At a time when many of us have reached our tipping point, local getaways offer much-needed respite and a change of scenery. The vibrant fall foliage, winding roads and sun-soaked vineyards in Niagara-on-the-Lake make it the perfect road trip destination for a little reset, proving we don’t need to go far to achieve a vacation state of mind.
Last week, I partnered with Expedia.ca to explore the Niagara region and help you plan your next fall getaway. Below you’ll find the six elements I always try to weave into my travel itineraries so they’re well-rounded, interesting and memorable.
As a general note, reservations and advanced bookings are a must for an enjoyable time in the region. Everyone is doing their part to keep us safe during the pandemic, which means reduced capacity at businesses across the board. However, this also translates into more attentive service and a greater appreciation of your support for local. Just be sure to wear a mask, sanitize and follow safety protocols and you’re all set!
Here’s how to plan the perfect fall escape to Niagara-on-the-Lake.
Stay At A Charming Hotel
While there are many hotels, inns and resorts dotting the Niagara region, I recommend booking a room in the historic (and very walkable) heritage district. 124 on Queen Hotel & Spa is a charming boutique hotel in the heart of it all. The service is exceptional, the location can’t be beat, and all stays include complimentary parking and breakfast. Depending on the size and budget of your party, you can book a room, suite, or a spacious villa on Expedia.ca where you can also see their cleaning and safety practices outlined. We stayed in a Caroline House villa and highly recommend it. With a full kitchen, two washrooms, patio, and accessible entrance it’s perfect for family or group travel. The stone fireplace is the perfect spot to end a crisp fall day with a glass of wine in hand.
Explore Wine Country
Wineries are often the highlight in my itineraries. Not only are the landscapes breathtaking (especially in the fall), but it’s a great way to connect with winemakers, try exclusive wines, and taste the local bounty since many offer pairings or have restaurants onsite.
Although tastings look a bit different during a pandemic (expect plexiglass dividers, disposable wine glasses and advanced booking protocols), fall harvest is an incredibly energized time to visit the wineries in Niagara-on-the-Lake and the Niagara Escarpment. The only difficulty you’ll have is deciding which ones to stop at so here are a few of my personal favourites.
Wineries in Niagara-on-the-Lake: Two Sisters Vineyards, Southbrook Organic Vineyards, Stratus, Ravine Vineyard Estate Winery, Trius Winery, and Reif Estate Winery.
Wineries along the Niagara Escarpment: Hidden Bench, Leaning Post Wines, Bachelder Niagara, Kew Vineyards Estate Winery, Domaine Queylus, and Megalomaniac John Howard Cellars of Distinction.
Dine At Restaurants Loved By Locals
Fresh, farm-to-table meals featuring local ingredients are the norm in this region. The chefs here are passionate about food and build seasonally-driven menus that will have your mouth watering. I’ve been dining in the Niagara region for decades and am continuously blown away by the quality. Whether you grab a bite in town at one of Niagara-on-the-Lake’s restaurants or dine at a winery nearby, you’re in for a treat! We enjoyed most of our meals on patios this time around, but you can also dine indoors if you’re comfortable. Here are the restaurants I recommend.
My favourite patios: Kitchen 76 at Two Sisters Vineyards, Redstone Winery, Ravine Vineyard Estate Winery, The Good Earth Bistro, and Vineland Estates Winery.
Other must-eat spots: Treadwell Cuisine, the Restaurant at Pearl Morissette, and Ruffino’s Pasta Bar & Grill.
Take In The Views From Above
The Escarpment, Niagara-on-the-Lake, and Niagara Falls are all jaw-dropping landscapes that are, in my opinion, best admired from above. A bit of distance allows us to truly appreciate the magnificent cliffs, waterfalls, and fall foliage. If you’re the adventurous type, I highly recommend booking a classic tour with Niagara Helicopters. The 12-minute experience is the ultimate way to take in the glorious fall colours. It left us speechless and gave us a taste of flight—something we hadn’t experienced since March. Strict COVID-19 protocols are in place so expect to wear your face mask for the entire duration and know that you’ll only fly with your respective party.
If hopping into a helicopter is not in the cards for you, you can also get a change of perspective on the Niagara SkyWheel (one of Canada’s largest observation wheels), Skylon Tower, or the Whirlpool Aero Car. The Whirlpool Aero Car is a personal favourite as it soars above the Niagara Whirlpool and Class VI rapids on the Niagara River. The antique cable car has been in operation since 1916 and travels between two points on the Canadian shore while managing to cross the international border between Canada and the United States multiple times due to the way the river bends.
Have Fun At Some Tourist Sites
Squeeze in a few touristy stops to round things out. They’re fun, memorable and popular for a reason! Niagara Falls offers both nature-filled tourist attractions and the kitschy variety. For the former, I recommend heading to White Water Walk, Journey Behind The Falls, and Hornblower Niagara Cruises, which are all beautiful in the fall. As for the latter, a stroll along Clifton Hill is a must!
Enjoy Outdoor Activities
With countless scenic hikes, natural waterfalls, bike trails and a beautiful shoreline, the Niagara region is made for those who love the outdoors. Of course, no trip to the area is complete without a visit to one of the most famous waterfalls in the world. Just be sure to keep a safe distance from other visitors and wear your mask in spots where people tend to congregate.
For wide-open spaces and quiet, leisurely walks I recommend heading to the Niagara Parks Botanical Gardens or Dufferin Islands. Both are free to enter and offer acres upon acres of natural beauty to explore. A few hours spent at either of these spots will leave your mind feeling calm and inspired. Something we all need more of these days!
Lastly, my favourite way to enjoy the scenery in Niagara-on-the-Lake is by renting a bike and embarking on a self-guided wine tour. If you stay at 124 on Queen Hotel & Spa like we did, you can walk over to Zoom Leisure Bikes, grab a bike for a half or full day and stop wherever your heart desires. With dozens of wineries within biking distance, you’re bound to have a memorable time. While you can try your luck with walk-ins, it’s best to book ahead to guarantee tastings and tables. We snagged a reservation at Two Sisters Vineyards and ended our road trip with dinner at Kitchen 76 before heading back home.
What are your favourite activities to do in the Niagara region?