When visiting Niagara Falls, it is easy to forget that there are other things to see than the waterfall itself. One example of this is Niagara-on-the-Lake, a small town located about 20 km north of Niagara Falls that is often overlooked by visitors, even though it offers a wonderful combination of historic sites, 19thcentury architecture, lovely parks, wonderful theatrical productions, great restaurants, and great shopping.
Despite its tiny size, Niagara-on-the-Lake has played a prominent role in Canadian history. Many of the first inhabitants of the town were loyalists to the British crown (historically referred to as United Empire Loyalists) who had fled the American Revolution. Niagara-on-the-Lake was originally known as Newark, and for a short time in the 1790s, it was the capital of the province of Upper Canada (a predecessor of the current province of Ontario). Niagara-on-the-Lake is located at the point where the Niagara River empties into Lake Ontario, and the United States is directly across the border.
When tensions between the American and British erupted into the War of 1812, Niagara-on-the-Lake’s location made it extremely vulnerable to attack. Not surprisingly, Niagara-on-the-Lake was almost completely destroyed by American forces throughout the course of the war. It was rebuilt, however, and thankfully, many of the buildings constructed during this time have survived to the present day. Niagara-on-the-Lake’s historic appeal makes it a fantastic destination for Niagara visitors today.
There are many things to see and do in Niagara-on-the-Lake. For those interested in shopping, Queen Street, the town’s main thoroughfare, offers numerous unique boutiques, selling clothing, crafts and delicious sugary treats. One of the best stores is Maple Leaf Fudge, which has operated for over 40 years making some of the best hand cut fudge anywhere. One can even watch the fudge being made in the store! For history lovers, Fort George, which was heavily involved in several War of 1812 battles, is one of the few remaining 19th century military forts in the region.
Visitors to Fort George can take in historical military demonstrations, costumed soldiers, and occasionally, historical reenactments of famous battles. For those looking for a nice place to walk, Queen’s Royal Park has a lovely esplanade where the river meets the lake. The esplanade provides a lovely view of Fort Niagara across the river in New York State, and on a clear day, one can even see the Toronto skyline across Lake Ontario! Finally, for theatre-lovers, the annual Shaw Festival, which highlights the work of Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw, runs from April until November in several of Niagara-on-the-Lake’s theatres. This year’s festival includes Shaw classics such as The Millionairess and Misalliance.
Niagara-on-the-Lake is a MUST DO for anyone heading to Niagara Falls!
TIPS FOR VISITORS: The best way to see Niagara-on-the-Lake is to take CitySightseeing Niagara’s Niagara tour. The tour, which also includes a 2-3 hour stop in Niagara Falls and a visit to a winery, stops in Niagara-on-the-Lake on its way back to Toronto. The tour picks up at most downtown Toronto hotels and costs $80.00 for adults, $75.00 for seniors, $55.00 for students, and $50.00 for children. Admission to the Skylon Tower can also be included in the ticket price for a small extra charge. Driving to Niagara-on-the-Lake is also possible, but parking can be nightmarish, particularly during the summer months. Unfortunately, public transit options to Niagara-on-the-Lake are virtually nonexistent.