Kingston, Ontario, known as the "Limestone City" for its beautiful 19th-century buildings, is a historic and vibrant city located on the shores of Lake Ontario. Rich in history, culture, and outdoor beauty, Kingston offers a diverse array of activities that cater to all interests. Whether you’re a history enthusiast, a nature lover, or someone looking to enjoy the local food scene, Kingston has something for everyone. Here are the best things to do in Kingston to make the most of your visit.

1. Explore Fort Henry National Historic Site

Fort Henry National Historic Site is a must-visit attraction for anyone interested in Canadian history. Originally built during the War of 1812 to protect the Kingston Royal Naval Dockyard, Fort Henry has been meticulously restored and offers a fascinating glimpse into the past. The fort is situated on a hill overlooking the city and Lake Ontario, providing stunning views along with a rich historical experience.

Visitors can explore the fort’s barracks, gunpowder magazines, and fortifications while learning about the daily life of soldiers stationed there in the 19th century. The site features interactive exhibits, guided tours, and historical reenactments that bring the history of the fort to life. During the summer months, the Fort Henry Guard performs precision drills and artillery demonstrations, showcasing the military practices of the era.

One of the highlights of a visit to Fort Henry is the Sunset Ceremony, held on select evenings. This spectacular event features a military parade, a mock battle, and a fireworks display, all set against the backdrop of the setting sun over Lake Ontario. The ceremony is a powerful tribute to Canada’s military heritage and a memorable experience for visitors of all ages.

Fort Henry also hosts a variety of special events throughout the year, including ghost tours, themed dinners, and holiday celebrations. The on-site museum shop offers a range of souvenirs, including historical reproductions and locally made crafts.

A visit to Fort Henry is not only educational but also highly engaging, providing a deep dive into Canadian history in a picturesque and historically significant setting. Whether you're a history buff or simply looking for an interesting day out, Fort Henry offers an enriching and enjoyable experience.

2. Wander Through Kingston's Historic Downtown

Kingston’s historic downtown is a vibrant and charming area filled with beautifully preserved limestone buildings, unique shops, cozy cafes, and excellent restaurants. Strolling through the streets of downtown Kingston is like stepping back in time, with its well-preserved architecture and rich history evident at every turn.

One of the best ways to explore downtown Kingston is to take a self-guided walking tour. Maps and brochures are available from the visitor center, highlighting key historical sites and landmarks. The tour typically includes stops at City Hall, a stunning example of neoclassical architecture completed in 1844, and St. George’s Cathedral, an impressive Anglican church with a rich history dating back to 1825.

Market Square, located behind City Hall, is a bustling hub of activity and a must-visit spot in downtown Kingston. This historic square hosts a farmers market several times a week, offering fresh produce, local crafts, and delicious food. In the winter, Market Square transforms into an outdoor skating rink, providing a picturesque setting for ice skating in the heart of the city.

Downtown Kingston is also home to a variety of specialty shops and boutiques, offering everything from fashion and accessories to artisanal goods and unique gifts. Kingston Olive Oil Company, for example, is a popular stop for gourmet food enthusiasts, offering a wide selection of high-quality olive oils and balsamic vinegars.

Dining in downtown Kingston is a treat, with numerous restaurants offering diverse cuisines. From fine dining establishments like AquaTerra, known for its exquisite seafood dishes, to casual eateries like Wooden Heads Gourmet Pizza, there is something to satisfy every palate. Many restaurants feature outdoor patios, allowing diners to enjoy their meals while taking in the lively street scenes.

Throughout the year, downtown Kingston hosts a variety of festivals and events, including the Kingston Buskers Rendezvous, the Limestone City Blues Festival, and the Kingston WritersFest. These events bring the community together and add to the vibrant cultural scene of the city.

Exploring Kingston’s historic downtown is a delightful experience that showcases the city’s unique charm and vibrant community. Whether you’re shopping, dining, or simply soaking in the atmosphere, downtown Kingston offers a welcoming and enjoyable environment for all visitors.

3. Visit the Kingston Penitentiary

The Kingston Penitentiary, once a maximum-security prison, is now one of Kingston’s most intriguing tourist attractions. Closed in 2013 after 178 years of operation, the penitentiary has been preserved as a historic site, offering guided tours that provide a fascinating glimpse into Canada’s correctional history.

The guided tours of Kingston Penitentiary are led by former correctional officers and staff who share their firsthand experiences and insights into the daily life within the prison walls. The tours take visitors through various parts of the prison, including cell blocks, the segregation area, and the prison yard. Along the way, visitors learn about the prison’s history, infamous inmates, and the evolution of the Canadian penal system.

One of the most striking aspects of the tour is the stark contrast between the harsh realities of prison life and the impressive architecture of the penitentiary. The limestone buildings, with their imposing walls and barred windows, are a testament to the prison’s long and storied past. Visitors also get to see the unique dome-shaped central guard tower, which was a pioneering design in prison architecture.

In addition to its historical significance, Kingston Penitentiary is also known for its connections to notable events and figures in Canadian history. The penitentiary housed some of Canada’s most notorious criminals, and its history includes stories of daring escapes, riots, and high-profile incarcerations. The guided tours bring these stories to life, providing a compelling and often sobering look at the realities of prison life.

