Visiting Niagara on the Lake – must see and do list!
Approximately 20 minutes north of the famous falls is the town of Niagara-on-the-lake. Located on the shores of Lake Ontario, this quaint town with its well preserved late 19th century buildings is famous for its wineries and a must-visit for all those who are visiting Niagara Falls.
Many flock to the village to enjoy a quiet getaway from the hustle and bustle of the glitzy city of Toronto, to tour the wineries and to be enchanted by the riveting performances during the Shaw Theatre Festival.
There are a lot of activities on offer in the NOTL region, don’t be surprised if you can’t choose! Planning your trip beforehand will ensure that you visit all the great sights and eat all the good food.
Here are the highlights:
I. THE WINERIES, BREWERIES AND FOOD EXPERIENCES
No visit to Niagara on the Lake is complete if you do not visit the local wineries. The area offers about 20 wineries which differ from great corporate wineries to small boutique wineries. The wineries in the area have been in business for well over 30 years, thus bringing you great wine which has been made from people with a lot of experience and know-how.
Have you ever heard about Niagara’s Ice Wine? And no, it is not when you add some ice cubes to your glass of Pinot! Ice wine is made from grapes that were frozen while they are still on the vines. This type of special dessert wine is only in this region. It is definitely worth the trouble to go on a tasting for this.
The area offers tours to suit every need. Take the Ultimate 10below Experience that is hosted by Peller Estate Winery and Restaurant. During this tour, you will experience their exceptional ice wine while in the ice lounge. You will be surrounded by ice walls and furniture.
If lounging on ice is not for you, then there are cheese and wine tasting as well as cocoa and wine experience. There is a DIY tour as well as a teaching wine tour that is presented by the Niagara College Teaching Winery.
The wineries offer specialised menus, and even varied venues where you can enjoy your meal such as the barrel cellar dinner. Booking your spot in advance is very important. These events are very popular, with locals and tourist and you do not want to miss out.
2. Wine Country Cooking School
Wine Country Cooking School offers various courses and activities depending on the season that you visit. If you are only doing a weekend breakaway, there are weekend classes that can be booked in advanced. The classes are hands on, you do the preparation and cooking but luckily not the clean up! The classes is about 5hours and allows you to cook the entire menu in pairs of two. Single cooks are also welcome and they will be teamed up during class. Each dish is also paired with a specifically selected Strewn wine, which is complimentary. You even get a branded apron to home along with the recipes and skills.
The school also offers wine and food appreciations classes or you can host your next corporate event with them. They can accommodate up to 64 participants in a class.
3. Avondale Dairy Bar
When was the last time you enjoyed some handmade ice cream? This dairy was established in 1955 and still preserves the tradition of make ice cream by hand. All the ingredients are hand blended and made fresh daily. The smooth and creamy taste of the ice cream is achieved by using only the best ingredients as well as 15% dairy butterfat.
Last year alone they made about 100 flavours of ice cream, all by hand. Visiting the dairy will open your eyes to a whole different level of ice cream and what ice cream is supposed to taste like.
The staff is also very engaging with customers, making sure that the experiences is just as good as the ice cream itself. Some off the unique flavours include Graham Cracker Crunch and season flavours such as pumpkin and grape.
4. The Exchange Brewery
The area is known for their great wineries, but recently few craft beer breweries have open their doors. These breweries use a mixture of old and modern ways of brewing the beer. It is a nice contrast from the wineries to see that the ingredients to the beer is also locally grown!
Beer also has a long history in the area, dating back to 1793. The area might be known as wine country but it is definitely worth it to visit the micro brewers. You will learn how beer is brewed as well taste some the finest beers on offer. Do visit the Exchange Brewery and be pleasantly surprised on what they have to offer. It is worth the trip and really interesting.
5. McFarland House Conservatory Tea Room
You can’t visit an area where the British was prominent and not have a good cup of tea and some sandwiches. The MacFarland house offers guided tours that take you back two centuries, showing you the great taste of the inhabitants of that time.
