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While Niagara Falls may get all the attention, Niagara on the Lake is a real treat! This charming small town is nestled on the shores of Lake Ontario just 30 minutes away from the roaring falls. It’s known for its world-class wineries surrounded by vibrant nature and lovely historic buildings.

A trip to Niagara on the Lake is well worth the detour for a summer holiday or a wintery weekend (if you like ice wine, that is). It’s a fabulous place to cruise around on a bicycle or walk among notable landmarks in Canadian history. Whether it’s the wine, the water, or the history that calls your name, a weekend trip to NOTL is not to be missed! To help plan your visit, we’ve rounded up the best things to do in Niagara on the Lake from tours to dining.

About Niagara on the Lake

Niagara on the Lake is a little town on the northern tip of the Niagara Peninsula in Southern Ontario. It gets its name from being bordered by the Niagara River and you guessed it, Lake Ontario. The river is also what divides Canada from the USA, which made it a pretty significant location in the past.

In fact, NOTL was the first capital of Upper Canada, which is now known as Ontario. It’s been the site of numerous battles and is home to several historic churches and heritage buildings. Today the attention has shifted toward its excellent grape growing conditions and charming tourist attractions. Some even call it “The Loveliest Town in Canada” and we don’t disagree!

Aerial view of Fort George and the Niagara River. Photo by Destination Ontario/J.-F. Bergeron

How to Get to Niagara on the Lake, Ontario

A visit to Niagara is a fantastic day trip from Toronto whether you have your own wheels or are traveling by train. The drive from Toronto to Niagara on the Lake takes about 1.5 hours along the QEW hugging Lake Ontario. You’ll just need to be sure to go north from St. Catharines instead of south toward Niagara Falls.

If you don’t have access to a car, the good news is that there is a seasonal train and bus service. First, you’ll need to venture to Niagara Falls on the GO Train with tickets at CAD $22 each way. Once in Niagara Falls, hop on the WEGO bus for CAD $7 and travel along the scenic Niagara Parkway. Just note that this Niagara Parks Green Line shuttle bus only runs from April-October. 

Best Time to Visit Niagara on the Lake

The summer months are the best time to enjoy all the great things to do in Niagara on the Lake. Peak season runs from June-August so prepare for crowds and necessary restaurant reservations! Plus, the summer is when Shaw Festival is in full swing, so there’s always lots going on. If you want to avoid the crowds, we always recommend visiting in the shoulder season in May or September. The weather is still pleasant and it’s far less busy.

That said, if you’re a fan of ice wine, you’ll want to plan your visit for January. That’s when the famous Niagara Icewine Festival takes place with plenty of winter-friendly events.

READ NEXT: 10 Best Weekend Getaways From Toronto, Ontario 

Best Things to do in Niagara on the Lake

From sipping wine to strolling around the lake’s heritage district, there are lots of great things to do in Niagara on the Lake.

Visit Downtown NOTL 

Downtown Niagara on the Lake is filled with beautiful heritage buildings with all the charm of a historic town. Queen Street is the main drag where you’ll find all kinds of cute shops and top-notch restaurants. 

You’ll definitely want to pop into the historic Niagara Apothecary museum, which is a restored 1860s pharmacy. Browse for eclectic goodies at Lakeshore Antiques & Treasures before grabbing a treat from Cows Ice Cream. With dessert in tow, end the day with a stroll around Queens Royal Park. Take in scenic views of the water and Old Fort Niagara on the American side of the mighty Niagara River. 

Queen Street, things to on in niagara on the lake
Street view of the Memorial Clock Tower in Queen Street. Photo by Destination Ontario

Discover Local Wine on a Wine Tasting

If you’ve ever considered what to do in Niagara on the Lake, chances are one word has come to mind: wine! The Niagara region is Canada’s most beloved wine country. Spoil your taste buds and visit multiple wineries to get a feel for what the region has to offer.

There are 35 wineries in the area and for the most part, they’re pretty close together. Thanks to this, you can make a pretty great Niagara on the Lake itinerary of wine tastings! And one of the best ways to do it is by bicycle. Pedal through the leafy streets and rolling hills as you sip your way around.

Some of the most popular wineries in Niagara on the Lake are Peller Estates, Inniskillin, Wayne Gretzky Estates, and Trius. Personally, our favourites are:

  • Big Head Wines
  • Two Sisters Vineyards Ravine Vineyard Estate Winery
  • Reif Estate Winery
Wineries, things to on in niagara on the lake
Peller Estates, Niagara-on-the-Lake. Photo by Destination Ontario

Try a Wine Tour

Wine tastings in Niagara on the Lake can get quite expensive since many wineries charge $20-30 for a standard tasting. So, going on a Niagara on the Lake wine tour is a great way to explore multiple wineries for one price.

This Half-Day Winery Tour hits 4 different vineyards with air-conditioned transportation for a wine-filled afternoon. If you’re interested in a longer day, try the Small-Group Niagara Wine Region Tour. You’ll get a behind-the-scenes look at some of the top wineries in the area.

Visit Fort George National Historic Site

Because of its notable role in Canada’s past, there are several historic sites to explore. One of the top Niagara on the lake places to visit is the Fort George National Historic Site. It offers a glimpse into the War of 1812 with reconstructed monuments and live demonstrations for a dose of history. Admission is CAD $12.

Fort George, things to on in niagara on the lake
Fort George aerial view. Photo by Destination Ontario/JF BERGERON

Explore Butler’s Barracks National Historic Site

Once home to Colonel John Butler, this heritage building is one of several military sites along the Niagara River. Visit the grounds to see the Commons and old wooden structures before walking through the lovely forest at Paradise Grove.

Visit the Laura Secord Homestead

Venture south to see the Laura Secord Homestead, one of the most interesting Niagara on the Lake attractions. It marks the start of where Laura Secord commenced her 32 km journey to warn British troops of the American attacks during the War of 1812. Now, the homestead welcomes visitors to discover an authentic early 19th-century homestead.

Laura Secord Homestead, things to on in niagara on the lake
Photo by Destination Ontario

Shop at Walker’s Country Market

This longtime staple is one of the best places to visit in Niagara on the Lake for fresh fruit and baked goods. Think classic farmers’ market with delicious jams, homemade treats, and fresh, local produce. They’ve been around since 1930 and offer great lunches and tasty treats to take home.

Golf or Dine at the Golf Club

You don’t have to be a golfer to visit the Niagara-on-the-Lake Golf Club. The property dates back to 1875 and is the oldest surviving golf course in North America! Whether you’re looking for a full 9-hole game or just want a bite to eat, the Golf Club is a NOTL fixture. We highly recommend sitting on the patio for a drink while overlooking the river—no golf clubs required.

Sip on Local Beers at Exchange Brewery

After a day filled with exciting Niagara on the Lake activities, treat yourself to a local brew at Exchange Brewery. Visit the quaint historic building on Queen Street for a tasting in the taproom or grab a growler to go

READ NEXT: Guide To Visiting Prince Edward County, Ontario

Have Afternoon Tea at Prince of Wales Hotel

Transport yourself to the Victorian era with High Tea at the Prince of Wales Hotel. Sip from fancy teacups, munch on tiny desserts, and soak in the regal décor. High tea runs daily from 11 AM – 5 PM and reservations are highly encouraged.

If you can’t snag a reservation at Prince of Wales, you can also visit the McFarland House. Their Conservatory Tea Room is set in a glass room overlooking a picturesque garden.

Prince of Wales Hotel, things to on in niagara on the lake

Join a Foodie Tour

Not sure what restaurants to add to your itinerary? Joining a foodie tour is the perfect way to learn and indulge at the same time. This 3.5-hour walking tour ventures through Old Town Niagara on the Lake and hits the best local restaurants. You’ll sample bites, sip wine, and learn about the culture and history that makes NOTL so special.

Hit the Water on a Stand-Up Paddle Board

What better way to explore the waterfront region than by paddling right on the Niagara River. Don’t worry, we promise you won’t find yourself barreling down Horseshoe Falls or inadvertently entering New York state. You’ll just get to tour all the coolest things to see in Niagara on the Lake from a different perspective. Paddle Niagara offers SUP rentals and lessons that are perfect for day trips or an afternoon in the sun.

See the Niagara Escarpment from the Air

Soak in views of Niagara Falls and the gorgeous Niagara Escarpment from high in the sky on an airplane tour. This 30-minute flight will give you a bird’s eye view of Niagara on the Lake and all the natural beauty that surrounds it. 

Where to Stay in Niagara on the Lake, Canada

Prince of Wales Hotel

Niagara on the Lake is all about the charming history and the Prince of Wales Hotel takes that to another level. The elegant Victorian building houses luxurious rooms that are sure to make you feel like royalty. Stay for high tea, visit the spa, or dine at one of four on-site restaurants. Plus, it’s just 5 minutes away from both the waterfront and Shaw Festival Theatre. Accommodation starts at CAD $230 per night.

Pillar and Post

Pillar and Post is another posh retreat set in a 19th-century building for sheer elegance. The property boasts an on-site spa, fine dining restaurant, and an impressive roster of local wines to choose from. Choose from rustic chic rooms or parlour suites starting at CAD $250 per night.

hot spring resort ontario , things to on in niagara on the lake
PIllar and Post hot tub. Photo by Destination Ontario

On the 6 B&B 

For a quieter escape, On the 6 Bed & Breakfast is just outside of town and offers a countryside getaway. You’ll have easy access to the trails of the Niagara Parkway that run along the picturesque Niagara Gorge. Each room has a unique theme with views of the outdoor pool or gardens. Accommodation starts at CAD $165 per night.

Photo via On the 6 B&B Facebook Page

Where to Eat in Niagara on the Lake

Prince of Wales

Visit The Drawing Room at the Prince of Wales Hotel for breakfast or an elegant afternoon tea. Be sure to reserve in advance because it’s a popular spot—it was fully sold out when we visited. The hotel is also home to Noble Restaurant, a fine dining eatery highlighting the best of the Niagara region.

The Farmhouse Cafe

The Farmhouse Cafe serves relaxed wine country fare at Caroline Cellars winery. The menu of Canadian cuisine is all about celebrating local and seasonal ingredients. Items change regularly but plates that pair well with wines are always in season.

farmhouse cafe, things to on in niagara on the lake
Photo via carolinecellars.com

The Old Winery Restaurant & Wine Bar

Enjoy wood-fired pizzas and classic Italian dishes in this restored historic winery. The Old Winery Restaurant also has an excellent patio that’s a lovely place for a cocktail or glass of wine.

OLiV Tasting Room & Restaurant

Set on the shores of Niagara on the Lake, OLiV Tasting Room & Restaurant puts a big focus on flavour. Sample olive oils and balsamics in the tasting room or dine on fresh delights in the cozy restaurant.

Ruffino’s Pasta Bar & Grill

Hidden away in historic old town Niagara on the Lake, Ruffino’s is the newest spot for Italian dining. Their brick oven creates rich flavours for in-house butchered meats and fresh, local produce. Grab a plate of homemade pasta and settle in with a glass of wine on the sun-soaked patio. 

The Epicurean

The cozy garden patio at The Epicurean is one of our favourites in Niagara on the Lake. Paired with Mediterranean-style bites and an extensive list of local wines, it’s a can’t-miss stop in downtown NOTL.

Treadwell Cuisine

For an upscale experience, Treadwell Cuisine nails farm-to-table dining. The open kitchen and local wine program take Niagara on the Lake dining to new heights. We recommend a delicious weekend brunch or a mouthwatering four-course dinner.

Photo via Treadwell Facebook Page

How Many Days Do You Need in Niagara-On-The-Lake?

A weekend is the perfect amount of time to do a mix of sightseeing, wine tasting, and outdoor activities. We’d recommend spending 2 nights in NOTL and popping down to Niagara Falls for a quick visit if you’ve never been.

Have you ever visited Niagara on the Lake? What was the highlight of your trip?

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