Burlington is a beautiful city that sits midway between Toronto and Niagara Falls, nestled along the edge of Lake Ontario. It has been voted as one of the best places in the country to live, but also makes for a great getaway destination.
There is something for everyone in Burlington, from stunning gardens to exquisite dining. Still, it is often overlooked by tourists who pass through on route between Toronto and Niagara Falls.
Spending a few days in Burlington is highly recommended, especially if you are looking for a quiet place to relax far from the madding crowd. If you do find yourself visiting the city, these are the best things to do in Burlington:
1. Visit a garden
Not just any garden, but Canada’s largest. The world-renowned Royal Botanical Gardens is arguably Burlington’s top attraction and a must for anyone visiting or passing through the city.
The beautiful gardens are separated into different sections that are spread across 900 hectares of land. It features four outdoor gardens, one greenhouse and three restaurants, as well as a lovely gift shop.
Wander around the picturesque gardens and see the world’s largest lilac collection and over 1,000 other plants and flowers. It also happens to be an Important Bird Area.
2. Look at art
The Art Gallery of Burlington is the seventh largest public gallery in the province. The 4,100 square metre gallery has over 1,000 pieces of art in its collection.
One of the biggest draws of the art gallery is its collection of contemporary Canadian ceramics, which is the largest in Canada. It also has a lovely courtyard that hosts special exhibitions.
The Art Gallery of Burlington opened its doors in 1978 as a facility for artists to do their crafts. Since becoming a public gallery, over 100,000 visitors pass through its doors each year.
3. Walk along a pier
Brant Street Pier is an S-shaped pier that extends 137 metres over Lake Ontario. The pier boasts fabulous views of the lake and Burlington’s shoreline.
Walk along the pier and feel the wind in your hair as you admire the views. For the best views, go up the circular staircase to the elevated deck.
The pier is open between 7am and 11pm, so you can enjoy the views in the morning, afternoon or night. You can also go fishing off the pier or cycling along it.
4. Go rock climbing
Mount Nemo Conservation Area is the place to do this. In fact, it is one of the most popular places to climb in Southwestern Ontario.
The climb starts at a rate of 5.9 with parts falling between 5.10 and 5.12, so it is not for an amateur. But any avid climber will be enjoy going rock climbing here.
A feature of the climb are the spectacular views, which, on a clear day, stretch all the way to the CN Tower. There are also hiking trails for those that don’t want to do the climb.
5. Go for a hike
Stretching for 890 kilometres, the famous Bruce Trail goes from the Niagara River to Tobermory, passing through Burlington along the way. This is a world-renowned trail and is the best place in the city to go for a hike.
The trail runs along the edge of the Niagara Escarpment, which is UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve. It is a phenomenal hike with stunning views, waterfalls and wildlife.
Part of the trail passes through the Mount Nemo Conservation Area, where some spectacular views can be seen. It also passes through the Crawford Lake Conservation Area, which features a rare meromictic lake.
6. Explore Downtown Burlington
Go on a walking tour of this historic part of the city and see some of Burlington’s most magnificent buildings. Start the tour at the fountain in front of City Hall and then follow Ontario Street and start to explore Downtown Burlington.
On this historic walk you will see beautiful Victorian Vernacular, late Victorian and Gothic Revival mansions. You will also pass by the hotel-tavern Zimmerman House that was built in 1860.
There are two historic churches in Downtown Burlington; the Knox Presbyterian Church and L’Eglise St Philippe Church. The former dates back to 1845 and is noted for its hand-made pulpit, while the later was built in 1875 and features an Italianate square tower.
7. See the fish
There are over 70 species of fish, invertebrates, reptiles and amphibians living at the ECHO, Leahy Center for Lake Champlain. ECHO stands for Ecology, Culture, History and Opportunities.
Visit the family-friendly centre and see the plethora of fish that live here. These include pumpkinseed, freshwater drum, bluegill, brook trout and longnosed gar.
