"Carriage Ride in Simcoe Park, Niagara-on-the-Lake"

A Magical Weekend North of the Falls: Niagara-On-The-Lake

By Sarah Kohl

Niagara-on-the-Lake Getaway Weekend

If Niagara Falls is the self-proclaimed ‘Honeymoon Capital of the World’ what would you call a picturesque, sophisticated town an hour north on the shores of Lake Ontario?

"Carriage Ride in Simcoe Park, Niagara-on-the-Lake"
Carriage Ride in Simcoe Park, Niagara-on-the-Lake

Niagara-on-the-Lake should be called the ‘Lets Stay Married Capital of the World’. It’s the perfect getaway for couples who enjoy theater, fine dining, and wine tasting all set in a charming Victorian-era town. Don’t worry if you have never heard of it. Niagara-on-the-Lake is a well-kept secret, one which we only recently discovered passing by on a trip to Toronto. The charming, flower strewn streets, theater festival, and many restaurants worked their way into our imagination until we finally made plans to spend a long, luxurious weekend there this summer.

"Niagara River Meets Lake Ontario"
Niagara River Meets Lake Ontario

Nestled along the shores of Lake Ontario, across from Toronto where the Niagara River meets the lake, this town is famous for the Shaw Festival Theatre, long summer days, wine tasting and fine dining. It draws an eclectic, international over-40 crowd.

Theater Extraordinaire: The Shaw Festival Theatre

The Shaw Festival Theatre is the main attraction in town and has been producing plays for over 50 years. This year alone they are showcasing 10 plays in four different theaters.

"Shaw Festival: 10 Plays Performed in Four Theaters"

Who will you marry…and do you want to stay married?

These are the questions posed by the two comedies we selected: Arms and the Man and When We are Married. There were so many choices it was hard to pick just two from the fantastic line up of plays written by George Bernard Shaw and his contemporaries.

Arms and the Man asks: who is a suitable match for marriage? Should you be aspirational in your choice of future partner or would you do better to pick someone compatible with your temperament.  Set during the Serbo-Bulgarian war young lovers cross paths, hijinx ensue, but eventually Shaw answers the question.

Whereas in When We are Married three couples are celebrating 25 years of marriage when suddenly they discover that they are not really married. This is, of course, scandalous in Edwardian England. But it begs the question…after you test-drive a marriage, would you stay married? This is offered through the lens of three marriage archetypes: one couple has a domineering husband, one a hen-pecked husband, and the third couple deals with infidelity. Additional characters both saucy and sauced provided comedic relief as well as thoughtful analysis of what makes a marriage last.

Stay, Sip, Eat

Your choice of hotels and rentals are endless; of course the ‘usual suspects’ (popular mid-level chain hotels) are on the periphery, but we decided to try one of the recently renovated old-fashioned hotels in town. Our choice was the popular Prince of Wales, which is part of a consortium of vintage hotels offering more amenities than you can take advantage of in a weekend. We were not disappointed.

"Prince of Wales Hotel, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario"
Relax at the Prince of Wales Hotel

Between shopping, walking along the lakefront, and attending plays we carved out a little time for High Tea at the Prince of Wales. Mr. Wonderful was gracious enough to indulge me this relaxing break so that we could refuel and spend time visiting with each other without distraction.

"High Tea at Prince of Wales Hotel, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario"
Mr. Wonderful enjoying High Tea at the Prince of Wales Hotel

Reservations are recommended, and we found we could easily get a spot the day before. Eating scrumptious bites and discussing the matters of the world while sipping tea is a delicious way to spend an afternoon. You can even order gluten free cakes and treats with two days notice, or simply enjoy their fruit and cheese plate in lieu of cakes. (Tip: Shaw Festival Theatre gives you a discount coupon in the Playbill.)

Restaurants present a dilemma — where will you eat with so many inventive, locally sourced menus and so little time? The more popular restaurants require advanced reservations, however we discovered two tricks to get in last minute:

  • A table at lunch is almost always available, even at the very best restaurants. This is the more affordable way to sample the chef’s creations than dinner.
  • Last minute reservations can be made upon check-in at your hotel for dining before a show. The ‘after the show’ dining is mostly sold out in advance. So dine early and stop for a gelato on your way home from the play.
"Gelato in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario"
Which Flavor of Gelato Will You Pick?

