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There are loads of amazing things to do around Toronto and Lake Ontario, but the most well known has to be the iconic Niagara Falls.
However, did you know there’s plenty more to do in the Niagara area, including one of my personal favourite places in the world – the gorgeous wineries of Niagara on the Lake…
Niagara Falls, one of the great wonders of the world, attracts millions of tourists every year. The mesmerising falls are a view everyone should get to see at least once in their life, and the area as a whole is an exciting place to visit.
You have the Hornblower Cruises (formerly Maid of the Mist) which take you directly into the mist of the falls, Journey Behind the Falls which gives you a unique view of the falls from behind, and a new Zip-Line which allows you to speed down the side of the river towards the horseshoe falls at a height of 220 feet.
Niagara Falls also sits straddling the border of Canada and the USA (NY). For just 50c you can cross Rainbow Bridge between the two countries. Check out this guide to crossing from Canada to America and back again at Niagara Falls.
There’s a wide selection of luxurious hotels boasting gorgeous views over the falls, buzzing casinos, iconic and themed restaurants such as the Hard Rock, Planet Hollywood and Rainforest Cafe and plenty of lively bars open until the early hours of the morning.
You also have the famous Clifton Hill – the self-proclaimed ‘Street of Fun’. Here you will find amusements such as… (to name just a few)
- The Skywheel
- Dinosaur Adventure Mini Golf
- Wizards Glow in the Dark Mini Golf
- Movieland – Wax Museum of the Stars
- Ripley’s Believe it or Not Museum
- Guinness World Records Museum
- The Haunted House
- Dracula’s Haunted Castle
- The Crystal Cave Mirror Maze
- Canadian Midway Amusements
Just off from Clifton Hill you will also find one of my favourite places – Hersey’s Chocolate World, a 4 story chocolate experience!
From Niagara Falls to Niagara on the Lake
However what most people don’t realise is that just a 20 minute drive down the river lies Niagara on the Lake, a town completely opposite to the Falls area in almost every way possible.
The cute little town is much quieter and more residential, with a small centre full of locally run shops and cafes, several theatres which draw in locals from the surrounding areas and a harbour full of sailboats.
One of the only large attractions in the area to draw in tourists is the Whirlpool Jet which takes you through Class 5 rapids in an experience that is guaranteed to get you drenched! Pretty terrifying at first but too much fun not to have a go. UPDATE: Whirlpool Jet has now moved to Niagara Falls.
In the town centre itself I would definitely recommend grabbing an ice cream at Cows which sells several deliciously extravagant flavours such as birthday cake, cookie monster, moo york cheesecake and even green tea flavour.
But the main attraction which drew me to Niagara on the Lake was the many beautiful vineyards and local wineries. As you drive from Niagara Falls to NOTL you’ll have the Niagara River on one side and long stretches of grapevines on the other, a breathtaking drive in itself.
Accommodation in Niagara on the Lake
We found this adorable room on Airbnb located not far from the town centre and close to many of the wineries. The room was a lot cheaper than the extravagant hotels you find at the falls but was clean, spacious, centrally located and stocked with everything we needed. Our host even left us some vouchers for free wine tasting at a few local vineyards, what a bonus!
We decided to book bikes with Zoom Leisure for only $30 for a full day’s hire, and they even delivered the bikes to our accommodation in the morning, then collected them again the next day.
Cycling is a fantastic way to explore Niagara on the Lake, especially in the summer when the weather is warm and sunny. The whole area is flat and bike-friendly, with amazing views and places to park up at all the vineyards. It’s also a much better idea than driving as it means no one has to be the designated driver and not get to taste all the fantastic wines on offer.
Visiting Niagara on the Lake Wineries
The two main ways to explore the many wineries of Niagara on the Lake are to either buy a Winemakers Pass in advance which costs £25 and allows you one tasting at 25 wineries in the region, or you can choose to do as we did and wait to see which wineries we could make it to in a day.
All you have to do is turn up, park your bikes (or car) and walk in. Some wineries will offer a tasting for free, whereas the bigger ones will charge from $3-$5 for a flight of 3 or 4 tastings. In all of the wineries if you purchase a bottle of their wine the price of your tastings would be removed.
Most places offered tours of their establishments and all of the staff we met were extremely friendly and more than happy to chat and discuss the winemaking process.
It was also extremely interesting learning what brought people into the Wine business, with one elder gentleman working in finance his entire life, then quitting at 50 and turning his love of wine into a full-time career.
Which Wineries to Visit
The first winery we visited on our tour was Sunny Brook Estate, which is rather unusual in its winemaking technique. Sunny Brook produces sweet wines from fruit other than the traditional grape, such as cranberry, strawberry, peach, pear, apple and plum.
We then headed to Strewn Winery for a free tour of their estate and to learn about winemaking in Niagara. Here we learnt about the history of the estate, which grapes were used and the full process which occurs after the grapes are picked.
Stratus is a great winery to visit if you need a break from cycling and want to sit on a gorgeous little outdoor terrace and enjoy some tastings. The staff here were extremely accommodating and lead us straight out to a table, bringing the glasses of wine to us and recommending which we should try.
We also learnt that Niagara on the Lake is famous for its icewine.
Niagara icewine is produced when the grape is frozen whilst still on the vine, picked in the night during the winter months then pressed straight away. Whilst the water freezes, the sugars and other solids in the grape do not, therefore producing a smaller amount of more concentrated sweet dessert wine.
Icewine comes in tall thin bottles and is served in a small dessert wine glass.
My favourite icewine of the tour was the Signature Series Oak Aged Vidal Ice Wine from Peller Estates.
Peller Estates is one of the largest and most established Wineries of Niagara on the Lake, with a beautiful exterior and interior. A visit to this estate is a must!
Niagara on the Lake Wines
Here are a few of my favourite wines from the day which I would definitely recommend tasting:
- Konzelmann’s Vidal Golden Vintage 2013
- Hinterbrook’s Franc Blanc 2015
- Hinter brook’s Sauvignon Blanc 2013
- Strewn’s Cabernet Sauvignon 2013
- Joseph’s Gamay Rose 2011
- Jackson Triggs Vidal Ice Wine
- Trius Ghost Creek Reisling
- Peller Estates Signature Series Oak Aged Ice Wine
Niagara on the Lake Restaurant
After visiting around 12 wineries in 8 hours, and drinking a little too much wine for one day, a local recommended that we head to The Old Winery for some delicious Italian inspired food.
We order the antipasti platter as a starter, followed by pizzas, which are individually designed to match each type of wine. The restaurant also serves a selection of bottles from the local wineries, meaning we could enjoy a glass of one of our favourite Sauvignon Blanc from our tour again.