There is also other sea life, like neonate spiny softshell turtle, poison dart frog, sea star, eastern newt and urchin. Afterwards, enjoy coffee or lunch at the onsite café or buy a souvenir from the gift shop.
8. Watch the weather
The iconic Discovery Landing building faces the lake and is an excellent place to watch the weather. The 4,328 square metre building is a landmark that makes for a great place to play, relax and enjoy.
The building features an observatory with floor-to-ceiling windows that offer magnificent panoramic views. It also boasts a fabulous restaurant with spectacular views of the lake.
Discovery Landing also happens to overlook the Rotary Centennial Pond. The pond is more than 3,000 square metres and in the winter is turned into an ice skating rink.
9. Mingle with the locals
Burlington is filled with bars and nightclubs that are great for meeting and mingling with the locals. Some of the bars in the city offer live music, while others are great for watching your favourite sports.
Live music seems to be the biggest thing in terms of Burlington’s nightlife, with around 30 bars offering it. Most of them also have a great food menu with typical pub grub.
There are also a handful of trendy lounges where you can sip on a cocktail, as well as a couple of nightclubs where you can dance the night away. Basically, if you are a night owl, you will not be bored.
10. Visit a farm
Pick your own strawberries, pumpkins, raspberries or corn at Stonehaven Farms, or buy fresh produce in its market.
Stonehaven Farms opened in 1904 and it is still going strong today. It has, of course, expanded from a small farm to what it is today; a large farm complete with a shop, a corn maze and wagon rides.
There is also a kid’s zone that features straw piles to be climbed, a massive sandbox and a straw bale maze. The entire family will enjoy visiting the farm.
11. Eat ribs
No kidding, as Burlington is home to Canada’s Largest Ribfest. The rib eating festival takes place over Labour Day weekend, which is usually the first weekend in September.
Ribfest is filled with food vendors and has a marketplace, with the focus being ribs. Eat as many ribs as you can that have been cooked in a plethora of different ways and with numerous sauces and flavours.
You really will be spoiling your taste buds at this annual festival. And it is all done while listening to some great live music.
12. Have fun at a park
Not only is Spencer Smith Park the home of Ribfest and the Burlington Beer Festival, it is also a great place to have fun all summer long. The park boasts a small beach and a number of pathways along the waterfront.
Spencer Smith Park sits in Downtown Burlington and features a wide promenade that overlooks the lake. It is also the home of the Brant Street Pier and the Rotary Centennial Pond.
There are expansive lawns where you can relax and have a picnic, or take a leisurely walk along the waterfront and enjoy the views. The park also has a children’s playground and a water jet area to play in.
13. Wander around a museum
There are two historic buildings in Burlington that are now museums; Ireland House and the Joseph Brant Museum. Visit either of these and wander around to learn about the history and heritage of the city.
Ireland House was built in 1837, making it one of the oldest homes in all of Burlington. Explore the house and learn about the life and times of three generations of the family.
Wander around the Joseph Brant Museum to learn about the founding, settlement and development of Burlington and its surrounding area. The museum has permanent exhibits, as well as hosting travelling exhibitions.
14. Enjoy the food
There are over 200 restaurants in Burlington where you can enjoy food. Everything from cheap hotdog venders to gourmet bistros are available in the city.
A few restaurants in Burlington are award-winning establishments with prices to match where you can truly indulge yourself. There are also mid-range places that are great if you are dining with the kids.
Tease your taste buds by trying out some of the more authentic restaurants that serve Chinese food, Thai food or Italian cuisine. Burlington is also a great place to enjoy fresh seafood.
15. Play a round of golf
Or play a few, as there are nine different places to play in or within reach of the city. Basically, no golfer will ever be bored in Burlington.
One of the most scenic courses is the Indian Wells Golf Club, which is an 18-hole course that is nestled at the foothills of Mt. Nemo. Though it is its sister club the Millcroft Golf Club that is recognised as the best golf course in the city.
There is also the prestigious Burlington Golf and Country Club, though you need to be with a member to golf here. The award-winning Hidden Lake Golf Club is another great place to play a round of golf.