From my first visit to Niagara-on-the-Lake (NOTL,) I totally fell in love with the quaint, colonial town. While many people may confuse it with its more touristy neighbor Niagara Falls, Niagara-on-the-Lake in Ontario, Canada couldn’t be more different. This small town is at the heart of Canada’s wine industry with a unique terrain that allows it to produce a large variety of wines. Not only is the wine really good, but there’s also an amazing selection of restaurants and farm-to-table cuisine to accompany it. It’s no surprise that NOTL was named Canada’s #1 food and wine destination on TripAdvisor!
With easy access from both Canada and the US, Niagara-on-the-Lake is the perfect place for a weekend getaway, especially for a girls weekend or couples trip. Keep reading for our tips on when to visit, where to stay and what to do and eat in Niagara-on-the-Lake.
Getting to Niagara-on-the-Lake
We’re lucky enough to be able to drive to Niagara-on-the-Lake from Pittsburgh. The drive is about 4 hours depending on traffic, which makes NOTL a perfect weekend trip. If you’re flying, luckily you have options, since Niagara-on-the-Lake is within driving distance from both the Buffalo, New York and Toronto airports. The drive to NOTL is approximately 40 miles from Buffalo Niagara International Airport and 80 miles from the Toronto Pierson International Airport. Keep in mind that NOTL is in Canada, right over the border, so you will need a passport or passport card to get there if you’re traveling from the United States.
The Best Time to Visit Niagara-on-the-Lake
To date, I’ve been to the region in December, February and May. While the snow-covered town is charming in February for Valentine’s Day, my favorite time to visit by far is May. The flowers are in bloom and it’s generally warm enough to spend time outdoors and properly enjoy the gorgeous vineyards in NOTL. My Mom and I went for Mother’s Day Weekend a few years back, and it was seriously the best way to experience the area. I couldn’t think of a better way to spend Mother’s Day Weekend than with beautiful scenery, lots of fresh air, amazing wine and yummy food. Tip: If you do plan to visit Niagara-on-the-Lake during the winter months, just be aware that the region can experience heavy lake effect snows. Be sure to check the weather forecast first to make sure you’re prepared!
Niagara-on-the-Lake’s Signature Events
NOTL offers a few amazing signature food and wine pairing events throughout the year. My husband and I went to the Days of Wine and Chocolate in February one year, and I went with my mom to the Sip and Sizzle signature tasting event that takes place during May. These signature events at the wineries of Niagara-on-the-Lake are one of my favorite things about the area. For a reasonably priced ticket, you can sample food and wine at over 20+ wineries around the area. Each event takes place during a specific month, and the food and wine pairings are available at participating wineries throughout the month.
I’d recommend purchasing tickets in advance if you chose to attend, keeping in mind that one ticket can be used for each event’s duration. (This is great for those of you who are close enough to go more than once during the month!) For more information on purchasing tickets for one of Niagara’s signature wine tasting events, see here.
Where to Stay in Niagara-on-the-Lake
My favorite place to stay in Niagara-on-the-Lake is the Post House Inn. This adorable boutique style inn and bed and breakfast is perfectly situated in the middle of the town of Niagara on the Lake. The building dates back to 1835 and it’s maintained a lot of the decor and charm to go with that. I stayed here with my Mom for our mother-daughter trip on Mother’s Day weekend, and the 2-bedroom Postmaster Suite couldn’t have been more perfect. The Post House Inn also offers modern amenities including a swimming pool for the summer months. The breakfast offered was amazing, and the Inn also offers snacks throughout the day. Note: The Post House Inn caters toward adults, and therefore children under 12 are not permitted to stay there. Save this one for a girls getaway or couples weekend!
If you’re looking for a family-friendly hotel, the Hilton Garden Inn Niagara-on-the-Lake is another option. We stayed there previously and loved the indoor pool and close proximity to the shopping outlets. While it’s not right in town, it’s easy to get to and is right off the highway. This makes it a great hotel option for accessing Toronto and/or Niagara Falls if you want to do some sightseeing in the surrounding area while visiting Niagara-on-the-Lake. Plus you can’t beat the nightly rates at the Hilton Garden Inn in NOTL.
For additional options on where to stay in Niagara-on-the-Lake, visit the official website here.
The Best Wineries in Niagara on the Lake
With over 25 wineries and a variety of grapes, you could spend a whole week in NOTL exploring the wineries alone. During my first visit, I couldn’t believe the diversity of the wines available and how full bodied and flavorful they were. I honestly had no idea that wine in Ontario, Canada could be that good!
One of my favorite things about Niagara-on-the-Lake is the diversity of the wineries and that no two wineries area alike. Each has it’s own unique appearance, approach to wine making and back story. Below are a handful of our favorite wineries based on a combination of the vineyards, the overall experience, and of course, the wine. You really can’t go wrong with any of them, though, and each wintery in NOTL offers an experience just as special as the wine.
