Niagara Falls appeals equally to thrill-seekers craving natural wonder, lovers looking for a memorable proposal spot and gamers hunting for a little luck. It's also -- because of the way it hugs our northern border -- one of the closest international getaways (yes, you will need your passport to get from New York to the other side).
And thanks to some of the most aggressive pricing and creative marketing in the industry, it's become a major value-travel proposition in 2013, too. Getting up close and personal with the breathtaking Falls is a must, but these unique activities will easily enhance any Niagara getaway.
Do the Lake, Skip the Falls
OK, if you're headed this way, it's the Falls you want to see. But if you can spare an afternoon or, even better, an overnight stay, do the 15-minute drive to beautiful Niagara-on-the-Lake. Located on the south shore of Lake Ontario and at the mouth of the Niagara River, this quaint Canadian town is full of history: Once an Indian village, it became a haven for Loyalists after the Revolutionary War and then an important battleground during the War of 1812.
Today, it's teeming with charm and is home to antique shops, upscale restaurants and wine tasting rooms. Accommodations range from comfy B&Bs to upscale boutique hotels, like the Shaw Club and The Harbour House. Stroll the tree-lined streets in a horse-drawn carriage, stop by Kurtz Orchards for some of their world-famous estate-produced jellies and jams, and, in the summer, soak in some culture at the Shaw Festival.
Sip the Wine, Skip the Cocktail
The cocktails they're doling out at the casino can be mundane. What has become truly unique in this region is the burgeoning wine industry, which welcomes visitors year-round. Indeed, while the peak of winter keeps other wine regions dormant, it sees Niagara's Ice wine harvest in full swing; the grapes that produce the delectably popular beverage must be picked when the mercury drops below 17 degrees, which means picking in January. The unique micro-climates here, along with varying limestone and gravel soils, also allow for the quality growth of Pinot Noir, Riesling and Syrah. The Niagara Wine Trail USA is located minutes from Niagara Falls and Buffalo.
Do the Trails, Leave the Water
Being on the water is a great way to appreciate the grandeur of the Falls. But hiking its surrounding landscape can offer an equally stunning perspective. The Discovery Center, located inside Niagara Falls State Park, offers four guided hikes with varying degrees of difficulty. The hikes offer sweeping views of Niagara River Gorge, last less than two hours and cost less than $5.
Tour by Air, Forget the Boat
There's a bevy of on-the-water tour options in Niagara Falls, from open-air to turbo-powered; if you get a kick from getting sprayed, then a boat awaits you. But touring the Falls by air is a wonderful way to get a real appreciation for its breadth, grandeur and power. There are a couple of helicopter companies that run tours daily, weather permitting. Niagara Helicopter Rides operates five Bell 407 choppers that, with a capacity of only six passengers, can offer a uniquely personal ride in the sky.
Take the Kids, Skip the Casino