The tours also highlight the efforts to reform and improve the correctional system over the years, offering a broader perspective on the challenges and changes in the field of corrections. Special themed tours, such as architectural tours and behind-the-scenes tours, provide even deeper insights into specific aspects of the penitentiary’s history.

A visit to Kingston Penitentiary is an eye-opening experience that combines history, architecture, and personal stories to create a comprehensive and engaging tour. Whether you’re interested in criminal history, architecture, or social reform, Kingston Penitentiary offers a unique and thought-provoking experience.

4. Explore the Thousand Islands

Just a short drive from Kingston, the Thousand Islands region is a stunning natural area that offers a wealth of outdoor activities and scenic beauty. Located in the St. Lawrence River, the Thousand Islands consist of over 1,800 islands, ranging from tiny islets to larger islands with their own unique attractions.

One of the best ways to explore the Thousand Islands is by taking a boat tour. Several operators offer cruises that navigate the winding waterways, providing breathtaking views of the islands and their picturesque cottages, mansions, and lighthouses. The cruises often include informative commentary about the history and ecology of the area, as well as stories about the famous and wealthy individuals who have owned property in the region.

For a more personalized experience, consider renting a kayak or canoe and paddling through the serene waters at your own pace. The calm river and numerous sheltered bays make it an ideal location for paddling, allowing you to get up close to the islands and explore their hidden coves and secluded beaches. Guided kayaking tours are also available, offering the added benefit of a knowledgeable guide to lead you through the best routes and share interesting insights about the area.

Fishing is another popular activity in the Thousand Islands, with the region being renowned for its excellent fishing opportunities. Anglers can catch a variety of species, including bass, pike, and muskellunge, in the clear, clean waters of the St. Lawrence River. Fishing charters and guided tours are available for those looking to maximize their chances of landing a big catch.

The Thousand Islands are also home to several parks and nature reserves that offer excellent hiking and wildlife viewing opportunities. The Thousand Islands National Park, for example, features a network of trails that wind through diverse habitats, from lush forests to rocky shorelines. The park’s trails provide stunning views of the river and the islands, as well as opportunities to spot a variety of wildlife, including deer, foxes, and numerous bird species.

Camping is available on several of the islands, allowing visitors to fully immerse themselves in the natural beauty of the area. Whether you’re setting up a tent on a secluded beach or staying in a cozy cabin, camping in the Thousand Islands provides a peaceful and picturesque escape from the hustle and bustle of daily life.

Exploring the Thousand Islands is a must-do activity for anyone visiting Kingston. The region’s stunning natural beauty, combined with its wealth of outdoor activities, makes it a perfect destination for nature lovers and adventure seekers alike.

5. Enjoy Local Cuisine

Kingston’s culinary scene is a delightful mix of traditional Canadian flavors and innovative cuisine, offering a wide range of dining experiences that cater to all tastes. The city’s restaurants, cafes, and bistros provide a taste of the region’s rich culinary heritage, using fresh, locally sourced ingredients to create delicious dishes.

One of the highlights of dining in Kingston is the opportunity to savor fresh, locally caught seafood. The city’s proximity to Lake Ontario ensures a steady supply of fresh fish and shellfish, which are featured prominently on many menus. AquaTerra, for example, is renowned for its exquisite seafood dishes, including fresh oysters, seared scallops, and grilled salmon. The restaurant’s elegant setting and stunning waterfront views make it a popular choice for a special night out.

For those looking for a more casual dining experience, Kingston offers a variety of pubs and bistros that serve up hearty, comfort food. The Merchant Tap House, located in a historic building on the waterfront, offers a relaxed atmosphere and a menu featuring classic pub fare, such as burgers, fish and chips, and poutine. The extensive selection of local craft beers and live music performances add to the lively ambiance.

Kingston is also known for its vibrant cafe culture, with numerous coffee shops and bakeries offering a cozy spot to relax and enjoy a coffee and a pastry. CRAVE Coffee House & Bakery, for example, is a local favorite, known for its freshly baked goods, artisanal coffees, and welcoming atmosphere. It’s an ideal spot for a leisurely brunch or a quick coffee break while exploring the city.

The city’s farmers markets are a great place to sample and purchase local produce, artisanal cheeses, homemade jams, and freshly baked goods. The Kingston Public Market, held in Springer Market Square, is the oldest continuously operating farmers market in Ontario, offering a wide variety of fresh, locally grown produce and handmade goods. The market’s lively atmosphere and diverse offerings make it a popular destination for food lovers.

Throughout the year, Kingston hosts various food festivals and culinary events that celebrate the region’s gastronomy. The Kingston Food Festival, for example, showcases the talents of local chefs and features a variety of food tastings, cooking demonstrations, and workshops. These events provide a great opportunity to explore new flavors and enjoy the city’s culinary delights.

Kingston’s diverse culinary scene ensures that there is something for everyone, whether you’re looking for fresh seafood, hearty pub fare, or a cozy cafe experience. The city’s commitment to using fresh, local ingredients and its vibrant food culture make dining in Kingston a truly enjoyable experience.

Kingston, Ontario, is a destination that truly has it all‚ÄĒrich history, stunning natural beauty, and a wide range of activities for every type of traveler. Whether you‚Äôre here to explore historic sites, enjoy outdoor adventures, or simply relax and savor local cuisine, Kingston promises an unforgettable experience.

Stay connected with more insider tips and exciting adventures in Kingston and beyond at Canada Scenic.

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Jun 26, 2024
Central Canada

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