However, a highlight is the Conservatory Tea Room. It is a must visit for every tourist. It offers luncheons, afternoon teas, desserts and scones. Just like it was prepared and served all those centuries ago. It is all handmade with period appropriate ingredients and methods. The tea room is also available to rent for private functions and bridal teas.
6. Food tours
Every good holiday needs a food tour. It is the best way to learn and taste the local culture. Food is also mostly the centre of attention during conversations and a great ice breaker. It is also a great way to get to know the locals. There are various food tours to take when you visit the area.
Visiting in winter? Then you can take the winter wonderland food tour. This tours include nice hot stew, sips of hot cocoa and even a visit to the Inn near Lake Ontario.
Niagara on the lake Foodie tour, offers you a look at old world charm filled with modern cuisine. During the tour you visit various local restaurants for tastings. You will meet the owners, the chefs and other people with influence in the hospitality industry.
Don’t despair if you are on holiday with your kids. Taste of the town tour is a more family friendly tour and is even stroller friendly. This is a food and culture tour, giving you a great balance between culture and food tasting. You also get to see the local architecture as well as taste some carefully selected foods to tantalize your taste buds.
7. Pop-up/road side fruit markets
And while you explore the town, do not forget to stop at pop-up/road side fruit markets to taste the fresh of the farm fruits from the Niagara region!
II. EXPERIENCE HISTORY ALIVE
1. Fort George National Historic Site
Fort George was built after Jay’s Treaty was signed, which required the British to withdraw from Fort Niagara. The fort was completed in 1802 and became the headquarters to the British Army. Various fierce battles were fought at Fort George and it was eventually recaptured by the Americans in 1812.
This is a historical military structure where various battles were fought during the War of 1812. From Fort George’s ramparts, across the Niagara River, you can see the Fort Niagara in New York. At Fort George, the collection is quit big to show how the life during the war was. The collection consists of earthworks and palisades as well as some internal structures such as an officer’s quarters. There are blockhouses to show the accommodation of the lower ranks and their families as well as a stone powder machine.
The Fort was reconstructed in 1930 and since 1984 there are re-enactments of the battle that took place in 1812. Fife and drum corps and infantry units from historic sites across Canada and the United States will converge on Fort George National Historic Site, showcasing the military music and drills of the early 19th century during Fife and Drum Muster & Soldiers’ Field Day, both these events are a must see!
2. Laura Secord Homestead
During the war of 1812, Laura Secord was a heroine. She walked 20 miles through American occupied land to warn the British of an impending attack. Unfortunately her contribution to the war was not widely known during her lifetime. However, she has been honoured on various occasions after her death.
A visit to the Laura Secord Homestead, takes you on an enchanted journey back in time with costumed guides and folklore to match. The tour is enchanted by stories of her adventures and her surroundings.
The homestead was restored and is a must see if you are visiting the area. It showcase not only a national heroine but also give you a glimpse to the live of the civilians during the war. It also covers the history of the area. There are various refreshments and souvenirs for sale as well.
3. Queenston Heights
The Battle of Queenston Heights was the first big battle during the War of 1812. Today it is a magnificent park at the Niagara Escarpment with various activities.
The British won the battle and at the gate of the park there, visitors are greeted with a flower bed, Brock Monument that commemorates the Major General Sir Isaac Brock and his Aide-de-Camp Lieutenant Colonel John Macdonell. You can tour the battlefield with costumed staff, and climb the 235 steps to the top of Brock’s Monument to enjoy a spectacular view of the Niagara Frontier. The activities in the park includes two picnic pavilions, a splash pad for the kids, play grounds, tennis courts and a snack bar. There is also a restaurant for those looking for some fine dining.
4. Niagara Apothecary Museum
When visiting the area make sure you swing by the Niagara Apothecary Museum, which is a restoration of an 1869 pharmacy that is housed in a Victoria era building.
