Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada
Canada's Journey Behind the Falls observation deck gets visitors into the main attraction.
Niagara Parks Commission

Both Sides Now

Canada, Ontario, Niagara Falls, Horseshoe Falls
Horseshoe Falls is the famous last stop on Niagara Falls's Maid of the Mist boat tour. (Doug Armand - Getty Images)
By Peter Mandel
Special to The Washington Post
Sunday, September 18, 2005

Will the real Niagara Falls please stand up?

Are you Canada's family destination, its Disney and its Vegas tumbled into one? Or are you the lounge club and calzone capital of Upstate New York?

Niagara, you used to have newlyweds in Ramblers with tin cans jangling behind. You had New Yorkers arriving by the trainload. You were the Newport, the Cape May of the North.

Now we're not so sure. Are you a wonder of the world? Are you a spray starch? To the real Maid o' the Mist, the million-gallon Niagara: Please stand up.

To know Niagara Falls these days is to know two mist-split shores: the Canadian city and the American town. Newlyweds still book rooms in both, and some say the negative ions from the rush of the falls cause feelings of attraction. But if you're not into ions, there are all sorts of other, mostly positive lures, like the Canadian side's sleek casinos and space needle towers, and the U.S. side's Italian bakeries and a state park, the nation's oldest, by Frederick Law Olmsted.

Incorporated in 1892, the city of Niagara Falls, N.Y., was the first to use the name that both municipalities now share. The Canadian side just celebrated its civic centennial in 2004, and there were extra floats and fireworks since it has passed its U.S. neighbor in population (78,000 vs. about 50,000) and visitors per year (15 million vs. 8.4 million).

Still, is bigger better? If you have a weekend to spend, which side is a smarter pick for getting close to the roaring water, for nearby things to do, casinos, parks and the like?

Which is the real Niagara -- the coolest for droplet rainbows and hottest for rides and late-night fun? Spray-loving tourists need to know.

© 2005 The Washington Post Company