Niagara Falls Horseshoe Falls viewed from above with Hornblower cruise boat - explore niagara falls

Explore Niagara Falls: Which side is better?

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About Niagara Falls

Niagara Falls is a collection of three waterfalls that straddle Canada and the United States of America. Each side offers many experiences that allow you to explore Niagara Falls. In the Canadian side, we have the Canadian Falls or Horseshoe Falls, due to its shape. In the American side, are the American Falls and Bridal Veil Falls.

Niagara falls showing the Horseshoe Falls, Bridal Veil Falls and American Falls (right to left) - Exploring Niagara Falls

The name Niagara is thought to originate from the Iroquoian word “onguiaahra“. Scholars have debated on its meaning. But there are generally two beliefs one which means “a thundering noise” which is in reference to the sound of the falls. The other interpretation is that it means “the neck or strait” in reference to the Niagara river.The falls at Niagara are over 12,000 years old. The water is derived from the Niagara river with approximately 85-90% flowing down Horseshoe Falls and the remaining 10-15% over the American and Bridal Veil Falls.

Birds fly over the lush bushes along the Niagara Falls shoreline while the horseshoe falls roars in the background - Exploring Niagara Falls

Although there are over 500 waterfalls worldwide that are taller than Niagara Falls, it is considered the largest waterfall in the world by volume of water siphoned (an average of 750,000 gallons each second).

How to Explore Niagara Falls

If all you want to do is see the falls, it is possible to visit both falls in one day. The City of Niagara Falls in Canada is connected to the United States via three principal border bridges: the Rainbow, Whirlpool, and Queenston-Lewiston bridges.

The rainbow border bridge between Niagara Falls, Ontario and Niagara Falls, New York - Exploring Niagara Falls

Pro-Tip: For Canadians citizens visiting the United States, a passport or enhanced driver’s license is required. For American citizens, you will need a Passport, a Passport Card or an Enhanced Licence to enter Canada. However, these can change so please check your local embassy for up to date information.

Access to both falls is free. However, there is no parking directly adjacent to the Canadian or American falls, so the major expense would be parking fees if you are arriving by car. There are pathways that provide views of the falls from various angles. From the Canadian side, both the Canadian and American falls can be seen. Niagara Falls isn’t just a summer destination though. You can read about all the amazing things to do during winter in Niagara Falls here.

Horseshoe or Canadian Falls

The crescent-shaped falls is 54 M (177 ft) high and approximately 670 M wide. The falls have a flow rate of 168,000 cubic metres. It carries nine times more water than its United States counterpart. Because of the enormous amount of water going over the falls, about 10% of the water is redirected to drive large hydro-electric turbines that produce electricity for Southern Ontario and Western New York State.

Top of the Horseshoe Falls at Niagara Falls

Journey Behind the Falls

For a closer look at the Horseshoe Falls and to feel some mist on our faces, we decided to pay for the attraction called the Journey Behind the Falls. Tickets are sold at the Table Rock Welcome Centre. Then, you take an elevator down 45 M (150 ft). Upon getting off, you walk along old hydro dam tunnels that were dug through bedrock to two openings: the Cataract Portal and Great Falls Portal. Both give a view behind the massive sheet of waterfalls. It is also possible to access the foot of the Horseshoe falls via the Upper and Lower Observation Decks.

A young couple stands next to Niagara Falls wearing yellow rain ponchos

Pro-Tip: Proper footwear is required. The tunnel floors are wet and can get very slippery. Biodegradable rain covers are provided to protect your clothes from the strong mists coming from the falls.

Hornblower Cruises

For those that want an even more up close encounter with the Horseshoe Falls, it is possible to take a boat cruise. Hornblower Cruises offers daytime and nighttime cruises that explore Niagara Falls. The day cruise lasts about 20 minutes long and you will be able to see all 3 falls up close: Horseshoe, American and Bridal Veil.

The Hornblower cruise heads towards the Horseshoe Falls in Niagara Falls - Exploring Niagara Falls

Pro-Tip: If you want to see the falls up close but do not want to get wet the boat does have a covered area wherein you can take shelter. So, you can have the view without being soaked.

The cruise at night is slightly longer at 40 minutes long. It is particularly spectacular when it coincides with the falls’ illumination or during the summer fireworks display. During the night cruises, there is music onboard and the bar is open with drinks and snacks for purchase.

