Amid a busy week of work, speaking and farm meetings, I had the opportunity to host and show a friend around Niagara Region this past week. The weather didn’t cooperate perfectly, but it was fabulous to get back to the Region I called home for five years.
Niagara Region is an area with something for everyone. Whether you’re visiting with family, a beau, or a group of girlfriends (or guy friends) you can spend as little as a day or longer exploring all the region has to offer.
How about a weekend getaway? Here’s how I’d spend two days in Niagara.
Wine Taste on the Niagara Bench
Before you head out grab an early brunch. Wine tasting is not for an empty stomach! No matter where you start from, you won’t have to venture far to find a winery in Niagara. Personally though, I prefer “the Bench” and Twenty Valley Wineries as the ultimate wine country experience.
Vineyards along this stretch of the Niagara Escarpment benefit from a unique microclimate created by air trapped between Lake Ontario to the north and the limestone ridge of the Escarpment to the south. This creates a unique terroir for growing grapes and producing some fantastic wines. The people are also pretty special and usually happy to tell you all about their wines and the winery’s story.
The best wine tour is with a few friends in a car, with a designated driver of course. Ask about their story, the wines they’d recommend tasting and if you’ve never had a tour, see if they’ll show you around if it’s not too busy. These are my favourites:
- Fielding Estates – I met Heidi & Curtis when they were nominated for Ontario’s
Outstanding Young Farmers a few years ago. They make great wine, are great members of the community and the muskoka chair on their label makes their wines distinctly Canadian!
- Cave Spring Cellars – Dolomite Riesling. Enough said.
- Tawse – These guys know how to make great wine and provide great service. I love their barrel cellar and on special occasions (wine country weekend events, for example), they often open it for tasting.
- Foreign Affair Winery – Even more enchanting than their story is their wine, which they make in appassimento style (the grapes are dried before being pressed) Arguably you won’t find a better red wine in Niagara!
Dinner at Ravine Winery
From Vineland, jump onto the QEW and head to the small village of St. David’s where you’ll find Ravine Winery. This property is just stunning. The tasting room is in the original, old Pennsylvania-style home which stood on the property. It has a traveled story of its own, so be sure to ask. Check out the little grocery store, then head next door for dinner. Ravine serves amazing food and they don’t skimp on servings, so bring your appetite. Enjoy dinner and the sunset over the vineyards.
Another great dinner spot I’ve visited frequently is the Garrison House on the edge of Niagara-on-the-Lake. It’s a great choice if you stay in NOTL rather than the Falls. I recommend reservations for either restaurant to avoid disappointment.
Where to Stay
In addition to wineries, Niagara Region also has a plentitude of accommodations – hotels, motels, B&B’s and rental homes. There is a large variety of options and depending on the season, you can also find deals. Expect prices and tourists to peak in the summer.
If you don’t mind the cold, then winter can be a great time to visit. Many rental properties offer significantly reduced rates through the winter months and there are lots of options, especially in quaint Niagara-on-the-Lake. If the action of Niagara Falls is what you’re after, then you even find falls-view hotel rooms for less than $200 in winter. Check out the Marriott and Embassy Suites for the best views.
You can’t experience Niagara Falls without visiting it after dark. The falls are lit up with a myriad of colours which offsets the Vegas-ish tack of the rest of the city. That’s right, Niagara Falls is Canada’s version of Vegas. You’ll find a ferris wheel, haunted houses and wax museums on Clifton Hill. Enjoy the people-watching along with a drink at one of the casinos.
The next morning, head back down to the parkway to see the falls by day. If it’s winter, dress warm because the ever-present mist freezes onto everything, including your face and fingers! Take the mandatory selfie (but stay off the fence) and marvel at the volume of water crashing over the falls.
Queenston and Niagara-on-the-Lake
From Niagara Falls, the Niagara Parkway will take you all the way to Niagara-on-the-Lake, and it offers some stunning views of the Gorge and the Niagara River. In summer, stop at the Floral Clock and Botanical Gardens as well as the Great Gorge scenic lookout.
Further along, you’ll find Brock’s Monument and Queenston Heights Park. Take some time to explore this area rather than just passing through as many significant moment’s in Canada’s history were decided here during the War of 1812. Down below another stunning lookout of the river and Lake Ontario, you’ll find the Laura Secord Homestead. As a child, Laura Secord was my favourite Canadian hero.
Admiring the vineyard vistas and estate homes along the parkway between NOTL and Queenston has become one of my favourite pastimes, regardless of season. Spend the remainder of your afternoon browsing the shops in Niagara-on-the-Lake, having “high tea” at the Prince of Wales Hotel or dinner in one of the town’s many, excellent restaurants.
For something more of a thrill in summer, venture down to the river for a Whirlpool Jet Boat Tour. If the spa is your thing, I can also recommend the Pillar & Post. Give yourself time to enjoy the outdoor hot pool.
You can just as easily spend a whole weekend in Niagara-on-the-Lake, if you can’t choose between everything I’ve mentioned. In this case, be sure to also take in a show at the Shaw Festival. Although, I’ve never gone, it’s on my bucket list because their playbill is always so damn impressing. I’ve never heard anyone say they’ve seen a bad show at the Shaw.
There you have it – two very full and very fulfilling days in Niagara Region as I would spend them. What are your favourite Niagara Region attractions?