7 Historic Sites in Niagara-on-the-Lake To Add To Your Itinerary
Updated: Aug 14, 2022
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A trip to Niagara-on-the-Lake is like taking a walk back in time. It’s a far cry from the modern attractions that make up Niagara Falls, with its colonial-style buildings and serene walking trails along the Niagara River drawing in millions of tourists every year. It’s also home to many award-winning wineries and locally run shops and restaurants. But beyond all that is a deep rooted history that predates the arrival of the Europeans. Its most significant role came in the War of 1812, when Niagara-on-the-Lake was known as Newark and was the first capital of Upper Canada.
There are still a lot of historic sites in Niagara-on-the-Lake that have either survived the past few centuries or have been reconstructed. Some, like Fort George, are more popular than others, but if you’re spending a few days in the area then you’ll be able to see quite a few of them as they’re relatively close to one another. Some of the most important Canadian historical landmarks are located in and around the Niagara River, which is what makes Niagara-on-the-Lake such a unique place in Ontario to visit. After spending 3 days in Niagara-on-the-Lake, here are some of my top picks for the best historic sites to visit.
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Historic Sites in Niagara-on-the-Lake
McFarland House is one of the more picturesque historic houses in Niagara and has more than 200 years of history behind it. It was built at the beginning of the 19th century by a Scottish immigrant, and was used as a hospital during the War of 1812 by both the British and the Americans. It’s one of the oldest surviving buildings in Niagara, having survived the burning of Newark, and is a big draw for history lovers. The garden has been kept in a typical 19th century style that would have served as a functional yet decorative space in front of the doorway. McFarland House is the perfect historic site in Niagara-on-the-Lake to start your tour with.
One of the best places to visit near Niagara Falls is Fort George. It’s located just outside of Niagara-on-the-Lake’s old town and is an important historical site in Canada. This military post helped to defend Upper Canada from American attacks during the War of 1812. Unfortunately it was almost completely destroyed by an American ambush in 1813, and was then used as a base from which they tried to invade more of Upper Canada. Thanks to the Kahnawake First Nations warriors the Americans were pushed back and the British reasserted their control. Today Fort George has been completely reconstructed and visitors can catch a glimpse of what life would have been like in the fort, with actors taking on various roles to make the fort come to life.
Queenston is a beautiful part of Niagara-on-the-Lake to visit, and is home to the Mackenzie Printery. The restored home of William Lyon Mackenzie boasts over 500 years of printing technology inside, including Canada’s oldest printing press as well as one of the last remaining wooden presses in the world. It sits less than five minutes away from the Laura Secord Homestead so is a great heritage site in Niagara to see.
A trip to Butler’s Barracks is a great free thing to do in Niagara-on-the-Lake, and pairs well with a visit to nearby Fort George. Butler’s Barracks is a military complex made up of 5 buildings that were constructed following the War of 1812, out of the reach of American gunfire. It was named after John Butler, a loyalist soldier who founded the town of Niagara following the American Revolution. In later years, this site was used as a military training ground for World War I and II as well as other conflicts. The park area is completely free to walk around and is likely to be less busy than Fort George.
William Kirby's Home
One of the lesser visited historic sites in Niagara-on-the-Lake is William Kirby’s Home. It was built in 1818 and was lived in by William Kirby from 1857-1906. Kirby was a well-known novelist and historian who helped to stimulate interest in Canadian history. The house is located a short walk from Queen Street in Niagara’s old town, nestled between other colonial-style houses so is easily missed. If you’re planning on walking around the residential neighbourhoods, don’t forget to take a photo here.
Laura Secord Homestead
Laura Secord Homestead is another fantastic historic site in Niagara-on-the-Lake to visit, situated in the town of Queenston. It was once home to Canada’s most known heroine, who travelled 32 km to warn the British about a surprise American attack during the War of 1812. The home was badly damaged by American soldiers, but it’s been beautifully restored and is now a key tourist attraction in the Niagara region. If you visit on a day when the homestead is open, you’ll find costumed guides here to welcome you.
When it comes to things to see in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Queen Street is a major highlight. The main street of the heritage district is one of the most picturesque streets in Canada, and is filled with unique shops and places to eat. Although much of this area was destroyed by American soldiers, the buildings have been authentically rebuilt or restored over the years, and all of the facades are very much in keeping with the history of the town. There are a lot of things to do in Niagara-on-the-Lake’s old town, so you could easily spend a full day hopping between the shops, eateries, and galleries.
Where To Stay in Niagara-on-the-Lake
For a truly authentic Niagara-on-the-Lake experience, you need to stay at one of the historic inns in the area. There are plenty of inns near the old town, but some of the best places to stay in Niagara-on-the-Lake are located in the surrounding villages. We spent one night at the breathtaking Woodbourne Inn, located in St Davids, which dates back to 1839 and is a historically designated treasure. Inside is a beautiful blend of Victorian and Georgian architecture, with elegant furnishings in the common areas that reach into the bedrooms, and rare trees adorning the gardens. It’s the perfect luxury escape in Niagara-on-the-Lake.
We stayed in the stunning Romantic Room, which featured a massive king bed and a modern fireplace. It’s located at the top of the inn so keep that in mind when booking as there are no elevators. The room was decorated with vintage furnishings and a Persian rug, with a very modern bathroom. In the bathroom there was the option to use the walk-in shower or the deep bath, and bath salts were available to use as well. Our room offered a nice view over the garden space, and WIFI was included. There’s no TV in the room but in all honesty you don’t need one - sometimes it’s nice to relax without technology. When we arrived we were greeted by a lovely Woodbourne Inn tote bag and some luxury bath salts to take home with us which was a nice added touch.
In the morning drinks and a pastry were brought to our door before we headed downstairs for the full breakfast. You’ll be asked at check-in what time you want the pre-breakfast at so that it’s convenient for you. We then headed downstairs and sat outside for what is probably the fanciest breakfast I’ve ever had. All of the ingredients are locally sourced, with the herbs coming from the inn’s garden, and even the bread is freshly made. It was a twist on a classic breakfast, using mushy peas, bacon, soft cheese, and an egg to create this masterpiece - and we ate every bite. Before leaving the Woodbourne Inn, take some time to explore the common areas, which include a library in the Georgian section and a stunning seating room with a grand piano in the Victorian part. This inn is unlike any I’ve ever come across and is the best place to stay in Niagara-on-the-Lake if you want to treat yourself to a luxurious and relaxing getaway.
>> Click here for the most up to date prices at Woodbourne Inn <<
The region of Niagara may be famous for its vineyards and as the home of Niagara Falls, but there’s so much more to discover here. Some of the best historic sites in Niagara-on-the-Lake aren’t too well known with tourists but are definitely worth adding to any Niagara itinerary if you want to learn more about the history of the region that helped to shape Canada.
Have you explored Niagara-on-the-Lake before? Or know of any other historical buildings in Niagara that should be added to this list? Let me know in the comments section below, and follow my travels on Instagram to stay up to date with more travel tips!