Every aspect of the original pharmacy has been painstakingly restored to its full glory of yester year. And is run today by the Ontario College of Pharmacists. The building is the last one remaining of that time period and is a must see.
It shows you how medicine was made and dispensed in the old days as well as the history up to the closing of the pharmacy in 1964. You will learn a lot of old medicine and how it has influenced modern medicine.
5. MacKenzie Heritage Printery
Some people think that reading a printed book is becoming old school, especially in a world where e-readers and e-books has taken over! Whichever camp you belong to, a visit to MacKenzie Heritage Printery is a must. The museum houses Louis Roy hand press wooden letterpress and Canada’s oldest operational printing museum.
The museum is inside the restored home of William Lyon MacKenzie, who was known as a rebel publisher. It showcase 500 years of printing technology but has an authentic period print shop feel to it.
It is one of the few original wooden presses that remains in the world and houses a rare collection of Louis Roy Press. It offers a hands-on experience, and the museum encourages visitors to try working with a linotype as well as 8 operating heritage presses.
A visit to this museum will make you appreciate the history of the printed books more, and it will make you realise that even though we are reading e-books these days, the history to books are a lot more complexed than just someone publishing something on the internet.
III. ADVENTURE AND ENTERTAINMENT
1. Niagara Jet Boat Tours
Keen for an adventure by boat this summer?
Choose from Open-Top Jet-Boat Ride or Domed Jet-Boat Ride and take a thrilling journey down the Niagara River. There’s no better way to enjoy the beautiful scenery and amazing white water of the Niagara River.
Experience the swirling currents of the mighty Niagara River and zoom out into the choppy river with your guide. Charge over the waves to the whirlpool—beneath the cascading waters of Niagara Falls—and enjoy views over the powerful falls you just don’t get from dry land.
The jet boat tours are fully guided and your river guide will provide an entertaining commentary throughout your ride. The trip lasts 45 to 60 minutes and may just be the most exciting tour of Niagara you will find!
2. Explore NOTL on Bike
Experiencing the wonderful country side and the famed wineries! There are various options available to tourists. You do not need to bring your own bike as the tour operators offer bikes with their packages.
There is an afternoon wine tour, which is about 20km bike ride. You will learn about the local wine industry as well as tasting the fantastic vintages on offer.
If you have a more versatile pallet, you can take the craft beer and wine bike tour. This tour takes you to various local breweries and wineries, allowing you to taste the exceptional beer and wine on offer.
There are a picnic wine tour as well. This tours offer visitors the option to go to more wineries than the other tours, and you can have lunch on the banks of the river. The picnic lunches are made with fresh ingredients, it is a taste experience on its own.
- Niagara Winery Bicycle Tour with Cheese
- Vine & Dine Bicycle Wine Tour – Niagara On The Lake – With Lunch
- Ultimate Bike Tour in Niagara-on-the-Lake with Wine and Beer
3. Shaw Festival
The Shaw Festival was founded in 1962 and has since gone from strength to strength. The festival runs from April through to October each year. It offers 11 plays on 4 different stages along with loads of different events and activities. There are productions to suit every taste, and they even cater for people who are movement impaired.
The festival strive to produce and performance plays that was written during the lifetime of George Bernhard Shaw (1856-1950). In 1980, Christopher Newton became the artistic director of the festival. It was under his guidance that they started to focus on the Shaw time period. In recent years the festival’s mandate was expanded to include modern work as well – thus catering to everyone’s taste.
4. Ghost Tours of NOTL
If you take the normal tour, you will visit places, which includes Angel Inn, Courthouse, Royal George Theatre and the Prince of Wales Hotel. There is even a house on the tour, which makes cameras go crazy.
The ghost tours of Fort George runs during summer from May to September and a special tour held on Halloween as well. This tour offers a candle lit walk to various haunted places. Fort George is known as the most haunted place in the area. You can experience this by joining the group of people in black capes and candles when they gather in the parking lot!
