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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 11 December 2018

My Kind of Place: Niagara Falls, Canada

The Canadian side of the Niagara Falls, with its cruises and stellar views, offers a well-rounded experience

Journey Behind the Falls. Christine Hess / Niagara Parks
Journey Behind the Falls. Christine Hess / Niagara Parks

Why Niagara Falls?

Without the backstory, it’d be easy enough to just dismiss Niagara Falls as a waterfall. But it is a waterfall where the legend has snowballed, causing two cities to build up around it – one on the American side and one on the Canadian.

The Canadian city is generally accepted to be the better bet for visitors – although over decades of high tourist traffic, it has mushroomed into an often garish high-rise resort. Giant dinosaurs adorn mini golf courses, hilariously terrible waxwork museums fit into the gaps, and Saturday nights turn into one giant party. There’s certainly no excuse for being bored, but the falls that all this built up around stay long afterwards in the memory.

A comfortable bed

Accommodation in Niagara Falls tends towards the big, chainy and high rise. Of these, the Embassy Suites (www.embassysuitesniagara.com) isn’t the closest, but it does have the best views out over the falls and large suite-style rooms as standard. Rates start at C$191 (Dh539).

In amongst the nightlife and a short walk from the key attractions, the Sheraton (www.sheratononthefalls.com) has several restaurants and its own indoor waterpark. Rooms cost from $185 (Dh522).

The exception to the rule, however, is the Old Stone Inn (www.oldstoneinnhotel.com). It makes a big play of being low-rise, welcoming dogs and keeping its exposed stone walls to slightly theatrical effect. It is an old flour mill, and plumps for antique furnishings. Doubles cost from $116 (Dh327).

Find your feet

Almost everything of interest is lined up along the Niagara River, and the best starting point is the Journey Behind the Falls (www.niagaraparks.com). You’ll not see an awful lot going through the tunnels carved into the cliff-face, but this is about the aural sensation, not the visual one. The sound of the falls thundering down while you’re cowering behind them is furious, deafening and frankly terrifying.

For a bird’s eye view, head to the top of the Skylon Tower (www.skylon.com), where the Observation Deck is 236m up, looking down on the falls.

However, the unquestioned highlight of a visit here is slightly further downstream. The Hornblower Cruises (www.niagaracruises.com) head down the Niagara River, and into the tumult at the bottom of the Falls. Everyone gets wet, and the sheer amount of water pouring over the rim is stupefying. It’s ferocious, coming down at a rate that the world’s best power showers could only dream of.

It’s not just about the falls here – the rapids and whirlpool are just as impressive in their own way. There are parks strung across the Niagara River system, some of which are blissfully quiet for clued-up local walkers and fishermen. There are plenty of trails and quiet spots around the whirlpool, while the White Water Walk passes by the most ferocious stretch of the rapids. Niagara Parks (www.niagaraparks.com) sells a pass that includes the Journey Behind The Falls, White Water Walk, Hornblower Cruise and bus transport for $55 (Dh156).

Book a table

There’s a lot of fast food and chain junk around, so the good stuff takes some advance research. An absolute star is Koutouki (www.koutoukiniagara.com), just out of the main hubbub, where quality Greek dishes are served up in a likeably homely, wooden-floored room. The $25 (Dh71) kleftiko – slow-roasted leg of lamb stuffed with fresh herbs and feta – is excellent.

The Weinkeller (www.weinkeller.ca) has a needlessly baffling menu system, but occupies a classy underground space of brick arches and fireplaces. The $38 (Dh108) Pacific salmon grilled with caper hollandaise is really good, and can be bundled in with the three courses for $55 (Dh156) menu.

Shoppers’ paradise

Don’t expect too much excitement on the shopping front in the city centre – but the outlet malls on the outskirts are worth a look. Canada One Outlets (www.canadaoneoutlets.com) has brands such as Tommy Hilfiger, Rockport, Samsonite and Escada on the relative cheap, while the larger Outlet Collection at Niagara (www.outletcollectionatniagara.com) is Canada’s largest open air mall. Calvin Klein, Columbia, DKNY, Icebreaker and Hugo Boss are among the names represented, with the roster having a sporty, outdoorsy slant.

What to avoid

In the height of summer, queues for both tickets and boarding of the prime attractions – particularly the Hornblower Cruises – get very long. Avoid the lengthy wait in line by buying the tickets online.

Don’t miss

Niagara Helicopters (www.niagarahelicopters.com) runs heli trips over the falls with near-military precision – one chopper lands as another one takes off. This is, of course, fabulous for seeing the falls themselves – but its true merit is showing off the system that Niagara is a part of. On a clear day, the cities of Toronto and Buffalo can be seen, while Lakes Erie and Ontario sandwich the chunk of land the Niagara River runs through. Also on view are the hydroelectric power stations and reservoirs on either side, plus the foaming rapids. Tickets cost $140 (Dh395).

Getting there

Emirates (www.emirates.com) and Etihad (www.etihad.com) fly direct to Toronto from Dubai and Abu Dhabi respectively. Return flights cost from Dh4,350. From Toronto Airport, Niagara Falls is 123km away – just over an hour’s drive.