A rainy day can be a bit of a downer, particularly when you’re on vacation and only have one day to explore a place. Unfortunately that’s exactly what happened to me in Niagara Falls, Ontario, when I woke up to a drizzly, grey sky instead of the sunshine-drenched days the city enjoys most of the year. Thanks for that, Mother Nature.
Fortunately there are still tons of activities around the famous falls that operate rain or shine, meaning visitors can make the most of a Niagara Falls visit regardless of the weather. Here are 10 of the best things to do on a rainy day.
Explore Journey Behind the Falls
Chances are you’ve come all the way to Niagara to see, well, the falls, so head to Journey Behind the Falls for one of the most memorable views. After taking a quick elevator ride that descends through 150 feet of bedrock, you’ll emerge into a dimly-lit tunnel which was carved out in the 1800s, and leads straight towards the rushing water.
There are a couple of turnouts along the pathway where you can peek out at the white sheet of water that pours down from Horseshoe Falls at an incredible 65 kilometres per hour. However, the two observation decks at the end of the route boast the best lookout points, and visitors can stand within metres of the iconic falls feeling the mist that comes off of them and listening to the roar of the water.
Journey Behind the Falls is open year round, and is also wonderful to visit during winter when part of the falls frost over, creating a crystallized effect. In spring and summer, admission includes a poncho—perfect for warding off the mist and rain.
Ride the tides in the Whirlpool Jet Boat
For an adrenaline rush that will get you up close and personal with Niagara’s waves, book a ride on the Whirlpool Jet Boat. The 45-minute adventure goes into the heart of the Niagara River’s whirlpool area, where you’ll tackle churning class 5 whitewater rapids head-on in a jet boat. Speeding over the white-capped waves is a pure thrill, and the boats are covered which makes this a perfect rainy day activity.
Get soaked onboard Hornblower Niagara Cruises
If it’s raining chances are you’re wet anyway, so you might as well hop on a Hornblower Niagara Cruise and get thoroughly soaked. Similar to the Maid of the Mist boat which departs from the American side, a cruise on one of Hornblower’s catamarans is one of the most popular pastimes in Niagara Falls, and takes guests right into the heart of the action.
The 20-minute excursion ventures right into the Niagara Great Gorge, offering close-up views of the Rainbow Bridge which links the USA and Canada, as well as American Falls and Bridal Veil Falls. Then, the iconic moment: drifting straight towards Horseshoe Falls, as churning waves swirl around the boat.
Stretching 670 metres wide and 87 metres tall, Horseshoe Falls are an awe-inspiring sight, no more so than when you’re bobbing near them, feeling the mist on your face and hearing the thundering rush of the water crashing down around you.
Need to know:
- Ponchos are included with admission price in spring and summer, and it’s a good idea to waterproof your phone or camera if you plan on using it onboard.
- Boats hold 700 people, and with so many people jostling for the best view you should try to limit your movements so you don’t lose your spot.
- Purchase your ticket ahead of time so you don’t need to queue up before the ride. Despite the excursion only taking 20 minutes, it takes a while to get on and off the boat so budget at least an hour for the whole activity.
Enjoy a meal with a view
Once lunch time rolls around, there are a couple of spots that will keep you out of the rain while still enjoying a view of the falls. One of the most novel is the Skylon Tower, which rises 775 feet high meaning you can see it from just about everywhere in Niagara Falls. Boasting indoor and outdoor observation decks and panoramic vistas of the falls, city and even Buffalo, New York, enjoying a meal in the Revolving Dining Room Restaurant is a fun way to get a unique vantage point of the area.
Another popular option is Elements on the Falls, which is just about as close to the water as you can get. The restaurant sources many of its ingredients from the surrounding area, and also serves beer and wine from local craft breweries and vineyards. Elements of the Falls is particularly special in the evening, when the sky darkens and diners can enjoy the ambiance of the illuminated falls.
