Niagra-On-The-Lake is a stunning place to visit thanks to its olde-world charm, says Gemma Harrison.
Getting confused over where places are is the bane of any tourist. For instance, how many people have travelled to York (in Yorkshire, UK) to visit the parsonage where the Bronte sisters grew up, only to find that it is 83km away?
So Niagara-on-the-Lake is NOT where the world-famous Niagara Falls are (they are 22km away). And the town (the clue is in the name) does very nicely as a tourist attraction by not being so (fewer tourists, fewer gaudy hotels, less tack).
Niagara-on-the Lake has been described as one of the prettiest places in Canada. It’s a well-preserved 19th-century town that radiates the charm, pace of life, and courtesy of that era.
It sits on Lake Ontario at the mouth of the Niagara River, and was rebuilt after being razed to the ground by American soldiers during the 1812 war. Nowadays, the US border is just 32km away.
Popular with tourists who enjoy world-class theatre (at the Shaw Festival), you can also enjoy some wonderful restaurants and cafes, shopping, farm markets and an impressive array of historical sites.
Its olde-world appeal has earned it a reputation for being a bit, well… spooky. So there are plenty of ghost tours to enjoy, with sagas of spectres whose lives were lost during the war and beyond.
Niagara-on-the-Lake is a versatile and delightful destination for all ages. It’s also a great outdoors town (obviously, it’s on a lake) with paddle-boarding, kayaking, and cycling on offer.
My favourite place- I liked Fort George; a splendid, historical reminder of Canada’s traditionally fractious relationship with the United States. The displays of armour, uniforms, period costumes and weapons are simply fascinating, and the well-designed placards on the points of history make readability easy. My eight-year-old boy enjoyed the doughty demonstration of muskets (as did my husband), and lionhearted re-enactments of battle-drills are gallantly performed (by uniformed participants) throughout the day. There’s a 45-minute tour that recalls the lifestyles of the soldiers and their families, and it’s a pleasure simply to stroll around the grounds and soak in the venerable atmosphere.
Highlights- Every holiday has to have a road trip, and the Niagara Parkways is a very scenic route. It runs from Niagara-on-the-Lake, past Niagara Falls to Fort Erie and is probably the best way to see the beauty of the Niagara area. Lined by green spaces and open parkland, there are plenty of places you can stop, take a break and chill out.
Along the parkway, you will find the Floral Clock, a large clock face made up of colourful flowerbeds; the Niagara Parks Butterfly Conservatory; Queenston Heights Park, which offers woodland trails and numerous places for picnics, and lastly, obviously, Niagara Falls.
To get into the spirit of some ghost-hunting with gusto, you can join the Ghost Walks of Niagara-on-the-Lake tour, which leaves the Haunted Shop on Queen Street every night at 8pm. For an hour-and-a-half, you can visit some places where things still, allegedly, go bump in the night; such as at the Courthouse, the Apothecary, the Prince of Wales hotel and the Royal George Theatre.
Lowlights- Obviously, it can get very cold here in the winter, so plan your visit accordingly.
Souvenirs- At Lakeshore Antiques and Treasures, you’ll find a 4,000m market, with 16 rooms all full of themed artefacts and souvenirs for you to spend time perusing. There’s an amazing array of objets d’art to choose from, and all under one roof; marvellous. The town’s main street area is also great for gifts.
Getting there- Lufthansa, British Airways and Etihad all operate flights from Muscat to Toronto, with at least one stop on the way. Niagara-on-the-Lake will take about an hour and 40 minutes by car.
Where to stay- In Canada, guesthouses and inns are generally of a very high standard. In Niagara-on-the-Lake, you will have little trouble finding somewhere that was once a grand 19th-century mansion, a harbourmaster’s home or a former post office. Check Trivago, Expedia or Booking.com to view options.
1. Soak up the atmosphere by strolling the city’s main street
2. Amble around the historical fortress at Fort George
3. Have a picnic in Queenston Heights Park
4.Take in the scenic gems by driving down Niagara Parkway
5. Delve into deathly secrets by joining the Ghost Walks tour