Old Falls Street USA hearts and family of six

Searching for fun things to do in Niagara Falls, NY, for families can overwhelming. Most of the information focuses on the Canadian side, and that requires getting passports for everyone. Luckily, the vast Niagara Falls State Park has incredible attractions and vantage points. Before visiting, you can take advantage of this itinerary to travel to Niagara Falls, NY, on the USA side of the falls.

If you’re not prepared when visiting Niagara Falls, NY, with kids, there are astounding sites (and delectable treats) that you could miss. After reading reviews complaining about the New York side of Niagara Falls, we were pleasantly surprised. There is more to see than you might think. (And it’s easier to keep your children alive near death-defying heights than I expected!)

As a family of six with four children ranging from one to ten years old, our family faces unique needs while planning what to see on the USA side of Niagara Falls. This article covers what to do for families in Niagara Falls, NY.

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Four smiling children on bench at Anchor Bar, NY

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The Best

Things to Do in Niagara Falls, NY for Families

If you can take your time driving to Niagara Falls, New York for families has a lot to offer. There are wineries in northern New York, quaint lakeside towns, and concord grapes to stuff your belly. We also stopped at a charming ice cream stand called the Frosty Treat in Irving, New York, that served striking sundae combinations.

The itinerary notes if any item was free or cheap. If you are like us, slightly miserly, and prefer saving your hard-earned money. Besides, it would be best if you didn’t have to break the bank to experience paradise in our backyard. Follow along for the picture-perfect 48-hour itinerary for a family weekend. All of the destinations are located on the map below.

This map was made with Wanderlog, a road trip planner app on iOS and Android

Day One: The Arrival at Niagara Falls, NY

  • Whether arriving by plane, train, or automobile, plan to get in at a reasonable time. To complete all of the family-friendly activities in Niagara Falls, USA, plan to arrive at your hotel by 6 P.M.
Family doing silly poses in barrel over faux Niagara Falls
  • Niagara Wax Museum of History: While it is incredibly cheesy and the wax figures are old-fashioned, you must see it at least once. I was expecting a celebrity mausoleum. While they inexplicably have wax figures of Princess Diana, Mother Teresa, and Julia Roberts (but seriously- why???), everything else focuses on the region’s rich history. The museum could use a refresh (probably since the 1960s) and, unfortunately, still uses the term ‘Indian’. But it was interesting to learn about Niagara Falls and see the devices that daredevils have used to go over the falls. Did you know that a tightrope walker successfully crossed the falls with someone on his back? Neither did I until I visited. For those of us who are cheesy tourists obsessed with photos, you can score the above photo at the very end of the exhibit for free. BONUS- I found a Groupon that made it only $14 for four, and the two littles were free, as are all children five years old and younger. After experiencing the museum, there is a souvenir shop if you crave a touristy sweatshirt or shot glass. The museum lets out onto Old Falls Street, a three-block entertainment district.
Family of six in front of mural with hearts and bright background at Old Falls Street
  • Old Falls Street: Even if you’re not hungry, there are more photo opportunities to be had! (Hopefully, your family is more photogenic than mine!). Casey Milbrand of Buffalo, New Y0rk, created a large mural with hearts and the phrase “let’s fall in love” that is Instagram-worthy for all to enjoy. The street also features food trucks and festivals: tag @OldFallsStreetUSA and @CaseyMillbrand in any photos and hashtag #letsfallinlove on Instagram and Twitter. Here you can rent bicycles, strollers, wheelchairs, and wagons.
  • Walk the Shoreline Trail to the falls (free): If you go down to the Niagara River, you can walk along the Shoreline trail and pass the American side of the falls. You can view all of the waterfalls along the way.
  • Dinner: You have a couple of options. Since our kids are on the younger side, we chose the Rainforest Cafe near our hotel because it looked like an adventure. I also found a Groupon that made the jungle-themed restaurant cheap. Plus, if you sign up for the survey site Mypoints.com, you can earn free Landry’s gift certificates that can be used at the Rainforest Cafe. Others with older kids may opt for the Hard Rock Cafe. However, if you have adventurous eaters, many fantastic local restaurants are worthy of support, like the Griffon Gastropub.
Smiling child and mom in front of a large mushroom and tree at the Rainforest Cafe Niagara Falls

