If you haven’t been to Niagara Falls since you were a kid yourself, it’s time to take a trip! The natural beauty of the falls hasn’t changed, but the attractions have. There’s so much to do here that you could spend a week. We recommend at least an overnight, but you could squeeze in a day trip from Toronto if you’re ambitious.
If you are spending more than a day, it’s worth considering the following passes to save you some money: The Niagara Falls Adventure Pass from Niagara Parks includes many excellent Niagara Parks attractions like the White Water Walk and Journey Behind the Falls. The Clifton Hill Fun Pass includes almost all of the major attractions along the jam-packed Clifton Hill entertainment strip.
And even for a day trip, you might consider parking your car and getting a WEGO bus day pass so you can hop on and hop off at attractions along the Niagara Parkway.
Here are our very favourite things to do with kids in Niagara Falls (see the map):
1. Hornblower Tours
Beginning this year, Hornblower Niagara Cruises launched in Canada, taking over for the legendary Maid of the Mist tours, which closed up shop in Canada after more than 150 years. (Maid of the Mist still operates from the New York side of the falls.) It’s just as good as when you were a kid: getting close enough to the thundering falls to get doused with the spray is a quintessential Niagara experience. www.niagaracruises.com
2. Whirlpool Jet Boat Tours
Looking for a wilder ride on the river? These fast-paced custom speed boats holding around 50 passengers cut through the river rapids for a thrilling ride. There are open boats (you will get wet) and an enclosed boat with dome windows. Boats leave from Niagara-on-the-Lake then head south toward the falls. www.whirlpooljet.com
3. Whirlpool Aero Car
See the Great Gorge and the churning Niagara Whirlpool on a trip from one bank of the Niagara to the other, suspended in a historic cable car that’s in operation since 1916. (Don’t worry: it’s been updated since!) www.niagaraparks.com/niagara-falls-attractions/whirlpool-aero-car.html
4. Clifton Hill
Some families make a beeline for this commercial strip of wax museums, sweets shops, and neon lights and some avoid it like the plague. We understand both points of view, but to the latter group we say: don’t discount it entirely! The best of the strip shouldn’t be missed: the 175-foot-tall SkyWheel with enclosed climate-controlled compartments, at least one wax museum (Movieland is our favourite), Ripley’s Believe it or Not! Museum, and the Great Canadian Midway, with arcade games, bowling, and the fun Ghost Blasters Dark Ride. www.cliftonhill.com
5. White Water Walk
Take an elevator down 70 meters, then walk along a boardwalk to an outdoor observation deck at the edge of the rushing Class VI whitewater rapids. www.niagaraparks.com/niagara-falls-attractions/white-water-walk.html
6. Niagara River Recreation Trail
This paved trail beside the Niagara River spans more than 50 km, but doing just a portion makes for a great afternoon. Start south of the Horseshoe Falls and walk or bike up past the falls and the beautiful Niagara Gorge. www.ontariotrails.on.ca/trails/view/niagara-river-recreation-trail
7. Indoor waterparks
Most people know about Great Wolf Lodge, which is exclusively for overnight guests of the resort. But did you know Niagara Falls also has two other indoor waterparks where you can pay by the day?
The glass-enclosed Waves Indoor Waterpark is 25,000 square feet with waterslides up to three storeys high, a giant tipping bucket, a wave pool and a kiddie/toddler area. The roof retracts in warm weather.
Fallsview Indoor Water Park is almost twice the price but five times the size: it’s 125,000 square feet with 16 waterslides up to six storeys high and including an “extreme racing” slide, a 1,000-gallon tipping bucket, a larger wave pool, adults-only hot tubs, and a kiddie splash park. And it has a view of the falls
8. Butterfly Conservatory
Take a break from the hubub near the falls to spend time on a quieter pursuit with a different crowd: some 2,000 tropical butterflies that flit among the tropical vegetation at the Niagara Parks Botanical Gardens. www.niagaraparks.com/niagara-falls-attractions/butterfly-conservatory.html
9. Bird Kingdom
This is the largest free-flying aviary in the world. See real tropical birds of all kinds in this indoor re-created jungle with a 40-foot waterfall. www.birdkingdom.ca
10. Niagara Falls illumination and fireworks
Let the kids stay up late to see the falls and the sky over the falls light up in a rainbow of colours. The Niagara Falls illumination takes place every night, between approximately 8:30 and midnight in summer. The Niagara Falls fireworks display takes place Fridays, Sundays, and holidays in summer.