t for the faint of heart, though – the waves can reach almost 20 feet in height, and the currents can run as fast as 20 miles per hour, according to the tour company. Likely the most thrilling boat ride most passengers have ever partaken in, this is a must-experience. You’ll definitely get hit with some huge waves, but if you sit at the back of the boat, you’ll experience a slightly easier ride. Only slightly, of course...

10. Niagara Gorge Trails

This is a collection of walking trails for amateur and experienced hikers alike. Starting at the Trailhead Center, several routes snake around the falls and offer something for everyone, from sweaty climbs to peaceful ambles. The entire area is magnificently rich in flora and fauna, not to mention history, and the best way to embrace it all is to don those walking shoes and hit the trail of your choosing.

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If you want to understand how intensely powerful the falls are, get on the Cave of the Winds tour, a famous tour taking intrepid visitors as close to the falls as is possible within the realms of safety. Dress wisely. Originally named Aeolus’s Cave (after the Greek God of wind), the Cave of the Winds tour involves an elevator ride into the abyss (not the actual abyss) before crossing a walkway that leads to the so-called Hurricane Deck. No, the name is not a coincidence. The tour is weather-dependent, of course, but an absolute must.

Ascend above Niagara Falls in a helicopter and enjoy a bird’s eye view of the surrounding scenery. The flights take off from right beside the Rainbow Bridge, which crosses into Canada and lets you off just outside Niagara Falls State Park. This tour includes an aerial view of the Falls but also gives passengers without a Canadian visa a glimpse of life across the border. You can also plump for an extended tour, barrelling down the Niagara River.

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These three islands are named after the daughters of General Pankhurst Whitney, one of the early settlers of these parts. Located off the south shoreline of Goat Island, the three islands are simultaneously similar yet unique, each with its own microhabitat and personality. The Goat Island Scenic Walk passes by the islands, although those with deeper pockets can charter their own boat and see what all the fuss is about.

Try out your luck at the Seneca Niagara Casino, which offers slots, tables, poker, and keno games. The resort also boasts a 4-star hotel, live shows, and more than half a dozen dining options at different price points. If you’re a fan of gambling, this casino resort makes for a great night out on the town. Head to the Thunder Falls Buffet beforehand for the crab legs, the dessert selection, and the wide variety of cuisine options—including Mediterranean, Asian, Italian, and American.

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Situated between Lake Ontario and the Niagara Escarpment, the Niagara Wine Trail features almost two dozen award-winning wineries and cideries to enjoy, a complete understatement. The Niagara Wine Trail presents visitors a chance to escape to a beautiful farm setting. In both Canada and the US, Niagara wineries have been recognized for their ice wines over the years, so plan a visit to the award-winning Leonard Oakes Estate Winery. And the rest, of course.

DiCamillo Bakery first opened in the ‘20s, delivering freshly baked bread by horse-drawn carriage. Still family-run, the bakery today sells biscotti, doughnuts, bread, and other Italian treats from multiple Niagara locations. Stop by to pick up some peanut stick doughnuts for breakfast or to enjoy during the road trip back. The treats are a resident favorite: many locals who’ve since moved away make sure to grab a doughnut (or four) when they come home.

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