By ALINA SEAGAL
As one of the best-preserved 19th-century towns in North America, Niagara-on-the-Lake has a lot to reveal—beyond its many nearby wineries. Pretty Victorian architecture, a great lineup of summer festivals, and sidewalks made for strolling and window-shopping are just a handful of the attractions in this charming southern Ontario town.
Take a turn down Queen Street » Stroll along the town’s tree-lined main street (Queen Street, which becomes Picton Street), taking in the many lush green spaces. At Queen’s Royal Park (turn down King Street and walk to the river), try to spot Toronto’s skyline from the mouth of Lake Ontario. Along your route are St. Vincent de Paul (73 Picton St.), the oldest operational Catholic Church in Ontario and the Victorian-era (and appropriately princely) Prince of Wales hotel, where England’s George V stayed a century ago. Want more incentive? It includes a spa. If you seek mystery, check out the nighttime Ghost Walk of Niagara-on-the-Lake.
History lessons: 1812 and beyond » Stop by the Niagara Apothecary (5 Queen St.), a fascinating Victorian-era pharmacy preserved as a museum (free admission). Just outside the town centre, Fort George National Historic Site of Canada is the site of a British Army division headquarters during the War of 1812 with preserved barracks. Reenactments are still held here and many events commemorating the 200-year anniversary of the war are taking place this summer. (See a calendar of Niagara 1812 events.) Get an extra 1812 fix at the Lincoln and Welland Regimental Museum, which showcases equipment, uniforms and stories of Niagara’s own regiment. Start in the morning, establishments close doors early here.
Sweets and treats » Inside a heritage building from 1840s, Greaves Jams and Marmalades (55 Queen St.) sells delicious potted spreads in a variety of sizes. You can sample local wines at Wine Country Vintners shop (27 Queen Street) for $3 to $4 or try three ice wines for $10. If you crave a salty treat, Cheese Secrets (38 Market St.) has more than 100 types of local and international cheeses on its menu. Frozen-dessert lovers head to Cows (44 Queen St.) for ice cream or Nina Gelateria (39 Queen St.) for gelato.
Dine (and wine) » For a sit-down dinner, the Old Winery Restaurant whips up Mediterranean dishes to live music on Friday and Saturday nights. Stone Road Grille isn’t much to look at from the outside, but locals pack its tables each night for the locally sourced contemporary meals. (It’s a good lunch option, too.) The Epicurean, with its brushed-up bistro cuisine and casual lunch café, and the elegant Charles Inn Dining Room, serving beautifully plated continental fare, both have prime Queen Street locations. If your heart is set on a winery restaurant, Peller Estates rarely disappoints. Wherever you go, reservations are highly recommended.
Shop » Boutiques specializing in antiques, art, souvenirs, clothing and the aforementioned cheeses and jams line Queen Street. Let the exquisite window displays lure you in or use this handy list to plan your route. Note that many shops close at around 6 pm.
Theatre and music » The most famous Niagara-on-the-Lake attraction is, without a doubt, the annual Shaw Festival, which began in 1962. This season offers an exciting selection of plays that will be on until the early fall. Be sure to see at least one! Music Niagara will also hold regular performances in town beginning in July.
See it all by land, sea and air » Carriage rides through the city streets are popular, but for an active challenge, rent a bike and hit the trails or the wine tastings. Local company Zoom Leisure rents two-wheelers for $30 a day. You can also take an exhilarating jet boat ride to the 11-kilometre whirlpool on the lower Niagara River. Get airborne with a scenic helicopter tour over Niagara Falls or to local wineries.