On June 6, 2016 Ryan and I celebrated our eight-year wedding anniversary! We had been planning on celebrating with a quiet long weekend at the beach, but when Ryan suggested we head north instead, I jumped on the idea. We had both been to Niagara Falls as kids and I was excited to see it again with fresh eyes.
We spent a few days in New Hampshire with my family beforehand, then drove west on Sunday afternoon. We hoped to get there in time for the fireworks over the falls, but after hitting pouring rain in Vermont and New York, we figured we wouldn’t get to see them after all. Imagine our delight when the fireworks went off as scheduled, despite the rain — and we were able to see them from our hotel room! It was the perfect way to kick off our anniversary trip.
The weather had cleared beautifully the next morning, and naturally our first stop was the falls themselves.
No matter how many times you’ve seen them, you can’t not be wowed by the power of Niagara Falls. And there’s something totally mesmerizing about standing on the walkway right at the point where the water plummets over the edge, turning from calm into chaos.
We kept wandering past the falls till we hit the park running alongside this fantastic building, the now-closed Toronto Power Generating Station. Its Beaux-Arts design makes it look far too stately to be so utilitarian!
One thing I love about Niagara Falls is that it’s pretty much one giant park. The other times I visited Niagara Falls — once as a kid, and later in college — I remember it seeming super cheesy and touristy. That’s probably because we spent our time either at the falls or on Clifton Hill, the “world famous Street of Fun by the Falls.” But once you get away from that area, there are lots of places to lay in the grass …
And stare up at the sky.
The weather was too beautiful to go inside, so we headed up Niagara Parkway to the Niagara Parks Botanical Garden. (Admission was free; parking was $5.) The park has a little cafe, where we grabbed ice cream and I confirmed for Ryan that not only am I a treat, I’m also pretty cool.
The botanical gardens are huge — 99 acres of beautifully maintained flower, herb, and vegetable gardens, including a rose garden featuring over 2,400 roses.
It was the perfect day for enjoying the sunshine and wandering through the gardens …
… enjoying the giant shady trees and expanses of sunny grass.
After spending a few hours wandering through the gardens, we headed back towards town. It was just too nice to to eat indoors, so we opted for an anniversary dinner on the patio at Coco’s Terrace Bar & Grill, followed by cheesecake and champagne from an Italian restaurant around the corner. Perfect!
After spending Monday exploring Niagara’s parks, our plan for Tuesday was to drive half an hour north to Niagara-on-the-Lake to investigate the region’s wine scene. As we drove north we soon realized Niagara-on-the-Lake is nothing like the strip malls, casino hotels, and chain restaurants of Niagara Falls; it’s a darling little town full of quaint bistros and charming shops.
First we grabbed lunch at The Epicurean Bistro on Queen Street, where we enjoyed a yummy lunch of sandwiches and coffee.
And because we’re magnetically attracted to water, we couldn’t resist stopping on the edge of town to take in the lovely view of Lake Ontario. We could just see the outline of Toronto across the water.
Finally we dragged ourselves away from the lake to start our wine tour in earnest. With 25 wineries to choose from, we were a little at a loss on where to begin. Fortunately I spotted Sunnybrook Farm Estate Winery on my map, and I knew I had to go there — if only to take this obligatory Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm photo.
Starting at Sunnybrook ended up being an excellent choice. Unlike in the United States, where wine tastings can run $10-$15/person, Sunnybrook (like many Niagara wineries) allows you to pick and choose the wine you’d like to taste for just $1 per sample — and tasting fees are waived when you purchase wine! We loved Sunnybrook’s fruit wines and walked away with a bottle of Burgundy Plum and Bosc Pear wines. The woman who did our tasting was friendly and knowledgeable, and gave us a thorough overview of the wine region and recommendations on where to head next.
Next we headed to Konzelmann Estate Winery, a larger vineyard on a lovely piece of lakefront property.
For $5 each we enjoyed a tour of the vines, facility, and winery, along with a delicious tasting of several Konzelmann wines. We have done many wine tastings before, but our tour guide Montana was extremely knowledgeable and taught us many things we’ve never learned before about wine and the best ways to full enjoy it. Once again we were surprised at how much we loved the fruit wine, and walked away with a bottle of delicious Konzelmann Peachwine.
We were unprepared for how generous Niagara wineries are with their tastings; by this time we’d tasted around 15 wines and weren’t sure if we could keep going! But somehow it didn’t seem like we’d completed a legit winery tour unless we stopped at least three wineries, so I begged Ryan for one more, and we continued on to Big Head Winery.
Big Head ended up being a great way to round out our Niagara wine experience, as they almost exclusively offer traditional grape wines — unlike the other locations we’d visited, which were heavy on the fruit wine and ice wine. The tasting format was again very different from what we were used to here in the states; we were offered a list of all the wines Big Head made, and allowed to choose the four or five we wanted to try. The pourings were generous and I enjoyed being able to choose the wines I was interested in instead of having them pre-selected.
Ryan and I spent one more night at the hotel and headed back to Virginia the following morning. We hadn’t done any of the touristy things we’d planned to do — like a Maid of the Mist boat ride or dinner in Skylon Tower — but we thoroughly exploring the romantic side of Niagara Falls!
Niagara Falls Resources
The Niagara Parks website has lots of information about outdoorsy activities in Niagara Falls, as well as some great maps. And if you get the chance, you have to pick up one of their visitor’s guides — it’s also a gorgeous coloring book!
Wineries of Niagara-on-the-Lake has many helpful resources, including a great map. They also offer a $25 tasting pass that allows you to enjoy one tasting of a Winemaker’s Selection wine at each of Niagara-on-the-Lake’s 25 wineries — pretty cool! If you’re overwhelmed by the thought of 25 wineries, a Niagara Vintage Wine Tour could be a good option for you. (They also offer “foodie tours” which include food and beer in addition to wine.)
We didn’t have time to visit any of them this time, but Niagara has a plethora of fascinating historical sites. Old Fort Erie is Ontario’s oldest British Fort (1764) and the site of the bloodiest battlefield in Canada. Fort George was the site of another War of 1812 battle, and Queenston Heights is supposed to have some of the best views in the area.
Niagara Falls, New York:
I’ve never visited the American side of the falls, but I’d love to explore it one day. We caught just a glimpse of Fort Niagara State Park, but I’d love to explore it. I’ve bookmarked Four Mile Creek State Park for camping, and I’d love to visit Top of the Falls Restaurant at Niagara Falls State Park — America’s oldest state park. And I’ve heard there’s a tremendous hiking trail starting at Whirlpool Falls State Park that runs down into the gorge.