Niagara Falls is a must-see marvel for any modern traveler. It’s spectacular! But a quick visit to the Canadian side of this natural wonder of the world (and the man-made attractions around it) is very different from spending weeks and weeks in the misty city. For reasons like noise, crowds, and prices, there are just some places that locals choose to avoid.
If you travel a lot, you’ll know that most cities tend to inflate the costs of attractions that cater to tourists. For example, a bottle of water on Clifton Hill, Niagara’s version of the Vegas Strip, could set you back double the price than the same brand would cost if you bought it elsewhere. NF locals call these ‘tourist traps.’ It might be fair for something to cost extra when you’re paying to enjoy it in close proximity to water flowing over rocky cliffs at a speed of 2,400 cubic metres of per second. The experience is impressive! But for those who don’t need to pay for that experience every single day, overpriced places lose their shine real fast.
To them, a casino just isn’t a smart place to spend an average afternoon. They see Marineland as an eyesore that literally makes its animals’ eyes sore. You can bet that they aren’t spending their weekends at the wax museums, either. To discover the best places Niagara Falls REALLY has to offer, you need to hear their authentic opinions and decide for yourself what’s worth checking out!
22 22. Zappi’s Pizza
Zappi’s is a completely local establishment, opened by Connie and Tony Zappitelli in 1971. With recipes handed down through generations of Zappitellis you can trust that their pizzas will be the best you try while you're in Niagara Falls.
Come here for pizza, pasta, subs, or calzones all made with generous amounts of sauce, cheese, spiced meats and fresh vegetables. If you love Italian food, it doesn't get any more authentic than this. The atmosphere at Zappi's is also friendly and welcoming, with trademark checkerboard patterns everywhere you look. As a bonus, it’s not far at all from Niagara Falls’ downtown core, so you can enjoy it while staying close to popular tourist attractions if that’s your thing.
21 21. The Screaming Tunnel
This old train passage looks perfectly innocent to passing tourists. In reality, it’s the site of an urban legend that has persisted in local culture for more than a century. Dirty? Yes. HAUNTED? Maybe!
Legend has it that in the early 1800s, an abusive father chased his daughter into the tunnel. It’s there that he soaked her with gasoline, lit a match, and tragically set her on fire. Soon it became a rite of passage for local teenagers to light a single match inside the tunnel and await the sound of a scream. Hundreds have heard it! It even inspired a haunted house downtown called the Screaming Tunnels - but why go there when you can see the real thing?
20 20. Happy Rolph’s
Niagara locals LOVE Happy Rolph’s. It’s a cozy little wildlife reserve that’s off the beaten path and full of farm animals ready for the petting. Not your average petting zoo, Happy Rolph’s is nestled right up against Lake Ontario, offering gorgeous, wheelchair/stroller-accessible trails and paths that people of every age can enjoy.
Animal lovers can find everything from bunnies and guinea pigs to llamas and actual pigs here. If you’re traveling with kids, this spot is a must. It’s also got a pavilion, playground, and pond that make the perfect backdrop for a picnic date. Take a fifteen minute drive from downtown Niagara to relax at Happy Rolph’s the next time you visit the Falls.
19 19. Any Public Pool
It gets humid in the Fruit Belt! The worst place to be on a summer day in Niagara Falls is pounding the pavement on Clifton Hill among thousands of sweaty tourists. Thankfully there are plenty of options for cooling off, even if your hotel doesn’t have a pool.
Literally any public pool is a good pool in Niagara Falls. They’re clean, well-staffed, and best of all: COMPLETELY FREE. Most of the city’s public pools are open to everyone from 1-5pm daily, with some open as late as 8pm. Splash pads are installed next to lots of them, and open all day for any kids who want a cooler option than a regular playground. Take advantage when the heat waves hit.
18 18. Taps on Queen
The Niagara Region is almost as famous for its alcohol as it is for its waterfalls. Niagara wines are some of the finest in the world! If you're a drink aficionado (or if you just like beer) you've got to check out Taps on Queen while you're in the Falls.
Browse a huge selection of beers, wines, and ciders, including specialty local beer brews that would be hard to find anywhere else. Standouts include custom beer cocktails, tasting flights of a selection of local brews, and growlers to-go. Stop by for a bite to eat and take advantage of one of their daily drink deals! Nothing like a quick pick-me-up to carry you through the rest of your day's adventures.
17 17. Gale Centre Arena
Jumping into a pool isn’t the only way to cool down in Niagara Falls. And just like the city’s public pools are free, public skating is too. If you’re visiting Niagara Falls from somewhere hotter and want to skate like a Canadian, the Gale Centre is open year-round.
