The city is centred on the Old Welland Canal which splits the city into a Northwestern section and a Southeastern section. The Eastern section is primarily older, having been the original settlement for the diggers of the Welland Canal. As the town grew it expanded Northwest and is now almost completely urbanized in this area. The largest shopping (including the Seaway Mall) and dining areas are along Niagara Street (Hwy 58).
The city was settled in 1788 by the United Empire Loyalists. On 19 October 1814, Canadian forces led by George Hay, 8th Marquess of Tweeddale, met an American raiding party, numbering approximately nine hundred, near the eastern edge of the present community during the Battle of Cook's Mills. After an intense skirmish, the Americans retreated to Buffalo, New York. Cook's Mills was the second to last engagement of the War of 1812 on Canadian soil.
The Welland Canal has been involved in the area's history since the First Welland Canal was extended to reach Lake Erie in 1833. A wooden aqueduct was built to carry the Welland Canal over the Welland River at what is now downtown Welland, and the area became known as simply Aqueduct. A lock to cross from the canal to the river and vice versa was also built. A small shantytown soon developed around the facility, providing essential services in what was a convenient stop-over location.
The growing town was later named Merrittsville, after William Hamilton Merritt, the initiator of the Welland Canal project. This name is still reflected in the name of the Merrittville Highway (Niagara Road 50), which served as the primary north-south route in central Niagara before the construction of Highway 406. Welland gained its present name when it was incorporated on 25 July 1858. It became a city in 1917.
In addition to the presence of the canal, one of the few railway crossings across the canal was near Welland. The two factors contributed to the development of heavy industry in Welland. The Plymouth Cordage Company was the first major industrial company to open a plant in Welland in 1906. By the 1930s, Welland was an important industry location in the region and was developing rapidly.
In the 1960s, the city was starting to outgrow the canal passing through its core. The Welland By-Pass project, started in 1967 and finished in 1973, provided a new, shorter alignment for the Welland Canal by removing it from downtown Welland to the city's outskirts. With the completion of the bypass, Welland's east end (and the former town of Crowland) became a virtual human-made island between the new and old canal channels.
This was viewed with enthusiasm as the canal's constant traffic was interfering heavily with transportation within the city. The canal's old alignment was renamed the Welland Recreational Waterway with the purpose of developing several recreational facilities and tourist attractions along its shores. The plans called for fishing platforms, water slides, boat rental points, as well as marine and rail historical exhibits.
The effects of the canal relocation were compounded by the gradual, but steady move of industry out of Welland as a trend for global manufacturing was developing. As a result, there was much deterioration in downtown Welland in the years immediately after the project. Many businesses relocated to the city's north end, where a retail hub was being developed in and around the Seaway Mall.
From St. Catharines take Highway 406 south. The 406 passes through Thorold before ending in Welland. The North end of Welland can be accessed from the Merritt Rd. exit. The Seaway Mall and other large stores and restaurants can be accessed from the Woodlawn Rd. exit. The Southeastern part of Welland and the downtown core can be accessed from Main St. where Highway 406 ends in a roundabout.
Welland Transit buses run every half hour or so, depending on the area. Taxis are also available but it is recommended that you travel by car. Park lands neighbour the canals and river and contain a continuous trail that runs the length of the city. This makes biking a convenient method to travel North-South in the city.
Merritt Island is in the center of the town and is a 3 km long island that runs between the Old Welland Canal and the Welland River. Recreational trails and parks run the extent of it. The only car entrance is from the southern edge behind the court house. Near the parking lot there is a playground for children, and in the summer you can rent paddle boats and canoes for use along the river. The Niagara Food Festival is held in this park in the fall.
Welland is known for its murals. Around town you can find varied sizes and genres of the wall paintings.
- The village of Port Robinson is divided by the current Welland Canal. Either side is a good location to watch for ships traversing the canal. The canal is operational from late March to Christmas every year.
- Can View Drive-In, 1956 Regional Road #20, Fonthill, e-mail: email@example.com. Movie Hotline +1 905-892-9929 or +1 905-892-1155. Opens mid-April every year subject to weather. Admission varies, see web-site.
- Fonthill Bandshell, 20 Pelham Town Square, Fonthill. 7PM-9PM. Summer Concert Series in Peace Park south of Fonthill City Hall. Thursday nights from mid-June to September. The organizers include a wide variety of musical styles. Bring your own lawn chair. Admission by donation.
- Merrittville Speedway, 2371 Merrittville Highway, Thorold (go west from Hwy 406 on Regional Rd 20, and turn north), ☎ . Gate opens at 5:30PM, Showtime is 7PM. Canada's Longest running Dirt track features stock car racing Saturdays from late April till Labour Day weekend. There are also special events on some other days, e.g. Labour Day Weekend. Adults $12, Students (13-18) & Seniors $10, Kids (8-12) $5, Under 8 Free. Parking Free.
- Niagara Regional Exhibition (Welland Fair), 1100 Niagara St, ☎ , toll-free: , fax: , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Th 4PM-11PM; F 10AM-11PM; Sa 10AM-11PM; Su 10AM-6PM.. Held every year in mid September. Adult $8. Senior $6. Student (13-18) $5. Child (6-12) $4. 5 years & under free. Parking free.
- Pelham Summerfest, e-mail: email@example.com. "Come Chill on the Hill". Four days of family fun occur on the 3rd weekend of July each year . Free.
- Welland International Flatwater Centre, North Course: 16 Townline Tunnel Rd, South Course: 473 Forks Rd, ☎ . Disciplines include canoe, dragon boat, kayak, paddle board, rowing, swimming, scuba diving, and triathalon.
