When travelling to Toronto, many people will take a trip out of the city to see the Niagara Falls, but what if I told you there was a must-visit destination en-route for anyone wanting to experience the Canadian countryside, local wine, and learn about Canada’s history?
On The Traveloid’s recent tour across Canada, this was one of our favourite destinations, and a complete surprise at that. Read on to discover our top tips on things to do in Niagara on the Lake!
Sample local Ice Wine on a winery tour
The Niagara region is well known for its wine, and the areas surrounding Niagara on the Lake is no exception, with over 20 wineries surrounding the town. Wine making in the area is relatively new, beginning around 30 years ago, coming to the area due to the highly fertile soil. As a result, wine makers are constantly experimenting with the grapes they use, and so wines from the area may get even better in the future!
There’s plenty of wine tours available in the area, with prices running into the hundreds of dollars for the most fully featured tours. However, we discovered the Konzelmann winery tour, available for just $10. Despite the low price, they didn’t skimp out, as it included a visit to the vineyard, the production facility, and then a structured tasting of four of their wines, including the region’s famous ice wine.
Originating from Germany and Austria, ice wine is when the grapes are left on the vines in the winter, causing the water inside to freeze. The grapes are then pressed, resulting in a very sweet taste – the ultimate desert wine.
If that’s not to your taste, then you’ll also get the chance to try their flagship white and red wines, as well as peach wine – a speciality of this particular winery. That’s because the land the vineyard is on was originally dedicated to growing peaches, and became Konzelmann’s first product from the area, since moving from their native Germany.
If you’re a wine buff, then make sure you don’t limit yourself to just one of the local wineries. That’s because different soil types and microclimates around the Niagara area mean there’s a huge difference between the grapes grown in the area. Be sure to leave some room in your suitcase as you’ll no doubt want to bring a few samples home with you!
Explore the picturesque town
Believe it or not, this small town was actually the first capital of Upper Canada (now Ontario), and as you can imagine, that means there’s plenty of history around every corner, considering the town has not developed into a major city.
Head down to Queen Street, the main road at the centre of town, and you’ll feel like you’ve stepped back in time to the early 19th century. Well, apart from the occasional car, of course. There’s plenty of old buildings, each with their own history, and helpful plaques around the area explaining the area’s background.
Beyond Queen Street, there’s plenty of beautiful historic churches, houses and other buildings, and best of all, due to the town’s size, it’s all walkable. You can’t go wrong with planning a day into your itinerary to explore and take some photos. In particular, make sure you visit:
- Queen Street
- Front Street
- Butler’s Barracks
- Ricardo Street
- Queen’s Royal Park
Learn about Canada’s history
It’s not just the town where you can experience the history in the area – there’s also the Fort George National Historic site – an important fort protecting Canada during the War of 1812. If you’re not from Canada, you may not have even heard of this war, but in fact it was a crucial event in founding the nation of Canada. At the time, the mouth of the Niagara river – where Niagara on the Lake is situated – was a highly important strategic location. Whoever held the mouth of the river, would effectively control trade across all of the great lakes of North America.
Fort George is a short walk to the east of the town, facing off against the American Fort Niagara across the river. Here, there were several battles to secure control of the river – and Canada by extension.
Even if military history isn’t your thing, a visit to the fort is well worth it to learn about the importance of the town, why it’s there, and why it didn’t grow into a huge metropolis like Toronto on the other side of the lake.
Discover more Canada articles:
- Canada in the Winter: Exciting Adventures Ahead!
- 5 BS Facts about Toronto that Everyone Thinks are True
- 5 Great Nightlife Spots In Montréal
Drink at the local pubs
As you’ve come to expect from The Traveloid, we’ve a penchant for a drink or two on our travels. Naturally, our trip to Niagara on the Lake was not complete without a few trips to the local pubs. Yes, the area is known for it’s wine, but there’s also plenty for craft beer aficionados…
The Exchange Brewery – Located right in the heart of the town on Queen Street, The Exchange Brewery is a great place to stop off after you’ve explored the historic sights. Craft beers are made in house – there’s a brewery downstairs – and numbered, instead of named. That’s a nod to the building’s original use as a telephone exchange. Be sure to head out to the deck on the upper floor on a warm summer day!
The Irish Harp – Niagara on the Lake’s authentic Irish pub has twenty three beers on tap and strives to bring you the true Irish experience. Quite literally, in fact, as the entire pub and restaurant contents was shipped over from Ireland when the building was transformed from a dilapidated wreck in 2005. Make sure you stop by for the great food and Irish hospitality!
The Olde Angel Inn – The town’s oldest pub, established in the centre of town way back in 1789, rebuilt in 1815 after the War of 1812. This British style pub even has a resident ghost, who according to the story, will remain harmless as long as the British flag is flown over the inn. We found it to be one of the most affordable drinking spots in town!
Oast House – The big red barn just outside of town is not just a brewery, it’s also got a fully kitted out patio with bar, large-screen TVs, sound system, and panoramic vineyard views. Be sure to check out the live music and events schedule before your visit!
Check out local events
Despite being a small town, there’s plenty going on, as we discovered when we visited the SupperMarket – a weekly gathering every Wednesday evening between the spring and autumn of live acts, local vendors, breweries, wine makers, and food trucks on the edge of town. This was genuinely a highlight to our visit as an event for locals, by locals, so it really felt like we’d stumbled across something few other visitors would attend!
The Oast House brewery down the road then host the afterparty once the SupperMarket wraps up, so head on over for more live music!
Where to stay
For our trip in June 2019, we stayed at the Best Western Colonel Butler inn, a 3-star hotel almost half the price of other accommodation options in the town and complete with breakfast room and a gym. The hotel is about a 15-20 minute walk from the historic centre at Queen Street, which in our opinion was worth the trade-off for price, as it also meant we had an opportunity to take in the beautiful historic buildings each time we walked in.
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