The rink is open most afternoons during the summer months for free skating, and skate rentals are available on site. The Toronto Maple Leafs even practice there in the fall! Sitting in on a practice is the perfect way to score a Leafs’ autograph and get some face-to-face time with these popular players.
16 16. Queen Charlotte Tea Room
Fancy living your Megan Markle fantasy? Queen Charlotte Tea Room is a totally underrated and UK-decorated place for you and your travel buddies to get your colonial snack on.
Queen Charlotte’s location directly across from the local hospital sets it apart from your usual Niagara Falls tourist traps. Only those who happen to stray from the downtown core have any chance of noticing this tucked-away teahouse. Pop in for much more than fish and chips and mushy peas. No Queen Charlotte teatime is complete without mini sandwiches and pastries that would make Mary Berry proud. Bonus: The back of this place is fully stocked with imported goodies, from chocolate buttons to sherbet lemons. It’s like a little Britain in Niagara Falls.
15 15. Shorthills and the Small Falls
If you come to Niagara Falls to admire its natural beauty instead of its man-made attractions, you’ll want to check out Shorthills. It’s a protected park spanning 660 hectares in the Niagara Region. Escape the chaos of Clifton Hill and enjoy the company of wild deer and birds as you stroll through a wide variety of cool plant species in this sprawling nature reserve.
This is another one of Niagara Falls’ intentionally accessible attractions, offering a few wide paths along trails that lead to little forest clearings and waterfalls. That’s right – more waterfalls! The Horseshoe and the Bridal Veil aren’t the only waterfalls in the city! Why not check out lovely little ones in Shorthills, too?
14 14. Fruit Picking
The massive and majestic Niagara Falls are far from the only gifts that nature has given this part of the world. The entire region swooping over is called the Ontario Greenbelt or Niagara Fruit Belt. This means that from May to October, it's got fields and orchards full of fruits and veggies you can pick yourself.
Depending on the season, you can pick your own cherries, strawberries, blueberries, or peaches. You might even stumble upon the Strawberry Festival or the Peach Festival if you visit at the perfect time. Fresh fruit served in a million ways? Yes please.
13 13. Paris Crepes
Down the road from city hall in Niagara Falls, you’ll find about a block of independently-owned shops that cater to the local office workers. They line Queen Street, where you’ll also find the bulk of the city’s arts and culture initiatives. One of these shops is Paris Crepes, a small but chic bistro with a range of sweet and savoury offerings.
This is a great place to get yourself a unique yet affordable brunch in the city. The décor is clean and cute, and the menu has something for every taste. Best of all, you’ll get seated and served without having to wait as long as you might at the city’s more tourist-focused restaurants.
12 12. The Pirate Ship
Ahoy! If you reach Niagara Falls by way of Toronto or other cities to the North of Niagara, you'll pass this landmark on your way into the city. It's officially named "La Grande Hermine," a 78.8 foot tall replica of the ship Jacques Cartier used in the 1500s. Built to be a floating restaurant, the massive ship was eventually abandoned and set on fire by vandals, giving it its now ancient appearance.
The ship remains accessible from the QEW highway to any daring travelers wanting to check it out. Lots of locals have admired the ship up close (and even climbed aboard at their own risk). Whatever your intentions, the ship makes for great pictures.
11 11. Williams Fresh Cafe
For a coffee spot in Niagara Falls that gives you a taste of local charm, choose Williams. Although this cafe is part of a chain, it's a small chain with locations found exclusively in Ontario - unlike Niagara's more familiar major chain options like Starbucks (American-owned) and Tim Hortons (Brazilian-owned).
Williams Fresh Cafe serves light meals that are fresh (duh) and made with some local ingredients. It's a nice quiet place to have lunch or a snack on your way through the city that lets you avoid the bustling tourists and overpriced options you'd find closer to the waterfalls. Coffee's great, staff is friendly, and atmosphere is as chill as you could ask for.
10 10. Shoulder Season Winery Events
If you plan ahead or get lucky, you can live like a local and take advantage of Niagara's fun themed winery events. The average tourist doesn't take the time to tour wineries, but there's so much to love about Niagara's local vineyards! And there's nothing like a wine tasting to make you feel like you're living your best life.
Visiting Niagara wineries in the summer is always glam, but visiting literally any other time of year can give you access to the area's signature events. That's where you'll find locals celebrating things like "Days of Wine and Chocolate" with chocolate-themed wine tastings, "Sip and Sizzle" with barbecued food and exclusive drinks, and other diverse libation celebrations.