Watch an IMAX movie
For simply being a waterfall, Niagara Falls sure has a storied history. There’s no better place to learn about it than at the Niagara Falls IMAX Theatre, which offers hourly viewings of Niagara: Miracles, Myths & Magic. The film traces the history of the area which dates back more than 12-thousand years, including civil war battles, dramatic tightrope walks and the incredible story of seven-year-old Roger Woodward, who defied the odds and survived after going over the falls when the boat he was in capsized. The movie does a great job of highlighting some of the key events that make Niagara Falls what it is today, and it’s interesting to see what it looked like just a few decades ago when there was less development.
Next door to the theatre is the Niagara Daredevil Exhibit, which has the actual barrels that some thrill-seekers have gone over the falls in—some more successfully than others. Nicknamed “chambers of death,” the barrels provide a glimpse into the unbelievable pastime, and are accompanied by exhibits and videos.
Stroll along the White Water Walk
Even on a rainy day, a stroll along the White Water Walk is absolutely beautiful, and a welcome respite from the hustle and bustle of the touristy area adjacent to the falls. After descending 70 metres down an elevator in just 30 seconds, visitors emerge to find a wooden walkway that winds along the rushing Class 6 rapids of the Niagara River, separating the USA from Canada.
With lookout points galore, a canopy of towering trees and rock formations that are more than 400 million years old, a jaunt along the White Water Walk is spectacular no matter what the weather is like outside.
Wander around Clifton Hill
Clifton Hill bills itself as a “Street of Fun,” and it’s easy to see why during a quick walk through the district just one block from the falls. Karaoke bars, a craft brewery, souvenir stores, a haunted house and a Guinness World Record museum are just some of the attractions in Clifton Hill, along with the Niagara Skywheel which towers 175 feet high. The district is essentially a year-round midway, making it the perfect spot to spend a few hours while waiting for the rain to pass.
Head to pretty Niagara-on-the-Lake
Niagara-on-the-Lake is deservedly considered one of Canada’s prettiest towns, and it’s conveniently only a 20 minute drive from the falls. From the colourful Heritage District with its quaint boutiques and cafes to the horse-drawn carriages and perfectly-kept, stately homes, Niagara-on-the-Lake is charming in every sense of the word.
Stay dry by ducking into one of the many independently-owned stores along Queen Street, book a spa treatment at the luxe Oban Inn, or get a taste of the area’s famed foodie scene with a culinary tour. Standout spots include local favourite Il Gelato di Carlotta which makes its sorbets and gelato in-house from fresh, real ingredients, and Exchange Brewery which offers samples of its many ales in a contemporary tasting room.
Go wine tasting in Niagara-on-the-Lake
Speaking of tastings, visiting a vineyard is fun no matter what the weather is like outside, so hightail it to this renowned wine region which is home to over two dozen vineyards. Tailored tours are offered year-round, including an unforgettable excursion which combines a helicopter ride over the falls with an afternoon of wine tasting.
One fun option is to head to iconic Peller Estates, where the grand winery is surrounded by row upon row of vines bursting with grapes. Inside you’ll find a tasting room, fantastic restaurant, and the so-called “coolest” place in Niagara: the 10Below Peller Icewine Lounge. Bundle up in one of the parkas hanging outside, then head into the igloo-like bar where over 30-thousand pounds of ice were expertly shaped into a chill lounge. Relax on a fur-covered ice bench while sipping on the estate’s ice wine, then snap a selfie in all of your subzero glory.
Fun fact: 10Below was built by the same company that makes Quebec City’s Hotel de Glace every year.
Shop ’til you drop at Outlet Collection at Niagara
If all else fails, there’s one tried-and-true way to make the most of a rainy day: hit the mall. Just a 10 minute drive from Niagara Falls, you’ll find the Outlet Collection at Niagara, which houses a behemoth selection of stores including Kate Spade, Lululemon, Adidas, Coach, Columbia and Saks Fifth Avenue Off 5th. It’s no wonder people drive all the way from Toronto to shop here, and everything can be purchased at outlet-prices.
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Globe Guide explored Niagara Falls in collaboration with Niagara Parks. As always, hosts have no editorial influence over articles.