The city of Kingston, which once served as Canada’s first capital, is today a bustling neighborhood with a few of the province’s most fascinating historical significance.
Kingston, Ontario, also referred to as “Limestone City” by natives, has a lot to serve to day-trippers and tourists from abroad. You don’t even need to research and plan much about what to do in Kingston since the city is blessed with beauty to explore at every turn.
Its many majestic 19th-century houses were constructed using limestone, earning the city this nickname. The bigger Ontario towns of Ottawa and Toronto frequently cast a shadow over Kingston, but this seaside city has much to be proud of.
In addition to being host to the Rideau Canal, it is situated on the banks of Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River.
Memorable Experiences in the Heart of Kingston
1. Take the City Trolley Tour
The trolley tour takes you around all the highlights of Kingston. It offers you a ‘hop-on and hop-off‘ tour style where you can get off to explore the attraction and catch another Trolley if you missed your previous one.
Furthermore, the tour also has live commentary from the driver or an audio guide, making it a great way to learn about the city’s historical points.
2. Downtown Adventure at Martello Alley
Touring around Martello Alley is one of the relaxing things you can do in Kingston. It is a downtown adventure that explores intriguing history and surprises at every turn.
This art-themed historic alley represents numerous artists. It’s a place with a friendly and relaxed atmosphere.
But you won’t just experience the beautiful art; you can also meet the artists on-site. You can enjoy coffee while checking out some amazing works of art, some completed and some in progress.
3. Paddle Around Kingston
Located at Lake Ontario’s eastern end, Kingston comprises fantastic and popular water ventures such as kayaking and stand-up paddle boarding.
And since the Kingston waterfront stretches over 8 kilometers, you can find several access points for launching the kayak or stand-up paddle board.
Moreover, when paddling around the water body, you can get a panoramic view of Kingston’s most iconic landmarks, such as Kingston City Hall, Fort Henry, and the Kingston Penitentiary.
4. Infamous Kingston Penitentiary
Kingston Penitentiary, locally known as Kingston Pen and KP, has always been notorious in Canada.
Kingston Penitentiary, or Kingston Pen, is located between King Street West and Lake Ontario, Kingston, Ontario, Canada, and has housed several of Canada’s worst criminals over its 178 years.
The construction of this prison with maximum security took about two years (1833 to 1834) and was later opened in 1835, June 1st, as the “Provincial Penitentiary of the Province of Upper Canada.”
A greenhouse, wineries, conservatories, and carriage houses were once part of the house. Around 1978, these sections had been removed to make room for the new fence of the formerly existing Prison for Women at the back of the home.
The home was transformed into an administrative building for the Penitentiary for Females in 1933 as an aftermath of the uprising at the maximum-security prison in 1932.
Furthermore, this penitentiary is an award-winning museum dedicated solely to the interpretation and preservation of the history of Canada’s federal penitentiaries.
The museum is inside the original Warden’s House of Kingston Penitentiary, where the Correctional Services of Canada was founded in Kingston.
A correctional environment’s diversity frequently astounds visitors. There is more to it than just violence and deterrence.
You can explore the 8 exhibit halls quickly and discover more about the innovative leisure and art initiatives implemented in the 1950s. Browse the unmatched collection of images and relics from prisons.
As an additional perk, former officer volunteers with real experience dating back to 1960 work as docents at the exhibit throughout the summertime.
5. Get to Know the Prime Minister
Although you won’t meet the Prime Minister in person, you will see the first Prime Minister, Sir John Alexander Macdonald’s house, the Bellevue House, a non-symmetrical Italian villa style.
Besides being the home of Canada’s first Prime Minister, it is also famous for its unique architecture. This Italian villa has three floors, divided by seven separate levels, beautiful balconies, different-shaped windows, and various roof gables.
Moreover, the guides are dressed in costumes from the 1840s and will guide you through the house filled with artifacts and exhibits.
6. Attend the Vibrant Festival
Kingston never runs out of festivals, for Kingston, Ontario, is known for its all-year-round lively festivals and events. No matter when you visit, it is always time for some celebration, and there are several festivals for every interest imaginable.
The Limestone City Blues Festival, Art-fest, Writers-Fest, Reel-out Film Festival, and the Kingston Jazz Festival are some of the festivals that Kingston likes to celebrate.
7. Agnes Etherington Art Center
Art enthusiasts hail the Agnes Etherington Art Center!
Founded in 1926, the Art Center is in the heart of the Queen’s University campus in Kingston, Ontario. It has a collection of more than 14,000 European and Canadian art pieces.
