Niagara Falls is one of those places that I have always wanted to visit. After visiting the waterfalls in Iceland, I really wanted to see this incredible natural wonder right here in North America. But every time I tried to plan a trip I couldn't find a hotel that appealed to me. The hotels along the border on both the American and Canadian side are just too touristy. I wanted to visit but didn't want to sacrifice luxury! So, when my husband asked me to spend a weekend with him in Buffalo, New York (for a work-related event) I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect. Buffalo wasn't high on my must see list. But after a little research, I realized this was my answer to visiting Niagara Falls. I was pleasantly surprised at what else I discovered in Buffalo- a luxury, boutique hotel, a thriving art scene, and fabulous restaurants. We set out for this weekend adventure.
We decided to head straight to Niagara Falls from the Buffalo/Niagara airport which was a quick 30-minute drive. The Falls can be viewed both from the American side and the Canadian side. While the U.S. National Park is beautiful, the view from Canada is much better. Remember to bring your passport because you do have to cross the border over the Rainbow Bridge either on foot or by car. We arrived on the Canadian side around 10:30 and waited about 15 minutes at the border. On our midday return the car line was much longer! The road from the border crossing to the visitor center is so pretty, lined with beautiful yellow, white, and red flowers. But the view of the Falls overshadows all of this. Follow the road for 5 minutes where you will find ample parking at the visitor center.
Niagara Falls is comprised of three sets of Falls: the Horseshoe Falls, the American Falls, and the Bridal Falls. The Horseshoe Falls are the most powerful falls in all of North America. They stand at 167 feet with about 600,000 U.S. gallons of water per second coming over the crest of the Falls. It is incredible to see the sheer power of the water. The water comes from the Niagara River which is fed from Lake Erie and drains into Lake Ontario. Because of the power of the water, Niagara Falls is famous not just for its astounding beauty but also as a source of hydroelectric power. Several different hydroelectric plants harness power form the Niagara River and provide electricity in both New York and Canada.
We started our walk at the top of the Horseshoe Falls. The water above the Falls was a dark green color and moving rapidly in all directions. The waves and flow of the water exuded power and rage but beauty as well. I couldn’t imagine trying to navigate the waters in a boat or swimming (which is not allowed). As we continued walking, we followed the path of the water flow. The view was stunning.
For a more up close look at the Falls, try the Journey Behind the Falls experience. This tour allows you to climb down 150 feet and explore 130 years old tunnels. You can actually feel the vibration of the Falls as you walk through the caves. An observation deck allows you to stand at the bottom of the Falls offering you a view with the water crashing right in front of you! Another great option, is to choose one of the boat companies, The Hornblower Niagara Cruise (on the Canadian side) or The Maid in the Mist (on the American side). Both cruises literally take you to bottom of the crashing water. This is the closest you can get to the Falls so be prepared to get wet!
After taking in the view for a while and a quick cup of coffee in the visitor center, we decided to head back to Buffalo.
The Mansion on Delaware Avenue
I fell in love with this luxury, boutique hotel as soon as I laid eyes on it. The Mansion on Delaware Avenue was built in 1869 as a private residence for a wealthy grain elevator owner. The building is a perfect example of the Second Empire architectural style. This type of architecture was common in the mid-19th century with the wealthier class. The style was borrowed from France and named for the reign of Napoleon III (1852-1870). Buildings in this architectural style are sometimes described as looking like wedding cakes. They were built very ornate and large to exude the feeling of permanence and character. Typical characteristics of this style include: distinctive Mansard roofs, cornices and brackets on the roof, gargoyles, a box-like shape, many large windows with one centrally located on the façade, and a centrally located door elevated above the street level. The Mansion has 173 windows. The amount of windows and 18 foot ceilings were symbols of great wealth since in the 1860s it would have been expensive to heat.
In the 1880s the home was sold and turned into a hotel. At the time, it was the most expensive hotel in Buffalo costing $3 a night. Eventually the Mansion fell into disrepair and stood vacant for 25 years. In 2001, after a $3 million renovation, The Mansion on Delaware reopened as a 28-room hotel. It is a National Historic Home and has received many awards including the AAA Four Diamond Award. It’s easy to understand why.
We were lucky to stay in a fireplace premium grand room with floor to ceiling windows overlooking Delaware Avenue. The room was so charming especially with the fireplace running! The staff at the hotel were incredibly accommodating and drove us all over the city in the hotel Land Rover.
But, oh the art at the Mansion on Delaware!