Niagara Falls Horseshoe Falls lit up in a rainbow of colours at night - Exploring Niagara Falls

Other viewpoints of Horseshoe Falls

There are several other spots in Niagara Falls, Canada where you can get amazing views of the falls. A couple of examples include the Falls Incline Railway and Skylon Tower. You may also choose to stay at one of the area hotels which offer in-room and / or dining experiences with a world class view.

Hotels and a Casino overlooking Niagara Falls in Ontario - Exploring Niagara Falls

American Falls and Bridal Veil Falls

The American falls is 56 M (180 ft) and approximately 328 M wide making it slightly taller than Horseshoe Falls. The falls have a flow rate of 75,000 gallons. Luna Island separates Bridal Veil falls from the American Falls. There is a lot of erosion occurring under the American Falls. As evidenced by the number of rocks seen at the base of the falls.

A rainbow on the side of a rocky American Falls - Exploring Niagara Falls

Cave of the Winds

Similar to the Journey Behind the Falls experience in Canada, the Cave of the Winds allows very close access to the falls. Actually, they allow a much closer access to the American falls compared to how close you get to the Horseshoe Falls in the Journey Behind in the Falls. What a way to explore Niagara Falls! The entrance is on Goat Island within Niagara Falls State Park.

The elevator ride takes you down 53 M (175 ft) then you walk through a tunnel which leads to a view of the Niagara Gorge. Next, you ascend via a series of wooden steps. The higher you go, the wetter you get. C particular enjoyed the top level also known as the Hurricane level.

Small waterfalls dart between pathways that lead up to the Cave of the Winds viewing platforms - Exploring Niagara Falls
Boy at the Hurricane Level of the Cave of the Winds - a wet way to explore Niagara Falls.

Pro-Tip: Biodegradable rain covers and specially designed sandals are provided as part of the entrance ticket. While you won’t need to worry about getting your shoes wet, the spray can still get into your poncho and get your clothes a little wet.

Every November, the wooden platforms are disassembled. This is why if you visit in the winter you won’t see them. Every spring, the platforms are reassembled for the new season.

A partially frozen Niagara Falls - Exploring Niagara Falls

Maid of the Mist

The Maid of the Mist boat tour offers the same experience as Hornblower Cruises. The only difference is that Maid of the Mist boards and disembarks at the Niagara dock in New York. You will first get a view of the American and Bridal Veil Falls. Then the cruise heads towards Horseshoe Falls.

The Maid of the Mist boat tour motors beneath the American Falls - Exploring Niagara Falls

Other viewpoints of the American Falls

There are two viewpoints to help explore Niagara Falls State Park; Both offer differing views of the falls. The first is the Observation Deck via the Observation Tower. It is close to the loading dock of the Maid of Mist. The Observation Deck is one of the best places to explore Niagara Falls and get a glimpse of some of the bird life that is in the area.

A young family smiles up at a camera in front of the American Falls - Exploring Niagara Falls

To access the second viewpoint walk along the gorge away from the Observation Tower and towards the falls. We climbed a series of steps that lead to the observation area called Crow’s Nest.

Hikers make their way up to the Crows Nest viewpoint in Niagara Falls, New York - Exploring Niagara Falls

So, which side is better?

We have explored Niagara Falls from both sides of the border many times. Besides the main attraction of the falls, there are also numerous other attractions and a lot are especially kid-friendly. However, if you want the best view of the falls, the panoramic view provided by the Canadian side is supreme. It is definitely a bucket list destination! When it comes to the ambiance, though, we feel that Niagara Falls State Park in New York has done a better job of maintaining a natural landscape surrounding the falls. In summary, both sides of the falls offer a unique perspective. Why not visit both sides? You will not be disappointed when you explore Niagara Falls.

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Christina Wagar
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Christina Wagar

Christina Wagar grew up in a travel loving family. She strives to instil her love of learning about different cultures and seeing new and old places to her husband Kevin and their two young boys.
Having experienced over 20 countries across 4 continents Christina is well versed at travel planning and thrives on sharing that information with others with the hopes of encouraging more families to experience this incredible world that we live in.
Christina Wagar
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80 Comments

  1. Totally agree that the Canadian side is better! I took my mom several years ago and we stayed at Sheraton on the Falls and it was great! Unfortunately our flight home got cancelled from Buffalo, but thankfully we lived just over 6 hours away so were able to drive. Great photos and post!

