For generations, Niagara Falls has been considered one of the world’s spectacular sights. It has also been regarded as one of the nation’s most romantic destinations. Your parents—even your grandparents—may wax nostalgic about their getaway in America’s Honeymoon Capital. Yet instead of becoming a cliché, the falls and picturesque towns that surround them still offer memory-making adventures for newlyweds.
The world’s second-largest falls plunge nearly 20 stories into the Niagara River. But this torrent, with its daylight rainbows and nighttime illumination by colored lights, is more than just show.
At Niagara Falls New York State Park, sign up for a spot on the top deck of the Maid of the Mist (716-284-8897, maidofthemist.com; $12.50). During a cruise around the base of the falls, you’ll be whipped by winds induced by the torrent. The exhilaration is a feeling you won’t forget.
Another must-do is Cave of the Winds (716-278-1730, $10 for adults). The experience begins with an elevator ride 175-feet down into Niagara Gorge to the base of Bridal Veil Falls. Scale the wooden walkways under 60 mph winds to the Hurricane Deck. Cave of the Winds is a great spot for viewing fireworks over the falls (Wednesdays and weekends). Other prime spotting sites are Prospect Point and the Rainbow Bridge, which connects Canada and the United States.
Plan to spend an entire day at Niagara Falls New York State Park (716-278-1796, niagarafallsstatepark.com), which is celebrating its 25th anniversary with a summer of special events. In addition to falls-related activities, the park is the site of the Aquarium of Niagara Falls (don’t miss the rare Peruvian penguins) and other attractions. The park’s Niagara Gorge Trail System offers heavy-duty hiking. A little easier to negotiate on foot, bike or Rollerblades is the three-mile-long Robert Moses Parkway Trail.
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For lunch or dinner with a view, ask for a patio seat at Top of the Falls Restaurant on Goat Island (716-278-0340, topofthefallsrestaurant.com), a casual spot that serves everything from sandwiches to the signature cider-brined pork chop. Inside, tiered seating ensures unobstructed views of the falls.
For a different perspective, soar over the falls with Rainbow Air Helicopter Tours (454 Main St., Niagara Falls, 716-284-2800, rainbowairinc.com). The panoramic view of up to 20 miles is unparalleled. The cost is $90 per person for a 10-minute ride.
About seven miles from the park is historic Lewiston, which has two claims to fame. Lewiston was an important site for one of the early battles of the War of 1812. On a lighter side, a colonial tavern is credited with inventing the “cocktail,” a “gin mixture” stirred with the feather of a cockerel.
Though the tavern is long gone, you can enjoy a libation on the patio of Water Street Landing (115 S. Water St., Lewiston, 716-754-9200) over the Niagara River Gorge. Join the locals on Wednesdays for the all-you-can-eat ribs or Fish Fridays (around $5.99) with a side of live music. There’s also a fine dining side that serves specialties such as coconut crusted ahi tuna drizzled with raspberry. Entrees are $17 to $29.
Water Street Landing is also home to Whirlpool Jet Boat Tours (888-428-4444, whirlpooljet.com, $57 for adults), which offers a wild 45-minute ride in Class V rapids on the Niagara River. Get soaked on a Wet Jet or stay dry in a Jet Dome.
For tamer entertainment, take in a free evening concert in the outdoor amphitheater at Lewiston’s outdoor Artpark (450 S. Fourth St., 716-754-4375, artpark.net) or a ticketed event at the partially covered Mainstage. Last year’s featured performances included Bret Michaels, Trisha Yearwood, the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra and the Disney musical “Beauty and the Beast.”
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Some of the best bass and walleye fishing around can be found in the waters of the Niagara area. Riverside Sport Fishing (160 S. Water St., Lewiston, 716-754-4101, niagarafish.com) guides excursions on Lake Erie ($320 for two). Or spend a peaceful day angling from a dock on the lower Niagara River at Joseph Davis State Park (4143 Lower River Road, Lewiston, 716-754-4596, nysparks.com).
You won’t find heart-shaped bathtubs, but you will find a totally romantic atmosphere at the upscale Barton Hill Hotel & Spa (100 Center St., Lewiston, 800-718-1812 bartonhillhotel.com). With its historic facade and feel, you would never know this posh property is a recent addition to Lewiston. All 78 guest rooms and suites are elegantly appointed, some with whirlpool tubs, fireplaces and river views. Prices range from $200 to $360. Ask about custom spa packages for honeymooners.
