Hamilton is a historic port city in the Niagara Peninsula region of Ontario. It is wrapped around the western edges of Lake Ontario midway between Toronto and the US border. In the past, this growing city was quite industrial, known then as ‘Steeltown’. Today, Hamilton still has its industrialised area, though it also has a thriving art community, historic sites and a lovey waterfront.
Hamilton is not on many tourists lists of places to go, but there are numerous things to see and do in the city. Everything from shopping to outdoor recreation can be enjoyed, and it even has a lively nightlife scene. If you are considering visiting the city, here are the 15 best things to do in Hamilton:
1. Wander around a castle
The impressive Dundurn Castle is a neoclassical mansion that was built in the 1930s. It took three years to build the 1,700 square metre mansion, which is located on York Boulevard.
Dundurn Castle was purchased by the city in 1900 and since then it has been open to the public. It is now also designated as a National Historic Site of Canada.
It is a magnificent castle that is surrounded by stunning grounds and greenery. The Hamilton Military Museum is housed in a building on the grounds, as is the Cockpit Theatre. It is also a fantastic spot for a wedding.
2. See one of the world’s flying Lancaster bombers
There are only two of these in existence, one of which can be seen at the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum. The museum also displays a Bristol Bolingbroke, Spitfire and Hawker Hurricane.
There are around 36 military jets, propeller-driven aircraft and helicopters housed at the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum. Basically, anything that was used by the Canadian military from World War II to today can be seen here.
Many aircrafts at the museum still fly and you can book a trip in one of them. If you have kids, there are some great things for them to do, including a weekend sleepover program.
3. Explore a navy ship
The legendary HMCS Haida is a Tribal class destroyer that was used in the Second World War, the Korean War and the Cold War. It is the Canadian Navy’s most famous ship and can be seen at Pier 9 on the waterfront.
The destroyer is now a museum ship that has been designated as a National Historic Site of Canada. Self-guided tours are available, so you can explore the decks of the renowned ship and imagine yourself being a crew member.
Guided one-hour tours are also offered, which are great if you want to learn more about the destroyer and see some of its more secret areas. There are also special programs and learning experienced that can be enjoyed.
4. Go to the market
The Hamilton Farmers’ Market is the oldest in the city, dating back to 1837. It is an institution in the city, sitting at the corner of York Boulevard and James Street.
The market is all indoors, selling a variety of fresh local produce, as well as food items from all over the world. There are over 70 venders at the market that sell their own produce or freshly prepared food.
The mix of cultural culinary products available at the Hamilton Farmers’ Market has made it a world-renowned market. Don’t leave without tasting fresh handmade pasta, handmade ice-cream or a Banh Mi Sandwich.
Canadian items that all visitors should purchase at the market to take home include maple syrup, raw honey and local wine. There are also some great artisan shops.
5. Snap photos of lions
The family owned African Lion Safari is one of Hamilton’s most visited attractions, although the safari park actually sits just outside of the city limits. It has a total area of around 300 hectares that houses over 1,000 animals.
Over 100 species of mammals and birds from all over the world live at the park. There are seven areas that are travelled through by tour buses driven by experienced tour guides.
Animals roam freely around the safari park, so you have the chance to see Egyptian goose, white lions, cheetahs, wildebeest, white rhinoceros and of course African lions. There are also plenty of other animals that you can snap photos of wandering around the park.
6. Visit waterfalls
There are over 100 waterfalls in the Niagara Escarpment, which is why Hamilton is sometimes pegged as ‘The City of Waterfalls’. Many of these are accessible via the famous Bruce Trail or are somewhere close by.
Some of the most famous waterfalls in the area include the 19 metre Albion Falls, the 21 metre ribbon waterfall Tiffany Falls and Devil’s Punch Bowl – one of the tallest in the area. The most magnificent waterfall is the 30 metre wide Webster’s Falls.
Webster’s Falls is an attraction in its own right, home to picnic tables and surrounded by a conservation area. It is accessible by climbing down some stairs, leading you right to the base of it.
7. Learn about Canadian football
The Canadian Football Hall of Fame celebrates achievements in Canadian football. It is a not-for-profit museum that is operated by the Canadian Football League (CFL).
The Canadian Football Hall of Fame first opened in 1972 in downtown Hamilton. Since then, it has grown to be a large hall filled with items that highlight the sport and its best players.
In addition to displaying items from the CFL, the hall also displays items showing the history of the Canadian university football and Canadian junior football leagues.