  2. Like many tourists, we only had one day to visit the falls and we did it with a bus tour from Toronto. We saw the Canadian side and I thought the falls were magnificent! I agree it is a shame that there is no natural preservation of the area around them, but once you are on the water and close to their might, there really is nothing else but their power, I was in awe.

  3. A few months ago, a Canadian girl told me that the Indian Niagara Falls, Chitrakote, are a paradise compares to Niagara. That’s true that it is totally natural (it won’t last for long…) but Niagara Falls are much more impressive. Your pics are really awesome!!!

  4. Niagara Falls is a classic family vacation destination. One warning I’d give is that everything is much more expensive when you’re within walking distance of the falls. If you’re looking for an affordable family vacation, it might be worth it to drive in for the day and bring snacks or a picnic, rather than planning on lunch and dinner at a restaurant the Falls.

    A word of warning — public transit near the falls is pretty lackluster. The Niagara Falls bus and Amtrak station are a 30 minute walk from the downtown.

    Lots of people stay in Buffalo for their trip to the Falls. Both Buffalo and Hamilton, ON are a great spot to stay. Hamilton has lots of waterfalls that are easy to visit.

    1. I love how you mention Hamilton. It’s an underrated city and all the waterfalls are great to visit. We find the transit on the Canadian side really quite good, especially if you opt for the city pass which can bring you out to the butterfly sanctuary and botanical gardens.

  5. We thought the falls were spectacular (we only visited from the Canadian side), even having only recently visited the Iguazu Falls.

    I would agree with your assessment though, as were it not for the falls, the Canadian side is otherwise a horrible collection of hotels, gambling dens and tacky amusement shows!

  6. Totally agree there are benefits to visiting both sides. I love the views of the Canadian side, especially at night, but you can get much closer to the waterfalls on the American side if you do the Cave of the Winds tour. Personally, I liked the Canadian side better. It was a bit more touristy and developed but that often helps when traveling with kids who get bored easily. 🙂

  7. I had no idea there was a cruise option! Over the years, I have seen numerous photos of friends at Niagara Falls (wearing a rain coat 🙂 ), but never one of a boat ride. That sounds very exciting.

  8. What a comprehensive coverage of both the sides of the falls. Found it very interesting to go through..and you know what, after seeing your pics and reading your post, I want to experience both the sides 🙂

  9. I love your equal opportunity answer on which side is best LOL. As a Canadian from Toronto, I’ve visited Niagara a bunch, but the falls only a couple of times. It was interesting to read your opinions and to see the falls all lit up. That’s new for me!

  10. Great article and overview of Niagara falls! I’ve never been but I’m planning to see it in the future. A few friends told me that the Canadian side is waaay better. Cant wait to see it do one of the cruises

  11. Even though we’re American, we visited the Canadian falls to experience the epic beauty. We loved the falls, but we were a bit put put off by the honky tonk atmosphere of the town itself.

  12. I never really wanted to see Niagara Falls — but these pictures and your description have changed my mind! I think I will choose the more natural American side if I can only have one!

  13. Thanks for such a comprehensive post on Niagara Falls! I have never been but look forward to it some day. I would definitely visit both sides because why not?! It looks lovely and your photos are beautiful! I appreciate you sharing all of this info.

  14. I went to Niagara Falls when I was a young teenager in 1967 on my way to the Expo in Montreal with a group of kids my age on a bus from Arkansas. I have now been all over the world and it is one of the best places I have ever been. I will never forget the roar of the falls that begins even on a bus when you are it seems miles away.

  15. This is spectacular! Even more so for someone like us who’ve not seen either one. The amount of information you’ve crammed in this post is really helpful and frankly astonishing. Thanks for sharing

  16. The falls are truly beautiful. I tried and loved the Maid of the mist as well as the view from behind the waterfalls. The water is so loud, it is amazing. We haven’t don’t the night tour, but after seeing the pic above, we’re definitely going to do it the next time we go!

  17. I have never been to Niagara falls and it’s interesting to learn the difference between the Canadian and American side. It’s definitely a place we would love to visit one day given the opportunity.