Day Two: A Busy 24 hours on the Niagara River

  • Eat Breakfast at the Red Coach Inn (by 8:30 A.M. or earlier). The Inn is historical, and the outdoor seating is nestled in a garden with a koi pond. The restaurant is a Triple Star AAA restaurant that serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner every day except for Christmas. Breakfast features classics like steak & eggs, eggs benedict, and a breakfast sandwich. However, there are also unique options like crab omelets, creme brulee french toast, and strawberry french toast. Make sure you eat a hearty enough meal to get you through several hours of sightseeing. You may want to send someone to Cave of the Winds to purchase a ticket for later in the day (after 11 A.M.) if you are going during a busy season, as they are not available online. If you’re looking to skip the line at Cave of the Winds (and get a short tour), some tours allow you to do just that (Check price).
  • Observation Deck: If the observation deck is open, you can walk out on this before getting on the elevator to stand in line for your ride. The observation tower extends out over the Niagara Gorge. Checking out this unobstructed view of Niagara Falls and the raging Niagara River is a must-do and certainly better than standing in a line. Bonus- during the offseason for Maid of the Mist, the tower is free.
  • Maid of the Mist: The Maid of the Mist heads up the Niagara River towards the Horshoe Falls. The steel, double-decker, 145-ton boat passes the American and Bridal Falls. The iconic boat ride has been running since 1846 when its maiden voyage occurred on a sidewheel steamboat ferry. The ride is seasonal and open from either April or May until October. Be prepared for an incredible twenty-minute boat ride, but you will get very wet. However, our ponchos protected us from the spray! Children under 5 are free, and all receive a souvenir blue poncho.
  • If you’re looking for a tour that will take the guesswork out of it, Viator has some incredible Niagara Falls options that include Maid of the Mist, but are more costly. However, you will get the most Niagara Falls activities jam-packed into the day by seeking expert tour guides.
A couple in blue hooded ponchos in front of New York's American Falls on the Maid of the Mist

Niagara Scenic Trolley: This wooden trolley is not an actual guided tour but gives historical facts, fun anecdotes, and tips about Goat Island and Niagara Falls State Park along the way. The trolley only costs a couple of dollars, and children five years and younger are free. At the first stop, get off to visit the Cave of the Winds, the Nikola Tesla Statue, and Terrapin point.

Family of six inside a wooden trolley in Niagara Falls Scenic Trolley in upstate New York
  • Cave of the Winds: These stairs take you down 175 feet into the Niagara Gorge, where you can be closer than imaginable to the Bridal Veil Falls. Unlike the Maid of the Mist, you control how wet you get. The more steps that you climb, the wetter you are. Anyone with tiny kids most likely will avoid the “hurricane deck.” Fun fact: Most stairs are torn out and reconstructed yearly. The company provides a yellow rain poncho and flimsy flip-flops to everyone. While the Cave of the Winds does not accommodate strollers, children five and under are free. You can wear babies and little kids in a front-facing carrier, and they make small ponchos.
  • Nikola Tesla Statue (free): After Cave of the Winds, head to the American Falls. You can get an excellent view, and there is the hidden gem of the giant monument that was a gift to the United States from Yugoslavia in 1976.
Statue of Nikola Tesla reading a book by the American Falls in New York
  • Pack a light picnic lunch or swing by the snack bar at Cave of the Winds on your way back. I prefer a backpack I can wear instead of a large sack I have to drag around. Check prices here for my favorite backpack cooler to combine the superpowers of a diaper bag and cooler.
  • Terrapin Point (free): While it may not sound like it, this was the absolute highlight of our trip. Seeing the mammoth U-shaped waterfall spraying water nearby is incredible. You are right next to the Horseshoe Falls on this far end of Goat Island. I was not expecting this view. There is a gift shop and Top of the Falls restaurant, a poorly rated eatery with an incredible vantage point.
Family in front of the misting Horseshoe Falls in Niagara Falls, NY

Trolley: Go back towards the plaza outside the Top of the Falls restaurant and wait for the scenic trolley. The trolley will take you back down Goat Island to the original stop near the Maid of the Mist. The wait on the Niagara Scenic Trolley is the luck of the draw. We’ve waited quite a while and also hopped right on!

