Nomad by Trade

A travel blog for the kid at heart.

Tag: River

A Weekend in Niagara Falls

While I was working in the Buffalo area, I had to stay out there for a weekend. Since it’s so close to Niagara Falls, and Niagara Falls is only a few hours from home, I invited my boyfriend to join me on a semi-work-funded mini-vacation. Niagara Falls is the perfect weekend destination. There’s just the right amount of scenery, attractions, and nightlife to keep you entertained in any season.

Wandering Buffalo

He had to drive in from Detroit after working a full day, so I had Friday evening to kill on my own. I decided to head to downtown Buffalo to find some dinner, but quickly realized that that wasn’t in the cards because the Sabres had a home game that night. I wandered around a little looking for somewhere to pull over so I could look up some other areas on my phone and ended up stumbling across an outdoor hockey rink with a bar and restaurant attached. That was good enough for me, so I grabbed a seat at the bar and watched some kids play through the glass. It was such a cool location right along the river and as a life-long hockey addict, I loved hearing the sounds of pucks and skates echoing while I had my dinner.

Outdoor hockey rink in Buffalo, New York

When I was done eating, I decided that it was time to head up to Niagara Falls to check into the hotel. I had booked the Holiday Inn on the Canadian side because it’s super cheap (at least during the winter), only a couple blocks from the falls, and I generally have good experiences at IHG properties. I had looked and looked to try to find a reasonably priced room with a view of the falls, but I ended up choosing price over such niceties and was generally pleased. I also appreciated the free parking right on site.

Waterfall Fireworks

I was planning to wait to go see the falls until the next morning with my boyfriend, but the hotel clerk mentioned that there were fireworks displays on Friday nights and I wasn’t going to pass up a chance to see fireworks over a waterfall. I walked down to the overlook and tried to find a spot that would allow me to see the fireworks over the Canadian falls. This would’ve required a lot more walking than I was prepared to do at that point because the location the fireworks were being shot off from was further down by the American falls.

Fireworks display at Niagara Falls

The fireworks show was nothing mind-blowing, but it was kind of neat. It’s definitely a unique setting for a display like that. It wasn’t very crowded on a Friday night in December, but I would imagine it could be pretty crowded in more popular tourist seasons. The fireworks don’t go up very high, so getting there early to grab a spot by the railing would be a good idea if it looks like it’s going to be crowded.

Of course, the lights on the falls provide a spectacular enough view that there’s really no need to dress them up any further, but fireworks are always appreciated by this blogger.

The Main Attraction

If you’re visiting Niagara Falls, you’re obviously going to spend some time enjoying the view of Mother Nature’s handiwork. When we got up the next morning, we grabbed breakfast across the street from the hotel at the Fallsview Casino. We ate at the Famous Diner, a little restaurant with thoroughly cute décor and delicious food.

American Falls and Bridal Veil Falls in Niagara Falls, New York

The American side. The Canadians definitely won the waterfall game.

After that, we started our walk along the overlooks at the falls. We stopped to take pictures from every imaginable angle, of course. My boyfriend had never been there before, and it had been years since I visited, so we took our time enjoying the view. You get the best wide-angle view from a little ways down the walkway, but don’t miss the chance to look straight down at the brink of the falls. The thunderous roar and sight of the water rushing over the edge really gives you a feel for the power of the river as it tumbles downward.

Brink of Horseshoe Falls in Niagara Falls, Ontario

Clifton Hill

I had discovered a coupon for a thing called a Beaver Tail in one of the guidebooks at the hotel, and as a lover of all things sugary, I absolutely had to have one. We walked down to Clifton Hill, what I would classify as the cheesy tourist area of Niagara Falls, and hunted down the delicious fried pastries covered in an assortment of sugary toppings. It’s both very good and infuriating that there isn’t an easily accessible location where I can get these little bites of heaven on a regular basis.

Beaver tails on Clifton Hill in Niagara Falls

This was eight kinds of delicious.

If you’re looking for family fun, this is the place you want to be. Every corner had attractions ranging from fun houses to wax museums to Ripley’s Believe it or Not. Even on a chilly day in the off-season, it was bustling with people.

Exploring outside of town

We opted out of the cheesy tourist attractions (sadly, the Maid of the Mist boats were not running since it was winter) and instead hopped into the car to drive up to the whirlpool where the river takes a sharp turn to the right. It’s so pretty up there and we got a good view from the cable car platforms that were closed for the season. We decided to keep going up to Niagara-on-the-Lake and stopped at a few other scenic overlooks along the way.

