Located about halfway between Toronto and Montreal, Canada’s first capital, Kingston, is an attractive historic town, ideal for a weekend break. Kingston’s knickname is “Limestone City” because of its grand 19th-century buildings, including the lakeside Kingston City Hall. And for oenophiles, the prize-winning winemakers of Prince Edward County and Frontenac County are an hour away. In warmer months, Kingston is the starting point for a day (or night) cruise of the beautiful 1000 islands.
Canada’s first prime minister, Sir John A. Macdonald, lived in Bellevue House when Kingston was Canada’s first capital city. Built in the early 1840s and designated as a National Historic Site for its Italianate architecture, the historic house museum will reopen in spring 2023, following extensive renovations. The new exhibits and experiences will speak about Macdonald and themes of colonial power and privilege from the 1840s through Confederation and on to the present day.
Fort Henry, constructed during the War of 1812 to protect the Kingston Royal Naval Dockyard (today’s Royal Military College of Canada) on Point Frederick from American attacks during the war. The fort was restored in the 1930s and is now a major tourist attraction.
1,000 island cruises sail from downtown Kingston into the world-famous 1000 islands, including sightseeing cruises, dining cruises and special event cruises, from May to October lunch, brunch and sunset cruises
Prison tours of Kingston Penitentiary offer a rare and unique opportunity to go behind the walls of Canada’s oldest and most notorious maximum security prison. Canada’s oldest maximum-security prison predates Canada’s confederation in 1867. It closed in 2013 and was designated as a National Historic Site.
Eat, Drink , Sleep and Shop
Princess street and adjoining streets is the main shopping area in Kingston and has several independent boutiques, Novel Idea Books in business since 1988, and loads of cafes, bars and restaurants. Also, for music fans, Zap Records is an excellent record shop selling new and vintage vinyl.
Frontenac Club hotel and restaurant is a former Bank of Montreal, the first in Canada. The handsome building dates back to 1845 and retains many historical features including the bank vaults. The 20 unique guestrooms, each has a different theme, featuring limestone walls, private patios, water views, deep soaker tubs, fireplaces and carefully chosen artwork. The Bank bar and restaurant has a large, attractive terrace that features live music during warmer months.
Housed in a 125-year-old former Woolen Mill, The Rivermill, on the shores of the Cataraqui River, is one of Kingston’s only waterfront restaurants. It has been a favorite dining destination of locals and tourists for over 30 years. Menu highlights include caesar salad, apple salad, shrimp and scallop carbonara and osso bucco. In warmer weather, dine on the glorious waterside terrace.
Nosh, a petite establishment downtown, offers Montreal style bagels in a small-batch bakery. Their dough is made from scratch and each bagel is hand cut, rolled, boiled and seeded on both sides before being baked in high temperature ovens.
Via Rail is a great alternative to driving and with travel times of around two hours from Toronto, it’s faster. Via offers a regular, daily direct train service between Montreal, Ottawa, Kingston and Toronto. Fares start at $68 one way.