Looking for some great things to do in Kingston, Ontario? Well, you’ve come to the right place!
Kingston is conveniently located about halfway between Toronto and Montreal and connected to Ottawa via the beautiful Rideau Canal. It has a beautiful waterfront, which is at the mouth of Lake Ontario and the beginning of the St Lawrence River and the Rideau Canal.
In addition to beautiful landscapes, Kingston has a long and rich history as well. It was once Canada’s capital city and has dozens of museums and historic sites. It was home to the first Canadian Prime Minister, Sir John A. Macdonald and is home to two UNESCO World Heritage Sites- Rideau Canal and the Kingston fortifications. Kingston is also known as “Limestone City” —because limestone was used extensively in the construction of many of its stately 19th-century homes and buildings.
With such a fascinating mixture of history combined with the vibrant energy of a university town with Queen’s University and the Canadian Military College, Kingston is truly one of the best places to visit in Ontario. It’s a walkable town with an abundance of cafes, restaurants, plenty of historic sights to explore and a beautiful waterfront to enjoy.
Things to Do in Kingston, Ontario
In this Kingston travel guide, you’ll find the best things to do in Kingston as well as how to get there, where to eat, and more!
1. Take a Kingston Trolley Tour
We are great believers in “hop-on-hop-off“ buses or trams as a great way to get an initial overview of a city. The Kingston Tour Trolley gives a 75-minute narrated tour covering over 300 years of Kingston’s history. It makes stops at different points of interest around Kingston including Fort Henry, City Hall, the Kingston Penitentiary, the downtown shopping district and Queen’s University. The Kingston Trolley Tour is the perfect way to get an introduction to the city, especially if you are pressed for time.
2. Kingston Haunted Walks
Kingston is said to be Canada’s most haunted city and a fun way to learn about the darker history of Kingston is to take one of their Haunted Walks Tours which will take you through the streets and alleys of the Limestone City. You can find out all about the haunting of Fort Henry on the Ghosts of the Fort walk tour.
3. Kingston Waterfront
The Kingston Waterfront Trails are eight kilometres long and form part of the 900 km trail that runs from Niagara Falls and into Quebec. In the summer the waterfront is a lively place! You can explore the waterfront on foot, by bicycle, by tour bus or by boat. You can also rent sailboats, paddleboards, and more. There are parks, beaches, cafés and shops, and the Rideau Trail, Kingston Penitentiary, Bellevue House and City Hall are all close by.
4. Explore the Thousand Islands
This amazing area, on both the Canadian and US side of the St Lawrence River, has more than 1800 islands of all shapes and sizes, spread over 8,000 acres including 30 miles of walking trails. It is one of the most scenic waterways in the world. You’ll find historic houses, quaint waterfront villages, stunning holiday cottages and some interesting wildlife too. They say that every island has a story. One of those stories talks about George Boldt who owned New York’s Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, commissioned a castle for his wife, Louise, on Heart Island. When she suddenly died, he stopped the construction of the castle and abandoned the project. Today, the castle stands unoccupied, although it has been restored and is accessible for tours.
One of the most popular ways to explore 1000 Islands is by renting a canoe or kayak, taking a cruise or renting a private boat. The Wolfe Islander III ferry also transports cars to the largest and very picturesque Wolfe Island.
5. Fort Henry – UNESCO World Heritage Historic Site
Fort Henry, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is Kingston’s largest museum and one of Canada’s most visited National Historic Sites. Inside the wooden gates, you will experience 19th-century military life. You can wander around independently or take a guided tour.
There is plenty of action including flag raising and lowering ceremonies, precision muster parades, cannon firing and musical performances and in July and August, a special Sunset Ceremony on Wednesday evenings finishes with a stunning fireworks display.
6. Check out the Imposing Kingston City Hall
Kingston City Hall is an imposing building and a National Historic Site of Canada! It faces Lake Ontario and takes up an entire block of land. It was built in 1844 and is now home to the city’s government. The building is regarded as one of the most striking and important neoclassical heritage buildings in Ontario and features an iconic dome. You can either do a self-guided or a guided tour which will include a visit to the Council Chambers and the Memorial Hall.
7. Tour Kingston Penitentiary
Kingston Penitentiary, a National Historic Site, is Canada’s oldest and most notorious security prison. Opened in 1835, in its early decades, it housed men, women, and children, in separate areas, convicted for a variety of crimes. Later, it became a maximum-security prison for men, officially closing in 2013.
