A quicker-than-expected 40-minute trip, crossing the Lewiston-Queenston Bridge. Be sure your path takes you along the Niagara Parkway at least once, so you can catch the sights of this scenic Canadian drive dotted with stately homes and vineyards as it follows the Niagara River.
Set into the crook where Lake Ontario meets the Niagara River, Niagara-on-the-Lake packs a lot into its small package. It’s a renowned theater destination thanks to summer’s marquee Shaw Festival as well as a beloved wine region with options for any palate. It’s also a charming 19th-century town complete with an old stronghold, Fort George, and picturesque main thoroughfare, Queen Street, perfect for ambling.
The many facets of Niagara-on-the-Lake are no secret, either. Weekends are often a busy affair, especially in the summer, and events and festivals fill the calendar year-round. But visiting during off weekends has its own distinct appeal, too. We chose to explore NOTL once winter’s frost had fully set in—and it’s in these quieter moments that the town’s quaint character truly shines.
Where to stay
Prince of Wales Hotel—This iconic spot delivers the postcard experience ideal for a NOTL newbie like me. Its prime location at the corner of Queen and King streets is paired with opulent interiors (those parquet floors!) and thoughtful touches that impress without feeling forced. And yes, it’s worth the splurge for a room with a fireplace when visiting in winter.
Places to eat
The Pie Plate—Without fail, this is where the locals told us to go whenever we asked what can’t be missed. The cozy spot serves up a small menu for both lunch and dinner featuring fresh baked breads and thin crust pizza. But it’s what comes after that’ll win your heart: A slice of that day’s pie (strawberry rhubarb for me) that’s the delectable combination of flakey, buttery, tart and sweet.
The Garrison House—Their refined-casual vibe and robust lineup of comfort classics was exactly what we were craving after a long day of exploring in low temps. Local ingredients and inspiration are menu staples here (you can get a side of gravy with anything), and their drink list is full of local wines and beers, a wonderfully prevalent theme of NOTL dining.
What to do
Stroll Queen Street—This is exactly the main street you crave from such an idyllic, walkable downtown, where shops and restaurants commingle with historic homes. Crowds can make navigating the small shops a bit of a dance, but the standouts are worth the wait and turnover is fast.
For a sugar-fueled trip down memory lane, pop into Old Tyme Candy Shoppe, where the walls are lined in sweets from every decade and destination. Have a few loonies ready to go for their classic games like Galaga and gumball machines. Natasha Bradley Home brings a welcome dose of a fresh, modern aesthetic with its well-curated collection of decor and gifts. Think gorgeous hand-painted tapers, sculptural multipurpose bowls and an eponymous line of candles and home scents. Cecile’s Home & Gift is packed full of home accents, many with a French air, but it’s the kitchenware that catches the eye, from the rainbow of bowls to its assortment of mini serving ware.
Sample the region’s wines—The compactness of this area makes wine tasting an easy feat, whether you want just a few sips or a full-fledged tour. We opted for a happy medium, using our meals as an introduction to local labels followed by winery visits for proper tastings. A stop by Big Head Winery enticed us to break our usual habit of splitting a tasting—and left us with an unexpected favorite, the Big Bang Gris sparkling wine, a steal at $25 CA.
Go for a skate (with seasonal sips)—In a fitting ode to its NHL-legend owner and Canadian winters, Wayne Gretzky Estates boasts its own outdoor rink. Take to the ice in the late afternoon, when the sun is setting and string lights are twinkling, and stay toasty at their heated Whisky Bar Patio with seasonal cocktails crafted with their whiskey, including spiked apple cider and hot toddies. (There’s also an outdoor rink at Fort George.)