« I want to do something special for my birthday », I thought to myself some days before the « B-day ». A short trip somewhere would be a good idea… So I grabbed the list of places I want to go while I am in the U.S. and picked Niagara Falls. I have never been there, and it seems amazing! I mean Niagara Falls, this is a classic!
I booked two night-buses, one from New York city to Niagara Falls, NY (New York), and one from Niagara Falls, ON (Ontario) to New York city. I also booked a one night stay in a hostel in Niagara Falls on the Canadian side, and on the day before my birthday, at around 10pm I left to a new adventure.
I love night bus. I love getting on a bus, sleeping and waking in a completely different place. I find this feeling so refreshing. I loved going on trips by night bus when I was in Japan, so it was only natural to me to use night buses in the US too (and significant plus, this is cheap). I was so excited! « Here I come Niagara Falls », I cheerfully exclaimed to myself.
Here I would like to share with you my « night bus essentials » :
- neck pillow : as I already said I used to travel a lot by night bus in Japan, and after a few rides in a « I am young, I do not need anything special, I am doing this hobo style » spirit, I had to surrender to my neck hurting like hell and brought a neck pillow. Since then my cervical vertebrae had always thanked me for the 10 hours of nodding-free sleep.
- earplugs : buses can be noisy. Even on a night bus where most people are probably sleeping. You can get lucky and have a snoring person, someone listening to music or watching a movie sitting near you. Or you could be disturbed by the metallic sounds of the bus itself. Earplugs can help you get a little more peace to find sleep easily.
- eye mask : I did not expect this one. In Japan the driver would announce all the stops (including bathroom breaks) we will make before we depart, and after midnight or so he would not turn on the lights or make an announce when we stop. Which is really nice when you are trying to get as more sleep as you can, considering you are on a bus. But on my trip to Niagara Falls (I used the bus company Greyhound, I do not know if it is the same for all companies) the driver turned on the lights (and not the soft ones, no no, the-full-strong-withe-light-in-your-face lights) and made an announce on the mic at every stop, so basically every two hours, which make the whole concept of « try to sleep » way more difficult. Next time I will pack an eye mask as well.
- a warm shawl in case it gets a little chilly.
On my birthday morning, I arrived at Niagara Falls on the American side. I only had time to get a quick view of the falls before it started raining. I came all the way so I was determined to continue my exploration, I took my umbrella out of my bag and kept on walking. That turned out to be a bad idea, the rain just got heavier and the wind got stronger. Five minutes later I was soaking wet.
I took refuge in some bathroom, checked the weather forecast that reassured me : the rain should stop in 1 or 2 hours. That was a good news, but I was cold and figured out my only choice was to get out in the rain and walk as fast as I could to the closer cafe to warm myself up and wait for the rain to stop. I found a Starbuck not too far and went in. It was not peak season so I managed to take a seat and sip my hot tea comfortably. As the weather forecast had announced, the rain stopped around 10am, as I exited Starbuck (by the way the staff was really nice!) I once again thought to myself « Here I come Niagara Falls »!
I headed up to the Rainbow bridge to cross to the Canadian side, a great spot for photos. On the American side, you just go through the gate, ignore the sign on the cabin telling you to buzz, I did and got yelled at « what do you want?! »… »Euh, cross the bridge…? » « Just go ». Pleasing exchange.
The immigration agent on the Canadian side was nicer, asked me some questions (where do I live, what do I do in the US, how long I will stay in Canada, am I carrying any weapons… the usual).
If you want to withdraw Canadian dollars, there is an ATM under the bridge, after the immigration control post take the stairs on your left, and follow the « ATM » signs. Easy-peasy.
My second stop was at the Welcome center Niagara Parks on the Grand View Market Place to buy a Niagara Falls adventure pass (http://www.niagaraparks.com/niagara-falls-deals/). I got the « classic » one (55$ CAD = tax so around 62$ CAD total) giving me access to the Hornblower Niagara Cruises, Journey Behind the Falls, White Water Walk, Niagara’s Fury and two-day of WEGO bus. When buying your ticket you will also get a time schedule for the activities, meaning fast-pass access and none to little waiting in line.
You can also get the « nature pass », centered around nature related activities (55$ CAD), or the « plus pass » with everything (85$ CAD).
My first scheduled activity was the Hornblower Niagara Cruises, the famous boat taking you as close as possible to the Horseshoe Falls, but I still had one hour before « the thrill of a lifetime » as it is described, so I went on a short walk alongside the falls. The sky was blue, the sun was warming up my face and drying up my clothes and shoes, I was turning 27, and I felt great!
The experience was breathtaking! I recommend standing on the left side at the front of the boat so you get the best view of the American Falls and on the Bridal Veil Falls on the way to the Horseshoe Falls, and take beautiful pictures while you are still dry and therefore can manipulate your phone or camera without any risk of damaging it. Also, you will get all the water in your face once in front of the falls, which is, let’s be honest, the best part, feeling a 5 years old kid! I really had a lot of fun, smiling, laughing and trying to get at less water as I could in my mouth. FUN!
