Free in Niagara Falls – Is it actually possible?
Niagara Falls is a huge tourist destination in Ontario, Canada. Boasting two waterfalls (The American Falls and the Canadian Horseshoe Falls) it is easy to see why! The Horseshoe Falls are 180 feet (57 meters) high and 6 million cubic feet of water flows over the crest every minute. That is about a million bathtubs full of water every minute! Between the garden and lights festivals, other local attractions, parking and the falls themselves (not to mention hotel costs!), it is no wonder it is one of the most expensive places in Ontario to visit. Traveling alone or as a couple is enough to clean out your wallet, and taking your children is bound to be an even more expensive adventure…
Or at least that is what I thought. I have been there dozens of times throughout my lifetime and I recently took my kids for the first time. We have a lot planned this summer, so my goal was to keep it as budget friendly as possible; And I learned a lot!! So to save you from needing a second mortgage in order to visit, here is a list of things that are free in Niagara Falls! Read to the end for money-saving transportation tips!
Free in Niagara Falls – Visit on a budget
For our trip, we were incredibly lucky to have Richard Cudney, owner of Canada Up Close Photography, joining us to take some memorable pictures of our day! Please take a moment to look him up on Facebook!
Locations and information on our list:
- Niagara Parks Botanical Gardens
- The Floral Clock
- Dufferin Islands
- Cham Shan (Ten Thousand Buddahs) Temple
- American and Horseshoe Falls
- Falls Fireworks
- Happy Rolph’s Bird Sanctuary
- The Lakeside Carousel
- Transportation and parking tips
1. Niagara Parks Botanical Gardens
One of the most popular places that is free in Niagara Falls is the Niagara Botanical Gardens; 99 acres of gardens, featuring perennials, flowering trees and shrubs. Beddings are seasonal and changed 3-4 times per year. This location is home to the outdoor classroom for the Niagara Parks School of Horticulture. You will also find another popular (paid) Niagara attraction here: The Butterfly Conservatory.
Parking: Metered short-term or $5 long-term
Address: 2565 Niagara Parkway
2. The Floral Clock
This very unique display is a popular stop for anyone visiting the falls. Ontario Hydro originally built the clock in 1950. At 40 feet wide, with a planted area 38 feet wide, it is one of the largest such clocks in the world. The display is changed twice per year, filled with 15,000-20,000 flowers in intricate designs. The grounds feature garden displays, and a tower behind the clock holds chimes that can be heard every 15 minutes. If the tower is open, peek in at the clock mechanism and see photographs of every face design all the way back to 1950. There is also a 10-foot wide water garden that hugs the 85 foot distance around the base of the clock.
Address: 14004 Niagara Parkway
3. Dufferin Islands
The third item in our “Free in Niagara Falls” list is Dufferin Islands, which is popular with both tourists and locals. You will find 10 acres of small, secluded islands, connected by footpaths and bridges. A recent attempt to further naturalize the area has seen fish introduced to the water. A ‘catch and release’ program is there for anyone interested in some quiet fishing, and bird feeding stations, bird boxes and many newly planted indigenous vegetation have been included, adding to the beauty of this mid-city serenity.
Address: South of the Falls on the Niagara Parkway, between the Niagara Parks Floral Showhouse and the Rapidsview Parking Lot.
4. Cham Shan (Ten Thousand Buddahs) Temple
The Cham Shan (Ten Thousand Buddahs) Temple is an Asian style, seven level building containing collections of Buddhist art and artifacts. They offer free guided tours during summer weekends from June to October. Wear or bring socks, as all visitors must remove their shoes before entering. A place said to create a feeling of calm while visiting, one can hope the kids catch the feeling as well!
Address: 4303 River Road
Website: Check them out on Trip Advisor Canada
5. The Falls
If you’re looking for something that is free in Niagara Falls, look no further than the falls themselves. A walk up Niagara Parkway shows you both sides (American and Canadian Horseshoe) of the stunning waterfalls. Watch for the barge ship stuck in the rapids and the “secret hideout” tree. My kids enjoyed watching the Maid of the Mist and Hornblower ships approaching. The scenery here doesn’t get old, so soak it up from the sidewalk or get a view from the top level of the visitors centre.
Parking: Varies by location. Read below for suggestions.
Address: Niagara Parkway, Niagara Falls
6. Falls Fireworks
Many nights there is an amazing free fireworks show over the falls. For a current schedule, click HERE
**Another quick note about things free in Niagara Falls: While the attractions themselves aren’t free, ALL Niagara Parks Attractions are FREE for children 5 and under!!**
St. Catherines is a city just north of Niagara Falls, which is about a 15 minute drive from downtown to downtown, and definitely worth a visit. Here are a few free things in St. Catherines you can add to your day in Niagara Falls!
7. Happy Rolph’s Bird Sanctuary
Happy Rolph’s is a 15 acre municipal park on the shore of Lake Ontario. They have a large picnic area (with pavilion and washrooms), playground, animal viewing area, nature trail and a 9/11 Memorial Trail. It is the perfect area to stop for a picnic lunch and to let the kids get some energy out! My kids loved the playground and animals, and the view from the nature trail is gorgeous!
Address: 650 Read Rd, St. Catherines
8. The Lakeside Carousel
The Lakeside Carousel has been at home in this park since 1921. It was originally carved in Brooklyn, New York, between 1898 and 1905. Pictures can’t do it justice; It is absolutely gorgeous! The ride itself is .05 cents per person. No, not entirely free, but it is as close to free as you can get. The carousel shares property with a large grassy area (with picnic pavilion), a beautiful sandy beach and a large playground for children (with areas for both toddlers and bigger kids), all of which are free!
Entry: Carousel is .05 cents per ride. All other mentioned attractions are free.
Address: Lakeside Park, 1 Lakeport Road, St. Catharines
Transportation and Parking Tips
- The main parking lot for viewing the falls is just south of the falls on the Niagara Parkway. In July 2017, the cost of parking there was $22, whether you stayed for 12 minutes or 12 hours. This lot is the most convenient and also the most expensive.
- If you don’t mind a bit of an extra walk, drive a little further south on Niagara Parkway to Dufferin Island. It is a beautiful walk and parking is free, just keep an eye out for any signs warning about time limits. (I did not see any such signs during my visit this summer, but I cannot guarantee I didn’t miss them). This option would likely put you a little far from the Clifton Hill area if you were also hoping to visit there.
- A third option for you is the WEGO Bus. This bus system operates three lines that take you to all major Niagara Falls tourist attractions (the main hub is at the Table Rock centre right beside the falls). A 24 hour WEGO pass is $7.50 per adult (or $12 for 48 hours) and $4.50 for children 6-12yrs ($8.50 for 48 hours). Children 5 and under are free. This may seem like a lot, but trust me, it is much less expensive than skipping from one parking lot to another. If you are a family of 4, a 24 hour WEGO pass will cost you $24. Visiting the falls ($22 parking) and the botanical gardens ($5 parking) will have the pass already paid off, and that doesn’t include the $15-20 parking people ask near Clifton Hill. If you want to see everything, WEGO is definitely you’re cheapest option. Find a free or cheap lot (Floral Clock lot connects you to WEGO) and use the bus! You can Check out a Route Map HERE or take a look at the Niagara Tourism Website for more information
If you’re heading to Niagara Falls, be sure to read our article:
How to Reduce Stress on a Family Trip
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