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Best Things To Do in Niagara Falls

AOL PICK from our Editors

Niagara Falls best attractions have been around since the Ice Age — and they still look good. The eponymous waterfalls that made the city famous are still Niagara Falls’ top sight, even in the low season when the rapid tempo of the flowing water slows. Niagara Falls State Park also has plenty of man-made wonders on display, from a quaint old trolley to a modern IMAX movie theater. But the city isn’t just a one-trick pony: there’s gambling in the freewheeling Seneca Casino, shopping at a mega discount mall, an art center and science museum to explore, and of course there is the Erie Canal, which can be toured via a cruise through its famous locks, or by foot through a network of underground caves. If that dose of old New York is not enough, travel to nearby Youngstown to visit a perfectly preserved colonial-era military fort.

Niagara Science Museum

Neighborhood: Downtown Niagara Falls

About 2 miles from the falls in the former factory of Union Carbide, this new museum (opened in 2009) is dedicated to preserving old science instruments and artifacts. It might sound dry and uninteresting, but to history buffs or the curious-minded, it's not. The museum has recreated a 1930s doctor's office, rebuilt an early 20th-century radio, and an old Troutman printing press, to name a few of its exhibitions. While only 2 miles from the Niagara Falls area, it's better to drive or take a cab than walk, as it won't bring you through the most pleasant part of town.

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Niagara Arts & Cultural Center

Neighborhood: Downtown Niagara Falls

The center of cultural life in Niagara Falls, it's hard to believe this graceful building was once slated for demolition. Built in 1924 by William Ittner, it served as Niagara's main high school until 2000, and then it was to be torn down. Luckily, a coalition of artists’ groups stepped in and now it's a major art hub. In addition to its 75 artists in residence, it has two theaters, two art galleries and an interactive center. Gallery and studio tours and performance shows open to public.

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Lockport Cave & Underground Boat Ride

Neighborhood: Lockport

Walk through the underground caves beneath the Erie Canal, remnants of a past industrial age when goods were stored here, and traipse along the water tunnel that was blasted out of New York's solid rock in the 1850s. Hanging stalactites and lots of paraphernalia left behind by past workers decorate the stony pathway, and after you've gone subterranean you can climb to the surface and check out locks 67-71, which were built in 1838.  In October there are special underground Halloween tours through various caves reputed to be haunted.

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Lockport Locks & Erie Canal Cruises

Neighborhood: Lockport

Get a floating history lesson on how 363-mile Grand Old Erie Canal was dug by hand by hardworking laborers more than a century ago. The canal connected the Hudson River with the Niagara River, with 83 stone locks that help boats navigate the 571-foot height difference between the two rivers. You can cruise along for two quiet hours, passing under drawbridges, traveling through the solid rock walls that had to be cut to make locks, and navigating the famous “Flight of Five,” the original 1840 locks (several more have been added since the 1900s). The locks are about 20 miles outside of Niagara Falls proper.

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Niagara Falls State Park

Neighborhood: Niagara Falls State Park

Let’s face it, this is why you’re here: to see 3,160 tons of fresh water per second roar over the edge of Niagara Falls. It’s an awesome display of nature’s might (one that produces the world’s largest amount of hydro-electric power, by the way). Since 1963 Niagara Falls State Park has been a National Historic Landmark. It overlooks the Niagara Gorge, Cave of the Winds, the American Falls, the Bridal Veil Falls and part of the Canadian Falls. Once inside here, you have access to Goat Island, Terrapin Point and the Maid of the Mist boat ride, as well as all the nature paths, picnic tables, recreation programs and other park amenities. A scenic trolley helps people move about the park, and there is a Discovery Pass that can be purchased at the Visitors Center for discounted access to the major park attractions. Allow at least a day to take it all in—maybe more if you want to catch the Niagara IMAX movies, the Discovery Center and the Observation Tower that has an extended walkway taking you right out over the main gorge.

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Maid of the Mist

Neighborhood: Niagara Falls State Park

Get right into the maelstrom on the Maid of the Mist, Niagara's famous boat ride into the thundering heart of Horseshoe Falls. There's really no way to describe the awesome power of Mother Nature's water spectacle, except to say you will get very wet even after you don the bright blue rain gear provided by Maid of the Mist. Lines for this very popular boat ride are loooong, and there's a lot of walking just to get everyone funneled onto the massive ferries used to carry you under the foam of the pounding waterfalls. Prepare for an adrenaline-fueled soaking!

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Aquarium of Niagara

Neighborhood: Niagara Falls State Park

Small but interactive, there are plenty of hungry mouths to feed at this inland “oceanarium,” as the staff likes to call the Niagara aquarium. Inside there are over 1,500 different marine creatures, from sharks and piranhas to sea lions and endangered Peruvian penguins. Pop by at feeding time (10AM) and you can watch the black-and-white birds belly up to the trough, or come at 3PM, buy a bucket of fish and feed the perpetually-hungry sea lions yourself. There are also seasonal opportunities to feed the seals, but they’re not always on display. Tidal pools and shark exhibits take up the main floor of this fairly small-sized aquarium.

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Snowpark Niagara

Neighborhood: Downtown Niagara Falls

It's a snow day every day at this park, where the best in modern technology is used to create blizzards anytime of the year. A day in this winter wonderland will have you sledding down hills, snowboarding and skiing, or just playing in the snow zone, where you can lob snowballs. There’s even a miniature golf course in case you’re curious about how your game would work in a snow drift. Summer in July is achieved through mixing real snow and a new type of synthetic material called SnowMagic—but who could tell the difference? 

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Old Fort Niagara

Neighborhood: Youngstown

Perched on the edge of a cliff overlooking Lake Ontario, this old fort dates back to Colonial times when control of the waterways was critical for military purposes. Visitors today will see three flags flown over the stone buildings and old wooden barracks, one for each nation that once held the property: France, England and the U.S. The French first built the fort around 1726, but lost it to the British in 1759. The British held the fort through the American Revolution, but had to yield it in 1796; it was recaptured by the British in 1813, but America reclaimed it again in 1815, spoils from the War of 1812. When the Erie Canal was built, the fort diminished in importance. Now it's a National Historic Landmark and one of Niagara's most-visited sites. Walk among the desolate old buildings and stone walkways on the windy bluff and you can practically hear the cannons booming.

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Daredevil Museum

Neighborhood: Downtown Niagara Falls

There's not much to this museum, but it's free and entertaining enough—at least for a half hour or so. That's about how long it takes to marvel at the ingenuity, chutzpah and, some might argue, sheer insanity of those who've leaped over the Niagara Falls in a barrel. Some go in barrels wrapped in inner tubes, while others have done it old-school—nothing but wood to help them float. One intrepid soul even went over in a steel barrel, and another lost his arm after tying it to an anvil he used as ballast. The first person over was actually a woman (she survived) and as recently as 2003 someone made the jump and lived to tell about it. Two daredevils have died going over the falls.

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