Niagara Falls is a gorgeous place to visit anytime of year, but it’s also a notorious tourist trap that all Canadians know about. It’s got some of the most expensive dining, entertainment, and hotel costs in the country, and lots of foreign travelers fall victim to price inflation without realizing it. But I promise it is possible to visit Niagara Falls on a budget! I’m going to share a few tips of mine that have helped me and my family keep costs down when we visit Niagara Falls, and hopefully you can incorporate some of them into your own itinerary.
Everyone goes to Niagara Falls in the summer, so between June and August, you’re guaranteed to be paying the most expensive prices of the year for anything you want to do. I’ve seen hotel rooms jump to twice the cost they normally go for, so my biggest tip is to consider going to Niagara during the off-season. Niagara Falls is gorgeous in the spring, fall, and winter, but consider coming in April, May, or October for the lowest prices and the best weather for it.
Pay attention to “tourist fees” that pop up on bills at restaurants, hotels, and other establishments in Niagara. The Destination Marketing Fee allows businesses to generate money for tourism development, but you don’t have to pay them—they’re completely voluntary and you don’t have to pay them. The tax money usually disappears into the pockets of the business owners, and I never pay it because I think it’s unfair of businesses to not tell patrons about this. You can find the tourist fee at the bottom of your bill under the HST, and it’s usually called a Tourism Improvement Fee (TIF), Destination Productivity Fee (DPF), Attractions and Promotions Fee (APF), or a Niagara Falls Destination Fee (NFDF). If they tell you you must pay it (which may well happen, especially if you are a person of colour or sound like you’re not Canadian), direct them to one of the various CBC reports with city councillors confirming its voluntary, and they’ll have to accept your refusal. While some places don’t charge much, there are places that will have you paying voluntary fees of $20 or higher for no reason!
Keep in mind that there’s a lot of free things to do in Niagara Falls, and that you don’t have to shell out to go to every attraction you run into. The Niagara Parkway is a nice road to drive or walk along, and the views are absolutely incredible. There’s also the Niagara Glen Nature Center, which is a lovely nature reserve that you can spend time hiking in and learning about the area; likewise, the Niagara Parks Botanical Garden is stunning and full of gorgeous plants no matter what time of year you go in. If you feel like you must go to some of the attractions (and I don’t blame you, I always go on the Maid of the Mist), then pick the most important ones to you and budget for it.
As far as food goes, splurge when you have to. Niagara has some of the best food in Canada, and if you want to have dinner once or twice while you’re there, then work that into your budget while keeping in mind that you’re trying to visit Niagara Falls on a budget. But try your best to pack your lunches and have breakfasts before you leave your room, because food is pricey. The usual advice of packing bread, cheese (if you have a fridge), and salads is applicable here, but if you must eat in the city, visit the smaller restaurants on the outskirts. There are lots of Pakistani, Afghani, and burger joints with affordable meals, and you won’t blow your budget on one meal.