Tours of “Kingston Pen” will give you a fascinating glimpse into the lives of prisoners and prison guards from the 1800s to the late 1900s. You will wander through the prison cells, solitary confinement, and the prison yard and get the opportunity to talk with retired Kingston Penitentiary guards, social workers, and counsellors to hear about escape attempts, riots, and what life was really like for Canada’s notorious criminals.
Tours run from May until November. There are also architecture and film tours offered as the Pen is a popular site for film and television productions.
8. Visit Canada’s Penitentiary Museum
Just across the road from the Kingston Penitentiary is the unique and award-winning Canada’s Penitentiary Museum, located in the forbidding limestone building which once housed the wardens of the Kingston Penitentiary. The museum preserves the complex history of Canada’s federal penitentiaries and explains the development of the Canadian correctional system
You will see a vast collection of penitentiary-related artifacts and photographs and you can chat with one of the Officer Volunteers about their first-hand experiences.
9. Enjoy Art in Martello Alley
Martello Alley is a historic alley that was inspired by La Rue de Trésor in Quebec City. It is a collective of local artists exhibiting their original works of art and prints along the walls of the alleyway and in the courtyard. The artists are often there to chat with visitors. It’s well worth a stroll to check out the artwork.
10. Visit the Round Martello Towers & Murney Tower
The four Martello Towers in Kingston were built to protect Kingston’s harbour and the entrance to the Rideau Canal from military attack. They represented the city’s contribution to the defence of British North America. They are now part of the Rideau Canal and Kingston Fortifications World Heritage Site.
They are very distinctive round defensive forts and were built across the British Empire in the 19th century. Martello Towers are round structures up to 40 feet (12 m) high and have a ground floor, first floor, and roof which houses a cannon. Murney Tower and Fort Frederick are both now museums and open to the public. The other two towers are the Shoal Tower and Cathcart Tower.
11. Explore the Rochleau Court Charming Alleyway
Another interesting alleyway is Rochleau Court, which is a historic carriageway off Princess Street. If you do a ‘Haunted Walk’ you may come through here as the alleyway is said to be haunted by the ghost of Theresa Beam, who died in 1868. Rochleau Court with its narrow walkways is a popular spot with the locals and has a few very popular restaurants and bars, such as the Toucan, the Black Dog Tavern, and Chez Piggy.
12. Historic Bellevue House- Home to Canada’s First Prime Minister
From 1848 to 1849, Bellevue House was home to Sir John A. Macdonald, Canada’s first Prime Minister and his family. The house was built in the 1840s in the style of an Italianate villa with its own beautiful landscaped grounds. It has been restored to the original 1840s period and is kept much as it would have been during the time that Macdonald lived there with his wife and infant son. It is a perfectly preserved example of Victorian-era architecture and is staffed by costumed interpreters.
13. Witness History at the Kingston Mills
If you take a scenic drive north along Highway 15 you will come to a piece of the Rideau Canal called Kingston Mills Locks, a World Heritage Site. They were built in the 1820s and are part of the waterway that leads to Ottawa. You can learn about the history of the men who built and guarded this strategic waterway and see the locks operating just as they were 180 years ago. It’s a very pleasant drive to Kingston Mills and you can also rent a boat yourself to explore parts of the Rideau Canal. At Kingston Mills you can go picnicking, fishing, swimming, walking, and rock climbing during the warmer months at the southwest end of the locks.
How to Get to Kingston
From Toronto or Montreal, it is about three hours travel time regardless of whether you travel by car, bus or train.
Getting to Kingston by Car
Kingston is just two hours of driving time from Ottawa and Syracuse. It is about a three-hour drive from Toronto or Montreal along the “Highway of Heroes” route 401. A day trip to Kingston is doable from any of these locations.
Getting to Kingston by Rail
Kingston is served by the Via Rail network and has direct trains from Ottawa, Montreal, Toronto and towns in between. From both Toronto and Montreal, the trip is about two-and-a-half hours and there are about 10-12 trains per day!
Getting to Kingston by Bus
Both Coach Canada and Megabus run the route from Toronto to Montreal and stop at Kingston along the way. The buses run every couple of hours and there are some night options too. Toronto to Kingston takes about two-and-a-half hours, and Montreal to Kingston takes just over three hours.