From the Canada Council of Arts, the Art Galleries of Ontario Association, and many others, the gallery was recognized and awarded for its artsy exhibitions.
8. Explore Henry Fort
Fort Henry is a fortification citadel built in the War of 1812 to protect the Kingston Royal Naval Dockyard.
The fort is named after an erstwhile Lt. governor of Quebec and was constructed on the location of an ancient fort built during the battle with the USA in 1812.
It has grown in popularity as a famous tourist destination since it first opened as a “living museum” in 1938, giving tourists a genuine flavor of life during the nineteenth century and the cultural significance of the castle.
The Fortress serves as a portal into Canadian historical events and is now managed by Parks Canada as a component of the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Rideau Canal.
Tourists can participate in a self-guided Fort Henry sightseeing tour, view a garrison march, and observe the armed Guard fire rifles and display cannons. A cafe and a souvenir shop are also present where you can stop by when leaving the fort.
During displays and sightseeing tours, the Fort Henry Guards, the fort’s knowledgeable uniform crew, recreate the life of the castle’s past inhabitants and their vocations.
In complement to these traditional crafts and skills demonstrations, the crew often performs classic military maneuvers and re-enactments, such as the exciting Garrison March.
Family members can enroll children in an authentic Victorian schoolroom adventure, complete with historical attire and lessons, as one of the attractions.
Visit the fort’s authorized website for information on the renowned Sunset Ceremony, which features musical and cannon performances, if you plan to visit in August. The facility is open all year and provides enjoyable holiday events.
Fort Fright transforms Fort Henry into a terrifying Halloween event, regarded as Ontario’s finest haunting attraction. Challenge your nerve in the eerie Fort, which features frightful actors, spooky sets, and brutal activation of all five of your emotions. It is a thrilling experience.
Enjoy an extended evening at Fort Fright if a ghost excursion is not scary enough for you. If you can slumber, nap in the army compound room from the late nineteenth century.
Don’t overlook checking out Pumpkinferno at Greater Canada Town in Morrisburg, Eastern Ontario’s second Halloween festival, and get ready to have the best time of your lives.
9. Walk Along the Princess Street
Princess Street is a leading retail street in downtown Kingston, where you can see dozens of charming shops and walk along the historic limestone buildings lined up side by side.
Though it was initially called Store Street, in approximately 1840, it was named Princess Street in honor of the birth of Princess Royal.
10. Cruise the Thousand Islands
One of the top attractions in Kingston is the famous Thousand Islands Cruise. You come across some gorgeous cottages and islands along with massive Thousand Island castles during the boat tours in the St. Lawrence River.
The Thousand Islands are Mother Nature’s finest magnificent treasures formed over hundreds of thousands of years of glacier upheaval.
Furthermore, Thousand Islands includes over 1,800 glorious islands that stretch along the St. Lawrence River, which counts around 80 kilometers. Each island’s size varies differently, with the largest island being about 100 square kilometers.
What’s more, the Thousand Island Adventure also offers an abundance of paddling adventures, where you can enjoy an overnight trip, camping, or rent a houseboat, then take a kayak tour with 1000 Islands Kayaking.
11. Walk Around Kingston City Hall
The historic City Hall of Kingston has been a well-known landmark on the Kingston waterfront since 1844. This stunning building is Canada’s historic site, symbolizing the community’s civic government and administration.
You can also get a free guided tour that’s about 45 minutes long to learn more about Kingston City Hall’s fascinating history, beautiful architecture, and intriguing people, events, and stories.
12. Go to the Theatre
No, we are not talking about a movie theatre, but the stunning heritage building in downtown Kingston’s heart.
The Grand Heartthrob Theater, which was opened in 1902, has been showing numerous performances since its opening. The theatre comprises a stage, an orchestra pit, 776 seats, and a black box theatre with around 105 seats.
13. Walking Food Tours
No vacation is complete without its local delicacies. So, you must take part in the walking food tours that take you through the eclectic and vibrant downtown scene that offers a tremendous selection of flavors.
The walking tour is led by a passionate local guide, who will help you discover Canada’s original capital city by savoring the best local cuisine.
With a “Classic Kingston” tour, you’ll get an insight into Kingston’s culture through its delicious food, history, and unique architecture from the local citizens.
It would be best to try a few dishes like the Greens Curry Bamboo. It is incredibly colorful and flavorful; for those who enjoy a little spice, it is also mildly spicy.
