Niagra Falls in autumn

Niagara Falls is particularly stunning in the autumn. (Photo: Getty Images)

Weekend Getaways

Experience Natural Wonders and Nightlife on a Niagara Falls, New York Weekend Escape

The iconic image of the mighty Niagara Falls has enticed travelers to this upstate New York town for decades, but beyond the world wonder, there’s plenty to explore. An electric nightlife scene and its proximity to the Canadian border give the city an unexpected edge that offers a seamless — and somewhat unexpected — transition from afternoon adventure to happy-hour vibes.

From adventurous activities like Maid of the Mist and Cave of Winds, which bring you right to the brink of the falls, to zip lining over the gorge, it’s beyond easy to fill a full weekend’s itinerary (and then some).

As always, check for travel restrictions and closures before planning your trip.

Friday: Explore Niagara Falls State Park

You’ve come to Niagara Falls for the unbeatable views, but before heading out, it’s time to get caffeinated. SPoT Coffee is a local chain and a favorite for a quality cup and light bites — the “Mike Sandwich” is a must. The coffee shop is also perfectly situated right by Niagara Falls State Park, where you’ll be hitting the trails and soaking in the sights.

From this location, you get unobstructed views of all three waterfalls that make up this natural wonder: Bridal Veil Falls, Horseshoe Falls and American Falls. While you’ll still get a great perspective from the Canadian side, this is the only location where you’ll see all three waterfalls at the same time, and the crowds are generally manageable.

Sliders with everything buns
Sliders make for the perfect lunch. (Photo: Marriott International)

From here, make the hike over to Goat Island, a 2-mile-long stretch that’s an extension of the state park and is situated right at the head of the falls. From Terrapin Point you’ll be looking straight out at Horseshoe Falls and over at the buzzy city of Niagara Falls on the Canadian side.

Just a quick walk away you’ll find the Cave of the Winds, an attraction that’ll get you as close to the falls as possible: It’s a meandering set of wooden pathways that bring you up to and behind the water. But come prepared with an extra set of clothes, because there’s no chance of leaving here dry.

Wrap your afternoon with a quick stop at the Works for a craft beer and a stellar burger to warm up and dry out.

Next, make your way to the Aquarium of Niagara, which is just a 10-minute drive north. Here you’ll learn about marine biodiversity in the region and aquatic species from all over the world. It’s situated right next to the north side of the state park, so you can catch a sunset view on your way out.

For dinner, book a table at Savor, but keep in mind that they have limited hours (they’re open from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. for dinner on Fridays). At this upscale restaurant, run by the Niagara Falls Culinary Institute, student chefs of the program prepare your meal for you.

Saturday: Head to Canada

Aerial view of horseshoe falls in Niagara Falls
Venture out on a wet ride to see Niagara Falls up close. (Photo: Getty Images)

Today is all about adventure — and there’s plenty of that to experience here. You’ll start your day early with a Maid of the Mist boat ride right up to the brink of the falls. To save some time, it’s best to grab a quick breakfast at the hotel before heading out.

The boat tour opens between 9 a.m. and 10 a.m. (depending on the time of year) and operates April through October. The rides tend to fill up quickly, especially in the warmer months, so an early start time is necessary, and be sure to pack a change of clothes, just in case. While they do give you a poncho, you’ll most likely still get pretty wet.

If you find yourself in Niagara Falls during the off months, a walk around Old Fort Niagara — a 300-year-old colonial fort at the mouth of the Niagara River — is worth a day trip to learn about the area’s rich history. But plan accordingly and give yourself enough time for the 20-minute drive.

Along the way you’ll pass Lewiston, where you’ll find Brickyard Pub & BBQ, a great place to stop for lunch to break up the drive.

Your next stop is on the Canadian side of the border, so you’ll be heading across the Rainbow Bridge for a different perspective of the falls — the drive is quick, no more than 15 minutes, but be sure to bring either your passport or NEXUS card, as you are crossing into a new country.

Book a stay at the Marriott on the Falls, which offers unobstructed views of the world wonder from nearly every room.

It’s also worth noting that there aren’t any hotels on the American side that showcase views of the falls quite like this, so it’s a must to split up your stay if you want this unique experience. By heading to the Canadian side part way through the day, you’ll miss any rush hour traffic and you won’t have to kill much time before checking into your hotel.

After check-in, make your way to WildPlay Zipline for a truly unique experience zip lining into the gorge. You’ll cruise 2,200 feet down to the brink of Horseshoe Falls, flying past American Falls on your way down before landing on an observation deck. After the rush, take some time to walk the Falls View Trail that’s just outside of the WildPlay center.

You’ve come to this area for the views, after all, and a visit wouldn’t be complete without stopping at Skylon Tower. The 520-foot-tall building houses a rotating restaurant that offers 360-degree views of the city and the falls. Take the glass elevators up to the top, where you’ll dine on upscale continental dishes as the restaurant slowly rotates, giving you the best views in town.

Sunday: Take In the Views From the Water

Start your day with a short stack of pancakes and a coffee at the Famous before heading to the Butterfly Conservatory, which sits on the nearly 100-acre grounds of the Niagara Parks School of Horticulture. Here, you’ll get a hands-on experience learning about the 2,000 butterflies that call this place home.

Then make your way to the Botanical Gardens next door for a tour of beautifully manicured gardens and rare floral displays.

For lunch, it’s back to the hotel, where the mainstay Milestones on the Falls restaurant serves up dazzling views as well as contemporary, globally inspired dishes like chimichurri sea bass and wagyu beef meatloaf. They also have an assortment of Niagara-made wines for pairing.

Afterward, take a stroll through the manicured gardens in Queen Victoria Park and make your way up to Clifton Hill, where you’ll find plenty of restaurants and activities — including a go-kart speedway, cinema and mini golf.

Wine and cheese pairing
You can’t go wrong with a wine and cheese pairing. (Photo: Marriott International)

If you’re looking for a more peaceful way to spend an afternoon, the region is well known for its wines — particularly ice wines that come out of the Niagara region (find a wine trail map here).

Alternatively, a 25-minute drive north into Canada brings you to Niagara-on-the-Lake, a quaint weekender town with nearly 30 wineries within a few miles of the main shopping strip, Queen Street. Peller Estates is one of the closest to town and has a killer riesling, as does Marynissen Estates.

For dinner, make your way back to Niagara Falls for dinner at Weinkeller, a favorite spot for craft wines sourced from local grapes and a standout menu that utilizes seasonal ingredients. The rack-carved Ontario bone-in pork chop is a must-try — and should be enjoyed with a Niagara wine for the full experience.

Finish the night with more unbeatable views from the Niagara SkyWheel, a 175-foot tall Ferris wheel that’s right in the heart of Clifton Hill. On the weekends, it runs until 2 a.m., so you’ll have plenty of time to catch a ride.