• Franny the Traveler

The Ultimate 48-Hour Itinerary for Niagara Falls, NY


There’s more to Niagara Falls than the Falls itself.


I have spent a lot of time writing about all these other states and countries. However, can you believe that I have lived in New York State my entire life and have not written a SINGLE blog post about it!?!   That is about to change...NOW! Now that I am consciously exploring my hometown and state due to this pandemic, I want to make sure that I am also sharing this New York State (and NYC) knowledge to others because, for someone else, it is not your backyard - it is a travel destination!


I am starting my series of New York State posts with Niagara Falls! What comes to mind when you think of Niagara Falls? Probably this…



However, there is SOOO much more to visit when making the trip. I am specifically focusing on the New York side, as there is also the Canada side to Niagara Falls.


Niagara Falls is NOT just a waterfall, but an entire city that I personally think is very underrated. Don’t let anyone convince you that the New York side of the Falls doesn’t have plenty to offer!  If you are looking for a quick weekend getaway from NYC or other parts of the state (or even the tristate area), consider Niagara Falls! There are several activities to check out within a small radius that I will feature in this blog post. 


Please note: Be sure to research hours of operation ahead of time and if advanced reservations are needed.


In this blog post, I will answer some of the most common questions:

  • Can you do a day trip to Niagara Falls from New York?

  • Do you need a passport to go to Niagara Falls, New York?

  • How far is Niagara Falls from New York?

  • How can I spend a weekend in Niagara Falls, NY?

  • What are the many activities that you can do in the Niagara Falls area? 

Day 1: Drive to Niagara Falls + The Touristy Side 


Our journey to Niagara Falls began with a 7-8 hour bus ride from Manhattan to Niagara Falls, which is 400 miles traveled. Since my bae and I both do not drive, we took a bus tour that included an overnight hotel stay. This provided us with a great overview as I had never been to the New York side. Next time, I would probably try to use public transportation to get there so we have that flexibility!


TIP:  I highly recommend driving if you can so that you have more flexibility in deciding where you go and how long you spend at each place. We found ourselves rushed at times!


We arrived at around 4:30 PM as we made several rest stops. Since it is summertime, there were a few activities that we were able to squeeze in that evening 


A. Ride Maid of the Mist Boat:


This is probably the most popular activity to see in Niagara Falls! This 20-minute ride on a double-decker boat provides a unique perspective of the Falls. Did you know that Niagara Falls is actually made up of 3 waterfalls, the American Falls, the Bridal Veil Falls, and the Horseshoe Falls? The 3 waterfalls combine to produce the highest flow rate of any waterfall on Earth, which you will get to experience on this boat ride. The boat gets right up to the base of the Horseshoe Falls!



FYI: There is literally NO DIFFERENCE between the US and Canadian versions of the Maid of the Mist. They leave from exactly the same spot and identical circle routes. Ultimately, you will get the same views!


TIP: For the clearest views and pictures, would try to rush towards the front of the boat. Yes, the boat makes a full circle, but if you are not in the front,  you will have many people blocking your shot. In terms of getting wet, you will get wet from anywhere as the closer you get to the Horseshoe Falls, the more the mist begins to feel like rain. However, you will get more soaked either from the top of the boat or from the front of the boat at the lower level. In terms of views, your position on the boat makes little difference since the boat makes a full circle. However, if you want to get wetter, stand either up top or towards the front of the boat at the bottom. 


2. Walk around Niagara Falls State Park


I legit had no idea that there was a whole Niagara Falls State Park here since I had only been to the Canada side (which does not have the State Park). This is actually the oldest state park in the United States, opened since 1885! Did you know that it was designed by the same person who designed Central Park, Frederick Law Olmstead? Spanning about 400 acres, there is lots to explore! It is a great spot to look at -- or takes pictures of -- Niagara Fall, from all sorts of angles! Leave time to truly take advantage of this free gem. 



TIP: From the New York side, there is a bridge known as Rainbows Bridge that you can walk across to get to the Canada side. I hear that it provides a great view of Niagara Falls and is quicker than driving across. Know that you will need a passport since you are crossing into a different country!


3. Visit Cave of the Winds


If you want to get REALLY  CLOSE and personal, check out Cave of the Winds. Interestingly,  "Cave of the Winds"  gets its name because in the 1800's there was a rock overhang --or a cave-like structure-- that allowed people to stand under the Falls. The Cave collapsed in the early 1900s, but the name stuck!


This is guaranteed to be a soaker, but it is well worth it!  It was my most unique experience by the Niagara Falls area and with any waterfalls, to be honest. Once you exit the elevator cave, you will see a wooden walkway that will bring you within feet of the Bridal Veil Falls. It will feel like you are in a mild storm of sorts!



TIPS:

  • Go in the daytime so that you can see more clearly. While it was definitely an experience at night, there were points where it was hard to see where we were going. 

  • You are given souvenir sandals and ponchos to wear in order to help you keep dry and prevent you from slipping. However, make sure to hold on tight to any railing! 

