Niagara Falls – The Two Faces

There are two small towns, both named Niagara Falls, on each side of the border between the United States and Canada, and they are quite different.

The story goes that Napoleon’s brother is to blame for all this honeymoon stuff. He supposedly brought his new bride here to see the wonder of the falls, and it has been a magnet for newlyweds ever since. The waterfalls span the Niagara River between Ontario and upper New York State.

Niagara Falls, Canada.

Niagara Falls Canadian style – the town that is. It is a sort of North American version of Blackpool or Coney Island – lots of hamburger joints and souvenir shops – a place of pink hearts and honeymoon cottages.

There are some Disney-like attractions in the town: Ripley’s Believe It or Not, Tussaud’s Wax Museum, etc. But it doesn’t matter that the town is not a haven of culture. Millions of people come here every year just to see the falls, and the town exists to attend to their needs: restaurants, hotels, shops, etc., are here in abundance. For a more cultural experience, drive fifteen miles down the road to Niagara-on-the-Lake – an architectural jewel considered one of the best-preserved 19th-century towns in North America. However, in Niagara Falls, most eyes are on the falls, not on the town.

And what a sight they are! There are actually two waterfalls, the Canadian, or Horsehoe Falls, being by far the most impressive. They stretch 2500 feet across the Niagara River in a huge thundering curve. In 1859, after watching the French tightrope walker, Blondin, walk from the American to the Canadian side on a three-inch rope, carrying his terrified manager on his shoulders, the future King Edward VII of England exclaimed, “Thank God it’s over!”

A safer way of getting really close to the falls without risking your life is to take a trip on the Maid of the Mist – the boat which carries you right to the foot of the torrent. It looks awfully small and vulnerable against the backdrop of the great gushing wall of water but is perfectly safe. First, you get dressed up in blue plastic rain gear, and then you chug out towards the falls, getting liberally showered with spray en route. The roar of the falls is deafening.

Niagara Falls, USA

Crossing over to the American side or Canadian, depending on where you are, is easy. You just walk or drive over the Rainbow Bridge, but make sure you have your papers/passport with you.

The little town of Niagara Falls on the American side is much less commercial than its Canadian counterpart. It seems an older, more established place, with ordinary neighborhoods and proper shops, plus some very good restaurants. Some of the best shopping in the State is here; over 150 fashion outlet shops with all the big designer names are about 3-4 miles from downtown, and a free shuttle bus will take you there. This is the place to spend, spend, spend!

Honeymooners come here in their droves.. In the film “Niagara,” Marilyn Monroe came here with her movie husband, but she had something other than a honeymoon in mind – she planned to murder him and chuck him into the torrent.

Honeymoon or not, the two sides of Niagara Falls are worth a visit.