Kingston, also known as the “limestone city”, was the First Capital city of Canada. Now, a UNESCO World Heritage Destination and the Gateway to the 1000 Islands, Kingston is alive with cultural celebrations and more than two dozen museums, historic sites, and art galleries to explore. As most tourist sights are closed during the winter it would be best to schedule your visit between May and October.
Start today by purchasing a ticket onboard one of Kingston’s bright red Trollies. The hop-on- hop-off guided tour will take you through all of Kingston’s historic old town and shopping district as well as Fort Henry and Queen’s University.
Step through the gates of a 19th century military fortress and enter military life as it was in 1867. Built after the war of 1812 to ward off potential enemy forces, this extraordinary garrison on the lakeshore offers guided tours, daily performances, by the Fort Henry Guard, featuring rifle and cannon drills, muster parades, heritage dinning and more. On Wednesday nights, you can enjoy sunset ceremonies, and on Saturday nights, in July and August, see a spectacular celebration of fife and drum, cannon fire and fireworks. While your there don’t forget to say “hi” to David the goat!
Springer Market Square
Operating since 1801, Springer Market Square is the heart of the downtown. Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays from April – November locals and tourists flock to the market seeking fresh produce, meat, baked goods, plants, flowers and craft items. On Sundays, you can search for antiques and collectibles. On non-market days, the square remains alive with concerts, evening films and other public events. During the winter months, enjoy free outdoor skating on the refrigerated ice surface. There are also a selection of restaurants in this area making it a good choice for a lunch break. Some suggestions for a good, quick bite are: Tango Nuevo at the corner of Brock and King St or Woodenheads gourmet pizza in front of the Fourpoints by Sheraton hotel.
Before hopping back on the trolley, make a quick visit to St. George’s Cathedral. Take a self-guided tour of this gothic-revival Cathedral built in 1825 and discover the role it played in Canada’s early history.
Pump House Steam Museum & Bellevue House
Hop off at the Pump House Steam Museum stop and from here you can explore both sites. The Pump House Steam Museum is a fascinating marine museum that includes stories and artifacts from Kingston’s naval and shipbuilding history. Inside you can discover the world of engineering and steam power with fun interactive science exhibits, a model railroad and huge steam engines built in the 1850s. After your visit, enjoy a lovely 10-minute walk along Kingston’s waterfront to the Bellevue House. The restored, 1840’s home and gardens of Sir John A MacDonald, Canada’s first Prime Minister. Exhibits in the visitor center commemorate his life and career and costumed staff replicate the daily life of his family.
Optional: also nearby is the Teff Centre. Home to artists’ studios and galleries. The location is shared with the Isabel Bader Centre for the performing arts.
The beautiful campus of Canada’s most prestigious school can be explored on foot and many doors are open to the public. Amongst them are the Agnes Etherington Art Centre, a research-intensive art museum which illuminates the great artistic traditions of the past with innovations of the present staged across eight galleries. The Murney Tower, built in 1846 to serve as military housing, now contains an extensive collection of military and domestic artifacts of 19th century Kingston.
You can end the trolley tour in the entertainment and retail district and spend some time browsing the local shops and enjoying a nice dinner.
Fine dining: AquaTerra puts an elegant spin on Canadian fare served with fine wines in a relaxed atmosphere with waterfront views.
Cheap eats: The Rustic Spud’s new age Canadian cuisine is an infusion of culture and flavor to awaken your senses.
Today discover and experience the heart of the 1000 islands fairytale castles, lighthouses and mansions all accompanied with true stories of pirates, bootleggers and the Gilded Age rich and famous who vacationed there. The 1000 islands are a sightseer’s paradise located along the peaceful border between New York State and southeastern Ontario. A region with endless shorelines, rich history and unique culture. Aboard your cruise, you will wind your way through the small cottage islands of Napoleon’s Hat, Wanderer’s Channel, the Bateau Channel and Mandalay Mansion. The 3-hour cruise will offer the most sights and you have the option of lunch or dinner onboard.
After the cruise take a stroll-through Martello Alley, a short walk from the port. This art themed historic alley is the only one of its kind in Ontario. Representing numerous artists who work on site. You can find original and eclectic works ranging from paintings, photography, glass art to hand crafted jeweler. The alley also leads to a beautiful courtyard with charming artistic accents. This is a relaxing and friendly art shopping experience designed for all budgets and style.
For dinner tonight, why not try one of the many and delicious international restaurants in Kingston?