  • Wear clothes that you do not mind getting wet with and have some spare clothes to change into after if you are not immediately heading back to your hotel room. You should at least have a sweater to put over your clothes afterward as you will feel chilly from being soaking wet! Nonetheless, it is a fun experience! 

Day 2: The Hidden Gems of Niagara Falls area 


Considering that we had a lot to see before heading home, we were up pretty early! On our second day, we checked out the following:


1. Whirlpool Jet Boat Tours from Youngstown


We headed here as people had the opportunity to ride the Whirlpool Jet Boat Tours, which brings you right into Niagara’s Devil Hole Rapids. It is quite a thrilling ride from what I hear with 20-foot waves and currents going 20 miles per hour. However, we opted out of doing this boat tour and decided to just relax and enjoy the outdoors. The views were filled with crystal blue waters and parked sailboats.



If you love adventure, definitely try this ride out! It is another unique experience of Niagara Falls. 


TIP: If you want to get hit less by the waves, I hear you should sit towards the back of the boat!

2. Old Niagara Fort


The history nerd in me enjoyed this stop. Approximately 20 minutes from Niagara Falls, Old Fort Niagara is located at the base of the Niagara River. This fort is the oldest continuously occupied military site in North America, first established as a fortification that was originally built to protect the interests of New France in North America. However, it became best known for its use during the War of 1812 in which the British actually captured the fort and then eventually relinquished it under the terms of the Treaty of Ghent. It has remained in US custody ever since. In 1934, Old Fort Niagara opened as a historic site and public museum. However, military presence on the site continues with the United States Coast Guard still operating at "The Bottoms", making Fort Niagara one of the longest continuously run military bases in the United States, 1726 - present. You can explore the fort or just sit down and enjoy some amazing views!  On a clear day, you can see Toronto across the river. 


TIP: Check to see when you can catch an artillery demonstration! 

3. Whirlpool State Park


Whirlpool State Park is a great area to walk around or have a picnic! This 109-acre state park is located further north of the city of Niagara Falls, overlooking the Niagara Whirlpool on the Niagara River and the lower Niagara Gorge.  There are two levels -- the street level (which is where we entered) where you can catch many scenic views of the Whirlpool and rapids while also having a picnic or the river level where you can hike and fish. Connected to this state park is Devil’s Hotel State Park, which also offers great views of the whirlpools and a huge gorge. 


TIP: Bring a blanket and food to have a picnic as there are beautiful areas of grass and outdoor picnic tables on the street level. We even saw a food truck! 


BONUS: Watkins Glen State Park


About 3 hours away from Whirlpool State Park on our way back to NYC, we stopped for a hike through part of Watkins Glen State Park. This is the most famous of the Finger Lakes State Parks, and for good reasons!  If you want to indulge in all things nature -- take a hike, be captivated by any one of the 19 waterfalls there -- come to this park! 



TIP:

  • In the summertime, the park gets pretty crowded. It sometimes becomes very difficult to move through narrow staircases and walkways with two-way traffic. However, because of the pandemic, I heard that it is now one-way traffic. Nonetheless, the best way to avoid the crowds is to go early in the morning (at 8:30 AM when it opens)  or late afternoon (4-5 PM) or avoid the summer months of July and August.

  • I have hiked this park twice -- once uphill and once downhill. Avoid entering through the main entrance unless you are ready to hike uphill! However, that will be balanced with beautiful views of the waterfalls in front of you. If you want the shorter way and want to go downhill, then park in the main parking lot and then take the park bus to the upper parking area to hike the gorge trail back down to the main parking area. 



Day 3: Extra Day to Spare


If you have an extra day, I would recommend checking out the following. I did not get a chance this time. However, I do want to return to Niagara Falls to visit these places:

  • Niagara Falls Underground Railroad Heritage Center: This is a center that recently opened in May 2018, with the mission of sharing authentic stories of Underground Railroad abolitionists and freedom seekers in Niagara Falls and helping visitors acknowledge that today’s injustices stem from slavery with the hope of encouraging others to take action. If you do visit, there is a permanent exhibition titled “One More River to Cross” that features stories of the Underground Railroad in Niagara Falls, including the actions of the area’s black residents. 


  • Niagara Falls Art & Cultural Museum: Located in the former Niagara Falls High School building, the Niagara Arts and Cultural Center (NACC) is the largest multi-arts center in upstate New York. The Mission of the NACC is to Protect the historic building as well as promote the arts and cultural experiences to the community and visitors to the region. This museum serves multiple purposes such as being the home to more than 75 artists and arts groups: over 60 artist studios, 3 public galleries, and multiple private galleries, three theaters, a radio station and a certified movie production facility. They also provide classes in Music, Painting, Dance, Videography, Animation, Sculpture and Writing. They regularly feature a broad variety of musical, theatrical and dance activities as well. 