9 9. White Meadows Farms
This is another entry for anyone looking to get the most Canadiana out of their trip to the Canadian side of the Falls. Locals know White Meadows as the 'Sugar Bush'. What kind of sugar? Maple sugar, baby!
Go to White Meadows in the fall, winter, or spring for maple EVERYTHING. Maple taffy, maple fudge, maple cookies, maple tea, maple glazed salmon, maple mustard - literally every fresh maple treat you can imagine. Free tours teach you everything you could ever want to know about how maple syrup is made, and give you a taste of historic rural Niagara with fun pioneer-era activities like log cutting and wood burning.
8 8. Chippawa
This is technically a whole village, but most tourists pass over it entirely when visiting the Falls. Chippawa is a small town community located within Niagara Falls’ city limits. It was named for the First Nation that populated it when Europeans invaded in the late 18th century.
These days this village centers around Chippawa Creek and hosts plenty of sweet community events at a central pavilion surrounded by bespoke shops and friendly locals. It’s proud to be the birthplace of director James Cameron, who gives his hometown a little shoutout in Titanic. Remember Jack telling Rose he was born in Chippawa Falls? That’s this place. Well technically that’s a nothing place named after ‘Chippawa’ and ‘Niagara Falls,’ but you get it.
7 7. Wind Sushi/Ma Chinese Cuisine
These sister restaurants are owned by the same family and offer the same high level of quality meals. Stop by Ma Chinese Cuisine for the area's best and most authentic Chinese food. Way beyond chicken balls and fried rice, Ma serves everything from Chanqing-style griddle pans to $5 dim sum dishes.
Visit Wind for excellent all-you-can eat sushi and all the perfect Japanese and Thai sides that come along with it. Your holiday dinner money goes a lot further when you use it for unlimited boat-fuls of sashimi, tempura, futomaki, and specialty rolls. Pencil these restaurants into your itinerary and pack some stretchy pants.
6 6. Johnny Rocco’s
Venture up from Niagara Falls’ downtown core and you’ll find Johnny Rocco’s, a popular dinner spot with great Italian food and live local musicians on its patio. If you want a chic Italian dinner experience without waiting in long lines or paying extra for your proximity to Niagara’s casinos and major landmarks, this restaurant is your perfect choice.
Johnny Rocco’s has been around in some capacity since Giovanni Rocco immigrated to Niagara from Calabria over 70 years ago. His family-run restaurant is now just far enough off the beaten path to keep crowds at bay, but such a quick drive up Lundy’s Lane that you can easily eat there and see all the best Falls attractions in the same afternoon.
5 5. Heartland Forest
One of Niagara Falls’ sweetest community spaces is Heartland Forest, a 93 acre nature park and family-friendly event venue. It's a woodsy paradise with tree house structures to discover, outdoor games for children, fully accessible walking paths, and more. You can fit a lot into 93 acres!
Heartland Forest is situated alongside local marshland that helps to buffer it from the crowds and noise of the downtown core. Pull into this tucked-away space and help yourself to a golf ball and mini putt club before playing a fun 9-hole course without spending a cent. This is ALMOST the best way to enjoy natural Niagara like a local. (Skip ahead two spaces on this list to find our fave!)
4 4. An IceDogs Game
There is no better way to experience authentic Niagara Falls than by supporting its hometown heroes! The Niagara IceDogs represent their city in the Ontario Hockey League, a league that feeds into the NHL. That means these players are world-class! Niagara Falls, Canada loves its hockey, so IceDogs games are the place to be on Friday nights from September to March. Live like a local and make an IceDog game your entertainment of choice.
If you can't make it to one of their games, check out the Junior IceDogs and cheer for some of the city's coolest athletes with disabilities. The game venues always have arena snacks and fun merch stalls to browse for uniquely local souvenirs. Go Dogs go!
3 3. Fireman's Park
If you're in Niagara Falls on a beautifully warm summer's day - or really any beautiful day in any season - a trip to Fireman's Park can offer you a peaceful experience in nature. It's maintained by the city's friendly and dependable volunteer firemen, mainly a selection of local grandfathers who act as guardians of the park's expansive natural landscape and outdoor community event venues.
Visit the park in the daytime to hike, jog, or even canoe. At night, catch one of the free concerts hosted there every Tuesday and Thursday throughout the summer. You'll feel like dancing in the open air, and you can! Plenty of locals gather there biweekly to enjoy great free performances under the stars.