|by: Lila Kahn
For years Niagara Falls has been one of the most
popular tourist destinations in the United States and Canada. Visitors
from abroad and North America cannot seem to shake their desire to
travel this dramatic aquatic spectacle. But why exactly? The falls are
not particularly convenient to any major U.S. city (apologies to
Buffalo), which means visitors to the US will need at least two days to
fit in a visit to Niagara Falls. Furthermore besides the actual falls
themselves, there is little in the way of cultural or natural points of
interest in the area. That is unless you consider a visit to ‘Ripley’s
Believe it or Not’ to be a cultural experience. Finally, the climate in
the Niagara Falls region is rather daunting for much of the year. The
area gets a lot of precipitation throughout the year and winter is
definitely rugged in that region.
The short answer to why Niagara Falls has such a
following is good PR. People from far and wide have heard of Niagara
Falls. I recently asked a friend from Taiwan if she had heard of Niagara
Falls before moving to the states. “Of course!”, she replied, “we
learned about Niagara Falls in grade school.” She went on to explain
that most people who grew up in Asia consider Niagara Falls to be one of
the most important sites to see in the U.S. Its reputation is also
strong throughout Europe and India. The thought of missing Niagara Falls
is akin to missing the Great Wall or the Taj Majal on a visit to China
or India respectively.
The real key to Niagara Fall’s enduring lure,
however, may be simply that it does not disappoint. The falls themselves
have an undeniable dramatic beauty. Furthermore, the ever popular Maid
of the Mist boat ride that takes tourists directly into the falls is
truly thrilling. Beyond that, the town of Niagara Falls, Ontario has a
certain dilapidated charm. As you stroll along Queen Victoria Park
facing the falls on the Canadian side, you cannot help but get a sense
of what it must have been like to visit in more innocent times; before
we were jaded by extreme vacations and adventure tours. To think of
someone actually climbing into a barrel and heading over the falls in
1901 (actually done for the first time by a 63 year old school teacher)
still captures the imagination.
To get more insight into what impression Niagara
Falls makes, I interviewed 40 people who had visited the Falls in the
past several years. The survey, taken from a semi-randomly selected
sample, is patently unscientific. However, the results are interesting
nonetheless. (A few words about the sample: most respondents were not
born in the US but were living here, the age range was from young adults
to retirees, most had begun their trip in either New York City or
Boston, and most had gone to the Falls on a bus tour.)
Here is a summary of the feedback:
Was it worth visiting?
A resounding yes. Most respondents acknowledged
that the eight hour trip from New York City was long, but surprisingly
few seemed to mind. Several people expressed how much they enjoyed
seeing the countryside and getting a sense of the “real” United States.
Those who included a visit to Niagara Falls as part of a tour of Canada
were the least likely to complain about the distance. Only one
respondent expressed regret that he made the trip. He said he just did
not find the falls themselves that impressive and did not think it was
worth the long bus trip.
Most recommended attractions?
Hands down the Maid of the Mist boat tour was
suggested as the must-do activity. Several people also pointed out that
this was the best way to view the falls for those who were not able to
go to the Canadian side because of visa re-entry issues. The Cave of the
Winds tour, which takes you by elevator to the bottom of the falls, got
high marks for those who preferred not to take a boat ride. The
helicopter tour also got raves, but only one person in the survey took a
helicopter tour. The nighttime illumination of the falls got mixed
reviews, with some calling it “stunning”, while others found it “tacky”.
Several people who traveled with children also recommended exploring the
town of Niagara Falls, Ontario. It offers typically touristy attractions
that are sure to please kids.
How long should you stay?
Almost everyone answered either one or two days. A
few people thought only a few hours were sufficient to see the sights,
and no one suggested staying more than two days.
When should you go?
This is a little hard to decipher. Not
surprisingly most people visited Niagara Falls in the summer. The few
who did go in the winter said they were impressed by the falls
surrounded by ice, but expressed regret that they could not go on the
Maid of the Mist (it stops running in October). In short, it seems like
you should not go to Niagara in the winter unless you are prepared for
the cold. A few also recommended going in the fall to enjoy the foliage
in Upstate New York along the way.
Bottom Line: Most people sampled in this informal
survey thought Niagara Falls was a great weekend getaway and a good
place to take visitors from abroad. If possible, include a stop in
Niagara Falls on a visit to Toronto for a great long weekend trip from
New York or Boston. Chances are you will not be disappointed in a trip
to Niagara Falls if you go when you are prepared for the weather, do not
stay more than two days, and do not have high expectations of the
attractions outside of those related to the falls.