8. Look at art
One of Canada’s oldest public art galleries, the Art Gallery of Hamilton sits right in the heart of Downtown Hamilton. It is a magnificent gallery that has a collection of over 10,000 works of art, making it the third largest gallery in the country.
Nearly 300,000 people come to the gallery each year to see its collection of Canadian historical, Canadian contemporary and European historical art. In fact, it has one of the strongest Canadian modern and contemporary art collections in the country.
In addition to the permanent collection, the gallery also hosts around 30 different exhibits throughout the year. It also has a sculpture atrium and a magnificent 762 square metre glass pavilion.
9. Wine and dine
Or better yet, go on a pub crawl. This is what Hess Village is all about; running along Hess Street from Main Street to King Street West.
Hess Village is a pedestrianized area that is dotted with bars, pubs and restaurants. Many of the establishments on this cobbled street are set in refurbished historic buildings.
In the summer months, this is the place to see and be seen, as every restaurant and bar has an outdoor patio. Live bands play and DJs spin tunes at nearly all bars, pubs and clubs along Hess Street.
10. Go to a festival
There are plenty that take place throughout the year, though the most famous and most attended festival is the ‘Festival of Friends’. This is Canada’s largest annual free music event, drawing in tourists from all over the world.
The culinary ‘Hamilton’s Festival with Taste!’ is a fantastic event for foodies, with over 150 exhibitors displaying local wines, craft beers and samples from some of the city’s top restaurants. Another interesting food festival is the annual ‘Mustard Festival’.
If you are into theatre, be sure to come to Hamilton during the 11-day ‘Hamilton Fringe Festival’. ‘Supercrawl’ is another great, which focuses on art and indie music.
11. Play a round of golf
There are numerous public golf courses in Hamilton, all of which are 18-hole courses. There are also a number of well-known private golf courses where you can tee off while visiting the city.
One of the most well-known courses in Hamilton is the Hamilton Golf & Country Club, which has hosted the Canadian Open. The most well-to-do place to play a round of golf is the exclusive Hamilton Golf and Country Club, though you must be or know a member to even set foot in the place.
Chedoke Beddoe Golf Course is a great public course that has hosted a number of local tournaments. The King’s Forest Golf Course is one step better, as it was voted as one of the top public courses in the province.
12. Wander around a park
Gage Park is a historic park right in the city centre. It is the city’s largest park, as well as being one of its most beautiful public spaces.
The park hosts numerous festivals and events, including the Festival of Friends. It is also home to historic landmarks, like the Gage Park Fountain and Gage Park Bandshell.
The park is also home to the Hamilton Children’s Museum, while the Escarpment Rail Trail starts at one end of it. Gage Park is also a nice place to wander around and enjoy a picnic.
13. Head to the beach
Or at least walk along Beach Boulevard, which is a street that runs on a thin piece of land that crosses over Lake Ontario, just east of the Hamilton Harbour.
There are a number of landmarks along the boulevard, including the Burlington Canal Lift Bridge, a lighthouse and the ‘Pebbles on the Beach’ statue. The Dieppe Veterans’ Memorial Park can also be found along this strip.
From here, it is easy to catch the Waterfront Trail, which runs both east and west. To the west is the Hamilton Waterfront Trail, while the Hamilton Recreation Beach Trail goes east. Both are paved, six-metre wide trails that are great for walking, cycling and in-line skating.
14. Go shopping
There are plenty of places to do this in Hamilton, as it is home to a few shopping districts. Of these, Ottawa Street is one of the most interesting; also known as the Fabric & Textile District.
Fashionistas will want to head to Ancaster, which is one of the city’s well-to-do neighbourhoods. Westdale Village is a great place if you are wanting to shop in local boutiques.
Lime Ridge Mall is a large shopping mall with over 200 shops, though it is not unlike other malls in the country. Jackson Square Mall is another indoor shopping mall worth visiting.
15. Frighten yourself
The Haunted Hamilton Ghost Walk is a great way to scare yourself, as you walk along the dark alleys and through the haunted buildings within the city. These guided walks take you on a historical tour of Hamilton’s dark past.
There are a number of tours to choose from, all of which run year round. Perhaps the scariest tour is the one on Halloween, but you are expected to dress in your spookiest costume, which may even win you a cash price.
Haunted tours and done in the evenings at 8pm. You are guided through the streets and into historic buildings, learning about the dark history of all that you see.