Niagara Falls in summer is classic, as is Ontario’s wine country in the fall crush time. But what about winter? It’s romantic, sleepy, and magical, really — a delightful time to sightsee and tour through the rolling Niagara countryside with its brick villages and Victorians, farms, lakes, and rivers all blanketed in snow. Here are the very best things to do, see, eat, drink, and experience during the quiet season.
Taste Icewine at harvest time
Touring in the fertile Niagara wine region, home to 140 wineries, is a must. In winter, it’s extra special. That’s because this is the time when vintners harvest their award-winning Icewine while the temperamental grapes are still frozen on the vine. Canada, and specifically Niagara, is a world leader in Icewine with 60 specialists. The Niagara Icewine Festival, with tons of events and parties outdoors, takes place in three weekends in January. Do your own driving trip using the Wine Route Planner or take a guided tasting tour. Sip, swirl, and tour at Icewine pioneer Inniskillin. Or spend the day at Peller Estates, a large chateau-like property with an elegant restaurant overlooking the vineyard and the popular 10Below Icewine Lounge, a bar made of ice and kept frigid to simulate the Icewine harvest — don’t worry, Peller supplies parkas.
Step behind the frozen falls
Take an elevator 150 feet down and walk through a tunnel on the Journey Behind the Falls for a look at the 13-story-high fabled cascade from a different perspective — and to hear the thundering roar. Or take a look at the 40-foot-tall ice bridge that forms at the base of Niagara Falls from December to February each year. A natural phenomenon, it resembles a bunch of giant marshmallows covering the Niagara River that can be up to 100-feet thick. Enjoy the snow-covered falls illuminated by two million lights in vibrant colors during the holiday Winter Festival of Lights or join the happy crowds for the free outdoor New Year’s Eve concert and fireworks.
Niagara-on-the-Lake is quaint and charming. But when it’s dusted in white, the 19th century village is down right idyllic. Bundle up and stroll the tree-lined avenues past the stately 1700s-era buildings, shop in town, people-watch in a cafe, try a guided walking tour, or take a horse-drawn carriage ride. Linger over afternoon tea in the drawing room at the lavish Prince of Wales Hotel or sample the labels at 35 wineries nearby. Stay at a cozy B&B or Victorian inn and dine out. There are lots of sophisticated offerings, including trendy, sustainably focused Backhouse, field-to-table Treadwell, Old-World-style manor house Charles Hotel, and seasonal, locavore-minded Ravine Vineyard Restaurant, set in a renovated old farmhouse.
Flightsee over wineries and falls
See Niagara Falls’ grandeur from the air, and learn about the history of the falls and area, on a Niagara Helicopters Classic Tour. This adventure is 12 minutes of hovering and zipping above the cascades and frozen Niagara River, plus glittering views of Toronto and Lake Erie. You can choose a falls-plus-wineries tour, taking in 70 of the area’s vineyards, or book a custom charter of your own design. Not one for helicopters? You can also catch spectacular views of the falls from the 775-foot-high, indoor-outdoor Skylon Tower overlooking the American and Horseshoe Falls.
Relax and rejuvenate off the beaten path
The Twenty Valley is still a largely undiscovered, scenic hilly area along the Lake Ontario shoreline of family farms, 48 wineries, and small towns filled with heritage brick buildings and artisan studios. Plan a wine-plus-R&R getaway to the Spa on the Twenty in charming Jordan Village. Stay next door at the inn, an antiques-filled, 100-year-old Colonial, known for its healthy and delicious seasonal cuisine. Also in town is Cave Springs Cellars, a full-service spa specializing in vinotherapy. The village also puts on a three-day Winter WineFest in early January with celebrity chefs, outdoor Icewine tastings, parties by the fire pit, and long table vintner dinners.
Urban plus outdoors in St-Catharines
Between the Twenty Valley and Niagara-on-the-Lake is St-Catharines on Lake Ontario, the region’s biggest city surrounded by an outdoor playground of parks and trails. Snowshoe The Bruce Trail, passing by the Welland Canal Locks, where ships pass through til the end of December. Walk around the city’s historic downtown, browsing shops for antiques, records, and jewelry, warming up at a coffee house, then settling into a pub or restaurant for the evening. Learn about the historic Underground Railway — an 1820s clandestine network of safe houses and secret routes that brought hundreds of black Americans escaping slavery to Canada — at the 1855 Salem Chapel, a National Historic Site. If you’re ready for more tasting, many consider 13th Street Winery one of the very best in Niagara, especially for its gamay and sparkling wines.
On the U.S.-Canada border between New York and Ontario, and just a short drive from urban Toronto, the Niagara region has lots to discover in winter —
though you can always return for more in the other seasons.
Find more travel tips and info at the Niagara website.