Niagara Falls doesn’t have the same allure that it used to. The Maid of the Mist started ferrying people near the three waterfalls—the Horseshoe Falls, the American Falls, and the Bridal Veil Falls—in 1846. Honeymooners, scenic trolleys, hot-air balloons, and helicopters followed. Eventually, casinos opened, power plants were built, and tour buses deluged the area. It’s no longer a peaceful escape.
At least on the US side. The Canadian side is a much different story. Sure, floodlights still illuminate the waterfalls after dark, the Skylon Tower provides views almost to Toronto, and a jetboat will shoot you down the Niagara River to get you drenched and dizzy, but pretty Niagara-on-the-Lake still has the 19th-century charm that disappeared from the other side long ago.
Niagara-on-the-Lake, located on the banks of Lake Ontario, was founded by British Loyalists after the American Revolutionary War. It became the first capital of Upper Canada (present-day Ontario), and Fort George was later a command post for British troops during the War of 1812. The Americans destroyed the fort. It was later rebuilt, and today, you can explore the spiked battlements and the officers’ quarters, watch reenactments, and return at night for ghost tours. And the nearby Butler’s Barracks, in Niagara-on-the-Lake’s Commons, displays soldiers’ uniforms, weapons, and medals.
Make the waterfront Oban Inn your home base. The inn was built in 1824, and it has English gardens and river views within walking distance of the Old Town. It’s a peaceful retreat after the craziness at the falls earlier this morning. Read in the sunlight-filled, enclosed sitting area in your comfortable room. Or move down to the pool to get real sun. Have a blackberry hand massage at the OSpa. Then sit in the steam room to release the rest of your built-up tension.
In the evening, walk over to the gazebo in Queen’s Royal Park to see Fort Niagara across the river and sailboats gliding over the water. Pass St. Mark’s Church, which American soldiers used as barracks during the War of 1812. The stone church is one of Ontario’s oldest Anglican churches. Wander down Queen Street with its Victorian buildings, restored apothecary, old-fashioned ice-cream parlors, and upscale restaurants. Stop at the Shaw Café & Wine Bar for a Canadian cheese plate—aged cheddar, smoked Gouda, and Oka—plus homemade hummus and a glass of local Cabernet Franc. Just leave time to find your seat at the Royal George Theatre. The performance is part of the yearly Shaw Festival.
The next morning begins with breakfast in the sunroom as you try to decide how to spend the rest of the day. Maybe you’ll go on a wine tour to taste the area’s famous ice wines. Or you’ll bike along the Niagara Parkway to Fort Erie. Either way, you’ll avoid the waterfall crowds.