Even though Niagara is in the middle of a great continent, far away from large masses of water, it is far from dry. In fact, some of its greatest assets cling to our fresh waterways. From Niagara Falls to Twenty Valley Creek, the Niagara River to Lake Erie, Niagara’s most beautiful water systems have some pretty eclectic communities that simply demand exploring.
We all know Niagara Falls is a kid friendly place, but there is no escaping its magnificence. Walk the beautiful floral laced boardwalk in front of two waterfalls; the Canadian and the American waterfalls both called Niagara Falls by the locals. Take a deep breath and feel the uplifting power from the water crashing all around you. Then go below to Journey Behind The Falls and feel your hair go horizontal from the sheer force of it all. Niagara Falls and its power over you is nothing short of magnificent. Continue to be awe-inspired down river where the White Water Walk gets you up close and personal with the hypnotic white capped rapids as they splash and crash at the base of sheer rock cliffs. Remember, as Niagara Falls carved itself further and further down the Niagara River, it left behind stunning vistas. If all that fresh air leaves you a bit hungry, Elements on the Falls Restaurants serves up a great selection of upscale casual fare or head to the Rainbow Room by Massimo Capra for the best Italian-influenced food or Windows by Jamie Kennedy for a true taste of local, all three get you up close and personal with Niagara Falls and if you’re dining at night, be prepared to be wowed by the nightly light show over the Falls or the weekend fireworks.
A sailors dream for sure, for me it’s a girlfriends day-away. Take a stroll down Historic West Street with quaint, canal side shops on one side and the beautiful boardwalk filled with cascading flowers on the other. Among the shops are 270 West, Glam Girl and Serendipities (all ladies fashion boutiques), Something Else (jewellery and home décor), Alphabet Books, Canalside Kitchen Store and Crew’s Quarter (home and garden shop). Old Port, as the locals call it, is more than one street; wander the back roads for Jack’s Toy Store, JB Fashions, Tuck Jewellery, Yardbirds Nature Shop and Ten Thousand Villages all on Clarence Street. One of the regions best Farmers’ Market happens here on Friday mornings. Dining in Port is even better with Minor Fisheries (freshest fish and chips in Niagara), The Smokin Buddha located in the old King Street train station (a destination eatery of creative, healthy, eclectic cuisine), Canalside Restaurant or the Market Café across from Market Square (best coffee shop with market sourced dishes). Port’s second and lesser-known region called Ole Humber Stone centres around Main Street as it crosses the Welland Canal. Here you’ll find big city style in Absa-fashion-lutely, take in High Tea at the Duchess Café or pick up flowers and something sweet in Bremfields Bakery, Florist and Antique Shop. Drive across the Welland Canal for lunch at Lucy’s, a Port institution and famous for it’s long list of notable guests like author Bill Thomas, Pierre Burton and Justin Trudeau.
Giant Lakers (the giant ships that roam the Great Lakes) draw crowds of enthusiastic watchers and why not? The Welland Canal runs through Thorold with a perfect view of the massive vessels being lifted up and down Lock 7 – incredible! But for me, the draw to Thorold is the small town gone uptown revival. The main street has been historically restored and one-of-a-kind boutiques have moved in. At Fig Street, dubbed the Kate Spade of Thorold you’ll find ladies fashion stationery, food-art cards and other rare, big-city finds. Angies O’H Antiques offers beautiful articles of a by-gone era and newer things that fit with her personality, Knyvettism presents fashion, furniture and art from repurposed materials, Steadman’s Jewellers, a diamond specialist is a Thorold institution and Gypsy Alley has clothing, purses and an eclectic collection of great stuff. It’s astounding to find international fashion designer Shannon Passero in the quaint, old firehall building on Albert Street and interior designer John Kazmir in the Quebec Bank Building. On The Front Café is the perfect coffee shop with chocolate leather chairs to sink into and the new owner of the Panini Café, fine dining chef William Brunyansky (Charles Inn, Niagara-on-the-Lake), makes a mean panini and every option can be ordered gluten free. The beautiful Keefer Mansion Inn is perched on a hill with great views of passing Lakers in the distance. This restored, brownstone mansion houses a fine dining restaurant and spa. Thorold is a bike-friendly destination and a stop on the Circle Trail Bike Route.
History buffs visit this tiny little village with more historical destinations than coffee shops but for me, Queenston will always be about the prettiest village in Ontario. Few people know that the Queenston dock is the only place north of Niagara Falls where the land dips down to meet the water. It’s also the widest spot along the part of the river; bring a lawn chair or sit on a rock and skip stones in the glass-like texture of the water. On the other side are towering cliffs of shale and rock with Artpark perched above – a great place to take in a riverside concert. Back in the village is the most beautiful oleander tree in Niagara. When it’s in full bloom (spring) people come from miles around to behold the magnificence of this great old tree and the beauty that blossoms on the corner of Kent Street and Queenston Streets. One block uphill of the tree, at the foot of the escarpment is the MacKenzie Heritage Printery. The grey stone building is wrapped in lush green ivy that thrives in the shade of the pine grove. Look beyond the Printery and you’ll find wooden stairs that lead to the top of the escarpment. Once there, make your way cross Queenston Heights Park to a little oasis called Locust Grove. Perched above the Queenston dock and parallel to Artpark, the views from Locust Grove includes the Niagara River as it winds its way down to Lake Ontario. Locust Grove is simply breathtaking and the perfect perch for a picnic with more concert music wafting over from Artpark. Queenston is also the start of the Bruce Trail and even a 10-minute walk along the trail reveals forest beauty, wild greenery and cool air on a hot summers day.
Look out Yorkville, this upscale oasis in the heart of Niagara agriculture draws cyclists and hikers, but for me it’s a luxury destination cloaked in a village vibe. Jordan Village is a man made village that centres around Cave Springs Winery, On The Twenty Restaurant and Inn On The Twenty. On The Twenty Restaurant is perched high above the beautiful Twenty Valley below. The valley, carved by a large creek, is the water tributary fed by Balls Falls to the south and flows into the Jordan Harbour to the north. Back in the village is a full afternoon of browsing through galleries, fabulous shopping, antiques, history, wine tasting and dining. Tintern on Main, Pamela’s and Arezzo are ladies fashion boutiques offering unique clothing and accessories usually reserved for big city boutiques. IronGate Garden Elements is full of fabulous, one-of-a-kind garden art and accessories. CHIC by Janssen will impress you with stunning, French inspired, rare furniture and S & B Antique Gallery offers unique furniture pieces of a by-gone era. Avant-Guarde Emporium is a fun curiosity shop and across from the Jordan Hotel, a perfect spot for lunch. A village walking tour brochure is available at the Jordan Historical Museum and in the Heritage Gift Shop.
By: Lynn Ogryzlo