- Welland Recreational Waterway, ☎ . The Old Welland Canal that runs though the town is now a recreational canal and supports many different water sports including fishing, jet skiing, water skiing, and rowing. Certain speed limits have been put in place in different areas. Swimming in the canal, although not advised, is sometimes partaken around one of the numerous boat ramps in the center of town.
- Welland Rose Festival, ☎ , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Mid-June.
- Youngs Sportsplex, 570 River Rd, ☎ , fax: , e-mail: email@example.com. A multi-sports complex serving Welland and the Niagara Region. Four indoor tennis courts, an indoor FIFA regulation sized soccer field, and five outdoor soccer fields. Also indoor golf driving range, ultimate frisbee, slo-pitch, flag football, field lacrosse, and corporate kickball.
- Big Box Zone (Woodlawn and Hwy 406). There's not much in the way of big box stores in Welland. This area includes a Wal-Mart Supercentre, Canadian Tire, RONA, Dollar Tree, and Marks Work Wearhouse.
- Seaway Mall, 800 Niagara Street North (at Niagara and Woodlawn), ☎ , fax: . M-F 10AM-9PM; Sa 9:30AM-5:30PM; Su 11AM-5PM. The largest shopping centre in Welland. The main stores are Hart, Shoppers Drug Mart, SportChek, Staples, Stitches, and Winners. There is a Cineplex on the south-east corner, and a branch of the Welland Public Library.
- 1 Welland's Farmers Market, 50 Market Square (Between Young and Division Streets), ☎ , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Sa 6AM-noon (year round). The largest, oldest, and most well-known Market in the Niagara Region.
- Pelham Farmer's Market, 20 Pelham Town Square, Fonthill. Every Thursday May to October, 4:30PM to dusk. Some days have special events, eg Salsa Competition or Pumpkin Challenge. Now includes a Supper Market featuring foods from local restaurants.
There are many chain restaurants around Welland, and Niagara Street is home to many of those chain restaurants including A&W, Boston Pizza, Burger King, Dairy Queen, Harveys, KFC, Little Caesar's Pizza, McDonalds, Mr. Sub, Pita Pit, Pizza Hut, Popeye's, Subway, Swiss Chalet, and Tim Hortons (two locations).
- Beamsville Fish and Chips, 397 Thorold Rd (between South Pelham Road, and Prince Charles), ☎ . Take-out fish and chips, and some other items. Now has a seating area.
- Blue Star, 676 King St (south of downtown, north of Ontario Rd), ☎ , fax: . A very popular Welland restaurant.
- Cool Licks, 642 King St (south of downtown, north of Ontario Rd), ☎ . A family-run ice cream and small meal parlour with large portions and cheap prices. This place is packed in the summer.
- Mossimo's Pizza & Subs, 164 Regional Road 20 West, Pelham, ☎ . M-Th 10:30AM-11PM, F Sa 10:30AM-midnight, Su 10:30AM-10PM. Mossimo's started in 1993 as a small mostly take-out pizza joint. In 2000, they moved to a larger location. In March 2014, they opened a new bigger restaurant. This growth is because it is Fonthill/Pelham's favourite pizza parlour.
- Mr Mikes Steakhouse Casual, 800 Niagara St N (Seaway Mall), ☎ . Sun-Wed 11am-Midnight, Thurs-Sat 11am-1am. This is the first location in Eastern Canada of this Western Canadian chain.
- M.T. Bellies Tap and Grillhouse, 871 Niagara St, ☎ . Their slogan is "Big Food Big Fun" and definitely lives up to this. Definitely try the Buffalo Chicken Fingers or Chicken Parmesan. Make reservations if coming at a busy time. The bar is also popular with the locals and is a good place to meet long time Wellanders.
- My Place Bar & Grill, 20 Regional Rd 20, Fonthill, ☎ , e-mail: email@example.com. Mediterranean cuisine. Serves a nice Sunday brunch buffet with omelet bar.
- Iggy's Pub & Grub, 115 Regional Rd #20 East, Fonthill, ☎ , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. 11AM-2AM Daily. Their Facebook page says "Home of Craft Beer and a Great Time". 24 beers and ciders on tap. $10-30.
- Kame and Kettle Beer Works, 25 Pelham Town Square, Fonthill, ☎ , e-mail: email@example.com. Wed–Sun: 11:30 am – 9 pm.
Small independent motels and chain hotels are around the city.
- Best Western Plus Rose City Suites Hotel, 300 Prince Charles Dr, ☎ , toll-free: , fax: , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Check-in: 3PM, check-out: 11AM. Smoke free, all-suite hotel. Some suites have a full fridge and stove. Complimentary hot breakfast. Beside the Old Welland Canal.
- Canal Inn, 870 Niagara St (north of Seaway Mall), ☎ , e-mail: email@example.com. Check-in: 3PM, check-out: 11AM. Pet friendly (ground floor only). 80 rooms. Free continental breakfast.
- Hipwell's Motel, 299 20 Hwy, Pelham (one mile west of Fonthill), ☎ , fax: . Check-in: 2PM, check-out: 10:30AM. 26 rooms. Outdoor pool. Picnic area.
- Canada's Best Value Inn, 1030 Niagara St (north of Seaway Mall, at Quaker Rd), ☎ , toll-free: , fax: , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Check-in: 3PM, check-out: 11AM. A former Ramada, Days Inn, and Knights Inn. Three-story non-smoking hotel, indoor pool, renovated 2013. Looks like the attached restaurant is closed again (Feb 2019).
- A drive into Niagara Falls is 30 minutes or less.
- Also a short drive away is Niagara-on-the-Lake - a quaint, historic town with great little shops, restaurants, wineries, and (in the summer) the Shaw Theatre Festival.
- St. Catharines to the north, Hamilton to the west, Port Colborne to the south, and Fort Erie/Buffalo to the south-east.