My favorite part of the hotel was the extensive art collection that adorned the walls. The hotel exhibits works of art from local Buffalo artists throughout both the public rooms and guest rooms. I couldn’t pick a favorite because each one was so unique and beautiful.
Theodore Roosevelt Inaugural National Historic Site
Theodore Roosevelt Inaugural National Historic Site is a short walk up Delaware Avenue from the Mansion. For any presidential history buff, this is a must visit. Located in the Ainsley Wilcox House, the museum presents the history of the house, the circumstances of Roosevelt becoming president and his inauguration. It also preserves the Ainsley Wilcox House and objects from the Pan-American Exposition of 1901 (or World's Fair).
Roosevelt’s inauguration occurred in 1901 after the assassination of President William McKinley. McKinley was attending the Pan- American Exposition in Buffalo when he was shot. Upon hearing this, Roosevelt rushed to Buffalo where he stayed with his friend, Ainsely Wilcox. After several days, it seemed the President was going to recover from his gunshot so Roosevelt left to vacation in the Adirondacks. But on September 13, 1901, McKinley succumbed to the gunshot wound. Roosevelt quickly returned to Buffalo and was immediately sworn in to office in the library of the Wilcox House.
The museum doesn’t take long to visit and provides a comprehensive view of the role Buffalo played in Roosevelt’s presidency and the history of the beginning of Roosevelt’s presidency.
Albright-Knox Art Gallery
The Albright-Knox Gallery is an incredible museum featuring modern and contemporary art. It is about a 10-minutes drive from the Mansion. It sits in Delaware Park overlooking Buffalo State College. Originally, the building was intended to be opened for the Pan-American Fair in 1901, but due to delays in construction it opened in 1905. The collection today features about 6,500 works showcasing Impressionism, Post Impressionism, Surrealism, Cubism, Abstract Expressionism and Pop Art. Highlights of the collection include notable artist such as: Van Gogh, Kahlo, Modigliani, Picasso, Monet, Pollock, Rothko, and Warhol. The museum also has a large sculpture collection. I’m a huge fan of Isamu Noguchi whose sculpture The Cry is exhibited in The Albright-Knox Sculpture Garden.
The Albright-Knox was in the national news when in 2007 they began deaccessioning works. They sold at Sotheby’s a Roman-Era bronze sculpture, Artemis and the Stag, for $28.6 million to a private collector. Controversy occurred for several reasons: The piece was much beloved by the public, the decision to sell was kept a secret, and a board members daughter worked at Sotheby’s. Needless to say, the piece is now on loan to The Metropolitan Museum of Art. I pass it often on my guide tours there!
Today, the museum is thriving and worth a visit. M&T’s First Friday events include free admission, jazz, food and drink parties, art drop in classes and other events. Any discerning art lover will enjoy a trip to this wonderful collection.
Restaurants For Foodies
One of the best parts of the weekend were the incredible restaurants we visited. They ranged in style and types of food but each one was delicious. Buffalo has really become a foodie town.
Roost: Located on Niagara Street right along the river, Roost is super cool and serves innovative, tasty food. The restaurant is located on the first floor of the Crescendo Building, which has recently been refurbished. As you enter, you are immediately greeted with a floor to ceiling mural of a rooster by local artist Chuck Tingley. This is just the beginning of this awesome restaurant decorated with custom metal furniture, wood, cement, and interesting lighting. The feeling is a cool urban vibe. Then there is the food. The pizzas are to die for! The salads and entrees were enormous. The rustic, trendy, innovative comfort food is beyond delicious. Foodies will be in heaven.
Fat Bob’s Smokehouse: Ok, so this couldn’t be any more different than Roost but, Fat Bob’s Smokehouse was out of this world. No one can go to Buffalo without trying some delicious Buffalo chicken wings. Fat Bob’s were mouth-watering. We stopped in for lunch and fell in love with this casual, laid back, barbecue, "hole in the wall" locale. The food was amazing and the desserts were insane! There is nothing fancy about this spot. Its divided into two areas- bar on one side and dining room on other. For a great casual barbecue meal, this is the place!
If Niagara Falls is on your list of must see things, this is the trip for you. I did not expect to enjoy Buffalo as much as I did! The food, the art and history were incredible. Buffalo also has several professional sports teams but we missed their seasons. The food, art, history combined with a fantastic luxury hotel and the proximity to the beautiful, natural wonder of Niagara Falls makes Buffalo and Niagara Falls a fun weekend destination.