Family vacations aren’t cheap, and while traveling in the off-season, packing daily lunches, hitting matinee shows, and putting other cost-saving measures to work can help you spend a little less, your best bet is to travel somewhere that’s more affordable than your average family vacation destination spot.
Well lucky for you, the Niagara region is such a place thanks to the wide variety of free fun that’s readily available, and while some of it is well-known — the fireworks that take place over the waterfalls each night during the summer and the Niagara Parks Botanical Gardens to name a couple — there are some lesser-known freebies that are just as fun. From wandering among the delicious offerings at the weekly farmers’ market to taking a lakeside carousel ride, here are some fabulous and free activities.
Niagara Falls Farmers’ Market
Open every Saturday from 6 a.m. until noon all year long, the Niagara Falls Farmers’ Market has been taking place for over 50 years. During the long growing season, you can find everything from peaches and plums to tomatoes and kale — perfect fare for a picnic in one of the city’s parks. You can also often find local cheeses, meat — including a butcher — and wine. While the warmer months do mean more of a selection, even if you’re visiting Niagara in the dead of winter, the farmers’ market will be open, and there will be something there you and your brood will want to see and eat.
Happy Rolph’s Bird Sanctuary and Animal Farm
Located in St. Catharines, this 15-acre municipal park sits along the shore of Lake Ontario and is home to some of the most interesting animals, birds, and plants in the entire region. The animal farm has a petting zone that includes rabbits, horses, pigs, chickens, sheep, llamas, goats, and more. Native birds, ducks, and geese all make their home in and around the sanctuary’s pond, and migratory birds and waterfowl also pass though. The park is home to one of Canada’s largest and most exotic flowering rhododendron collections, as well as evergreens, willows, and other plants. It’s a great place for marveling at the natural world.
Great Mountain Ginseng Farms
This Niagara-on-the-Lake attraction is a Chinese owned and operated commercial ginseng farm — one of the largest in Canada. Whether or not you and your family are fans of ginseng, a visit to the farm will still give you all an insider’s view into how it’s grown and harvested, and if you’re looking for a sweet treat, they make an amazingly tasty ginseng candy.
Lakeside Park Carousel
Another St. Catharines’ treasure, the Lakeside Park Carousel isn’t exactly free, but at $0.05 a ride, it might as well be. Located in quaint Port Dalhousie, the carousel is great to ride after a walk or picnic or as part of a family scavenger hunt. Be sure to hit it on the weekend, however; it’s only open Fridays from 4pm to 8pm and Saturdays and Sundays from 10 a.m. until 8 p.m.
Head to Niagara for the family vacation of your dreams, and enjoy plenty of fun that’s free and off the beaten path.