NOTL—always an extraordinary destination
Niagara on the Lake offers "a wide variety of charms, attractions, and options for visitors."
Photo couretsy of Whirlpool Jet Tours
Even though you can reach the Ontario town of Niagara-on-the-Lake in under an hour and a half, once there, you’ve entered a completely different world. The feeling starts pragmatically enough—when you display your passport or enhanced driver’s license in order to cross the border. But soon enough—starting with the gracious Niagara River Parkway—you are immersed in the loveliness, the natural beauty of the place.
Niagara-on-the-Lake, population a tiny 15,000, is nonetheless a grand destination for Buffalonians looking for a nearby getaway, whether a couple or family, outdoorsy, theatrical or viticulturally focused.
Janice Thomson, executive director of the town’s Chamber of Commerce (niagaraonthelake.com), is happy to let everyone know that there are a wide variety of charms, attractions, and options for visitors. “One of the main reasons that Niagara-on-the-Lake is such a great place to come is the level of service delivered here—we are very hospitable and the standard of excellence is very high,” Thomson says.
The beauty of the great outdoors is a huge draw; many also come for wine, food, and theater, three of the area’s major attractions. The Shaw Festival (shawfest.com), celebrating its fiftieth season this year, is one of the most celebrated repertory theater festivals in North America. The wisest plan might be to catch a matinee at one of the Shaw’s four walking-distance performance spaces, tool around town for a bit, and then indulge in an early dinner at Hillebrand Winery Restaurant or a wine tasting and tour at Konzelmann Estate Winery, two of the many noted wineries in and around Niagara-on-the-Lake.
Are you a more active, “family-fun” oriented traveler? Try the Whirlpool Jet Boat trip on the river (if you don’t want to get soaked, which is guaranteed on this ride, try the Jet Dome, which is more sedate, but still has a spectacular view).
History buffs and families will enjoy historic Fort George, with costumed reenactors, tours of the fort, and hands-on experiences for kids. The Niagara Historical Society Museum uses its collections to tell stories about the region.
Rentals of many kinds abound, for the group, couple, or family who want entertainment on wheels: Take a horse and carriage ride through town. Hire bikes to ride the trails around the lake. There are even electric scooters available, from a new outfit called eSkoot.
Niagara Parks (niagaraparks.com) is the overseeing body for a range of parks, towns, and activities in the region. From the famous Queenston Floral Clock to the Butterfly Conservancy to the brink of Niagara Falls itself, there is plenty to see in the way of nature. Active ways to do it include scenic bike-or-hike trails, golfing, and birding.
Mix up your action with some retail; the main streets of town are lined with lovely shops, offering kitchenware, artwork, jewelry, gifts, food items, gardening supplies, and antiques. I have two dresses from two separate visits to two of the nicer clothing stores, each a pleasant memory of my “trip abroad.” Strolls in any directions include delightful landscaping, beautifully kept homes, and pleasant vistas.
If you choose to make an overnight or weekend of it, the breadth of accommodation encompasses bed & breakfasts, country inns in heritage homes, boutique hotels, and large private vacation homes equipped with swimming pools. Each hotel has its own personality. The Vintage Group owns three of the most recognizable names: The Pillar and Post echoes a country inn; Queens Landing is a Georgian mansion with conference facilities; and the Prince of Wales, on the corner of Queen and King Streets, is a charming and historic landmark.
Regardless of where you stay, adds Thomson, “The focus is on providing that ‘getaway’ feeling, spoiling the guests. It’s not just accommodations—you are hosted by owners and concierges, and treated to insider information.”
While you may think that July and August are the busiest times of year for this hotspot, September is also very popular. It’s a good time for those with their eye on dining, theater, and wine, considering that it’s harvest time at ye olde vineyards, and the Shaw starts to wind down.
“The food in Niagara-on-the-Lake is incredible,” enthuses Thomson. “I know people from Buffalo are used to fine restaurants, and those who come here are looking for different culinary experiences. The quality of the wineries and the theater experience is attracting great chefs who want to be creative and make great food. So, in all of our restaurants, from wineries, to hotels, and independents, this circumstance is raising the bar, for our sophisticated visitors.” That’s you, Buffalo.
Jana Eisenberg is Spree’s style editor.