Getting to Kingston by Air
FLYGTA’s service between Norman Rogers Airport and Billy Bishop Airport on Toronto Island operates four days per week, with two daily trips on Thursdays and Fridays, and four flights on Saturdays and Sundays.
Pascan Aviation will begin providing airline service from Montreal (Pierre Trudeau/Dorval Airport) to Kingston Airport in May 2022. Flight service will be offered three times daily Monday – Friday, and twice-daily Saturday and Sunday.
The Kingston Airport is a 15-minute drive from downtown.
Where to Eat & Drink in Kingston
With over 130 cafes, bars, and more restaurants per capita than almost anywhere in Canada, in downtown Kingston your biggest problem will be making a decision on which ones to choose. It’s a foodies heaven!
To help you out we scanned the internet restaurant reviews for Kingston for recommendations and we have listed the five restaurants that appealed to us the most and also had excellent reviews.
Greco’s Grill & Wine Bar
TripAdvisor listed Greco’s Grill & Wine Bar as the top-rated restaurant in Kingston. It is a family-owned Mediterranean restaurant that has been operating since 1994. It is located at 167 Princess Street.
Another very popular restaurant is Tango Nuevo, which is right in Downtown Kingston. This tapa-style restaurant is a great place for sharing smaller portions. It is located at 331 King Street East.
Another great restaurant, and one that is ranked #1 on Yelp, is Red House. The best way to describe this place is by calling it a gastropub. You’ll find standard fares such as tasty burgers and sandwiches, but done in a fancier way. There are also some hip items such as kale and cranberry Salad, kimchi fries, charcuterie boards, grilled halloumi sandwiches, and more. They also have around a dozen beers on tap. It is located at 369 King Street East.
Don’t you just love the name? Chez Piggy is one of the most popular upscale restaurants in the city, tucked away behind Springer Market Square. They serve a wide range of fresh, good-quality food with a subtle French influence. The restaurant is quite beautiful, blending decor with locally-sourced produce. It can be found at 68 Princess Street.
If you’re looking for a popular establishment with a patio featuring refined Italian cuisine in a modern, industrial space, Olivea is the place to go. Due to its popularity, you’ll likely want to make reservations to try some of their delicious pasta, salads, and fresh bread.
Some popular options include Seafood Linguine (including shrimp, mussels, clams, scallops and squid with spicy tomato, olive and caper sauce), Spaghetti Aglio Olio or Chicken al Mattone. Whatever you order, you can’t go wrong. Olivea is located at 39 Brock Street.
Best Time to Visit Kingston
The most popular time to visit Kingston is between June and August. The weather at this time is pleasant with temperatures between 20 degrees Celsius (68 degrees F) and 25 degrees Celsius (77 degrees F). Spring is the rainy season so pack your umbrellas if you’re going to be visiting in the Spring!
In the winter, snow usually starts falling in November and lasts until March or April. From mid-December to the end of February, the temperature is usually below zero, which is common during the winter in Canada. Make sure you wear proper winter clothing if you visit during these times.
More Fun Near Kingston, Ontario
Whether Kingston is part of a journey or the primary destination, there’s so much more to Ontario to potentially check out. For more ideas, check out these Things to Do in Ontario travel guides below:
Oh such good ideas of things to do!
There are! Kingston has it all. Historic sites, great restaurants, arts and sorts. Plus it’s on the water and so walkable!
Kingston pen is a must see!
Kenten Musselman says
I love boating the Rideau canal.
Mike Scott Mottishaw says
I am still looking forward to my first visit, so much variety to explore!
Sandi Tymchuk says
I appreciate the suggestions for Kingston attractions–a Thousand Islands cruise would be wonderful!
hugh laing says
I was raised in Kingston decades ago and then moved.
Your detailed article about Kingston was interesting and provided information that I was unaware of.
We are heading to Montreal this summer, might have to make a pit stop here.
marie andree dubrule says
This article is very complete and it gives me a very good idea on what to expect of Kinsgston. I will add this destination on my spring list 🙂
brandy champion says
Mark Meyers says
Also, a great photo op is you can stand in the place of the “I” and be the “I” in the “K NGSTON” sign which is just in front of the 1095 Train and beside the tourism building.
Debbie McClelland says
I’ve taken the trolley tour – fun, easy and informative