  18. The Niagara Falls are classic…time goes on, but the fascination never ends. Examples like this make you wonder about why some people are so cynical about ‘touristy places’…don’t you think?

  19. Niagara Falls is exactly as I had dreamt about it . Having relatives living there, I have always heard syories and made a photo of it in my mind. It is exactly beautiful and breath taking as I had expected it to be. Of course probably even more.

  20. What a wonderful and comprehensive guide for Niagara falls trip. Thanks for you, now I’ve learned that Niaraga is composed of three beautiful falls (thought at first its one). Ahh I wish to have a night cruise here and have dinner, and celebrate it with lots of champagne.

    Cheers!

    For Urban Women

  21. Either which side, I will still be amazed. Waterfalls are one of my many beautiful weaknesses. Exploring Niagara Falls is not possible for me by this time. But thank you for this article, it gave me a glimpse of experiencing Niagara Falls.

  22. Well, being a Canadian, you will know where my opinon rests on the better side LOL. I love Niagara Falls and have been here in all seasons. I took my new Aussie in-laws there, my husband twice, and went with my parents several times as a child. Clifton Hill is quite fun and I love Maid in the mist. Thank you for spotlighting a beautiful piece of my country 🙂

  23. Being from nearby Buffalo, I can tell you that there is actually parking on Goat Island, the island between the falls, and usually street parking in the city of Niagra Falls, on the New York side, so visiting on the NY side isn’t too bad. Parking on the Canadian side means trolling up and down the long parkways by the falls, looking for a empty space. Possible, but you need patience.

  24. I don’t know when I will make it there but your explanation does give a good comparative study from both sides to same fall and worth making a note. The falls do look mesmerizing from your pictures.

  25. I haven’t visited Niagara falls yet, but, for me, seems that the hornblower cruise is interesting, but, I also love to get wet and feel the water. I never knew there’s such night cruise as well, the vibrant color in your photo is just amazing, all I usually read is the Niagara falls by day and the supreme experience they have. I love which one you picked as from the things you mentioned here, I will take the same.

    Yay for this. Thanks for sharing.

  26. For a waterfall enthusiast like me this is a bucket list destination. I love your photography of the falls, and especially the wonderful pictures of horseshoe falls. I really fancy doing the boat trip. The spray must be incredible.

  27. I’m definitely partial to the Canadian side. It’s just so beautiful, but the shops and hotels right by the falls make it seem so tacky. The US side has that going for it though!

  28. Oh well, i am completely stunned with its beauty. I am really dreaming to travel to Canada or USA to see the Niagara Falls. The falls look really majestic and i am awestruck. I hope that my trip to Canada becomes a reality soon.

  29. What a fun way to explore the falls in all different angles and locations…I love that you can really get up close to them and get soaking wet. Haven’t been, but would love to visit this someday.

  30. Wow! Niagara Falls is so beautiful no matter what side you’re on. I definitely feel like it would be worth seeing from both perspectives. Love the rainbow that shows up within the falls. 🙂

  31. Definitely agree with you Christina, I would visit all sides as from looking at your photos all sides have their own special charm <3 I've always wanted to go to Niagara Falls, had no idea there were three though! I feel like this would take a full day to appreciate all the sides, but what a pleasurable day out! Hopefully will be knocking this off my bucket list soon in the next few years 🙂

  32. Wow, I can really feel the power of the falls from your photos – amazing shots. It’s pretty amazing that they straddle both the Canadian & American border, and offer different experiences & perspectives on each side. I hope to make it there one day!

  33. I was there in the winter, in the Canadian side and I was impressed!! We took the elevator as well and because of the visa, we didn’t cross to the USA. At that time I didn’t have kids, so I gues now I would visit the falls with another view

  34. This is great to know. I’ve always visited from the Canadian side, and I never knew about the Cave of the Winds. I’m going there for 5 days next month, and will definitely head over to the American side for a change of pace. When I was there before, the Maid of the Mist left from the Canadian side – I’d heard it had changed. I hope the Hornblower cruise is as good.

  35. An iconic destination for sure. I’ve been to the Falls as a kid, and I’ve also done a few flyovers on my way to Toronto (great view actually from the plane!), but it looks like you really can’t go wrong with your visit. Thanks for all of the tips!

