Both of these cities border Lake Erie, and both have different “lake” vibes, distinct from the Lake Ontario side of Niagara. They are quite distinct, but also connect with neighbouring hamlets and share some similar features and attractions.
Port Colborne is the harbour town, with a scenic marina and incredibly low priced waterview properties – and it’s far enough away from other Niagara cities to have kept its small town feel. It has a couple of chill cafes – one that doubles as a flower shop, a very good craft brewery (Breakwall Brewery), and every year it hosts “Canal Days” which has brought in Blue Rodeo and 54-40 – pretty apt Canadian musical background to the town. There are long roads in Port Colborne that you can drive down and see old farmhouses with large backyards and crop views that go on for days. Many locals also have cottages right along the shores of the Wainfleet area, which attaches to Port Colborne, and offers the more private and serene Long Beach – with these cottages being built up and beautified, it’s starting to appear like a local Niagara Hamptons. Also, hidden along the lake shore where you may not expect, are some gorgeous custom built homes with their own private beaches, quiet and peaceful away from all the other beach-goers.
Fort Erie IS the border to the United States, and it’s jammed full of big, sandy beaches, including a whole beach town called Crystal Beach – which I used to frequent in my youth and has now been revitalized. This is most definitely a Beach Town, and does get those from outside of Niagara flocking in, but there are private resort areas to be taken advantage of as well. Inland, this past decade the ‘Ridgeway’ area has become its own distinct community worth driving to with great hidden gem restaurants and a brewery/event hall (known concurrently as ‘Brimstone’ and ‘The Sanctuary’). There is an interesting culture here with a mix of those commuting in and out from the States, and locals whose families have lived there for generations. On your way in towards Crystal Beach and bordering on Stevensville (another hamlet connecting these areas) is ZooZ, a great animal sanctuary and events space where you can take the family in the summers for a day, and see some great live music in the evenings.
You could absolutely do a full day here, starting with a coffee and marina walk in Port, then head to the beach for some sun before dinner and a brew in Fort Erie. I call that one perfect Niagara day.
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