The Niagara Peninsula is in Ontario's Golden Horseshoe, encompassing most of the city of Hamilton and all of Niagara Region. Niagara Region is a regional municipality (roughly similar to a county) consisting of cities, towns and villages east of Hamilton on the Niagara Peninsula.
- 1 Fort Erie — the site of Old Fort Erie, an important War of 1812 site
- 2 Grimsby — a starting point for touring the Niagara wine region
- 3 Hamilton — the third largest city in Ontario is transitioning from an industrial city to a centre for health sciences with a growing arts and culture sector
- 4 Lincoln — a rural town known for its dozens of wineries
- 5 Niagara Falls — there's supposed to be some big waterfall here; it might be worth checking out
- 6 Niagara-on-the-Lake — popular with visitors drawn by its quaint colonial-style buildings, the Shaw Theatre Festival, Old Fort George, and wineries
- 7 Port Colborne — great weather, ample beach front, cultural attractions, and historic shopping districts
- 8 St. Catharines — a good base for exploring the Niagara Peninsula
- 9 Thorold — the historical Welland Canal and the impressive locks bring many tourists here
- 10 Welland — known for the many murals around town
Except for Hamilton, all the above cities and communities are part of Niagara Region.
The main geographical feature of the peninsula is the Niagara Escarpment, running in an east-west direction. The best known portion of the escarpment is where it meets the Niagara River, creating the beautiful Niagara Falls. Elsewhere on the peninsula in the vicinity of the escarpment, there are many parks and conservation areas to be explored, many smaller waterfalls to be seen, and many great views to be found.
The Niagara Peninsula is home to some of the best farmland in Canada (although the area's proximity to Toronto also attracts human settlement, and farmland has been devoured by urban sprawl in certain areas over the past few decades). The climate makes grape-growing possible, and there are over 60 wineries in the area, most of which are in the towns of Lincoln and Niagara-on-the-Lake.
The area is quite historic, having been the first area in Southern Ontario to be settled as well as a main battleground during the War of 1812. This heritage is especially celebrated in Niagara-on-the-Lake.
Tourism is a large part of the economy, and the peninsula attracts over 12 million visitors per year from all over the world.
The closest major airport to Niagara Region is actually in the United States. Buffalo-Niagara International Airport (BUF IATA) is just outside of Buffalo, New York and about 20-30 min drive from the Fall. It is served by most major American carriers. Niagara Falls International Airport (IAG IATA) is the closest airport to the Falls but has only a few scheduled commercial flights, given over mainly to chartered and private planes. Hamilton (YHM IATA) has a major airport which is closer than Toronto Pearson International Airport (YYZ IATA) in Mississauga.
Buffalo Airport Shuttle (+1 716 685-2550) offers service from the Buffalo-Niagara airport to Niagara Region. A family of 4 can expect to pay less than $25 per person (from the airport to the Canadian Falls) and the drivers often have great tips on where to go and what to avoid.
It's possible to see the city of Niagara Falls without a car, as the transit system is well-developed and most of the attractions are close together.
To explore the surrounding area, including Niagara-on-the-Lake and the wineries, a car is recommended. Biking is also popular.
The Niagara Falls, for which the peninsula is named, is one of the most impressive waterfalls in the world and is definitely a must for visitors - as is the Hornblower Niagara Cruises boat trip to the foot of the Falls. In addition to the Falls themselves, the city offers a number of other attractions including the lively and carnival-like Clifton Hills entertainment area, the Butterfly Conservatory, and Marineland. There are also two casinos in Niagara Falls.
There are several historical sites from the War of 1812 scattered around Niagara Region, since the region borders the United States and much of the fighting took place here. They include Fort George, Fort Erie, Laura Secord's house, and Queenston Heights.
At Queenston Heights, there is a tea room and a humongous monument to General Brock who died gloriously in the Battle of Queenston Heights during the War of 1812. There is a small plaque for General Sheaffe, who actually won the battle. And a statue for General Brock's horse.
The popular Shaw Festival in Niagara-on-the-Lake features the plays of Bernard Shaw and his contemporaries. It runs from April to October and attracts over 250,000 visitors each year.
Dundurn Castle is a neoclassical mansion in Hamilton that is a museum illustrating daily life from the 1850s.
There are many wineries that host tours and tastings located around Niagara-on-the-Lake, Beamsville, and Vineland (see Wine Regions of Ontario). The Niagara Wine Festival takes place in September. The main festivities and parade take place in St. Catharines, and the area's wineries host their own special events.
In addition to Niagara Falls, the area has other much smaller but still pretty waterfalls, including Ball's Falls and Rockaway Falls near Vineland, Decew Falls on the outskirts of St. Catharines, and Louth Falls near Jordan. The best time to visit is spring and early summer, when water levels are at their highest.
There are many possibilities for hiking and biking in the area. The 845-km-long Bruce Trail has its southern terminus point in Queenston, Niagara Falls and winds its way north along the Niagara Escarpment to Tobermory. The Niagara River Recreation Trail is a 56-km paved trail running along the Niagara River from Fort Erie in the south to Fort George in Niagara-on-the-Lake in the north. Niagara Glenn has 4 km of trails - enter the gorge at Totem Pole Park and follow the U-turn of Niagara so you will be close to where you started when you get out, i.e. a short walk to your car.
The Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority manages over 30 conservation areas, each with a unique setting and offering different activities, including picnicking, strolling or hiking, bird-watching, and boating. Beamer Memorial Conservation Area near Grimsby is known as a place to watch the annual hawk migration, Binbrook for windsurfing, Ball's Falls for its waterfalls and historic buildings, including a grist mill. Some conservation areas allow fishing and hunting (licence required).
The Niagara Peninsula is one of the three main Wine Regions of Ontario. It competes with British Columbia's Okanagan Valley for being the top producer in Canada. The region is particularly well known for its ice wines, made from grapes picked after they have frozen. Ice wines highlight the grape's sweetness, and few regions in the world can match Niagara's quality.
Niagara Ale Trail Craft beer has become the beer of the moment, and breweries or brewpubs have become popular in many cities.
The city of Niagara Falls is well-equipped to handle the huge numbers of visitors it receives, with a large number of hotels, motels, and inns in all price ranges. Nonetheless, during the height of tourist season (in particular weekends in July and August), it can be hard to find rooms in the budget to mid-range categories. During these times it's best to book in advance.
Lodging in downtown Niagara Falls means you'll be close to the attractions and have a wide choice of accommodations and restaurants, however, the area can seem very busy, 'touristy,' and noisy. Staying at a hotel or bed & breakfast in Niagara-on-the-Lake or in the smaller towns of wine country can be a more relaxing experience.
There are a number of campgrounds in Niagara Falls, and at the Ball's Falls, Chippewa Creek and Long Beach Conservation Areas.
The Niagara Peninsula is quite safe.
Provincial guidelines limit tasting more than 4 one-ounce samples at each winery. Be aware of your limits and don't drink and drive.
When hiking, take adequate supplies (water, food, safety equipment), wear sturdy hiking footwear and dress with the weather in mind. For safety, don't hike alone. Most trails are not maintained in the winter months.
There are several bridges to the United States across the Niagara River. Other options for further travel include:
- Toronto - Ontario's multicultural capital
- Waterloo - university town hosting the largest Oktoberfest in the world outside of Munich
- Stratford - picturesque city that hosts the Stratford Shakespeare Festival from April to November
- New York