Kingston is a small city the sits midway between Toronto and Montreal. It is an old city that was established in 1673 and was once used as a French trading post.
Today, the city’s history can still be seen, particularly in the downtown area. In fact, Kingston is nicknamed the ‘Limestone City’ because of its magnificent limestone historic buildings.
Not only is there heaps to do right in Kingston itself, but it is also the gateway of the famous Thousand Islands. Let’s explore the best things to do in Kingston:
1. Explore a fort
Fort Henry was built to protect the Kingston Royal Naval Dockyard during the War of 1812. Today it is a national historic site and is well worth visiting.
Explore the fort and learn all about its history, watching military interpreters give demonstrations of British military life. Watch historical re-enactments and a garrison parade, and even have the chance to fire a rifle!
You can also attend Victorian school, have a meal while enjoying the views and shop for souvenirs. Stay for sunset and enjoy a sunset ceremony.
2. Visit a military museum
If you are interested in military history, be sure to visit the Royal Military College of Canada Museum. The museum sits on the campus of the Royal Military College of Canada and is run by the college.
The museum displays a collection of artefacts, research and records of the RMCC and includes the Kingston Royal Naval Dockyard. There are over 7,000 items housed in the museum, some of which date back to WWI.
See war trophies, aircrafts and tanks, including the Sherman Tank, Centurion Tank and Leopard tank. There is also HMCS Huron (G24) X Guns, Blomefield SBML 32-pounder Gun and SBML 32-pounder Gun.
3. Tour a prison
Kingston Penitentiary was a maximum security prison that closed its doors in 2013. It was known to hold some of Canada’s most dangerous criminals.
Today, the infamous prison is open to the public. Take a tour of one of the country’s oldest prisons and experience what life was like behind bars.
A guide will take you through the prison, with tours lasting around 90 minutes. Cameras are allowed, so be sure to come prepared.
4. Get to know a prime minister
Bellevue House was the home of Sir John Alexander Macdonald; Canada’s first Prime Minister. Today, it is a museum and a national historic site.
The house was one of the first ever examples of Italian villa inspired architecture in the country, and surely one of the finest. It has three floors, complete with balconies, different shaped windows and various roof gables.
It is a beautiful house that is filled with artefacts and exhibits, and also shows informative videos. Guides dressed in costume from the 1840s will guide you through the house and tell you all about its history.
5. Go to the theatre
The Grand Theatre is not only one of the finest theatres in the city, but it is also a historical site. The theatre opened in 1902 and since then has shown numerous performances.
The main theatre has 776 seats and a stage and orchestra pit. There is also a black box theatre that seats 105 people.
The Kingston Symphony has called the theatre home since 1964. It has also had numerous big name performers do shows, like Sandra Bernhardt, Nellie Melba and Eddie Palmieri.
6. Live in the 19th century
Milk cows, ride a miniature train, walk a calf or take a wagon ride at Upper Canada Village. This 19th century village allows you to live like people did then.
The village depicts the life of a rural English Canadian village complete with more than 40 historic buildings. There are a number of working mills and trades buildings, as well as a church and a physician’s house.
Go on a one or two hour tour of the village with a guide dressed in clothing from that period. You can even get into costume yourself for the full effect.
7. Sail along the St. Lawrence
Head to Crysler Park Marina and go for a lovely sail along the St. Lawrence River. It is also possible to go kayaking, canoeing or paddle boarding.
You can bring your own boat here, or find someone to take you out on their boat. You can even rent a cabin for the night and relax right along the river.
After enjoying sailing along the river, have a picnic, dine in a restaurant or shop for souvenirs. You can also relax on Crysler Beach, which is a great place to go swimming.
8. Look at art
Look at art in a university, as the prestigious and historic Queen’s University has two galleries onsite. One is the Agnes Etherington Art Centre, while the other is the student-run Union Gallery.
The Agnes Etherington Art Centre is a research-intensive museum that focuses on great artistic traditions from the past to the present. There are over 16,000 works in its collection that date back to the 14th century.
The Union Gallery is a contemporary art gallery that features students of the university as well as local artists. There is no permanent collection here.
9. Walk around city hall
Not only is Kingston City Hall a stunning building, but it is also a National Historic Site of Canada. The building was built in the neoclassical style and features an iconic dome.
Walk around the prominent landmark that dates back to 1844. Take a tour of the building and learn about its history and the stunning architecture.
Guided tours are available from May to October and last around 45 minutes. If you would rather walk around on your own, the first two floors are open to the public year-round.
10. Explore the waterfront
In the colder months the waterfront is somewhat of a ghost town, but when the weather starts to warm up it is one of the liveliest parts of the city. The waterfront spans for eight kilometres and the possibilities here are endless.
Explore the waterfront on foot, by bicycle, by tour bus or by boat. There are parks, beaches, cafés and shops, as well as stunning historic buildings.
Sights found along the waterfront include the Rideau Trail, Kingston Penitentiary, Bellevue House and City Hall, amongst others.
11. Walk along Princess Street
This is Downtown Kingston’s main retail strip. It is also lined with restaurants, cafés and bars, and some stunning limestone buildings.
Princess Street was originally named Store Street because of its large store. Its name was changed in 1840 after the birth of Victoria, Princess Royal.
The portion of the street that runs through downtown is one-way heading east between Division Street and Ontario Street. Walk along this strip and enjoy yourself.
12. Relax in a park
There are a number of parks within Kingston, however the best of the bunch is Lake Ontario Park. As the name suggests, it sits along the shore of Lake Ontario in Cataraqui Bay.
Lake Ontario Park is the largest waterfront park in the city and is a great place to relax. It features picnic areas, a waterfront walkway, a splash pad and a playground.
The park also has a large cobble beach, a boat launch and sand play areas that are right along the waterfront. In the winter, it boasts a natural skating rink.
13. Visit the islands
Being a gateway to the Thousand Islands, no visit to Kingston is complete without visiting the archipelago. There are over 1,800 islands that stretch for around 80 kilometres along the St. Lawrence River.
The islands range in size, with the largest being around 100 square kilometres. 21 of these islands form the Thousand Islands National Park, which is easily accessible from Kingston.
All islands are accessible by boat and are popular places for camping. There are also walking trails, historic sites and some magnificent flora and fauna.
14. Learn about medical history
The Museum of Health Care is the only museum in the country that is dedicated to the history of health and health care. This is demonstrated through its extensive collection of medical and healthcare artefacts.
The collection dates back all the way to the 18th century, with artefacts from then all the way to now. There are over 30,000 artefacts housed at the museum that include surgical, medical and laboratory instruments, as well as patent care items.
The museum is located inside the historic Ann Baillie Building, which is a beautiful Beaux-Arts style limestone building and a National Historic Site. The building was originally a dormitory for nursing students.
15. Go to a festival
There is no shortage of these in the city, no matter when you visit. Foodies, art lovers, music fans and novelists will all find a festival to enjoy in Kingston.
Some of the most popular festivals include Kingston WritersFest, FebFest, the Limestone City Blues Festival and Artfest. There is also the Kingston Buskers’ Rendezvous, Reelout Film Festival and the Kingston Jazz Festival.
Foodies should be sure to come for the Taste of Kingston in July, while beer drinkers should not miss Ontario Craft Beer Week. Other honourable mentions include the Día de los Muertos Kingston Festival, Lviv Ukraine Festival and the Wolfe Island Music Festival.