Outside of Canada, Niagara is best known for its eponymous waterfall; however, there’s far more to this region than the Horseshoe Falls and the kitschy tourist traps that surround them. Since 1811, winemakers have been growing grapes along this fertile stretch, which benefits from mild winters (thanks to Lake Ontario’s moderating effect) and the southern latitude. There are 99 wineries in the comparatively young wine region, the oldest of which were founded in the 1970s—for a swath of that century, prohibition stymied vinicultural development. Niagara isn’t just about fast-moving water and award-winning wine, though. The historically important area was the site of numerous battles during the War of 1812. Two historical forts and the quaint Victorian village Niagara-on-the-Lake remind visitors that this wee berg was once a pivotally important place in Canada’s history.
Go down under the falls using the elevator at the Table Rock Centre, which drops you 46m (151 ft.) through solid rock to the tunnels and viewing portals of the Journey Behind the Falls (tel. 905/354-1551). You'll receive—and appreciate—a rain poncho. Another attraction at the Table Rock Centre is Niagara's Fury. Visitors "experience" the creation of the falls in a chamber that swirls visual images over a 360-degree screen. It's a sense-surround ride, complete with shaking ground underfoot, an enveloping blizzard, and a temperature drop in the room from 75° to 40°F degrees (24°-4°C) in 3 seconds. It's an intense experience, and not appropriate for young children. (Warning: The operators advise that Niagara's Fury may not be appropriate for children 6 and under, as they might find it too scary. Also, adults with a history of heart disease or back/neck injuries may want to pass on this attraction.)
If you can't get enough of the falls, ride the external glass-fronted elevators 159m (522 ft.) to the top of the Skylon Tower Observation Deck (5200 Robinson St.; tel. 905/356-2651; www.skylon.com). The observation deck is open from June to Labour Day daily from 8am to midnight; hours vary the rest of the year, so call ahead. It's pricey for an elevator ride.
The Falls are equally dramatic in winter, when ice formations add a certain beauty to it all and the crowds of high summer are wonderfully absent.
The Honeymoon Capital of the World: Seeing Niagara Falls as it is today—in all of its loud, neon, tacky glory—you might wonder how anyone would have thought it a romantic destination for a honeymoon. But back in 1801, when the Falls was simply a natural wonder of the highest order, Aaron Burr’s daughter, Theodosia, chose it as the perfect place for her honeymoon. Napoleon’s brother Jerome Bonaparte followed in her footsteps with his bride a few years later, and then suddenly everybody thought Niagara Falls was the place for newlyweds. Well, not everybody. Oscar Wilde visited Niagara Falls in 1881 and quipped: “Every American bride is taken there, and the sight of the stupendous waterfall must be one of the earliest if not the keenest disappointments in American married life.”