The second activity was « Niagara’s Fury » start with a short-movie retracing the creation of the Falls and continue with a 360° animation video, a moving platform, and water splashed in your face. The first part was somehow cute and interesting, but the second part did not have any real interest for a grown-up person. I think this might be fun for kids, though.
The third activity was « Journey behind the Falls ». It is a nice spot, and it was interesting to get close to the Falls while still being able to keep my eyes open ; opposed to on the « Hornblower » where at some point I got so much water in my face I just have to close my eyes and hope I do not get eye infection or something.
The fourth and last of my scheduled activities was « White Water Walk », a lovely walk along a boardwalk at the very edge of one of the world's wildest whirlpool. The scenery is beautiful! It was truly impressive to be near such rapids.
There are explanative signboards about whirlpool, flora, and fauna in the area, it was really instructive.
The staff was really nice, smiling and funny! From the start you can relax on the elevator taking you to the boardwalk, then you just have to let yourself get amazed by Nature. The sound of the water cover every other noise, you forget you are just a few minutes away from one of the world most famous place, and you just enjoy the view. The walk takes approximatively between 10 and 30 minutes, depending on your pace.
The last « activity » included was the WeGo bus (http://www.wegoniagarafalls.com), a touristic bus connecting the city’s famous spots with hotels, B&B and places to go shopping. It is a very convenient way to go around, and drivers always were really nice, giving a little bit of information and advice on places to go along the way, which was really helpful. If like me you do not want to rent a car, do not worry, WeGo bus got you covered! I did everything I wanted to do, and even more, jus using the WeGo bus. The only thing is that the green bus line, connecting my hostel to the Falls service stopped around 5:30pm, which was not ideal when I wanted to hang around and see the Falls illuminations, but as it only was 20-30 minutes walk I will not complain too much about it.
So, speaking of hostel… I stayed at HI-Niagara Falls Hostel (http://hostellingniagara.com/2/Home.hostel). I made the booking last minute so not a lot of places were available, this one was, it looked cute on the pictures and had good reviews so I gave it a go.
The staff was nice and always ready to help, the hostel was clean and cute, there is also a lovely backyard where you can have BBQ. In the basement, you will find a TV and games, a cool place to relax.
The breakfast was included and it was really good! Cereals, bread, jam, peanut butter, tea, coffee, orange juice… You can have it all, the only rule is to wash your plate, glass, cup, whatever you used to serve yourself food. Most of the products were fresh (bread is made every morning) and/or local, what a great way for businesses to support each other! The hostel also put a strong emphasis on environment, which I loved!
The kitchen has everything you might need if you decide to eat lunch or dinner in instead of going to a restaurant.
Towels, sheets, and blankets are included (you can even ask for an extra blanket if you are cold), and hair-dryer is available for free on request. Think of bringing a padlock if you chose a dorm bed and want to lock your stuff in a locker.
The hostel is conveniently situated two blocks from the bus terminal, the train station, and 3 differents WeGo bus stop are within 5minutes walk. A five-minute walk will also bring you directly to the White Water Walk.
Now, about food…
The only « local » food I tried is a pastry called «beavertails » (http://beavertails.com/en).
I went for the « triple trip » : chocolate hazelnut spread topped with Reese’s Pieces and peanut butter. If you like sugar and calories I would definitely recommend it!
If you are looking for a restaurant, here is a couple of ideas :
- AG Inspired Cuisine, farm to table (http://www.agcuisine.com)
- Man Thai Niagara Falls, GF-vegetarian-vegan friendly (http://www.maithainiagara.com)
A few tips :
- Do not miss Clinton hill! A kind of street I had no idea I would find in Niagara Falls.
- Get the green line (or walk from the Falls) to the B&B area (Bed & Breakfast stop), and walk around, there is a lot of beautiful houses. And so many cute squirrels! It makes a nice escape from the crowd.
- A lot of events are organised, check the Niagara Falls website to make sure you will not miss something such as the Niagara Falls beer Festival in Augus, the Niagara Icewine Festival (January 13-29, 2017) or the Falls illuminations (http://www.niagaraparks.com/niagara-falls-attractions/niagara-falls-illumination.html)
- in my case : French passport, entering Canada by foot and only staying a couple of days in Canada, I did not need a VISA. It might not be the case depending on your nationality, or if you enter Canada by plane.
- When you cross the Rainbow bridge there is nothing to do on the US side, just go through the metal gate and that’s it. The immigration office is on the Canadian, at the other end of the bridge.
- If like me you go (back) to the US territory after your visit to the Falls, by bus, do not get too comfy from the Falls bus terminal to the US border, you will need to take all of your stuff and get out of the bus to go to the immigration office.
Budget trip Canada, Niagara Falls and Niagara-on-the-lake (in USD) :
- Night bus (Greyhound) : 133$
- One night hostel : 32$
- ATM : 33$
- Pass adventure : 47$
- Other : 27$
Total = 272$
How could I have made this trip more sustainable ?
- pack some snacks not wrapped in plastic : nuts in bulk, home-made cookies…
- take pictures of the WeGo bus routes to have on my phone instead of using the paper version.