When most people think of taking the family to New York on vacation, the Big Apple is the first thing that comes to mind. But if your family isn’t keen on the hustle and bustle of the big city, the state has so much more to offer. From getting drenched in the waters of monstrous falls and battle reenactments to art-infused afternoons at the museums and creeping through dark caves, our guide takes your tribe from Niagara to Buffalo on the best New York family getaway you could imagine.

niagara

photo: Annette Benedetti

Niagara, NY

The city of Niagara is located at the international boundary between the United States and Canada and offers wide array of activities geared toward families throughout the year. Stunning parks with walking and biking trails that that wind throughout the Niagara Gorge provide hours of leisurely enjoyment and plenty of space for children of all ages to run and play. And if you are looking to plan some unforgettable activities for the family to enjoy, there’s plenty to consider including the Cave of the Winds, Maid of the Mist, and Fort Niagara.

falls

photo: Annette Benedetti

EXPLORE

Cave of the Winds
This tour ensures that the kids will never forget the majesty or power of Niagara Falls. Plan on getting wet even after your don your yellow rain poncho because this experience takes you into the great falls stormy mist zone.

Your adventure starts with an elevator ride that lowers you 175 feet down into the Niagara Gorge where you then make your way through a short cave-like tunnel to a small post where staff members give visitors ponchos and sandals for the trek. You and the kids then make your way along wooden walkways to a series of decks that run along Niagara River and gradually bring you closer to the fall’s gushing waters.

The Hurricane Deck is your final stop and lands you just a few feet from storm-like conditions caused by the rush of Bridal Veil Falls—the closest you can get to the actual falls. You can stay as long as you like and take in the spectacle. Bring something to protect your camera and electronic devices from getting wet. Expect to leave soaked and feeling exhilarated!

Open spring through fall (See website for exact dates).
Cost: $17/adult & $14/child (6-12 yrs old)
Online: niagarafallsstatepark.com/cave-of-the-winds.aspx

maid-of-the-mist

photo: Annette Benedetti

Maid of the Mist
If your kids love boat rides then there is no better way to experience the Niagara Gorge then by climbing aboard a Maid of the Mist Boat for a tour. This adventure is one-of-a-kind experience and takes you on board a double-decker ship that is 80 feet long, weighs 145 tons and is powered by two 350-horsepower diesel engines.

Once everyone is aboard, the ship slowly navigates its way into the heart of the raging currents and swirling mists created by the falls. On a perfect day with sunbursts and a little bit of luck, you might catch a glimpse of one or two or even three rainbows off the bow, alongside or even above the ship.

Like the Cave of Winds tour, you will be given a poncho to wear though you will most likely stay a bit dryer. The ride lasts approximately a half hour and is acceptable for children of all ages.

Open spring through fall (See website for exact dates).
Cost: $18.25/adult, $10.65/child (6-12 yrs old), Free for children 5 years and under.
Online: maidofthemist.com

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photo: Annette Benedetti

Fort Niagara
Your young historian will be thrilled as they travel back in time to the 18th century when the fight for control over North America was raging. Your family will have the opportunity to walk through the original buildings where French, British, Native American and American soldiers resided and worked during the 18th to the 20th centuries. You can take your time and peruse exhibits with a wide variety of artifacts or go the livelier rout and take a guided tour.

Guided tours include live reenactments that sometimes include musket and artillery firing demonstrations and artisans hard at work dressed in authentic wares. By the time you leave the fort you will be well versed on Frontier life at Niagara and quite possibly even feel like you lived it yourself.

Open year round (excluding some holidays: see website)
Cost: $12.00 adult, $8.00/child (6-12 yrs old), Free for children 5 years and under.
Online: oldfortniagara.org

EAT

Michael’s Italian Restaurant
From pasta to pizza to chicken wings, there’s something for everyone in the family at this Italian spot. With an atmosphere that is family friendly, an abundance of food choices and prices that won’t thin out your vacation stash; Michaels is an obvious stop to fill those bellies and refuel for more adventures.

3011 Pine Ave.
Online: michaelsniagarafalls.com

Legends Bar & Grill
This restaurant serves breakfast, lunch and dinner and they pride themselves on incorporating local and homemade ingredients into their dishes. They make sure your family gets to experience authentic Western New York food, just how the locals like it and you will love it. Choose from menu favorites like the BBQ pulled portk sandwich, NY Strip Steak, or spaghetti & Meatballs. It’s the perfect stop morning, noon or night.

240 1st St.
Online: legendsbarnf.com

STAY

Giacomo
If you are looking for a place to rest your head after a full day of activities that offers a bit of luxury but still feels family friendly, consider the Giacomo. Located walking distance from the Falls, Cave of the Winds, Mad of the Mist and the State Park, this Hotel provides luxury features generous sized rooms with high ceilings, oversized bathrooms, Italian linens and fresh cookies when it’s time to tuck the littles in bed.

If you want to take your vacation experience to the next level, or if your vacation is a childless, romantic getaway— you can reserve a room with a fireplace or Jacuzzi. After you wind down from your active day you can make your way up to the hotel’s beautiful Skyview Lounge which is located on the 19th floor and offers striking views and tasty cocktails. Prices run from $123 per/night up.

Online: thegiacomo.com

GET AROUND

Niagara Falls Airport is the closest airport to fly into if you want to start your vacation in Niagara falls. It is located at 2035 Niagara Falls Blvd. and can be found online at niagarafallsairport.com.

Traveling by taxi is the most efficient way to get from the airport to your accommodations or to travel to anything that is not walking distance. Consider contacting Niagara Falls Taxi by calling 1-800-363-4900 or visit them online at niagarafallstaxi.com.

From the Giacomo, many attractions are walkable.