And while eggs Benedict are fantastic, they get even better when latkes are added, particularly the crunchy, delicious latkes served at AquaTerra. The Kingston waterfront is beautifully seen from AquaTerra, adding beauty to this place.
Woodenheads is the place to go if you want exquisite pizza. The wood-fired pizzas at this hip Italian eatery are freshly prepared on the spot and have the crisp, crunchy base you would like from the real deal. Since it can be very crowded, reserve a table in advance.
Another such eatery to visit is Kame. It is arguably the best of Kingston’s modest, family-run sushi establishments. The meal is amazingly consistent despite the restaurant’s unassuming façade and small atmosphere. A wide variety of spaghetti, donburi, and seafood alternatives are available in addition to the exquisite sushi.
14. Spend a Relaxing Day by Lake Ontario
If the activities mentioned above were so exhausting that you now crave a little peace time on vacation, Kingston has you covered there as well.
Kingston has more than 200 beautiful parks you can visit year-round, where you can take a stroll, jog, or enjoy the lake views. And among all the parks, Lake Ontario Park is the best one to visit.
As the name suggests, Lake Ontario Park is located along the shore of the magnificent Lake Ontario and is a serene land, a great place to relax.
Lake Ontario is a vital route for transit, freshwater interchange, and fish migrations because of its proximity to the Atlantic Ocean.
Dunes, woodlands, marshes, and cliffs are just a few environments that encircle the lake and are home to numerous flora and fauna. More than 9 million people live around Lake Ontario, serving as a water source for abundant wildlife.
Despite being the tiniest of the Great Lakes, the Lake Ontario basin is home to more Canadians than just about any other basin in the nation.
The biggest freshwater fish in Canada, the Lake Sturgeon, and numerous other coastal fish species can be found in Lake Ontario. Regrettably, overfishing has put the lake sturgeon in danger. Several creatures cross the Atlantic Ocean and Ontario Lake to finish their lifespans.
Striving to preserve all of the environments these fish utilize throughout their life cycles is critical to safeguard them, so make sure not to pollute the water there.
Travel half an hour to “Selkirk Shore State Park” or less than 60 minutes to “Southwick Beach State Park” on your route eastward towards the Thousand Islands. Mid-afternoon is a significant beachfront period on Lake Ontario. Every kind of nature lover can find anything to enjoy at Selkirk Shores, including campers, fishermen, and birdwatchers.
It is also a top fishery location with boat docks and charter services that can get visitors to the lake to haul in fish and trout. With pathways winding across and beside the Lakeside Wildlife Management Zone next to the lakeside campsite, Southwick Beach is a haven for wildlife enthusiasts.
The park, a well-liked destination for picnickers and day visitors, includes a large stretch of seashore, fishing, restaurants, and other amenities.
The top aquatic marine exhibition in Canada is the “Antique Boat Museum,” which you can also tour after spending an afternoon on Ontario Lake. A stop at the museum’s collection of more than 300 vessels and countless relics is a must for everyone visiting the 1000 Islands.
Register for the 45-minute Journey the Rivers tour and the 1903 riverboat La Duchesse when you arrive. For a sundown sail, a 1953 skipper or a 1974 vintage commuter are available for rent.
15. Spend Time on Wolfe Island
The first place that you should visit for some calm and quiet is the biggest of the legendary Thousand Islands, Wolfe Island. Situated where Lake Ontario finishes and the River Saint Lawrence starts, it is known for its magnificent sunrises, romantic sunsets, and starry skies at nightfall.
At the head of the Saint Lawrence River, the mesmerizing Wolfe Island is readily reached by public ferries from Kingston, Ontario, which is nearby. When visiting Wolfe Island, you will discover that it is gorgeous all year round, but summertime is particularly lovely.
Budget-conscious tourists will value the lovely waterside walks, the clear, quiet streets ideal for riding, the exquisite bakeries, and the nearby bars and restaurants.
The best part is that there are lots of exciting options for photographing. You could even decide to plan a surprise date for your special someone.
When in Kingston, every single day is fun and adventurous, and with its countless museums, unique shopping, and delicious dining experiences around every corner, not a second is wasted in boredom.
Mentioned above were some incredible things to do in Kingston, from the notable history to delicious food and everything in between. This list only comprises the top 15 best things to do in Kingston; however, there is much more to explore.
Kingston is rich in history, with countless museums, unique shopping and dining experiences around every corner, and numerous activities that add to the unforgettable experience.
Moreover, Kingston is a safe and clean city for a fun and scrapbook-worthy family vacation. And, of course, there’s plenty more to explore in the countryside surrounding Kingston.