Our favorite wineries in NOTL
- Chateau des Charmes: Just as classy as the name sounds, this winery is at the start of Niagara-on-the-Lake and is a great way to begin your wine tour. Try the rosé if you’re there in the warmer months!
- Konzelmann Estate Winery: This is a beautiful lakefront estate with German influence and is known for it’s fruity Merlot.
- Jackson-Triggs Estate Winery Known for the Pinot Noir and a selection of other wines made in one of the most advanced, state of the art winemaking facilities. There is also an amphitheater onsite that hosts a number of musicians in the warmer months.
- Inniskillin: One of the oldest wineries in NOTL that’s known for its ice wine .
- Keller Estate: This winery has a beautiful setting with great outdoor seating and crisp and fruity Sauvignon Blanc.
- Ravine Vineyard Estate Winery: This organic winery is set on a beautiful farm with a great Cab Franc. There’s an on-site restaurant and shop, and many of the foods offered are literally farm-to-table.
- Reif Estate Winery – This is one of the founding wineries in NOTL with a deep history in wine making out of Germany. They make a variety of wines, from full bodied reds to ice wine.
- Southbrook Organic Vineyards for organic and biodynamic vineyards along with a LEED® Gold-certified building to accompany it. We enjoyed both the Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay here.
- Stratus Vineyards– The modern, cube-like building alone sets it apart. Stratus is for its assemblage wines (i.e. blends) and for being one of the only vineyards in the world that doesn’t use a pump to transport its wines.
- Strewn Winery: Strewn is known for its flagship red blend wine and cabernet sauvignon. (Both of which make a great sangria!) Strewn Winery also offers on-side cooking classes and is home to OLiV Restaurant.
- Two Sisters Vineyard Another beautiful estate with a great story behind it, named for the two sisters who founded it. There’s an expansive boutique and onsite restaurant (Kitchen 76) to pair with the great wine. This is one that I’d love to do a tour of the grounds some day!
There are also a few new wineries that have opened in Niagara-on-the-Lake since our last trip. The Wayne Gretzky Estates Winery & Distillery is one that is high on our list for the next trip!
Tip: We did self-guided tours each time and it’s totally doable. If you go that route, I recommend printing out a map and planning your route in advance, since the wineries are spread out. You can find a map of Niagara-on-the-Lake wineries here. If you want a guided tour, this private NOTL wine tour from Viator looks amazing!
Other things to Do in NOTL Besides Drinking Wine
If you’re visiting the region with kids or (gasp!) need a break from drinking wine, you’re in luck! There are so many other great things to do in this picturesque town. We’ve included a few ideas for things to do in Niagara-on-the-Lake below. Also keep in mind Toronto is close to NOTL as well, making it a great option to combine the two for a week-long vacation.
- Rent a bike to explore NOTL. We rented from Zoom Leisure, which offers half and full day rentals as well as wine tours. The bikes even include a handle bar bag, which is the perfect size for a wine bottle or two!
- Golf at one of several courses available. Niagara-on-the-Lake Golf Club is a public course right in town with beautiful views of the water. (Fun fact: it’s also the oldest golf course in North America!)
- Shop at one of the many local shops in NOTL or the Outlets at Niagara.
- Experience the beauty of nature on the Niagara River Recreation Trail.
- Browse one of several art galleries.
- Tour Fort George and learn about it’s significance during the War of 1812.
- Visit the nearby Niagara Falls, which is a short 15-20 minute drive from NOTL. I haven’t experienced the zipline over Niagara Falls yet, but it’s high on my list!
- Swap the wine for beer and do a tour of the breweries to experience Niagara-on-the-Lake’s growing craft beer scene.
Where to Eat in Niagara-on-the-Lake
Having done some of Niagara’s food and wine pairing events, we’ve had a chance to sample a lot of great food at many wineries. In addition to the wineries, NOTL offers so many great farm-to-table restaurants with innovative cuisines that you could very well go there for the food alone. Below a few of our favorite recommendations.
- Lunch on the farm at Ravine Winery’s beautiful covered patio (and be sure to get the charcuterie board pictured above!)
- Dinner at Treadwell for an innovative farm-to-table meal in a cozy setting, accompanied by local wines.
- Dinner and/or drinks at the Old Winery Restaurant for Tuscany inspired food and live music.
- Tapas at OLiV Restaurant, located at Strewn Winery.
- Niagara on the Lake Golf Club Restaurant for breakfast or a casual meal with amazing views.
If Niagara-on-the-Lake wasn’t previously on your radar as a great wine-taring destination, it definitely should be! Whether you’re looking for a fun new girls weekend idea, a relaxing couple’s trip or a picturesque town to enjoy with the whole family, Niagara on the Lake is the perfect destination for a weekend getaway.
Please share in the comments if you have any favorite wineries or things to do that aren’t listed here!
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