Niagara Falls State Park sign with family giving the thumbs up

Niagara Adventure movie: Experience the history of Niagara Falls and immerse yourself in the experience. The price was honestly way too much for the film’s length, and we preferred the wax museum. The attraction is great for those looking for some air conditioning and peace.

Adam’s Power Plant Transformer House (free): This is not an attraction to visit, but it is worth driving past. My kids found it fascinating, but we’re history nerds. The Edward Dean Adams Power Plant was the first to transfer commercial electricity over significant distances. When the switch flipped in 1896, the alternating current pulsing towards Buffalo satisfied Nikola Tesla’s dream of harnessing the power of Niagara Falls. The plant closed in 1965, and most of the power station was destroyed. All that remains is the Transformer House, a dilapidated building on the National Registry of Historic Places that remains vacant.

Adrian’s Custard & Beef: Like many families, one of our favorite things to do in Niagara Falls, NY is eating! You can save a ton of money for dinner and enjoy a local favorite- beef on weck! Check out our entire post about beef on weck in Niagara Falls, New York USA.

The menu also had burgers, hot dogs, fries, custard, and other frozen treats. Spoiler alert: the hot dog and burgers were not worth it. However, this beef on weck was one of the best I have ever had, and my family lives in New York. Unfortunately, this requires driving (but is worth it, I promise!)

New York kummelweck bun with coarse salt and caraway seeds on top with au jus on the side
  • Sunset at prospect point (free): Watch the sunset fade into the dark while listening to the Niagara River’s peaceful roar. Seriously, I fall asleep to the video we took of the river and waterfalls.
  • Niagara Falls illuminated at night (free): The falls are majestic any day. However, when they have giant spotlights on them- it is unforgettable. During tourist seasons, they even have fireworks over the falls. If you’d feel safer, there’s also a guided 60 to 90-minute small-group tour of the illuminated Niagara Falls at night.
  • If you like the idea of doing a bunch of the excursions from today, but are overwhelmed about planning it all, there are options. A 4-hour guided tour can take you on the Niagara Falls state park scenic trolley, Cave of the Winds, and Maid of the mist (Check price now).

Day 3: Leaving the fabulous Niagara Falls, NY

  • Marketside restaurant: A family-owned local joint since 1939, they offer big portions and a quaint atmosphere.
  • Marketside is the last item on the itinerary. If you don’t have to leave immediately following breakfast, plan an eight-minute drive for one last peek at the falls. If you have more time, there are many additional Niagara Falls attractions that you could check out.

Additional Fun Things to Do in Niagara Falls NY for Families

Planning the best Niagara Falls, NY itinerary does not have to be stressful. There are so many things to do in Niagara Falls, NY for families that we couldn’t do them all in one short weekend. But you could easily add an extra day to see it all.

While there are many fun things to do in Niagara Falls, NY, for families, these are the experiences that my kids still remember. There is a lot to do besides the falls.

Best Thing to Do Near Niagara Falls NY

If you’re looking to gorge yourself on another delicious beef on weck sandwich, visit the Silo in Lewiston, NY, made famous by Man vs. Food on the Food Network. No judgment here- we did. Try the haystack sandwich if roast beef on kummelweck rolls isn’t your thing.

The Silo is a casual, family-friendly restaurant near Niagara Falls NY. Most importantly, you order at a counter and eat in an actual silo along the Niagara River. There are also railroad cars for ice cream later. The area is open and provides space for kids to run around.

What are the best free family activities to do on the USA side of Niagara Falls, New York?

If you’ve burned through your vacation money on your family trip to niagara falls NY., no worries. We’ve gathered a list of the best free things to do in Niagara Falls NY for families. These activities and attractions in Niagara Falls NY will feel like you’ve spent serious money without spending a dime!

  • Walk the Niagara River shoreline
  • Nikolai Tesla statue
  • Terrapin point
  • Adam’s Power Plant Transformer House
  • Sunset at Prospect Point
  • Illuminated Niagara Falls at night
  • Observation deck (during the off-season of Maid of the Mist

What is your favorite thing to do on the USA side of Niagara Falls (in New York)? Tell me what you love about Niagara Falls, New York attractions in the comments.

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5 Comments

  1. This list is really awesome! I agree, it can be hard to find fun, family things to do when searching online for the American side.

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