I’ve been coming to the Niagara region since I was a toddler. And while I can’t count the number of times I’ve watched the power of Niagara Falls come down across Table Rock and dump into the pool below, I’ve only visited Niagara-on-the-Lake once. Sans kids.
But with its quaint downtown strip, historic buildings, thriving food scene and bustling theatre festival, there’s something for every member of the family.
For those of us in the GTA, Niagara is a great day trip. Boutique hotels and B&Bs are abundant here, though, so it’s easy to visit longer. If you want to stay closer to the Falls and make a fun family weekend out of it, consider the 20-minute drive to Falls Avenue Resort (with four onsite hotels from which to choose) or Great Wolf Lodge.
Things for families to do in Niagara-on-the-Lake
Arrive early enough and you’ll be able to find free street parking for the day. This’ll save you about $15 and you won’t have to pay attention to the time. Don’t worry: everything is within easy walking distance!
The perfect family day out in Niagara-on-the-Lake this summer begins with a specialty tea, artisan coffee or hot chocolate from Victoria’s Teas & Coffees. There’s no seating but this eclectic café and retail shop offers the biggest tea selection I’ve seen outside of York in the UK (home of High Tea). We enjoyed the shop’s own version of the Americano and a chocolate raspberry espresso-based mocha — hold the whip.
Coffees-in-hand, saunter several doors down to the newly opened Treadwell Bakery. (So new that there isn’t even a website yet; but it’s located at 122 Queen St., right beside its sister restaurant, Treadwell.) Everything is baked fresh daily and we gobbled up a carrot cake to end all carrot cakes, a sea-salt and chocolate chip cookie, a savoury scone and a pretzel that will make you close your eyes while you eat it. Even my kids thanked staff profusely for the noteworthy nosh.
Ensure you’ve got matinee tickets for The Magician’s Nephew and pre-register your kids for the play’s interactive workshop held at 11 a.m. For only $5 per person, you’ll participate in a hands-on experience led by a professional Shaw Festival actor.
Our kids learned more about the Dream Detectives they’d meet just before and during the performance, created a prop that they used during the show and got to take home, and learned a sound effect and song — both of which were part of the show as well. It’s an hour long and probably best suited to kids who are between four and 10 years old.
Duck into Pie’Za Pizzeria for lunch. This converted Victorian home with its brightly coloured interior and beautiful handmade plates and bowls has a robust wood-oven-fired pizza menu that delivers on taste. If the burrata starter is on special the day you eat here, it would be a crime not to order it. Get the warm olives, too, which come with focaccia smothered in gorgeous extra-virgin olive oil and roasted garlic.
We inhaled the Meat Lovers Dream and California Dreamin’ pizzas from the “red” side of the menu, and the Za’Laryssa from the “white” side. There was also a special white pizza that day with ricotta and mushrooms that was my favourite. Of course, our kids stuck with a plain ol’ margherita pizza!
Arrive 30 minutes early for The Magician’s Nephew and you’ll be treated to some pre-theatre improv — especially for those wearing Junior Dream Detective badges fashioned at the workshop earlier in the day. Miss Q and The K Man ended up chatting with one of the actors who was ultimately one of the main characters. Very cool!
Finally, top off your day with this year’s family-friendly show at the Shaw Festival: The Magician’s Nephew. It’s the story that comes before The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and helps illustrate how Narnia came to life. The performance is rich and layered — full of both lyrical and physical texture. Our workshop participation meant we, too, were part of the story and my kids loved every minute.
Take note of the props onstage — everything is made of cardboard! Paired with the theatre’s cutting-edge projection and director Tim Carroll’s child-like imagination, you won’t miss fancy backdrops.
The story, music and actors captured my kids’ attention from beginning to end. Even The K Man (who is now at an age where so few things impress him) applauded wildly, saying that “it was amazing how the rings made Polly and Digory fly.” Miss Q was impressed by the “witch” (Jadis, who in reality is more evil queen than witch) and her beautiful costumes, along with the “magic” when one of her costumes turned into another. I knew The Magician’s Nephew got their brains churning because they were full of questions and ideas on the car ride home. Ahhh, the beauty of the arts.
Playing until October 13, 2018, The Magician’s Nephew is the ideal activity around which to plan a day to explore beautiful Niagara-on-the-Lake. Though I’ll be honest… now I want to go back sans kids again and see what else the 2018 Shaw Festival has in store.
DISCLOSURE: The Shaw Festival provided my family with a getaway experience to see The Magician’s Nephew. All opinions remain my own.