The name Niagara Falls refers to both the city and the waterfalls. The city is a nondescript place, surrounded by endless industrial plants and humming electrical wires, but the falls…ah, well, the falls.
Oscar Wilde once called Niagara Falls “the second biggest disappointment in a young bride’s life,” but he must have been showing off that day, for despite the tourists, hoopla, and clichés, the falls are a sight to be seen. Stand in front of that white wall of water and you’ll catch your breath. Guaranteed. Particularly if you’re standing on the Canadian side.
Located along the Niagara River between the United States and Canada, Niagara Falls are actually three falls in one: the American and Bridal Veil Falls on the New York side, and the even more spectacular Horseshoe Falls on the Ontario side. The thundering water is on its way from four of the Great Lakes—Superior, Michigan, Huron, and Erie—to the fifth, Ontario.
The falls began forming about 12,000 years ago at the end of the Ice Age. As the last glaciers melted away, huge torrents of water channeled along what is now the Niagara River, over the Niagara Escarpment. The water began eating away at the escarpment and the falls slowly moved upstream. Today, the falls cascade seven miles from their original location; carved out along as their path descends is the seven-mile canyon known as Niagara Gorge.
Five miles below the falls squats massive Robert Moses Niagara Power Plant, providing electricity for much of the Northeast. The world’s first commercial-scale, alternating-current generator opened here in 1895. The alternating-current technology made it practical to transmit power over long distances for the first time.
Gray Line of Niagara Falls (716/694-3600) offers daily tours of both sides of Niagara. Bedore Tours (716/285-7550) is a smaller company also offering tours. Rainbow Air (454 Main St., 716/284-2800) features helicopter tours over the falls.
The city of Niagara Falls centers around its compact downtown dominated by the Seneca Niagara Casino  (310 4th St.). The falls and their accompanying attractions are located on the western edge of the city in Niagara Reservation State Park . The park’s major sights are within easy walking distance of each other; the same holds true for downtown.
Across the river from the city of Niagara Falls, New York, is the city of Niagara Falls, Ontario . The two are connected by the Rainbow Bridge, off Robert Moses Parkway.