The Niagara region in southern Ontario conjures colorful images of tranquil lakes, rambling vineyards, and vibrant villages spread out beyond the shores of its namesake river.
Bordering New York State and pinched between lakes Ontario and Erie, it’s an area where locals remain deeply connected to the diverse landscape and rooted to their heritage, while welcoming millions of people each year who come to see its famous falls. Spring is an ideal time to discover Niagara’s farm-to-table food and flourishing cultural scene. This guide is all you need to be captivated by this breathtaking region on a spring weekend getaway.
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Unique wineries: Discover some of Canada’s oldest grape vines growing in and around Niagara-on-the-Lake. Thanks to the moderating effects of Lake Ontario and the Niagara River, this unique ecosystem enjoys warmer temperatures and cooler nights‚ ideal conditions for grape growers working in the 20-plus wineries. Tour the area with a tasting pass that allows you to sip your way around the region’s wineries like Peller Estates, internationally-acclaimed for its ice wine, which can be sample in its igloo-like 10Below Icewine Lounge (warm parka provided). Other singular spots in the Niagara region include Southbrook Vineyards, Canada’s first biodynamic winery (it uses sheep for grazing and fertilizing) and The Good Earth Food and Wine Co., a gorgeous spot in Twenty Valley. Here, treat yourself to wines like Riesling and Cabernet Franc produced from its small-lot vineyards and a cooking class with one of Niagara’s best chefs.
Niagara Falls: It’s hard to imagine one million bathtubs full of water, but that describes the sheer volume plummeting from Niagara Falls every 60 seconds. Consider that when traveling nearly 19 stories up the gorge wall (on an incline, no less) inside a glass-sided railway car. Other heart-pumping ways to see the falls include flying over rushing water on a zip line or making your way across rope swings and ladders on an aerial adventure course with the Niagara Whirlpool and gorge below. Then get a front-row look behind this wall of water. Descend 125 feet and you’ll soon be standing on a 13-story observation deck with the falls surging over the escarpment in front of you. For yet another perspective, see the falls illuminated every night and on weekends, when fireworks create streaks of light amid the mist. Watch the show from Queen Victoria Park, where free summer concerts kick off an entertaining evening outdoors.
Shaw Festival Theatre: Who wouldn’t want to see world-class theater in wine country? Add drama — the good kind — to your visit by taking in a play during the long-running Shaw Festival in Niagara-on-the-Lake, just 20 minutes from the Falls. Three venues (including the Festival Theatre, which was officially opened by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II in 1973) host contemporary performances such as the upcoming world premier of C.S. Lewis’s The Horse and His Boy and Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie.
Sip & Sizzle: Spring heralds the season of sipping, namely wine from more than 20 producers scattered around Niagara-on-the-Lake. Every weekend in May, Sip & Sizzle takes visitors and locals alike through pairings of grilled food and local wines. Think Pinot Gris matched with Thai-spiced pork sausage at Coyote’s Run Estate Winery and Sauvignon Blanc complemented by citrus-cured rainbow trout at Château des Charmes. It’s the tastiest way to tour the vineyards.
Niagara Falls Craft Distillers: Small-batch spirits and tall tales go hand in hand at this distillery — the city’s first to open since Prohibition. Located in the Lundy’s Lane district (named for a battle fought here during the War of 1812), Niagara Falls Craft Distillers weaves the region’s rich history into its modern spirits, such as its Barrelling Annie’s Rye Whisky, a tribute to Annie Edson Taylor, the first person to survive riding over Horseshoe Falls in a barrel. Book a tour or whisky tasting to delve into the art and alchemy of distilling.
Niagara Brewing Company: Located in the thick of the Falls Avenue Resort, a hub of hotels, restaurants, and entertainment venues, Niagara Brewing Company sits on the former site of the 1925 Foxhead Inn. This craft brewery embraces spirit of that fox in its bold beers, like the Beerdevil IPA, a hoppy brew (and an homage to the daredevils who’ve gone over the falls) that packs a punch at 6.5% ABV. Sweeter palates will love the Honeymoon Peach Radler, a session sipper at only 3.5% ABV, with hints of peach and ginger for a little spice. While you drink, nibble on bites from its kitchen, like specialty-cured meats and artisan cheeses.
The Restaurant at Pearl Morissette: Retreat to a modernist farmhouse on the site of Pearl Morrisette winery in Jordan Station for a curated dining experience that unfolds in a stunning rural setting. The Restaurant at Pearl Morissette (in 2018, En Route magazine crowned it Canada’s best new restaurant) offers a five-course set menu of seasonal French cooking where locally produced and foraged ingredients are the stars of every plate. Expect divine dishes like cured Nova Scotia halibut dusted with power made from foraged sassafras (a relative of the laurel tree) leaves, asparagus grilled over peach tree wood (sourced from the property) accompanied by pickled white asparagus and milkweed, plus confections like oat ice cream garnished with parsnip chips.
AG Inspired Cuisine: Serving field-to-fork fare is the ethos embraced at AG Inspired Cuisine, located in the Sterling Inn & Spa, where ingredients are harvested from Niagara-area farms and served in the restaurant the same day. Chef Cory Linkson’s inspiration from the area’s growers and producers can be seen in seasonal dishes, such as appetizer-sized roasted bone marrow with fennel-parsley salad and bacon jam, as well as sweet treats like the early-spring carrot cake crowned with cream cheese icing and accompanied with walnut compote. For another quintessential taste of Niagara, cap off the evening with an ice wine martini, complete with a delicious maple-sugar rim.