Whirlpool at Niagara Falls

Niagara-on-the-Lake was a cute little town, but it was swarmed with crowds of people that day. There appeared to be some sort of festival going on, but we couldn’t figure out what it was. We ended up finally finding a place to park at a little lakeside park, so we walked down to Lake Ontario and climbed around some of the boulders on the shore.

Dinner with a view at the Skylon Tower

We had dinner reservations at the rotating restaurant at the Skylon Tower for their early prix fixe meal. This also entitled us to a free trip to the top of the tower. Don’t make the mistake we did – go early for your reservation. We showed up with enough time to ride to the top before our time slot, but we ended up seated in the interior of the restaurant behind a tall group of people (seriously good genes in that family) so we couldn’t see anything out the windows.

American Falls in Niagara Falls, New York lit up at night

Since that was kind of the point of eating there, I asked if there was anywhere to move. All of the window tables were full, but we were offered a pager to wait for one to clear. We decided to do that and headed up to the observation deck to kill some time before we could eat. When our buzzer rang, we went back down and were seated at a perfect table, but discovered that we were no longer allowed to order off of the prix fixe menu. It made dinner a LOT more expensive, and I wished that the staff had told us that waiting for a table would mean that we’d have to take the late dinner menu.

The food was delicious though, and even my boyfriend who hadn’t been feeling great all day downed his entire dinner. You really can’t beat the view from up there, and my boyfriend was excited to have his first meal in a rotating restaurant. I’d never been up in the tower on my previous visits, and getting an aerial view of the falls was amazing. They’re especially beautiful at night, and spending that much time up in the tower gave us a chance to see the lights rotate through the different color patterns.

We had also gotten free tickets to the Skylon Tower from the hotel, so we decided to use those the next morning to check out the view during the day. I wouldn’t have paid to go up again, but since they were free there wasn’t much sense in letting them go to waste. Daylight definitely brings a different perspective to the falls. Whereas the lights at night give them a soft, dreamy feel, seeing the roaring water tumbling down into the gorge during the day gives a much more impressive insight into the raw power of mother nature.

Horseshoe Falls in Niagara Falls, Canada from the Skylon Tower

Ice wine

This part of Ontario is actually quite famous for its wine. The Canadian climate also provides for a unique type of treat: ice wine. This super sweet local specialty is made by allowing grapes to freeze on the vine and then very quickly harvesting them while they’re still frozen. I don’t know a lot about the wine-making process (outside of that one episode of I Love Lucy), but the freezing process somehow makes the wine extra sugary, which, as noted above, is exactly my kind of thing.

We took the ice wine home and drank it a couple weeks later and it was incredible. I’m not a wine fan at all, but this was so sweet it was more like drinking juice. It’s hard (and expensive) to find elsewhere, but if you find yourself in the Ontario wine region at any point, definitely make a point to try it.

Have you visited Niagara Falls? What’s your favorite thing to do there? Let me know in the comments.

Read about another winter weekend adventure in Canada:

Highlights of a couples weekend in Niagara Falls, including the best sights, dining, the Skylon Tower, and ice wine.Pin - Niagara2Pin - Niagara3Pin - Niagara4

3-Day Paris Power Itinerary

Due to limited vacation time and a desire to see pretty much everything in the world, I tend to do whirlwind trips with itineraries carefully crafted to maximize every second of the day. Here’s the ideal itinerary for covering the best of Paris in only three days. If you’re planning on spending a whole day at the Louvre or enjoying the city atmosphere at a café, this isn’t the right schedule for you. But if you have limited time and a desire to see and do as much as possible, read on.

This schedule makes use of late evening hours that the Louvre and Orsay museums hold on certain nights during the week. Make sure to look up the current late night schedules and you can swap days around accordingly. The best way to accomplish this itinerary is to buy a Paris Museum Pass.

Day 1

Invalides | Eiffel Tower | River Cruise

This is a slower day to accommodate morning flights or jet lag adjustments. Start by exploring the city a bit and take a quick visit to see Napoleon’s tomb at Invalides. Book your Eiffel Tower tickets in advance so you don’t have to wait in line. Try to go up in the late afternoon just before sunset so that you can enjoy the view in the daylight, watch the sunset, and see the city light up below you. Read more about that here.

View from below the Eiffel Tower in Paris, France

Take your time and enjoy a glass of champagne at the top and then take the elevator back down. There are plenty of restaurants to choose from for dinner in the area. Take an evening cruise along the Seine to enjoy views of the city at night and an introduction to some of the other highlights you’ll be visiting during your stay.

