Niagara Falls has been attracting tourists for more than 200 years, serving as an international landmark and a symbol of beauty, power and conservation.
Comprised of American Falls and the Bridal Veil Falls in the United States and the Canadian “Horseshoe” Falls in Canada, they form one of the largest waterfalls in the world—and, with a drop of more than 165 feet, together, they have the highest flow rate of any waterfall in world.
Daredevils and honeymooners flock to the falls, but they’re not the only ones to get a charge out of this magnificent spectacle. Niagara Falls is also an ideal student destination, for the Falls themselves, as well as the numerous educational and recreational activities surrounding them—on both the New York side and the Ontario side. Let’s explore some favorites.
In the USA
Start your visit with Cave of the Winds & The World Changed Here Pavilion, which serves up mighty lessons in both science and history. Learn how Nikola Tesla harnessed the power of the Falls for electric currents, see what the Falls were like before they became a tourist attraction, and descend 175 feet into the Niagara Gorge for a breathtaking, up-close observation of Bridal Veil Falls from the Hurricane Deck.
For a deeper dive into the energy of the falls, the power of the Robert Moses Dam, and the work of pioneers such as Tesla and Thomas Edison, head over to Niagara Power Vista. This free, by reservation opportunity features interactive exhibits on electricity and hydroelectricity and immersive STEM learning workshops.
To experience the Falls from a different vantage point, take a sightseeing boat tour with Maid of the Mist, which has been operating since 1846. Or, go on an adventure with Whirlpool Jet Boat Tours, which races through the Class V Devil’s Hole Rapids and offers both wet and dry tours. Student groups can also engage with Buffalo Niagara Waterkeeper for guided nature hikes, environmental history tours, and paddle and kayak tours.
For a view into the area’s past, visit Old Fort Niagara, a historic site with original 18th century buildings and fortifications that also offers vibrant living history programs. There’s also Niagara Falls Underground Railroad Heritage Center, an experiential museum that tells the stories of Underground Railroad freedom seekers and abolitionists in Niagara Falls.
Also not to be missed while in the area is Aquarium of Niagara. This attraction presents more than 120 species in a wide range of habitats, and offers add-ons, including up-close animal encounters, special tours, and behind-the-scenes access.
There’s plenty more for student groups to do and see in nearby Buffalo. Start with a Buffalo Double Decker “Hands On History” Tour on an authentic British double decker bus, and hear stories of the Underground Railroad, the Erie Canal, and Grain Silos along the way. Or, try the Best Of Buffalo Tour, a downtown indoors and outdoors walking tour that provides an overview of area history and delves into notable architectural buildings and styles. There’s also the must-see Anti-Slavery Re-Enactment Tour: “Living History Theater.” This immersive educational experience includes a visit to a Quaker community, plus costumed actors and interpreters playing historical figures, such as a former slave, an abolitionist, and a women’s rights activist.
Other attractions of note include the Buffalo Museum Of Science, featuring exhibits, tours, and customized workshops, as well as interactive science studios and 3D cinema, and the Whitworth Ferguson Planetarium, where students can view the solar system, the night sky, and the universe.
Don’t leave Buffalo without a show and an educational experience at Shea’s Performing Arts Center! They offer a variety of acting, singing and dance programs, as well as live Broadway shows.
Head across the channel into Ontario to take in the Falls from a different perspective, and stay to enjoy the many student-focused activities offered in and around the Niagara region. Journey Behind the Falls takes students down 125 feet to the base of Horseshoe Falls where they can see this amazing wonder from below and behind.
There are other exciting ways to behold the falls, by water and by air. Take an exhilarating ride with Niagara City Cruises and become immersed in the Falls from every angle. They also offer a light-mist, illuminated ride after sunset. Aboard the Whirlpool Aero Car—a suspended cable car—students get a glimpse from above of the Niagara Whirlpool, a swirling natural formation at the end of the rapids. For the adventurous, hit the courses at WildPlay Zipline to the Falls, with self-paced climbing, ziplining, jumping, and swinging aerial games—views of the whirlpool and Niagara Gorge below. Another way to see the Falls from high up is from Skylon Tower, which has 360-degree, indoor and outdoor observation from 764 feet. There’s dining in the tower and also in the food court within the indoor amusement area, Skylon Fun Centre, at the base.
More thrills await at Clifton Hill, an acclaimed “Street of Fun,” with cool attractions and rides, including the 175-foot-high Niagara Skywheel; Niagara Speedway, an elevated go-kart track; Zombie Attack, a real-time, multi-sensory 6D game; and many, many more.
For a sweet diversion, head to Maple Leaf Place, a maple factory showcasing the art and science behind maple syrup production. Enjoy maple syrup tasting and learn about Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) involved in maple syrup farming. Plus, shop for souvenirs and fuel up at the cafeteria-style food court, which offers affordable meal plans tailored to student groups. Opt for the pancake breakfast or lunch featuring distinctively Canadian flavors. Don’t forget to stop at Selfie Central before you leave!
Theater buffs will want to visit the Shaw Festival Theatre in Niagara-on-the-Lake for an impressive lineup of live theatre productions. And, check out Greg Frewin Theatrical Centre for the awe-inspiring Wonder Magic Show.
Historic sites are abundant in greater Niagara as well, including Old Fort Erie, the site of one of the most famous battles of the War of 1812 and a significant crossing point of the Underground Railroad into Canada. Another place of interest is Fort George National Historic Site, featuring a variety of lively presentations by costumed staff. In summer, student groups can take in a performance by the 41st Regiment of Foot Fife and Drum Corps.
There are so many options for students in Niagara Falls, no matter which side you’re on. Looking for more ideas? Destination Niagara USA, Buffalo Niagara CVB, and Niagara Falls Tourism (Canada) are excellent resources for planning your trip!
Written by Allison Kay Bannister for the January 2024 issue of Teach & Travel.
Photo Courtesy of Niagara Falls Tourism.