Start your day on a sweet note with a big cinnamon bun or scone at Village Bake Shoppe (419 Center St., Lewiston, 716-754-2300, villagebakeshoppe.com), which supplies desserts to almost all of the area’s top restaurants. Among the bakery’s patrons is Carmelo’s Ristorante (425 Center St., Lewiston, 716-754-2311, carmelos-restaurant.com), which serves contemporary takes on the classics, including homemade gnocchi and lamb osso bucco ($16 to $22).
Vegetarians will appreciate the thoughtful preparations at Red Coach Inn (2 Buffalo Ave., Niagara Falls, 716-282-1459, redcoach.com), an English country-style dining spot with garden seating and views of Niagara’s upper rapids. Non-vegetarians will be pleased with entrees such as sautéed Asian tiger shrimp. Lunch ranges from $6.95 to $12.95, dinner from $12.95 to $24.95.
If you want to add glitz to your getaway, Seneca Niagara Spa, Hotel and Casino (310 Fourth St., Niagara Falls, 877-873-6322, Seneca niagaracasino.com) has more than 4,000 slot machines, over 100 gaming tables, live entertainment, 600 rooms ($150 to $255), a full-service salon-spa and restaurants ranging from 24-hour buffets to fine dining. A great example of the latter is The Western Door: A Seneca Steakhouse, known for its bone-in 16-oz filet mignon ($46), signature Blue-Doo Child martini and elaborate house-made desserts.
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One unique accommodation is the lighthouse keeper’s cottage at Thirty Mile Lighthouse (9691 Lower Lake Road, Barker, 716-795-3885, nysparks.state.ny.us) in Golden Hill State Park. There is a private picnic area with a barbecue grill, full kitchen, living room, old-fashioned bathtub and a magnificent view of Lake Ontario for $975 a week.
Castellani Art Museum on the campus of Niagara University (101 Old Falls St., Niagara Falls, 716-286-8200, niagara.edu/cam) is a renowned center for contemporary art with thousands of works by masters such as Picasso, Modigliani and Cassatt. One of its most prominent permanent exhibits is the multi-media “Freedom Crossing: The Underground Railroad in Greater Niagara.”
History is the focal point at Old Fort Niagara (Fort Niagara State Park, Youngstown, 716-745-7611, oldfortniagara.org), a vestige of Great Lakes dominance that has survived three centuries, three wars and three countries. This summer commemorates the 1759 Siege of Old Fort Niagara, when the British and Iroquois wrested it from the French. July 3-5, more than 2,000 re-enactors will stage a full-scale attack and defense of the fort. Admission is $10.
Rich soil produces abundant produce, including grapes, and the 12 vintners on the Niagara Wine Trail are making good use of the bounty. Vizcarra Vineyards on Becker Farms (3760 Quaker Road, Gasport, 716-772-2211, beckerfarms.com) makes wines from local grapes such as Niagara and Catawba. On the last Sunday of each month, you can take a two-hour ride in a 1947 passenger coach to Spring Lake Winery (7373 Rochester Road, Lockport, 716-439-LAKE, springlakewinery.com) for lunch, music and samples of the signature late-harvest Riesling, Pinot Noir and Old Vine Zinfandel ($39 per person).
Pick your own berries, cherries and veggies at Murphy Orchards. Or have afternoon tea with all the trimmings or a light lunch ($8.95 to $11.95) in a charming mid-19th century house. Becker Farms, another you-pick operation, is also known for its fresh fruit pies and jam-inspired fudge.
Experience being raised and lowered on the Erie Canal’s only set of double locks during one of the two-hour narrated Lockport Locks & Erie Canal Cruises (210 Market St., Lockport, 800-378-0352, lockportlocks.com, $14.50 for adults). And relive your childhood with a ride on a hand-carved horse on a 1916 carousel as part of a tour at the Herschell Carousel Factory Museum (180 Thompson St., North Tonawanda, 716-693-1885, carrouselmuseum.org; $5 for adults, $2.50 for children).
By the way, if you want to take a little side trip over to the Canadian side, you will now need to produce your passport.