Kingston Ontario
Travel Guide

Kingston Ontario is a popular tourist destination in Eastern Ontario. Learn about its boat tours and  historic sites and get tips on dining, accommodation and other things to do in the area.

If you love water and water recreation you'll appreciate Kingston! It has one of the loveliest lakefronts in Ontario, and access to the great boating-friendly Rideau Canal, Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River.

Above - Kingston's waterfront. Photo Credit: Tourism Kingston

Kingston has an active cultural life. For a city this size (around 113,000 in the city proper), Kingston has a surprising number of museums. Kingston seems to attract artists and artisans, judging from the numerous art galleries selling work by people from the city and the surrounding region. Nearby Wolfe Island also has an active enclave of resident artists. Perhaps it’s the beauty of the surroundings.

Historic Kingston Ontario

Above: Kingston City Hall. Credit: Ontario Travel Secrets

Kingston is the largest city in Southeastern Ontario. It’s located half-way between Montreal and Toronto, which makes it a great stopover and retreat if you’re planning to visit both of these big cities.

This area has been settled for centuries, first by the Mississaugas First Nations, then by the French, then by the British. During the American Revolution, Kingston became a refugee centre for Loyalists.

Kingston’s major historic claim to fame is that from 1841 to 1844 it served as the first capital of a united Canada. (It was moved because it was considered too vulnerable to attack from the Americans.)

Canada’s first Prime Minister, Sir John A. MacDonald, lived here for many years and you can visit his restored former house at Bellevue House National Historic Site of Canada, not far from downtown.

Time-budget tip: If you’re short on time, one way to see a lot of Kingston in a hurry is to take the Confederation Tour Trolley. It leaves from the tourist office downtown and takes about 50 minutes.

Many of Kingston’s buildings are made of stone, which has earned it the nickname of Limestone City. You’ll discover lovely 19th century stone homes and commercial buildings all over the city.

One of its most famous buildings is Kingston City Hall, a gorgeous 19th century structure facing Confederation Park and Lake Ontario.

Nearby is an antique steam engine in front of the tourist office.The tourist office itself is a former train station.

Above: Former railway station built in 1885 is now used

as Tourist Office. Credit: Ontario Travel Secrets

Kingston Ontario also boasts the oldest Farmer's Market in Canada where you can buy not only fresh produce but the products of local artists as well.

Queen’s University has some gorgeous architecture and a few interesting museums as well.

Kingston Penitentiary is a suitably stern-looking structure. There’s a museum on site where you can learn about the history of incarceration in Canada.

Fort Henry offers visitors a look at 19th century military architecture. You can attend parades and sunset ceremonies and thrill to the sound of the pipes.

The Murney Tower National Historic Site is a great place for photo-ops. The towers were built in 1846 and house a small museum of 19th century military and domestic artifacts.

Boat tours from Kingston Ontario

The 1000 Islands Cruise is another great way to see the city -- and relax at the same time. You can choose between the 90 minute or the 3 hour cruise during the day, and there are dinner/evening cruises as well.

Serious boaters will want to tour the Rideau Canal and perhaps travel all the way to Ottawa that way. For more information about the Rideau Canal, check this interesting site: http://www.rideau-info.com/rideau-info.html. You can also take a scheduled boat tour from Kingston to Quebec City with St. Lawrence Cruises (http://www.stlawrencecruiselines.com).

Above: Kingston Ontario's ferry to Wolfe Island.

Photo credit: Wayne Heibert, Tourism Kingston

An inexpensive way to get out on the water is to take the ferry over to Wolfe Island. Get off and enjoy the art galleries and have a picnic, or just ride it there and back for the view.

Museums and art galleries

For a city this size, Kingston has a large number of museums and galleries. Several of the smaller museums are affiliated with Queen’s University. Since Kingston’s a military town, too, there are a few military museums as well.

A few of these museums are not in Kingston proper, but just outside of the city – doable if you have a car.

Here are just a few examples.

  • Bellevue House National Historic Site of Canada - Home of Canada's first Prime Minister, Sir John A. Macdonald.
  • Correctional Services of Canada Museum – Part of Kingston Penitentiary. Margaret Atwood used the museum’s information when researching her novel “Alias Grace” (a great book, by the way!).
  • Fort Henry National Historic site of Canada – A UNESCO World Heritage site.
  • Frontenac County Schools Museum – Visit an early 20th century school room.
  • International Hockey Hall of Fame & Museum – For rabid hockey fans!
  • Kingston Mills Block House – Part of the Rideau Canal System. A restored blockhouse circa 1839.
  • Marine Museum of the Great Lakes - Open to public during the summer on a daily basis but open only by appointment at other times of the year.
  • Murney Tower National Historic Site – Small museum in a tower with military and domestic artifacts from the 1800s.

Entertainment in Kingston Ontario

If you’re looking for live theatre or concerts or orchestra, check the recently restored Grand Theatre or the K-Rock Centre in downtown. A smaller venue is the Wellington Street Theatre.

Festivals include the Limestone City Blues Festival, the Jazz Festival, Wolfe Island Music Festival, Kingston Buskers Rendezvous, Fanfayr Arts & Craft Show, and the Kingston Canadian Film Festival.

Ghost-hunters will want to check out Kingston Haunted Walks.

Dining and shopping in Kingston Ontario

Kingston has a lot of pubs, perhaps more than most cities its size. During the summer, the patios are full. If you prefer a quieter setting though, you can also find cafes, family restaurants and fine dining places including many ethnic choices.

Cooke's Fine Foods and Coffee on Princess Street aopened in 1865 which makes it 2 years older than Canada, and it still retains that old-fashioned look with its tin ceilings and original hardwood floors. It’s sort of like visiting a museum! Below is a video with great footage of the store and an interview with the current owner:

Hotels in Kingston Ontario

You’ll find your favourite chain hotels and motels in Kingston (Best Western, Comfort Inn, Days Inn, Sheraton, etc).

You’ll also find dozens of Bed and Breakfasts, many of which are housed in quaint heritage homes.

The budget-minded traveller will want to check out Queen’s University which rents rooms to tourists during summer. 

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