Niagara Falls may be called the Honeymoon Capital of the World, but other than the romanticism of the falls itself, you won’t see a starry-eyed soul around. In a long afternoon stroll through the downtown core and along the Niagara escarpment to Horseshoe Falls, I only see a few couples holding hands. There is nary a romantic kiss to be seen.
In complete contrast to the sophistication of Niagara-on-the-Lake, Niagara Falls is like a carnival, all lights and noise and distraction and gambling, right through downtown to the walkway at the edge of the escarpment cliffs.
There are hundreds of ways to throw away your hard-earned money on cheap thrills as you walk along Clifton Hill. You can have the bejeesus scared out of you at The House of Frankenstein, the Haunted House, the Nightmares Fear Factory, or Dracula’s Haunted Castle. You can visit cheesy wax museums, the Guinness World Records Museum, or the Ripley’s Believe It or Not Museum.
If you’re bored, you can pull out your credit card and putt some balls at Wizard’s Golf or Glow in the Dark Golf. Feeling nostalgic? Pay for a picture of yourself in clothing typical of the 1800s, or a picture of yourself and your friends sitting in a barrel with a backdrop of Niagara Falls. Look Mom, I went over the falls in a barrel!
If you like heights, you can ride in the giant Niagara Sky Wheel, with views of the falls.
Want to try out your skills playing Ms Pacman or pinball-type games? Try the Funhouse or Captain Jack’s Pirates Cove Fun Centre. And if you just want to spend money for the sake of spending money, there is every kind of souvenir shop selling kitsch that you could imagine. You can even buy a Bargain World t-shirt for $1.99.
This kind of carnival world seems to attract masses of tourists, but it isn’t for me. I only walk through it because to park for free in this town, I have to park about a 45-minute walk from Horseshoe Falls.
Before the Clifton Hill bombardment on my senses is enough to make me run screaming, I happily arrive at the impressive stone and steel barrier that lines the walking path along the top of the escarpment. This path runs for a few kilometers and ends at the lip of Horseshoe Falls, located mostly on the Canadian side of the Niagara River, and with a more impressive amount of water pouring over it than the American Falls or Bridal Veil Falls. It’s these three falls that are collectively known as Niagara Falls.
You’ll never be alone in view of the falls – there are simply too many tourists along the walkway all year round – but other than at the lip of the falls itself, you’ll have plenty of room to lean against the protective barrier and enjoy the views.
There is a tremendous amount of energy in this area that I find attractive and rejuvenating. Quiet contemplation overlooking the Niagara River and the falls always leaves me feeling good about life and the world. As I walk along, I am happy to see quite a few people quietly contemplating life themselves while staring into the river below.
I lived in this part of Canada for a number of years and came to Niagara Falls frequently. You would think that I would become bored of it, especially in light of the carnival-like atmosphere that permeates the downtown core.
But I don’t. When I come here, I have a little mental trick that helps me keep it fresh. I imagine that it is sometime in the 1600s and I can hear the roar of the falls and the river, and I push my way through the forest to the edge of the escarpment and see the massive falls for the first time. I still enjoy that excited anticipation that comes with seeing the falls after a long hiatus.
Where the water falls from the escarpment, the space along the barrier is thick with tourists. I bide my time and then fall into a space vacated by a family of Asians. Others have noticed the gap too, but I am quicker and now have an unobstructed view right above where the river drops 57 meters to the river below.
The energy is fantastic! The roar of the water is exhilarating, the mist caressing my face refreshing, the air on my skin chilly.
I contemplate things for 15 minutes or so and then give up my space to a couple speaking German.
I head into the tourist building behind me. There is no escaping the kitsch, even at the lip of the falls – $12 for a coffee cup with a picture of Niagara Falls on it; $25 for a Captain Canuck t-shirt. Sigh.
Rejuvenated again by the energy and power of the Niagara, I head back to my car, with a smile on my face and perhaps more of a lilt to my step.