Niagara-on-the-Lake, located on Lake Ontario near the US border is very popular with tourists and for good reason. It’s accessible – being only 90 minutes by car from Toronto or 45 minutes from Buffalo if the border isn’t backed up. And it’s very pretty – almost surreal really with its storybook looking main street.
But there’s much more than meets the eye – and as a former resident of the town, I feel qualified to opine on all the great things to do in and around Niagara-on-the-Lake. Visit in spring, summer and fall when Niagara-on-the-Lake looks its best though I have to say Niagara Falls is rather magnificent when its covered in ice.
Here’s my list of 15 things to do in Niagara-on-the-Lake – and nearby.
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Cycle along the Niagara Parkway
Rent a bike and head out for some easy cycling along the Niagara Parkway. If you’re feeling very ambitious cycle to Niagara Falls and even on to Fort Erie or head the other way and pick up the Waterfront Trail along Lake Ontario.
Visit Niagara Falls
While you can do it on your own there are a few fabulous tours I’s suggest. If you’re in Toronto and don’t want to rent a car sign up for a day trip that includes Niagara-on-the-Lake and Niagara Falls. If you want to get close to the power of Niagara Falls take a scenic ride on the Maid of the Mist tour. It’s always a favourite. If you’re on the New York State side of Niagara Falls then this four hour guided tour that also includes the Maid of the Mist would be perfect.
Have a picnic
Pack a picnic (you can pick up fixings on the town’s main street or at Kurtz Orchards or Walkers Farm Market, located along the Niagara Parkway) and find yourself a picnic table along the Niagara River. Enjoy the views over to the United States.
Check out the wineries
There are fifty plus wineries stretching from Grimsby to Niagara-on-the-Lake covering the whole gamut from small, very personalized operations to those whose lifeblood are the tour buses. There are 18 wineries in the Niagara-on-the-Lake area alone so biking and visiting wineries can easily consume a few days’ time.
If you are a serious oenophile then you might want to visit as many as you can and make it the real focus of your trip. Others might be happy just to tour a few of them, enjoy a meal and time a visit to coincide with music in the vineyard. Don’t miss the local specialty – ice wine, made from pressing frozen grapes.
Go to the Shaw Festival
Take in a play at the Shaw Festival Theater. The season lasts until the end of October. The shows change every season and for 2019 will include Brigadoon, The Glass Menagerie, The Ladykillers, The Horse and his Boy and favourite Cyrano de Bergerac.
Walk around Fort George
Visit Fort George National Historic Site. During the War of 1812 it served as the headquarters for the Centre Division of the British Army. There are special events at the Fort throughout the summer including musket and military music demonstrations.
Visit the historic village of Queenston
Head to nearby Queenston along the Niagara Parkway and take a guided tour of the Laura Secord Homestead. Laura Secord is famous for having had the courage and fortitude to walk 32 kilometres to warn the British of a surprise American attack during the war of 1812.
Include a trip to the museums
Check out the Mackenzie Printery and Newspaper Museum in the restored home of publisher William Lyon Mackenzie. It features exhibits representing 500 years of printing technology.
Walk the Main Street of Niagara-on-the-Lake
Head for the main street and join the throngs of tourists who head from store to store with mostly a glazed look in their eye. Try not to be like that. Engage the owners – as a previous store owner I looked forward to real conversations with visitors.
Admire the historic homes
Wander the quiet side streets of Niagara-on-the-Lake and admire all the beautifully restored houses.
Go to a cooking school
Interested in attending a winery cooking school? Strewn Winery, just minutes from town, offers a large selection of courses including culinary weekends from January until the end of November.
Get your adrenaline going with a Niagara River jet boat tour
If you like the thrill of big water and fast boats then a ride on the Niagara River Jet Boat might be the perfect outing for you. Boats with 1500 horsepower engines take you for a 45-60 minute ride, depending on where you boarded, up the Niagara River to the gorge where the walls on either side of you reach 200 feet high. The trips go to about 1.6 kilometres (1 mile) short of Niagara Falls, just before a section of Class 6 (huge, scary) water that is not navigable.
Enjoy some me time
Visit one of the spas at any of the signature Niagara-on-the-Lake hotels – like the Oban Inn, The Pillar and Post or the Queen’s Landing.
How about apple picking in the fall?
Go apple picking in the fall – a fun family activity. You’ll see plenty of U-Pick signs along the side roads.
Go golfing beside Lake Ontario
And there’s always golf at the local 9 hole course with scenic views over Lake Ontario.
Excellent local dining is available at many of the wineries and all the major hotels; as well there are some good restaurants along the main street.
If you need more information on Niagara-on-the-Lake, the local Chamber of Commerce is a great resource. As well, I have a free downloadable biking guide of the area with everything you need to know to book your own trip.
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