Day 2

Versailles | Notre Dame | Louvre | Arc de Triomphe

Start the day by taking an early train to Versailles. Take your time touring the palace and grounds, and enjoy lunch on site in the tea room. Take a mid-afternoon train back to Paris and head to Notre Dame.

Explore inside of the cathedral and then head up to the top for some close-up views of the famous gargoyles and the belfry. Once you’ve had your fill of the view, grab dinner at one of the resturants on Ile de la Cite.

Night time at the Louvre Museum in Paris, France

Walk or take a train to the Louvre to enjoy their late evening hours. You’ll have a few hours to explore the museum and see highlights like the Mona Lisa and Venus de Milo. Make sure to enjoy the view of the famous pyramid lit up at night – it’s even better after dark than it is during the day.

Day 3

Pantheon | Sainte Chappelle | Sacre Coeur | Arc de Triomphe | Musee d’Orsay

Begin your day at the Pantheon, France’s collection of national heroes all entombed together. From there, you can walk to the Ile de la Cite to see the beautiful Sainte Chappelle. It’s not as famous as Notre Dame, but the interior is a must-see.

The Pantheon in Paris, France

The Pantheon

Have lunch nearby on Ile de la Cite, and then hop a train to Sacre Coeur. There is an inclined railway up to the top if you don’t want to climb the stairs. On your way back, you can take a detour to visit the Moulin Rouge before catching another train to the Champs Elysses.

Sacre Coeur in Paris, France

Start at the Arc de Triomphe. Make sure to take the underground walkways to get to the center of the famous traffic circle surrounding it. A climb to the top offers beautiful views of Paris and the Eiffel Tower. Have dinner at one of the many restaurants on the Champs Elysees.

Musee d'Orsay gallery in Paris France

Your final stop of the night will be the Musee d’Orsay for its evening hours. Here you can enjoy impressionist paintings in the beautiful setting of a former train station. Be sure to climb all the way to the top of the main hall for a bird’s eye view.

Read more about our visit to Paris:

3-Day Itinerary for covering Paris highlights including the Eiffel Tower, Versailles, Notre Dame, Sacre Coeur, the Louvre, Orsay, Sainte Chappelle, and the Arc de Triomphe

3-Day Itinerary for covering Paris highlights including the Eiffel Tower, Versailles, Notre Dame, Sacre Coeur, the Louvre, Orsay, Sainte Chappelle, and the Arc de Triomphe

An Evening on the Seine

After our visit to the Eiffel Tower, we grabbed dinner nearby and then headed down to the nearby docks for a sightseeing cruise on the Seine. We were treated to a gorgeous view of the tower while we were waiting to board and I was excited to see it in “sparkle mode.”

The Eiffel Tower at night in Paris, France
We had debated about buying tickets for one of the dinner cruises offered, but decided that we’d rather spend the money on something else. We went for a Sweety cruise on Vedettes instead, so we could have a crepe on board. Unfortunately, they were out of crepe mix, so we had to settle for candy bars and hot tea instead.

Ours was the last cruise of the evening, and there was only one other group onboard with us. The front part of the cabin had evidently been used for some kind of private party involving champagne on the previous cruise, but the staff cleared it out shortly after we departed and we were allowed to sit in the front area. We spent part of the time in the bow area, but it was too cold to sit there for very long.

The cruise was narrated in three languages: French, English, and Spanish. It was very hard to hear the narration on the outside part of the boat, but the speakers inside were fine. I actually learned quite a bit from it. One of the buildings that was pointed out was the Palais de la Legion d’Honneur, which evidently inspired architecture in Washington, DC, including the White House. I also didn’t know that the Musee d’Orsay was an old train station prior to the cruise.

Evening cruise on the River Seine in Paris

It was fun to get another view of the highlights of Paris after seeing them from above earlier in the evening. The cruise gave us our first up-close sightings of highlights like the Louvre and Notre Dame, increasing my excitement level even further. The cruise took us all the way down to Ile de la Cite and back.

I absolutely loved taking the cruise at night. Seeing the lights reflecting off of the river and the buildings all lit up gave Paris an almost magical feel. It was not ideal for photography – being on a moving boat at night isn’t very conducive to taking quality pictures without a high-end camera – but we were there to enjoy ourselves. If you want to get good pictures, I’d recommend a day cruise, but for sheer atmosphere, the night time is definitely the way to go.

Read more about our trip to Paris:

Notre Dame in Paris, France

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén