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Canada

The Best Things to Do in the Very Charming Niagara-on-the-Lake

One of the prettiest towns in Canada, Niagara-on-the-Lake may be best known for its wine, but it’s also home to a whole lot more. It has a little something for everyone – a picturesque downtown, thriving arts & culture, beautiful parks and interesting museums, and with a long Canadian history. That’s right, although this beautiful village has a serious focus on quality food and drink, its old-world charm is what draws me here each and every time. Planning a visit? Here are the best things to do in the very charming Niagara-on-the-Lake in Ontario. 

History of Niagara-on-the-Lake

When a town is steeped in Canadian history as much as Niagara-on-the-Lake is, it comes as no surprise to find some significant sites here you can visit. Here are some fun facts about this pretty town. Did you know Niagara-on-the-Lake was…

  • the first capital province of Upper Canada, which is now Ontario
  • called Newark from 1792 to 1797 
  • the site of some major battles with the Americans during the War of 1812
tower with white courthouse building
1850s Court House and Memorial Clock Tower

As well, Niagara-on-the-Lake is home to the oldest Catholic church and the second-oldest Anglican church in Ontario, and the oldest surviving golf course in North America, Niagara-on-the-Lake Golf Club. History buffs, you’ll love it here!

Things to Do in Niagara-on-the-Lake

Be prepared to fall under its spell. The spell of the Victoria-era 19th-century charm that is. Downtown Niagara on the Lake looks like a movie set – it’s that darn cute. Horse-drawn carriage rides, gardens galore, elegant architecture and all with the backdrop of Lake Ontario. It doesn’t get any better than this.

street with trees and shops

Before you hit up some of those delicious wineries and restaurants, be sure to check off your list of some of these things to do in Niagara-on-the-Lake other than wineries.  

STROLL THE HISTORIC DOWNTOWN

Quaint shops, boutiques, and galleries line both sides of the main street or Queen Street. Whether you are a shopper or a window shopper there is bound to be something that catches your eye.

red brick store front

Long-time shops like Just Christmas, for all things Christmas all-year-round, or Irish Design featuring gorgeous imported knits from Ireland. Love sweets, then you’ll want to pop into the very cute Olde Tyme Candy Shop.  And, Brims & Things and BeauChapeau, are two boutique shops selling nothing but hats. My favourite of them all is Serendipity – The Little French Shoppe for all things France. 

WANDER THE PRETTY STREETS & PARKS

Wander some of the prettiest streets in Niagara-on-the-Lake and admire the beautiful heritage homes and gardens. Talk about curb appeal, these homeowners take immense pride in their homes.  

white house with red door

The prettiest streets to wander are Front Street, Prideaux Street, and Ricardo Street with the intersecting streets of Gate Street, Victoria Street, and King Street.

sunrise over lake

Stroll through the nearby parks of Simcoe and Queen’s Royal Park. The highlight of Queens Royal Park is the views of Lake Ontario from the gazebo. Catch a sunrise, and admire the view. You will also be able to see Old Fort Niagara. 

LEARN AT A HISTORICAL SITE

Niagara-on-the-Lake Museum – was created in 1896 as a way to preserve the town’s rich history and heritage by showcasing a collection of artifacts in the local courthouse. In 1907, they expanded to open Memorial Hall, Ontario’s first purpose-built Museum. Visiting the museum today links 3 independent buildings together – the High School building (1875), Memorial Hall (1907), and the Link Building (1971) – located at 43 Castlereagh Street, NOTL

red house with white picketed fence
McFarlane House

McFarlane House – the former private residence of John McFarlane was used as a military hospital during the War of 1812 by both the Americans and the British. A popular thing to do at one of the oldest homesteads in Niagara-on-the-Lake is to enjoy a picnic on the grounds or high tea. Plan your tour and visit at 15927 Niagara Parkway Recreational Trail, NOTL

white building with red door
Niagara Apothecary

Niagara Apothecary – opened its doors in 1869 in this exact building. This Ontario Heritage Foundation is a must-see attraction because of its restored original features and artifacts. Visit the original location at 5 Queen Street, NOTL

Fort George National Historic Site – overlooking the Niagara River, Fort George was built between 1796 and 1802, to protect Upper Canada during the War of 1812. Step back in time and learn about this significant time in Canadian history by visiting this Historical Site at 51 Queen’s Parade, NOTL 

house with white picketed fence
Laura Secord Homestead

Laura Secord Homestead – visit the home of this heroine who walked 32 km to warn the British of a surprise attack by American soldiers during the War of 1812. This historic landmark lies in Queenston, a village just outside Niagara-on-the-Lake. 

WATCH LIVE THEATRE

The Shaw Festival Theatre, named after Bernard Shaw, delivers 13 live productions each year in 3 theatres drawing an audience of more than 250,000. The theaters are smaller and more intimate, with not a bad seat in the house. 

white building with 3 pink doors
Royal George Theatre

This top thing to do in Niagara-on-the-Lake is really a must.  In 2022, the Shaw Festival celebrates its 60th season of creating world-class productions. 

SNAP A PHOTO, OR TWO

Niagara-on-the-Lake is one of the most photogenic small towns in Ontario and is an Instagrammer’s dream. So it won’t be hard to find some cute spots perfect for that photo op! Here are my picks of the top 5 Instagram-worthy spots.

2 girls in front of tower
Memorial Clock Tower
2 girls coming down steps
Old Courthouse
2 girls under gazebo
Gazebo at Queen's Royal Park
cafe with flowers
Shaw Café
  1. The Memorial Clock Tower – the only town in Canada to have a war memorial in the centre of the town’s main street serves also as this town’s beacon
  2. Old Courthouse – the grand classic architecture of this 1850s building makes for the perfect backdrop
  3. The Gazebo at Queen’s Royal Park – offers the best Lake Ontario views 
  4. The Shaw Café – besides being one of the best places to dine, you can’t help but notice the beautiful flowers in front of it
  5. Prince of Wales Hotel – the Victoria-era hotel with its pretty details and elegant architecture
hotel with flowers
Prince of Wales Hotel
ADMIRE SOME ART

For those that appreciate those one-of-a-kind art pieces – whether it be paintings or pottery be sure to sure to check out this art shops. 

borden batten house with gardens
Lakeside Pottery

 

  • Lakeside Pottery  – visit the studio and gift shop of this husband and wife team in a lovely countryside garden setting
  • Gate Street Studio – is a gorgeous mix of abstract and mixed media and canvas by artist Sandra Iafrate, to schedule a visit contact the studio directly 
  • Niagara Image Gallery (formerly the Romance Collection Gallery by Trisha Romance) – primarily is an art gallery featuring 3 artists’ work 
GO TREASURE HUNTING

For those that enjoy the hunt for those great vintage treasures here are two great spots offering a wide variety of antiques. 

antiques in a barn
  • Lakeshore Antiques & Treasures – as Niagara’s largest antique market it offers 16 dealers in one location at 855 Lakeshore Road, NOTL 
  • Antiques on Creek – multi-dealer boutique antique shop located at 1579 Four Mile Creek Road, NOTL 
VISIT A FARM

Seeing you’re in the Niagara Fruit Belt, producing 90% of Ontario’s fruit, you can’t not stop at a roadside fruit market. Better yet, why not go fruit picking. One of the best locations to pick your own fruit is at Parkway Orchards or Walker’s Country Market.

If you’re a fan of lavender, then stop at Neob Niagara is a must. Walk through the rows of lavender during June to July’s blooming season. Note there is a fee of $10. Or visit the on-site lavender shop, open all year long, selling its English lavender products. 

Another unique thing to do in Niagara-on-the-Lake is to visit Grimo Nut Nursery – a grower of 15 kinds of nuts. Find your favourites here – walnuts, hazelnuts, chestnuts, pecans, figs, and more. Self-guided tours at 979 Lakeshore Rd, NOTL

peaches on fruit stand
Seasonal Fruit Calendar

June to July   Cherry season Lavender 

July to September Peach season

August-September Nectarine 

Month of August Plum season

September-October Apple season

DISCOVER A HIDDEN GEM

The best hidden gem in Niagara-on-the-Lake is the gardens of Pillar and the Post Inn & Spa. You don’t have to be a guest of this 19th-century vintage hotel to experience these beautiful gardens. Directly across the street from the hotel are the Monet-inspired gardens found in Giverny, France. A La Roserie, a pink and red rose garden, Le Pont de Monet, a green footbridge, and Le Petit Pavilion, with a waterfall. Designed for weddings, this photo op is perfect for a quiet stroll. Note, hours 10 am to 7 pm and may be closed for private functions like weddings. 

Another hidden gem in Niagara-on-the-Lake is the smallest chapel in the world – Living Water Wayside Chapel. This cute chapel, built in 1964 by the Niagara Falls Christian Reformed Church, is now just a fun spot for a photo op! And, it sits on the grounds of Walker’s Country Market, so you can stop and enjoy both.  

tiny white chapel

Best Wineries in Niagara-on-the-Lake

Ok, now for the real reason why most people go to Niagara-on-the-Lake…the wine and wineries! Whether you decide to join a wine tasting tour or go it your own, here are my picks of the top 5 most popular wineries in Niagara-on-the-Lake. 

chateau style winery with bikes
Konzelmann Estate Winery
  1. Trius Winery – picturesque views, instagrammable spots for photo op, scrumptious restaurant – what more could you want, oh right delicious wines too! Try the sparkling wines – they are my favourite | 1249 Niagara Stone Road, NOTL
  2. Two Sisters Vineyard – the ideal country setting and Italian-inspired dining transport you to somewhere in Tuscany. You can’t go wrong with any of their crisp whites to full-bodied reds | 240 John Street East, NOTL
  3. Konzelmann Estate Winery – is known for its experiences – wine tours, events, and even a luxury dome by the lake. They’re also known for their peach wine, give it a try! | 1096 Lakeshore Road, NOTL
  4. Stratus Vineyards – this chic modern winery looks so good and has embraced a new way of winemaking. You can’t go wrong with any of the reds at Stratus | 2059 Niagara Stone Road, NOTL 
  5. Peller Estates Winery – the stately winery has all the French chateau feels. What I love the most about this winery is the Winery Restaurant with chef Jason Parsons, oh and the views too! | 290 John St E, NOTL

If you want to make sure that everyone in your party can partake in the wine tasting, check out either Grape Escape Wine Tours – which offer bike or passenger van tours or Niagara Getaways Wine Tours.

READ MORE | If you want to explore more wineries in this area, visit the Niagara Escarpment, known as the Bench, where there are fewer crowds and intimate tasting rooms. Check out my article The 5 Best Dog-Friendly Wineries in the Niagara Region.

Best Breweries in Niagara-on-the-Lake

If you’re not a fan of wine or simply want to mix up your tasting experiences, then you’ll want to add these to your day. Here are the top cider, brewers, or spirits you’ll want to visit in Niagara-on-the-Lake. 

glass winery with bottles
Ironwood Cider House
  1. Ironwood Cider House – Sunnybrook Farms offers the best of both – a winery and cider and both offerings are delicious along with their tapas menu | 1425 Lakeshore Road, NOTL
  2. Oast House Brewers – visit the laid-back craft brewery that looks and feels like a friend’s backyard  | 2017 Niagara Stone Road
  3. The Exchange Brewery – has the best selection of local craft brews and is a fun hangout spot. If going, try and request the rooftop deck for the best downtown NOTL experience | 7 Queen Street, NOTL
  4. Spirit in Niagara – local seasonal fruit-infused cocktails- yes, please!  | 458 Lakeshore Road, NOTL
  5. Wayne Gretzky Estates – the legendary Canadian hockey player owns the only winery plus distillery in NOTL. This popular, lively spot to visit is perfect for fun patio vibes | 1219 Niagara Stone 

Best Restaurants in NOTL

Niagara-on-the-Lake is just as much about the food as it is the wine. It can’t all be wine tasting and no food when you go to Niagara-on-the-Lake. Here are the best Niagara-on-the-Lake restaurants. 

plate of food - mushrooms, lentils, asparagus
Ravine Vineyard Estate Winery
  1. The best café and bakery in NOTL is The Pie Plate – if you don’t get there earlier enough most breads and pastries will be sold out for the day. Another must-try is Willow Cakes and Pastries – although they specialize in cakes, their quiche and pastries are a favourite of mine. 
  2. If you’re in the mood for pizza – check out Bistro Six-One for their thin crust wood oven pizzas or maybe sushi – go to Masaki Sushi or the best farm-to-table restaurant in Niagara-on-the-Lake is Treadwell 
  3. Wanting a traditional high tea experience – the Prince of Wales Drawing Room is the loveliest or dine at HOB NOB Restaurant in the hotel for the most romantic restaurant in Niagara-on-the-Lake 
  4. Craving ice cream on that hot summer’s day – go to the popular Cows or my personal favourite Il Gelato di Carlotta 
  5. Some of the top wineries offer the best dining experiences, so much so, that it’s hard to just pick one. The Winery at Peller, Kitchen 76 at Two Sisters, Trius Winery Restaurant, and the Ravine Vineyard Estate Winery

Visiting Niagara-on-the-Lake

In the heart of Ontario’s wine country, Niagara-on-the-lake is a popular day trip from Toronto (90 minutes), Niagara Falls (20 minutes), and Buffalo (45 minutes). Due to its milder climate, visiting Niagara-on-the-Lake is a great weekend getaway all year long. However, May to October is considered to be the best time to visit due to the nicer weather, blooming gardens, and availability of museums and theatre productions. If you don’t like crowds, then you’ll definitely want to avoid July and August as the peak times to visit this very charming town. 

sunrise with lake and gazebo

READ MORE | A popular day trip from Niagara-on-the Lake is to the beautiful village of Jordan. Check out my article if you would like to add this to your itinerary Best Things to Do in the Enchanting Village of Jordan  

BEST FESTIVALS IN NOTL

Why not plan a weekend around festivals and events in Niagara on the Lake. 

Niagara Icewine Festival – all month long in January, Niagara-on-the-Lake offers Icewine-themed experiences. It’s a great time to visit the area without the crowds and the top thing to do in Niagara-on-the-Lake in the winter. Not to mention sampling Canada’s greatest invention – ice wine!  

Days of Wine, Chocolate and Cheese – really is there anything better than that combination? Select wineries host this festival in March

Artistry by the Lake – takes place over the Canada Day long weekend featuring artists and artisans showcasing their work in the Queen’s Royal Park.  

Shades of Summer Dinner – celebrates the peach harvest in early August. This exclusive food and drink festival is a popular event and requires pre-ordering your tickets. 

Taste the Season – over the 4 weekends in November – wineries celebrate the season’s bounty and host holiday-inspired food and wine experiences. 

As a holidaymaker…

Whether you are heading to Niagara-on-the-Lake for the day or a weekend, there is plenty to do. This pretty town in Canada is the kind of destination that you can visit over and over again and still not feel like you’ve seen it all. The very charming Niagara-on-the-Lake in Ontario offers a little something for everyone. What are some of your favourites things to do from these best things to do in Niagara on the Lake list? 

downtown with flowers hotel

66 Comments

  • Alison

    One of my favourite towns in Ontario!
    I used to love planning a day trip around the Shaw Festival when I lived in Toronto.
    I need to return and rediscover Niagara on the Lake 😍 Thanks for all the great suggestions.

  • Amalia

    This cute little towns always make me fall in love! The idea of watching sunset at Niagara-on-the-lake is perfect as well as visiting the wineries, love your list so will bookmark this article for a future trip!

  • Anne

    Love Niagara on the Lake! Those who just hit the falls are absolutely missing the charm of the Canada side. We actually went in winter and snowshoed the vineyards—so much fun! i’d love to come back in August for that peach festival and to try some of those great breweries you mentioned.

    • The.Holidaymaker

      Visiting here in the winter is fun. They have many festivals that allow you to embrace winter (skating rinks) and wine (ice wine that is!). Glad to hear you’ve experienced it too!

  • Elyse

    I have never been to Canada and my Canadian bucket list just keeps growing! Niagara-on-the-Lake looks like such a picturesque little town

  • Robin

    This place is so adorable! The gardens look like a painting, and the architecture is so quaint. It looks like such a peaceful town.

  • Travel Heal Love

    What a picturesque and unique place! I would love especially to stroll around in the old town, it looks like you are going back in time! I would also love to visit the historical castle, I loved reading your post, thanks for sharing!

  • Chelsea

    LOVE NOTL! I lived in Toronto for 3 years and oten visited this gem! We actually did the Grape Escape bike riding tour! Was so fun and a great way to see (and taste!) the region!

  • Carolin

    Yes to all of this. From the quaint architecture to exploring by bike and the gorgeous looking food. I’m sold. Thank you for sharing another little Canadian gem. The towns look all so cute and are picture-perfect manicured. Love this! Looking forward to the next place you’ll take me 🙂

  • JoJo Hall

    I visited Niagara Falls about 4 years ago and didn’t know I was this close to area. Unfortunately, I was with my boyfriend’s family so I really didn’t have the chance to explore on my own. But now that I know this area is close by, next time I’ll explore it!

  • Bex

    Oh wow, I can’t believe how incredible the food looks at Ravine Vineyard Estate Winery. Niagara on the lake looks so charming too.

  • Krista

    We just spent 2 nights in NOTL and loved it! It’s the perfect place to visit to get away from the crowds at Niagara Falls.

  • Lasma

    The downtown houses are so pretty and picturesque! I loved the house Apothecary! it seems a lovely place for a weekend break! This article is perfect to visit Niagara on the lake and plan your time in the best way!

  • Catherine

    Niagra on the Lake looks like such a pretty town! I love how bikable it is — perfect for exploring wineries and other things to do, am I right? Pinning this for later!

  • Sue

    I visited once for lunch at a winery but clearly, there is so much more to do. And you always make it look so beautiful with your photos! Back to Canada next year so may pop for another visit!

  • Laureen Lund

    Wow your photos are so beautiful…I doubt I will ever get to return from my first trip of 30 years ago, but I loved reading this and enjoying the colorful images.

  • Natascha

    I already was hooked by the name of the town: “Niagara on the lake”. To me this sounds like a lot of history and charming alleys. I would love to learn more about the history of this place. Although I hate it, if there are breweries AND vineyards to discover. That makes it difficult to decide. I don`t like to mix beer and wine – not only for the alcohol – I need a different mind frame for beer tasting and wine tasting. Niagara on the lake is on the the travel wish list!

  • Angie Kunze

    oh what a charming little town! and you have lined out the perfect long weekend. I’d never heard of it but just really love learning about quaint little towns with tons of stuff to do.

  • Chloe Arnold

    I LOVE historic down towns and this one just looks so cute!! Old architecture gets me everytime! I would love to stay in that gorgeous hotel and explore all of the history!

  • Jackie

    This truly is a charming town that I would love to visit! Of course, I love vineyards and wine tours, but you’ve showcased many other things I enjoy here: antiquing, visiting historic sites, and window-shopping. And that chapel is so cute! Who knew that the smallest chapel in the world is right in Niagra-on-the-Lake?! I could spend some time strolling the scenic streets to photograph such picturesque homes, hotels, and bits of history along the way.

  • Pilar

    There are so many things to do in Niagara on the lake, I did not know. I specially like the festivals happening there and I think the artistry festival must be so cool to attend. The Pillar and the Post Inn & Spa gardens look so enchanting and it is so cool you do not have to be a guest in the hotel to visit them. So cool there are also some quality wineries as I really love to do some wine tasting. I really hope I can visit this beautiful town one day.

  • Coralie

    I’m so sad that I missed this pretty town when I visited Niagara – many years ago. I didn’t love Niagara, but this is so enticing. I{‘d love to explore, take ton of photos and pop into that cute theatre. And visit wineries too – obviously!

    • The.Holidaymaker

      Oh yes, Niagara Falls and Niagara-on-the-Lake couldn’t be more different from each other. Too bad you missed out seeing it when you were last in Canada, but it’s definitely a reason to return.

  • Agnes

    Niagara-on-the-Lake seems a very charming, quiet, and beautiful destination. I would like t visit it, especially as it has an exciting history and historical places. I would like to visit McFarlane House, Niagara Apothecary, and Fort George National Historic Site. Also, I like the idea of visiting the city during the Shaw Festival Theatre and enjoying art. Add to my list hunting for vintage treasures in Lakeshore Antiques & Treasures.

  • noel

    Well this totally changed my mind about the waterfalls just that and a tacky souvenirs venues. This is totally cool and charming with a real small town appeal with cool shops, restaurants, breweries and a unique vibe and fun things to do. I love places like this and will definitely put it on the map to visit some da.

  • Renata - www.byemyself.com

    I love to visit places with lots of history – albeit, that’s not good for my fomo-addiction 😉 Niagara on the lake sounds absolutely fascinating. Also, I like that from your pictures, there is some European style with a dash of North America (geographically speaking 😉 ).
    Very interesting and totally worth a visit once I finally make it to Canada.

  • Linda (LD Holland)

    We love doing day trips or longer staycations when we visit Niagara on the Lake. But I must admit that even with the number of times we have visited we have yet to take in the Shaw Festival shows. Maybe this year we will fix that! We will certainly visit for the fresh produce. But would not miss a stop or two at a new winery. A great spot to visit over and over again.

    • The.Holidaymaker

      Shaw Festival is one of my favourites in Ontario. And this would be the year to do it, to help celebrate their special anniversary. I agree, there is always something to do no matter how often you visit.

  • Barry

    I loved NOTL. I only did a whirlwind tour and was there for probably 1.5 days but managed to see the central area and had a long walk down to the park past the weatherboarded houses to see the lake and gazebo – I think we stood in the same place for the same pic. There is so much more to see than I realized. The details you give of all the other stores and attractions make me jealous that I did not know more about the town before I visited. Your photos are beautiful and capture the scenes so well. I never knew it was called Newark previously and the Monet-inspired gardens l (which I missed), look idyllic.

    • The.Holidaymaker

      So happy to hear you’ve experienced it too. Now you’ll need to return and spend a bit more time checking off those things you didn’t get a chance to do while here the first time.

  • Pam

    We absolutely loved Niagara-on-the-Lake! Such a charming town and apparently we missed so much! So many things to do! Great post!

  • Anda

    Niagara-on-the-Lake looks like such a cute, picturesc little town with plenty of nice things to do and good restaurants. I haven’t heard about it till now, so I’m glad to know it exists. It must be fun to visit it during the Days of Wine, Chocolate and Cheese Festival.

  • Emma

    Niagara-on-the-Lake is such a pretty place, I really want to go back soon. I think I need to save up and stay at the Prince of Wales hotel though. It’s such a great looking property. I’d happily visit some of the breweries and them maybe some antique hunting. Can’t wait to get back to Ontario again soon, there are so many lovely little towns

  • Joanna

    I love that in Niagara on the Lake you can find a year-round Christmas shop. I stumbled upon one in France and loved the concept so much. It was like a fairytale. The architecture of the city is so pretty, with so many cute buildings. Indeed the old centre looks like an Instagrammer’s dream. I love that there are vineyards and breweries there as well. Good food is always a plus.

  • Bhushavali

    The history of Niagara-on-the-lake is interesting. The history-buff in me wouldn’t miss the oldest church in Ontario. You sold it to me when you say, Victoria-era 19th-century charm. The gardens of Pillar and the Post Inn & Spa is absolutely charming. Totally my kinda place. I’d spend an entire day walking around enjoying the beautiful, adorable houses.

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