AOL Travel

Niagara Falls Neighborhoods

Niagara Falls’ neighborhoods are a potent mix of outdoorsy splendor, compelling history and modern fun. The top things to do in Niagara Falls are mostly linked to its most compelling attraction: the waterfalls. All roads lead there, with a few pit stops in the downtown section where you’ll find a casino, some pubs and nightclubs, and discount shopping. After the waterfalls, the next best thing in the Niagara region is the Erie Canal, and there are plenty of reasons to explore that, too. The entire area is steeped in Revolutionary history because it was so strategically located along the mouth of the Niagara River. 


It’s called Lock City, and it’s not hard to guess why: This city sprang up around the Erie Canal and its famous locks back in the 1800s. It continues to make money off its storied waterway by giving cruise tours of the Erie Canal and walking tours of its underground caves. It’s got a growing arts and crafts community thanks to an annual gathering of local artisans it hosts each summer. It’s a pretty place to visit and wander the streets along the canal.


An easy 20-minute drive outside of Niagara Falls, this popular hangout is rapidly developing a reputation as a fun place to spend the day, even the night. Shops, pubs and restaurants are flourishing along busy Center Street, which is an economic engine for the tourism-dependent town. Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter once called it “the most historic square mile in America,” because of its many important “firsts.” Local lore says the cocktail was invented in Lewiston, and it was where a fledgling United States had its first taste of being invaded by a foreign country. Lewiston wisely preserved its stock of 1800s Victorian homes, and they now give Center Street its authentic feel.

Downtown Niagara Falls

Kitschy, commercial and perhaps just a touch shabby in places, Downtown Niagara Falls doesn’t have much charm. A lot of its businesses are located around Niagara Falls State Park. Away from the bright lights, memorabilia shops and garish signs you find there, parts of the city can look a little seedy. There’s a budding nightlife scene growing on Third and Fourth streets, anchored by the splendor of Seneca Casino. Niagara Falls Boulevard, one of its major routes, is the city’s business district.  Most of the city is just backdrop to the towering, magnificent waterfalls that generate the hydro-power that keeps Niagara alight.


Now a pastoral village in the northwest corner of New York where the Niagara River flows into Lake Ontario, Youngstown was once a hotbed of military activity. The historic town was the site of many pitched battles between the French, British, and Iroquois Nation, and later the newly-minted American Revolutionary forces also joined in. The legacy today is Old Fort Niagara, a mile outside of town on a tall cliff. The quiet village has grown a little larger and wee bit more sophisticated (concrete roads to replace dirt ones, for example) but overall it’s remarkably untouched. Its many quaint shops and relaxed burger joints are welcome change sometimes from busy Niagara Falls.

Niagara Falls State Park

Welcome to the oldest state park in U.S. history. It’s more than a neighborhood—this park is the raison d’être for Niagara Falls. It contains every major waterfall-related attraction in town, and some visitors make a beeline straight here, never venturing into the city. The park was the work of the Free Niagara movement, led by Frederick Law Olmstead (better known for designing Central Park in Manhattan) who tried to save the beautiful region around the falls from being taken over completely by industry; the government created the reserve in 1885. It’s got pathways and hiking trails that take you all over the seething waterfalls, which are fed by four of the five Great Lakes (Superior, Michigan, Huron and Erie) before emptying into Lake Ontario. The entire park spans 400 acres, and 140 of them are underwater. If this area is all you’re going to see of Niagara Falls, then at least you’re getting the best it has to offer.