  • Castellani Art Museum: This is an art museum central located on the Niagara University's main campus in the town of Lewiston, which is in proximity to the city of Niagara. The museum features exhibitions of nationally known and emerging contemporary artists and traditional folk arts. It started with the Castellanis couple collecting art in the 1960s. By 1989, their collection included over 3,000 works. A new art museum at the university was built in 1990. 


  • Aquarium of Niagara: Containing 30 exhibits, this aquarium is considered to be the other “wet wonder” of Niagara. The Aquarium features more than 1500 aquatic animals from more than 120 aquatic animal species ranging from California sea lions, rescued seals, Peruvian Humboldt penguins, sharks, seahorses, coral reef, sturgeon and more. There is also daily penguin and seal feedings, sea lion shows, and expert talks. 


  • Niagara Wine Trail: The Niagara Wine Trail features almost two dozen award-winning wineries and cideries to enjoy, where you have the opportunity to escape to the countryside. The wine trail stretches to both the Canada and the U.S sides! The U.S. side stretches across Niagara, Orleans and Monroe counties and is located just minutes from Niagara Falls and just a short trip from the Buffalo and Rochester areas. Niagara wineries have been recognized for their ice wines over the years. Because of its location, the region experiences a cool climate that helps it experience the second longest growing season for grapes in New York State. Here is a listing of 21 wineries located on the New York side of the area. If you are interested (and I hope to experience this someday), check out the Niagara USA Uncorked! Festival.


FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS:


  • Can you do a day trip to Niagara Falls from New York?

Yes! Although I do not recommend it because Niagara Falls is anywhere between 7-9 hours from NYC. However, I have seen some full day excursions from NYC where you leave either very late at night to arrive in the morning or leave very early in the morning to arrive in the late afternoon. 


  • Do you need a passport to go to Niagara Falls, New York?

If you are already in the United States, then you do not need one. However, if you are coming from the Canada side, you will need your passport to enter into the NY side. 


  • How far is Niagara Falls from New York?

It is FAR! People underestimate how large New York State actually is. The trip is 400 miles or about 7-9 hours at minimum, depending on which form of transportation you take and if you make rest stops. 


  • How can I spend a weekend in Niagara Falls, NY?

This whole itinerary is about spending a weekend in Niagara Falls, NY so hopefully you learned something :-). 


  • What are the many activities you can do in the Niagara Falls area? 

Here is a list of activities that I included in this post to check out:

  1. Maid of the Mist Boat Ride

  2. Walk around Niagara Falls State Park

  3. Visit Cave of the Winds

  4. Whirlpool Jet Boat Tours from Youngstown

  5. Old Niagara Fort

  6. Whirlpool State Park & Devil’s Hole State Park

  7. Niagara Falls Underground Railroad Heritage Center

  8. Niagara Falls Art & Cultural Museum

  9. Castellani Art Museum

  10. Aquarium of Niagara

  11. Niagara Wine Trail


  • How do I get to and around Niagara Falls, NY?

Other alternatives to getting to Niagara Falls, New York if you do not drive or you do not want to do a tour include:

  • Amtrak: It is a 9.5 hour ride from New York Penn Station to Niagara Falls, New York Station (ride the Empire Service 281  or Maple Leaf 63). This will drop you the closest to Niagara Falls, NY (about a 7-10 min cab ride)

  • Plane: The closest city to Niagara Falls is Buffalo, NY and is located 23 miles away. Fly into Buffalo Airport and then take a 20-30 min taxi/Uber ride or grab a local bus (#40), which is a longer (hour ride) but cheaper option

  • Bus: The closest city to Niagara Falls is Buffalo, NY and is located 23 miles away. It is about a 9 hour bus ride (using Greyhound) to Buffalo. Then, take a 20-30 min taxi/Uber ride or grab a local bus (#40), which is about an hour ride. 


Once you are there, there is a shuttle that you can take to various attractions! With 

Discover Niagara Shuttle, you can park your car  for FREE and experience various attractions located along the Niagara River with the ease and convenience of a hop-on/hop-off shuttle.


The shuttle connects to 15 destination sites along the 14-mile route from the "Falls to the Fort." The best part is that the shuttle is FREE! Look at this image for the list of the many stops!



  • What should I keep in mind when planning a trip to Niagara Falls, NY?

  1. There is a lot to do! If you want to truly experience everything Niagara has to offer, I would recommend spending at least 3 days so you are not rushed. 

  2. If you are visiting NYC, do not plan for Niagara Falls to be a quick day trip! Yes, you can visit it in a day, but it will be an exhausting one!

  3. Since many activities are outdoors, make sure you check for the weather. It is best explored when it is not raining!

What is your favorite thing to do in Niagara Falls?

Which activity will you try during your visit?

Comment below!


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About Me

Part-time traveler and full-time nationally award-winning educator. My passion for travel led me to start my travel blog so I could share the stories of my adventures and tips I have learned along the way as I conquer at least two new countries and two new states a year to reach 50 states & 50 countries by age 50.

 

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