  36. Since I’ve never been to North America I cannot realy talk from experience… but from your pictures I think that the US part seems nicer. Anyway, I love the picture with one of the kids being completely soaked haha

  37. They light up the falls?! Somehow I don’t know, that seems a tad over the top^^ but then the views are amazing…sirious case of wanderlust now, I love how nature can be so mindblowing!!! Thanks for the amazing pictures and all the great informations! 🙂

  38. Love Niagara, although we don’t get there as often as we would like but we have only been to the Canadian side. We did the Hornblower cruise the last time we were there. Loved it.

  39. I’ve been there, and the Niagara falls were just so majestic, it’s just insane! I love every facts you’re mentioning and I’ve been learning so much! Thanks for sharing, and as for me, I’ve kept so much memories about my trip there!!

  40. I was in Toronto last year in a very long stop over and I would have liked to visit the Niagara falls. Unfortunately the airline lost my luggage and that changed my plans. It looks so beautiful and you are right, the Canadian side is so much better than the American one. I wouldn’t mind actually getting wet while going down behind it. I find it quite a unique experience. 🙂

  41. Since childhood I have constantly heard about this place. I really want to explore as much as I can about it. From the it seems like a dream. I want to visit Niagara falls in US and Canada

  42. Such an iconic vacation destination especially for Americans. We visited years ago during the day – I wish we had seen the illumination display it looks quite lovely. Terrific coverage of all that you can see and do on either side of the border.

  43. So the falls can be viewed from Canada and America too? I honestly didn’t know that. I just thought Niagara Falls is somewhere in Africa. But wow the view that you got from the Canada sure looks splendid. And it also has some light? So cool!

  44. It is great that this natural wonder is free. Sad that some parks and even waterfalls are paid now. I didn’t know you can have a boat cruise, how cool! Would love to go there. Stunning shots!

  45. A long time ago we explored both sides on a road trip and I remember eating in a nearby restaurant shaped like a silver flying saucer. I am not sure if I could ride the boats being scared of getting too near the falls.

  46. Such incredible images ! Would love to visit someday. I would probably spend a whole day and evening there as I want to see the night lights over the falls. I like the idea that you have several options to view the falls.

  47. Reading this brought back memories of my first international trip. As a 10 year old boy, my first time leaving America was to visit Niagara falls. Sadly, I don’t remember much from that time…but by the looks of your images and description I definitely need to make a return!

  48. I am waiting to do Niagara! Very good insight and overview. Gonna keep this post in mind when I finally get around to the Niagara trip 🙂

  49. What a comprehensive overview of the Niagara Falls! I had one question throughout and then you answered it in the final paragraph. The question was which side had a better view. I would think that if the Canadian falls are bigger and nicer to look at, then one would have to be on the USA side to see them. Thank you for clarifying that this is not necessarily true!

  50. Honestly, it is really hard to decide which side is better, going by the pictures here. I’ve never been to either US or Canada but I really look forward to the day when I will finally get to visit these beautiful waterfalls.

  51. This is SUCH a detailed post about Niagra Falls! I love how you compare each and every part of both the Canadian and the New York side. I was excited to read this, since I used to live in Toronto and visited the Falls. I was in awe and reading your post brought back great memories. Thank you for that!

  52. I remember seeing an episode of The Office once where Jim and Pam got married and I told myself I wanted to see Niagara falls. 🙂 I didn’t know there are three of these, I think I’d like to see all and then get on that boat cruise. The sheer volume of water is amazing in these photos!

  53. I went to the majestic Niagara Falls last year during Independence Day weekend and just loved it! My favorite part was the ‘Maid of the Mist’ ride!

  54. My jaw dropped! That view from a hotel room is breathtaking.
    I wish getting a Canadian visa was an easier procedure, and I really hope that one day I will make it there. Your pictures are very inspiring.

  55. I was just having a debate with a fellow traveler about which side of the falls is the best and stumbled through this. Its certainly a difficult choice to make yet this post simplified our doubts. Thanks for sharing such an informative and detailed post.

  56. We have visited the Canadian side years ago and would love to revisit it and the American side as well. It really is a stunning sight! The American side sounds fabulous too!

  57. I have visited Canadian side during summer season 2 years back and took the cruise too. That was a great experience and I definitely want to visit this place again may be in winters next time.

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