A Few Small Purchases

Shopping is interspersed amongst restaurants and hanging flower baskets along Main Street.  You will find boutiques and stores similar to those at most adult tourist destinations: women’s accessories, Christmas decor, outdoor gear and a hat store where they will let you try on all their selection in the hopes that you’ll take something home with you.

Did you say wine?

Winery tours galore are widely promoted. Since we had visited the wineries in the past we chose, instead, to select wines not available in our hometown from a store.  The escarpment (or geologic shelf) provides the local grapevines protection from the winter winds thus allowing vintners to produce a lovely desert wine not seen most other places: ice-wine. With a visit to the wineries you will learn about how ice-wine is produced and have a chance to taste all the different varieties.

Wedding along the shore

In the golden glow of the setting sun, with Toronto in the distance we strolled along the lakeshore, encountering a wedding in Simcoe Park, complete with bridesmaids, groomsmen, and a throng of well wishers. It was a fitting finish to a weekend spent contemplating what makes a relationship last.

"Statue
Say “Yes”

Now, having been married for over 25 years, the question does come up…why are we married and do we want to stay married? The resounding answer is yes. And next year I will bypass Niagara Falls and head back to Niagara-on-the-Lake for another romantic getaway weekend.

"Sarah Kohl"
Sarah Kohl

About the Author:

Sarah Kohl was practically born with a suitcase in her hand. She is a doctor trained in travel medicine and loves to share tips about how to make happy, healthy travel simple and fun. Does packing for a trip stress you out? Learn 10 tips to make packing quick and easy: www.JourneySmarts.com.

You can connect with Sarah on Pinterest or drop her a line: Sarah@JourneySmarts.com

27 thoughts on “A Magical Weekend North of the Falls: Niagara-On-The-Lake”

  1. Just this weekend we attended a wedding in the area, it is a very pretty place especially this time of year with goldenrods everywhere in full bloom. Great post!

  2. Living 23 years in Rochester, NY, we went many times to Niagara Falls. We drove many times through Niagara on the Lake, but never stopped for a long romantic weekend. Maybe we were too young back then??? Looks REALLY inviting now. Reading about the restaurants and wineries, etc., I think a trip next summer is in order!

    1. Niagara-on-the-Lake is a well kept secret. If you love delicious locally-sourced food and wine consider a relaxing weekend there. The chefs are quite inventive with their menus. Bon appetit!

  3. I spent a day there with family, but your post reminds me, that I should visit again. Only this time, maybe not ride the Whirlpool Jet Boat ride (though I highly recommend it for those looking for an adventure) and maybe more time on Main Street. I could use some shopping and even a little romance…

  4. I spent a few years of my life in NOTL – and in fact this is the town where I got married. It’s full of good memories for me, especially the trips to the orchards and wineries and biking the Niagara Parkway. It’s where I had a flower store, and where my mother had a gallery for over a dozen years. The behind the scenes town is equally wonderful – with a great community and welcoming people. Fun to read a post that takes me back to another part of my life.

  5. My husband and I have visited NOTL for a few hours while staying in Niagra Falls. Your article brought to light all the wonderful things to enjoy on a weekend trip that I will be planning very soon. Thank you for all the good information.

    1. A weekend or longer is the best way to enjoy this lovely town. I hope you are able to put it in your travel calendar soon, you won’t be disappointed.

  6. So picturesque, Niagara-on-the-Lake looks to be a fabulous walking town. I would love to visit. Wondering if winter is a little brutal on the lakefront?

    1. Yes I think you are right- a bit chilly in the winter highs 30’s and lows in the 20s Fahrenheit. The theater season finishes late October. Its rather quiet after that.

    1. It makes a perfect weekend getaway- and is in driving distance of so many cities. We came up from Pittsburgh so we stopped to see Frank Lloyd Wright’s Martin houses on the way home. What a treat.

  7. Niagara-on-the-Lake is one of my favourite summer destinations – and since we live only an hour’s drive away I’m able to visit several times a year. The next time you visit, Sarah, you must try the world-famous Cows Ice Cream which originates on Prince Edward Island – it’s our family’s favourite!

  8. Not part of the over-40 crowd, yet, but this still looks like a nice romantic getaway. The plays, food, and old hotels all look very charming and being so close to the falls is a big plus. Thanks for writing this and bring it to my attention.

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