The largest city in Ontario’s Niagara Region, St. Catharines is nicknamed ‘The Garden City’ dues to its plethora of gardens, trails and parks. In fact, it is home to around four square kilometres of green space.
Unfortunately, St. Catharines is often overlooked by tourists that pass through it on route to Niagara Falls. This is good news for those that do chose to visit the beautiful city, as it means better value for them.
There is so much to see and do in St. Catharines, from rowing to shopping. There are also galleries, museums, theatres and a ton of outdoor activities to enjoy. These are the 15 best things to do in St. Catharines:
1. Smell the roses
Montebello Park is the largest and most famous park in all of St. Catharines; designed by Central Park designer Frederick Law Olmsted. The park features the largest rose collection in the city.
There are literally over 1,300 rose bushes in the park in 25 different varieties. It is the perfect place to stop and smell the roses.
The park dates back to 1887 and today is a designated historic site. In addition to roses, it also features a pavilion and a band shell, both of which were built in 1888.
2. Wander around a port
The community of Port Dalhousie is an attractive area that is known for its great waterfront. Wander around the port and smell the fresh air.
Port Dalhousie sits along Lake Ontario and is home to St. Catharines most popular beach. The beach sits within the historic Lakeside Park, which also features an antique carousal.
The port itself has plenty of historical significance, as it is was a main terminus for the Welland Canal. This is seen through its historic lighthouse that stands at the end of the pier.
3. Watch a regatta
The Royal Canadian Henley Regatta is a world-class rowing event that takes place each year in August. The regatta is held in Port Dalhousie, where it has been since 1903.
The regatta is named after England’s Henley Royal Regatta, and, when started, was the same distance. In 1964 it was shortened to 200 metres.
The Royal Canadian Henley Regatta attracts over 3,000 rowers from all of the globe. In 1999, the course was upgraded to accommodate the World Rowing Championships.
4. Go for a walk
There are over 90 kilometres of accessible trails in St. Catharines that are great for walking, cycling and jogging. If you are visiting in the winter, they are open for cross-country skiing.
Of all of the trails, the Bruce Trail is the oldest and today is a UNESCO World Heritage site. It is also the longest trail in the country, with 12 kilometres of it winding through the city.
Ontario’s famous Waterfront Trail also passes through the city along Lake Ontario. Another great trail is the 1.5 kilometres long Terry Fox Fitness Trail.
5. Sip on wine
There are a number of world-class vineyards in St. Catharines that are great for wine lovers. Go on a wine tasting tour and send an afternoon sipping on wine.
The region is best known for its white wine and ice wines, with these being a highlight when on a wine tasting tour. Reds are also offered, though the region is not as well known for them.
Wine tasting tours often include a succulent gourmet meal, ending with lunch or dinner. They also include transfer to and from your hotel.
6. Explore a park
Hike, mountain bike or go horse-back riding through the Short Hills Provincial Park. The 660 hectare park is located at the very southwest corner of the city.
Explore the park and get sight of some wildlife, like white-tailed deer, meadow vole and coyote. Short Hills Provincial Park is also home to some rare plants, including sweet chestnut, paw-paw and tulip-tree.
There are six different trails within the park as well as several waterfalls. Explore the park and be awed by its natural scenery.
7. Visit a waterfall
Waterfall lovers should not miss the chance to visit DeCew Falls. The falls is actually two waterfalls; Upper DeCew falls and Lower DeCew Falls.
Upper DeCew falls is a large 22 metre plunge waterfall that is around six metres wide. Lower DeCew Falls is a serene 7.5 metre high cascade waterfall.
The larger waterfall can be seen from the Morningstar Mill. The smaller lower falls are at the bottom of the gorge and are accessible by hiking down.
8. Learn about the city’s history
Although it is small, the St. Catharines Museum focuses on local history. The museum is located at Lock 3 on the Welland Canal and includes an elevated platform.
Visit the museum to learn about the city’s history through artefacts, which include those from the military, and the shipping and industrial industries. There are also household furnishing on display.
Climb to the top of the viewing platform and watch the ships along the canal and the St. Lawrence Seaway. Afterwards, wander around the museum’s gift shop.
9. See the province’s best Lacrosse players
Not in person, but at the Ontario Lacrosse Hall of Fame & Museum. Lacrosse is one of Canada’s national sports, dating back hundreds of years.
Walk around the Ontario Lacrosse Hall of Fame & Museum and learn about the influence the sport has had on the culture and history of Ontario. The province has always been the most active in the country.
The museum is located right next to the St. Catharines Museum, so you can easily see them both in one visit. Outside, there is a children’s play area and a walking trail.
10. Go to the theatre
The FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre is the largest and most popular theatre in the city. The 8,800 square metre cultural complex is in downtown St. Catharines.
The art centre is the key space for shows performed by students attending Brock University’s Marilyn I. Walker School of Fine and Performing Arts. It also hosts a plethora of other shows.
The centre features four venues; a 775-seat concert hall, a 300-seat recital hall, a 210-seat theatre venue and a 187-seat film house.
11. Look at animals
Right along Lake Ontario is Happy Rolph’s Animal Farm, which is a great place to look at animals. Sit on a bench along a pond or wander around the farm and enjoy the animals in their natural scenery.
The 1.06 hectare farm is home to a plethora of birds, plants and other animals. The animals can be viewed from a designated viewing area.
Happy Rolph’s Animal Farm is also home to a large playground, a picnic area and a nature trail. There are also washrooms and a car park.
12. Go underground
See the terminus of the Underground Railway. The Underground Railroad and Niagara’s Freedom Trail helped black slaves flee the United States for Canada to seek freedom.
St. Catharines was the terminus for this underground network, which can be visited today. The national historic site marks a very important part of history and shows how Harriet Tubman helped so many escape slavery.
Another important piece of this history is the British Methodist Episcopal Church, which was built for the new citizens in 1855.
13. Go back in time
Wander around the picturesque Yates Street Heritage District. The district dates back to the late 1800s on land that was originally owned by William Hamilton Merritt.
The Yates Street Heritage District sits along the banks of Twelve Mile Creek. In the early years, it was an area of mills, while later the mill owners built their homes here.
The area has been preserved, complete with beautiful tree-lined streets. The mills are no longer, but the houses still remain.
14. Shop in a local market
The Market Square farmers market is an important piece of the city and its history. It sits in the heart of the city next to the historic Courthouse.
Walk around the market and shop for local goods, like preservatives, homemade jams, spices and baked goods. There is also locally grown produce, meat and dairy products.
Market Square also hosts special events, like butter making classes, arts and crafts, and local food tastings. There is also live music every Saturday from June to October.
15. Have fun at a festival
St. Catharines is no stranger to annual festivals and events. In fact, there are a few that are worth going to.
The Folk Arts Festival is one of the most popular and has been running for over 35 years. Art lovers should be sure to go to The Art of Peace Festival.
The two-day S.C.E.N.E. Music Festival attracts over 3,000 people and features mostly alternative bands. Wine connoisseurs will have fun at The Niagara Grape & Wine Festival that takes place around the entire region.