Grecos Grill & Wine Bar is a family owned establishment since 1992, this restaurant is a staple in downtown Kingston. Bringing you the culinary treasures of their homeland Greece. Tables are almost always full so reservations are recommended.
Sima Sushi: Focused on serving quality ingredients, exciting dishes and fair prices, Sima offers an assortment of sushi, sashimi, rolls and uncompromising cooked Japanese dishes from their cozy downtown location.
Flavors of India: A versatile menu with a selection of authentic and traditional Indian dishes. Each dish carefully spiced to offer exquisite balance and flavor.
Before returning to your hotel tonight, why not let the expert Haunted Walk guides introduce you to Kingston’s dark and spooky past? Take the original tour and explore historic Sydenham Ward and hear true spin tingling stories of ghosts and graveyards that haunt our city. Or brave the narrow tunnels of the spooky 19th century fortress of Fort Henry while you tour and listen to tales of supernatural encounters and hangings! Daily at 8:00pm starting in May 2017.
If you’re not up for a fright, travel back in time! Embark on a journey with your very own time-traveling tour guide and discover hidden secrets that you won’t find in any history book. Fridays & Saturdays at 7:30pm from June 23 to September 2, 2017.
Today, take a tour of Kingston’s newest and most popular tourist attraction, Kingston Penitentiary. Enjoy the rare and unique opportunity to go behind the walls of Canada’s most notorious maximum security prison now open to the public for the first time in 180 years. Kingston Penitentiary is Canada’s oldest prison predating Canada’s confederation. Learn about the prison life of infamous inmates and hear stories of legendary escapes as you take a look inside inmate cells, segregation rooms, indigenous grounds, gymnasiums and more.
After your tour don’t forget about Canada’s Penitentiary Museum just across the street. The “Friends of the Penitentiary Museum” are a group dedicated to preserving the fascinating history of Canada’s Federal penitentiary system and the museum explains the history through artifacts, photographs, equipment and replicas. Housed in the former Warden’s residence “Cedarhege” tours are self-guided and by donation.
If you would like to enjoy a nice lunch in the area before returning to the downtown head over to Juniper Café and have a seat on the only patio in Kingston with an unobstructed view of the waterfront. Choose from a selection of healthy baked goods like breads and paninis, as well as soups, sandwiches and salads. Everything is baked and created on site with at least 70% of the products locally sourced.
After your meal make your way to the port to enjoy some time outside and take in the natural beauty of the area. Take the free ferry over to Wolfe Island. The largest of the world-renowned 1000 Islands. Situated where Lake Ontario ends and the St. Lawrence River begins its flow into the Atlantic. Spend some time at the hidden gem Big Sandy Bay bird watching, swimming or just relaxing. Take a tour of the wind turbines that populate the island or visit the Old House Museum. If you are travelling with kids they will love the fun and sometimes spooky corn maze. The island is small so cycling is a great option and there are four signed routes to follow. Be sure to take some water and snacks as there are limited spots to stop and eat.
Tonight, why not make it grand with a visit to the Grand Theatre? A Performing Arts facility that plays host to world class performers, local theatre groups, and is the home of the Kingston Symphony.
Or, if you don’t see something of interest there, check what’s playing at the Screening Room. An intimate theatre showcasing contemporary independent, foreign and art films.
If you would like to stay in a piece of history there are many Bed and Breakfasts within close proximity to The Pen such as:
The Secret Garden Inn (built in 1888)
The Frontenac Club Inn (est. 1826)
If you prefer a more modern stay and love a waterfront view try:
Delta Hotels by Marriott on the waterfront
K-Pass is your all-inclusive ticket to Kingston, including a 1000 Islands Cruise, Hop on, Hop off Trolley Tour, and admission to museums and attractions. You can choose a 24h, 48h or 72h pass, which includes admission to each attraction once while the pass is active. It also includes discounts at restaurants, and a 3h bicycle rental. It’s the most comprehensive way to plan a trip to Kingston, and the best value: you can save more than 50% compared to buying admissions separately.
Trolley tickets can be purchased online, as part of the K-Pass or at the office located at #1 Brock St.
1000 Islands cruises are included with the K-Pass, can be purchased online or at the Crawford Wharf office. During high season it is recommended to purchase tickets in advance or make an advanced reservation.
Kingston Penitentiary visits are in high demand (premium tours already sold out) and it is highly recommended to purchase your ticket days in advance as visits are timed. Walk-up tickets will be available in limited quantities for the 11am and 4:30pm tours each day. They are available on a first-come, first-serve basis when the box office opens in the morning.