5. Niagara Riding Stables
Sometimes the best way to experience nature is on the back of a horse, especially if the area is a protected woodlands or forest. Taking a horse ride along the escarpment of the Niagara region is a must do. The stables offers rides for beginners as well as old hands.
Their horses are gentle and majestic, offering a great experience. The horses are treated as part of the family, making the riding experience just so much more special.
Experiencing nature on the back of a horse is truly a special thing to do. It is also a great family adventure if your kids are over 10years of age. Ensure to make the booking beforehand!
6. Paddle Niagara
Catch the glide the next time you are having your summer holiday in Niagara on the lake. Paddle Niagara offer stand up-paddle board lessons and rentals.
The lessons caters for the experienced paddle boarder as well as the beginner. The lessons cover everything, from an introduction to the sport, the fundamentals of paddling as well as more specialized things like yoga on a paddle board.
Be ready to splash a bit while you are getting a hand of the technique, but once you can paddle, you will never look back. Feel free to bring the kids along for a great time, there are specific lessons for the little ones.
It is a great way to exercise and it is also one of the fastest growing water sports in the world! Truly a once in a lifetime experience that just might become your new hobby.
7. Golfing at Niagara-on-the Lake
When you visit the area, remember to pack your golf clubs and shoes. The area houses the oldest golf course in North America and was established in 1875.
Niagara-on-the-lake golf course offers a full length 9 hole course, set in the most scenic views in the area. The entire golf course is set along the shores of the Lake Ontario, with some holes just above the shore’s edge. This club is open to the public, if you are not a golfer you can relax on their patio and enjoy the spectacular view.
There are four other golf courses in town; Royal Niagara Golf club, Niagara Sports Practice centre, St. David’s Golf Course and Queenston’s Golf Course.
The Queenston’s Golf course is a 9hole public course. It offers a hole that is 2857 yards from the longest tees. Both of the other courses also offers 9 holes, away from the city and its hustle bustle. The Niagara Sports Practice centre is a driving range where you can practice your swing before playing on one of the amazing courses on offer.
8. Walks by the Lake & Queens Royal Park
When you visit the area, makes sure that you take a walk past the Queens Royal Park Gazebo located off Ricardo Street along the bank of the Niagara River, w. The Gazebo is surrounded by flowers, giving it a romantic feel. You can see the Fort Niagara from the Gazebo.
It is recommended not to rush through your walk to truly enjoy the scenery. If you fall in love with the area you can even reserve the Gazebo for your wedding. A walk in the area is best during the summer months, when the air is clear and crisp to enjoy a magnificent sunset over the lake. Bring your camera along and you will be able to capture once in a lifetime moments, not only of your companion but also of nature. It is truly something that you must see and experience.
9. Niagara Essential Oils & Blends
NEOB offers locally produced oils as well as facility tours. They follow a responsible way of planting, growing and producing ensuring that they do not impact the world around them negatively.
Their facility tour is available all year round from Monday to Saturday. Their extensive range includes oils, body and face products, home décor and so much more. They host a Lavender and Garlic Festival each year. These are two separate festivals.
They use only pure essential oils in all their products and it is really worth a visit. You can roam the lavender fields or see how they distil the essential oils. Just remember to pack your medicine if you are allergic to bees. They do love their lavender flowers!
10. Explore Niagara on the Lake Heritage District
The best way to explore the heritage buildings and the picturesque downtown is to go on a walking tour, either on your own or on a guided tour!! This area hosts various walking tours which is always a great way to see the area. Walking tours take you where busses, cars and boats can’t. During a walking tour the guides discuss the War of 1812, black history, what it is like living in the area as well as the local architecture.
Another great way to explore the area is with a horse drawn carriage ride. The Sentineal Carriages offer you a tour through the beautiful area and it acquaints you with everything there is to offer. The horses are traditionally dressed, depending on the season and the amount of people participating. The tours are narrated, making sure that you do not miss something. It discusses the history, the landscapes and the romance of the past centuries. The horse handlers are fully trained and extremely good in their jobs, ensuring your safety as well as that of the horses.