Massimo’s Italian Fallsview Restaurant: Celebrity Chef Massimo Capra, an acclaimed author and television personality, is household name in Canada. At Massimo’s Italian Fallsview Restaurant, you will taste the symbiosis between his connections to both Italy and the Niagara region as you indulge in Italian classics made with a regional twist. For instance, house-made double-smoked bacon and farm-fresh eggs go to into the linguine carbonara, while meaty choices include Ontario rack of lamb accompanied with spring vegetables. The overflowing wine menu has dozens of choices exclusively from Italy and Ontario.
Culinary tours: Discover the Niagara region’s diversity with a trio of culinary tours that take you on belly-filling and mind-expanding excursions around Niagara Falls, St. Catharines, and Niagara-on-the-Lake. Stretch your legs on these walking tours (they range from one to 2.5 miles over several hours), where you’ll learn about the area’s farm-to-table movement while sampling local cuisine, get intel on regional wine trends, and discover the unique history of each area.
Niagara River Recreation Trail: Rent a bike and pack a picnic for a glorious day spent cycling the Niagara River Recreation Trail. This 33-mile paved course travels from Niagara-on-the-Lake (and its spectacular wine route) to Fort Erie, taking you away from the hum of the city and motorized traffic as it traces the curves of the Niagara River. Wherever you ride, make sure to stop at natural and historic sites along the way. In the city center of the village of Queenston, marvel at the the massive floral clock fronting the 99-acre Botanical Gardens, then find more respite at Niagara Glen Nature Centre.
Kayak the waterways: Niagara’s extensive trail system encompasses plenty of calm lakes and rivers you can kayak while surrounded by nature. Discover small towns like the farming community of Wainfleet while paddling at Long Beach Conservation Area, an under-the-radar spot on the shores of Lake Erie. In St. Catharines, kayak the wetlands that are part of the Green Ribbon Trail or explore Chippawa Creek Conservation Area near the village Wellandport, home to Dils Lake, a tranquil place to drink in the solitude as you glide across clear waters.
Dufferin Islands: Amble the small, secluded islets strung together by wooden footbridges in Dufferin Islands, a 10-acre park not far from the buzz of Niagara Falls’ city core. Keep your eyes peeled for fuzzy goslings and other urban wildlife as you hike the sun-dappled trails lined with leafy trees. From here, look away from the lush green landscape to catch glimpses of the city skyline backdropped by the falls’ gauzy spray.
Craft Arts Market: Looking for a handmade treasure? You’ll find plenty at the Craft Arts Market in St. Catharines, a consignment shop dedicated to working with artists from Niagara and throughout Ontario. Browse the airy environs for charming pieces such as Woodlot’s delicate beaded necklaces in springtime colors like lemon and lime, reusable silicon straws, and snack bags from Colibri Canada, among other cool take-home items. Linger awhile over a beverage at the new in-house cafe and bar, Trouble Coffee + Spirits.
Provisions Food Company: Honoring Niagara’s farmers and producers was Lori McDonald’s inspiration for starting Provisions Food Company. The Niagara resident set out to create savory and sweet items to accompany the flourishing wine industry’s superb Chardonnays, Pinot Noirs, and Merlots, among other varietals grown in the region. Find gourmet treats such as cherry and Merlot jam as well as parmesan and rosemary shortbreads, ideal complements for wine-and-cheese pairings.
Shed Pottery: There’s a soulful quality to the functional pottery Johann Munro turns out at her home-based studio and retail store, which she reopens every spring. The Niagara native learned her art at the elbow of her grandmother, a potter, and Shed Pottery’s finely crafted pieces were quickly coveted by chefs and restaurateurs when she started her fledgling business in 2014. No two items are the same, whether her farmhouse white dinnerware plates or wood-fired vases and bowls, making these artisanal wares rare treasures to take home.
First Ontario Performing Arts Centre: Whether film, dance, theater, or comedy, the First Ontario Performing Arts Centre is always ready to entertain. Located in St. Catharines, this community gathering hub is composed of three venues, including the 770-seat Partridge Hall, which hosts performances such as the upcoming Peter Pan (the first-ever film version from 1924), presented by Chorus Niagara and accompanied by its live choir. At The Film House, guests get to chill out with a glass of wine or beer and chomp on popcorn while watching foreign and blockbuster movies.
Niagara Falls History Museum: Ready to walk a tightrope like a daredevil, or try on a military coatee from 1812? Get fully immersed in the city’s fascinating history at the Niagara Falls History Museum, located in the 1874 Stamford Town Hall. The Gale Family War of 1812 Gallery takes you back to the Battle of Lundy’s Lane, which took place on the site of the nearby Drummond Hill Cemetery. It also showcases archival records and historical relics from that era such as cannon balls and muskets. Take a tour where you’ll trace the footsteps of a soldier who fought during the battle. In the Community Gallery get a closer look at Niagara Falls’ industry, geology, and people who have left their mark on this city.
Niagara Pumphouse Arts Centre: Three local artists (Diana Bellerby, Nancy Bongard, and Maureen Lackner) saw more than a defunct water-pumping station when they drew up a plan to use the 1891 building as a cultural centre for the visual arts. Today the Niagara Pumphouse Arts Centre is an incubator where emerging artists can get hands-on instruction in painting, pottery, drawing, and fusing glass, whether one-day workshops or multi-week sessions. Drop into the arts center to see temporary exhibitions like Living Desert, Robert Herman’s portraits of succulents growing in California.