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Photo: Annette Benedetti

Buffalo, NY

Located on the shores of Lake Erie, Buffalo is only a quick drive away from Niagara and offers a bit more of an urban experience. Once there you are sure to be struck by the city’s unique architecture, which conjures its history as an industrial capital in the early 20th century. Here too you will find a multitude of tours, activities and museums to choose from when planning out your days. To round out your family getaway with a little bit of adventure and a whole lot of art we recommend visiting The Albright-Knox Art Gallery, going on the Lockport Cave & Underground Boat Ride and taking a Buffalo River History Tour.

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photo: Annette Benedetti

EXPLORE

The Albright-Knox Art Gallery
Be warned, if you have a little Picasso or a big art fanatic in your family, you might need to block a whole day off just for a visit to this museum. The Albright –Knox Art Gallery has collected art for over 150 years and is known for having one of the world’s most impressive collections of modern and contemporary art, which include paintings and sculptures.

While roaming the building, you can expect to see an actual Picasso during your visit and will likely get lost in the wide-ranging exhibits and collections that span some of the most important moments in art throughout history. Impressionism, Post-impressionism, Cubism, Surrealism and many other movements are all represented in artworks by masters such as Frida Kahlo, Henri Matisse, and Georgia O’Keef.

This museum is incredibly kid-friendly and offers art activities including the ArtCart where kids and families can explore interactive art activities in various special exhibitions. There are free drop-in art activities every first Friday of the month that are perfect for keeping little hands busy as well as family fun tours.

Open year round, Tue.-Sun. (See website for hours)
Cost: $18/adult, $9/child 6-18, Free for children 5 & under.
Online: albrightknox.org

caves

photo: Annette Benedetti

Lockport Cave & Underground Boat Ride
Infuse a little bit of creepy into your vacation with a walk through the Lockport Caves followed by a quick boat ride. This 70-minute guided tour starts by taking you back in time where you explore the historic Flight of Five Erie Canal locks 67-71, which were constructed in 1838.

Next, you then travel by foot until you come to the ruins of a water tunnel that was constructed during the Industrial Revolution. You then enter the 1600-foot waterpower tunnel, which was blasted out of solid rock and provided waterpower to three industries. As you wander through the cave you will see stalactites, flow stone, and various geological formations and artifacts, which is sure to thrill any young scientist.

The tunnel is completely dark for some of the tour and dimly lit for the rest. The guide talks you through the history surrounding the making and purpose of the tunnel while you walk to the end of the foot path where you then board a small boat and complete the tour as your drift to the true end of the tunnel and back to the foot path.

Open seasonally (See website for dates and hours)
Cost: $15/adult, $10/child (5-12 years), $3/child 4 years and under
Online: lockportcave.com

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Photo: Annette Benedetti

Buffalo River History Tour
Choose from three exceptional 90-minute narrated boat tours all of which that take you through Buffalo River History. Your little river rats will be thrilled when they board thdouble-deckerer boats and get the opportunity to see the giant structures that were responsible for the cities growth.

There are seats available and you are welcome to sit an move around as needed except when going under bridges, which requires everyone to take a seat briefly. As you make your way down the river you will be amazed by the towering buildings that were once full of purpose and employed many Buffalo citizens. From mills to grain silos to coal fired kilns that have long since been abandon, the visual spectacle will keep even the youngest members of your crew transfixed.

Open seasonally (See website for dates and hours)
Cost: See website
Online: Buffaloriverhistory.com

EAT 

The Westin Buffalo hotel is home to two family-friendly restaurants Jakes Cafe and Patina 250 that have plenty of menu items your kids will love. Jakes diner offers yummy breakfast foods like delectable french toast and burgers that will blow your mind for lunch or dinner. You’ll find delicious omelets and a smoked salmon board as well as  jumbo lump crab cakes and salmon at the high-end Patina 250. Both places offer meal options littles will love and welcome guests both young and old.Prices run from $145 per/night up.

Online: westinbuffalo.com

STAY

The Westin Buffalo
This all-new hotel opened just this past September and is a dream location for families to stay. The rooms are bright, well-appointed and absolutely luxurious without being so stuffy that kids feel unwelcome. Each room features a signature Heavenly Bed—and the name fits the experience you have as you sink into the mattress at the end of the day. The hotel also provides a Heavenly Crip upon request revealing it’s true family-friendly nature

In-room entertainment includes a flat screen Television, movies and high-speed Internet. If you are the kind of parent who needs to sneak in a workout even when you are on vacation, you will love the fitness facilities and if you forgot to pack your gear don’t worry. They have a gear-lending program that lets you check out shoes and an outfit.

One of the best features of this hotel is its kid-friendly restaurants Jakes Cafe and Patina 250 and menus. You can choose from Jakes diner which offers yummy breakfast foods like delectable french toast and burgers that will blow your mind for lunch or dinner, or go high-end Patina 250 where you’ll find delicious omelets and a smoked salmon board as well as  jumbo lump crab cakes and salmon. Both places offer meal options littles will love and welcome guests both young and old.Prices run from $145 per/night up.

Online: westinbuffalo.com

GET AROUND

Buffalo Niagara International Airport is a good airport to fly into if you are traveling in from a long distance away. It is located at 4200 Genesee St. in Buffalo and can be found online at buffaloairport.com.

Traveling by taxi is the most efficient way to get from the airport to your accommodations or to travel to anything that is not walking distance. Consider contacting Buffalo Experss Taxi Service by calling 1-716-435-6338 or visit them online at buffaloexpresstaxi.com.

What’s your favorite activity in Buffalo? Share in the comments below.

—Annette Benedetti

This trip was paid for by Delaware North but all opinions expressed here belong to the writer.