My wife and I visited the falls in June 2011 and took this boat ride, which is something everyone should do. Our trip was guided by Barbara Ireland's "36 Hours in Niagara Falls" article in the May 29, 2011, New York Times. Click HERE to see the article.
There are several things first-time visitors should know about Niagara Falls.
(1) The best views are from the Canadian side, where many hotels offer rooms with views of one or both falls (the two are Horseshoe Falls and the American Falls).
(2) Neither the American side nor the Canadian side is a particularly nice town, but the American side has a small state park with up-close views of both falls. The Canadian side has the bigger hotels, a big area with amusement park attractions, and a long waterfront promenade that takes pedestrians close to the precipice of Horseshoe Falls.
(3) A few minutes' drive on the Ontario side will take you to a relatively charming town called Niagara-on-the-Lake and to Ontario's wine country. Dozens of mostly small wineries produce excellent ice wines using vidal, riesling, sémillon and gewürztraminer grapes. Many of the wineries have excellent restaurants with more interesting menus than you'll find in either of the Niagara Falls towns. Much of the wine that these small operations produce is not sold outside Ontario -- indeed, the wine bar mentioned below did not offer any ice wine at all -- and many sell their wines only at the wineries. So taste and buy as much as you can!
We stayed in Niagara Falls, NY, at the newish Giocomo hotel, which takes up a half-dozen floors in one of the tallest buildings in town, a 1920s office tower, which means that when you're walking around, it's easy to find your way back to the hotel. Click HERE for the hotel's web site. We were there for two nights mid-week and, after complaining about the view, were upgraded from a room that looked directly into another room at another hotel to a room from which we could see the mist rising above the falls. The hotel with its over-the-top flocked wall coverings has a delightful Dom Deluise ambiance; clearly, someone had a lot of fun designing it. We walked to everything on both the American and Canadian sides.
Our only notable meal at the falls was a small-plates dinner at Wine on Third, a wine bar and tapas place in Niagara Falls, NY, a few minutes' walk from the Giacomo. Click HERE for its web site. We really liked the heirloom tomato salad, the chorizo and manchego empanadas, and the artichoke and prosciutto crostini.
For us, two nights was enough, but we didn't visit the amusement park area, we didn't go to the casinos, and we visited only a few wineries. More determined tourists could probably keep themselves occupied for another day.