Weird Niagara Falls: Spaceship Restaurants, Giant Frankensteins And More

Weird Niagara

Weird Niagara

For a tourist destination overflowing with natural beauty, immaculately cultivated gardens and classy, upstanding attractions like an aviary and a butterfly conservatory, Niagara Falls doesn’t exactly have the most pristine reputation.

It’s not entirely undeserved.

In a country where nature and its wonders are generally regarded with respect, reverence and stereotypical Canadian politeness, the response to Niagara’s thundering falls has always seemed a bit garish. For over a hundred years, people have been throwing themselves over those falls in various contraptions, or traipsing across them on tightropes. And for over 60 of those years, entrepreneurs have been building wax museums, haunted houses and arcades right next to the water in a less than subtle attempt to capitalize on the bustling tourist trade that the Falls — and its daredevils — inspired.

But anyone who outright dismisses modern day Niagara Falls as a tacky tourist trap is missing the point, and a lot of fun. The Clifton Hill area of town, ground zero for strange and ridiculous amusements, has developed its own charm over the years and a number of its most notorious attractions have proven themselves to be genuinely cool despite — or maybe even because of — their kitsch factor.

Here are five of the best:

House of Frankenstein

House of Frankenstein

5. The House of Frankenstein

Perched at the top of Clifton Hill, this haunted house provides a mix of modern and old-timey scares.

Why it’s notorious:

It’s one of five haunted houses within screaming distance of the Falls, and one of three right on Clifton Hill. The large stature of Frankenstein eating a cheeseburger that straddles the attraction’s roof and the neighbouring Burger King, a rather bizarre but inspired example of corporate synergy, has become a favourite symbol of the city’s tackiness among travel and food writers.

Why it’s actually cool:

It has the most genuine old school carnie atmosphere in town. There are many venues on The Hill that pipe audio tracks onto the street and promise cheap thrills and frights to passersby, but while others merely list their spooky offerings or devolve into music, Frankenstein’s spiel sounds genuinely scary and enticing. With lines like, “When you climb the 13 haunted steps, you are on your own” and “finish this journey of terror… or be lost in the clutching darkness forever!” blasting from its gargoyle-laden facade, this house does the carny tradition of barking or “outside talking” proud. And the inside, which is renovated every February to keep repeat chill-seekers on their toes, almost lives up to the hype.

The Skywheel

The SkyWheel

4. The SkyWheel

Located in the heart of Clifton Hill, this 175 foot tall ferris wheel with climate-controlled gondolas offers a unique sight-seeing experience year-round.

Why it’s notorious:

It’s a giant ferris wheel in the middle of town.

Even among its over-the-top surroundings The SkyWheel seems a little out of place. In context of the unassuming residential parts of the city, it looks particularly odd.

Why it’s actually cool:

The view! At the very top of the wheel, there’s a little something for everyone. The spectacle of Clifton Hill, the glam Fallsview area, the normal city beyond tourist town and, of course, the Falls themselves all get their due on this short-but-sweet ride. Clocking in at about a dollar per minute, The SkyWheel isn’t the most cost-effective deal on the strip in terms of actual time, but that view really is worth every penny. And, when it’s gussied up in glimmering lights at night, the wheel itself isn’t too shabby-looking, either.

Great Canadian Midway

Great Canadian Midway

3. The Great Canadian Midway

Right next to The SkyWheel, this arcade is the all-ages answer to Casino Niagara and Fallsview Casino.

Why it’s notorious:

Loud, gaudy and chock full of silly games and rides, the Midway is quite possibly the most absurd attraction in Niagara Falls, which would put it high in the running for most absurd worldwide.

Why it’s actually cool:

The people behind The Great Canadian Midway have crafted an atmosphere that’s undeniably fun and contagious. And while that might seem like a simple task, the other arcades on The Hill (the arcade formerly known as Dave & Buster’s and Adventure City) suggest otherwise. All of three places boast many of the exact same games and amusements, but Busters and Adventure City come off as crowded and almost maudlin affairs, sprinkled with intermittent people having perfunctory fun.

Something about the GCM’s high ceilings, neon lights, sounds, staff and the unparalleled collection of old school Skee-Ball machines makes it stand out. It’s a favourite among kids, tourists, people who want the gambling rush without the risk and anyone who wants to feel like a kid again and, when you’re amongst them, it’s hard not to get caught up in the unabashed and unironic fun.

Ripley's Believe It Or Not at Niagara Falls

Ripley’s Believe It Or Not at Niagara Falls

2. Ripley’s Believe It Or Not

A Clifton Hill mainstay sine 1963, this wacky museum features a constantly changing and expanding collection of strange and, well, unbelievable objects and information.

Why It’s Notorious:

It’s a large collection of gimmicky and bizarre minutiae in a building that’s been renovated to look like a toppled skyscraper mounted by King Kong. It also seems to derive a disproportionate amount of its fame from being “that place with the two-headed calf.”

Why it’s actually cool:

The collection is actually pretty fascinating. And, with over 700 artifacts, including tramp art, shrunken heads, human hair wreaths, and interactive exhibits, it’s a steal at just $13.99 per person. In a city filled with not-so-cheap thrills, Ripley’s is the kind of place where you can spend a whole afternoon and still discover something new. It’s also chock full of local lore, including video, facts about some of the most infamous falls daredevils, and a haunting display about the hermit who lived on Goat Island.

The Flying Saucer Restaurant in Niagara

The Flying Saucer Restaurant in Niagara

1. The Flying Saucer

Located just up the road from Clifton Hill, at 6768 Lundy’s Lane, The Flying Saucer is a classic ‘70s diner with a not so classic theme.

Why it’s notorious:

It’s a diner shaped like two giant UFOs.

Why It’s Actually Cool:

It’s a diner shaped like two giant UFOs! How could that not be cool? The thing that really elevates The Flying Saucer to the next level, though, and makes it the king of cool kitsch in Niagara Falls is the complete dedication to its theme. Sitting inside the diner, with its USS Enterprise-meets-disco decor and its menus designed like tabloids, it’s clear that the place was not the work of someone who halfheartedly slapped a space theme on the place to attract more tourists. It is a sparkling silver monument to geekery at its finest. The food and prices aren’t half bad, either.

This story was originally published Feb. 15, 2012 on AOL Travel (RIP).

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Filed under Art, Culture, Food, Recollections, Travel

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