These are our recommended things to do in Kingston Ontario, a comprehensive guide to help you plan your trip. Have you visited Kingston yet? It’s a vibrant and charming city in southeastern Ontario, about halfway between Toronto and Montreal. Kingston is one of the best road trip destinations in Ontario.
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With the beautiful Thousand Islands region to the east, this city is nestled on Lake Ontario, just at the beginning of the St. Lawrence River and the end of the Cataraqui River (the southern portion of the Rideau Canal). Surrounded by so many waterways, I’m sure you can imagine that this is a stunning destination.
Kingston is also known as the “Limestone City” because so many of its heritage buildings were constructed using that material. And while mentioning historic sites, there’s so much history to discover in Kingston! For a short three years, Kingston was once the first capital city of Canada, so the city has held a lot of prominence over the years.
Justin and I had an amazing trip to Kingston this summer. Visiting during the summer months is a fantastic idea if you’re looking for an Ontario getaway. Pick and choose your favourite Kingston attractions and activities from this list.
We visited most places on this list with three days in the city, including our drive to Kingston from Toronto and back. Justin and I didn’t have a chance to visit the items under the “more things to do in Kingston” heading, but those are for next time. In this Kingston travel guide, you’ll learn about:
- A hotel in Kingston that we loved
- The top attractions and activities in Kingston (all the essentials!)
- Kingston tours that you need to experience
- Even more things to do in Kingston
- The best restaurants in Kingston
Where to Stay in Kingston, Ontario
Looking for an excellent Kingston hotel to book? We loved staying at the Delta Hotel Kingston. It’s centrally located and truly in the perfect location as we were able to walk almost everywhere. The staff were helpful and friendly from check-in to check-out, and we really felt right at home.
If you’re able to book one of the corner king rooms, do it! There are massive windows that wrap right around the room, providing incredible views of the Confederation Harbour and Kingston waterfront. All of the rooms have views of Lake Ontario, but the corner king rooms are especially amazing.
The room itself is really spacious with a comfortable king-sized bed and a large desk in case you need to get any work done. We were also wowed by the fireplace: we didn’t use the fireplace in the summer, but the TV rises out of the fireplace when you push a button (and you can hide it again if you choose!).
There’s a huge bathroom with a shower and ample counter space. With the AquaTerra restaurant attached to the hotel, you can order from the room service menu if you wish. Other amenities include a fitness centre and an indoor rooftop pool. The Delta Hotel Kingston also provides complimentary fast Wi-Fi, and there’s a covered parking lot surrounding the hotel, too.
More Hotels in Kingston
Want to compare more properties in Kingston? You can see all hotels and vacation rentals in one handy map below. Click on each hotel to learn more, compare rates, and book your stay.
Best Things to Do in Kingston Ontario: Attractions and Activities
These are some of our favourite things to do in Kingston Ontario. There’s something for everyone: history buffs, nature lovers, outdoor adventurers, and those who enjoy a bit of wellness and pampering. These are among the best places to visit in Kingston, combined with the tours in the next section.
Heart of the Islands Cruise: 1000 Islands Cruise at Sunset
Take a trip on the Island Queen around the world famous 1000 Islands from Kingston. 1000 Islands Cruises offers tours of the Thousand Islands on their Heart of the Islands Cruise. It’s a sunset cruise that departs the Kingston Harbour and takes you on a three hour voyage around the spectacular 1000 Islands region.
The Island Queen has three floors: a first floor has indoor seating, a bar, and live music; the second floor is a dining floor; and the third floor is an open air deck with magnificent panoramic scenery. Justin and I spent most of our time on the third level to admire all of the amazing views.
The knowledgeable tour operators will tell you some interesting facts and details about the region as you sail. There’s also live music interspersed between the commentary that continues into the night. We watched the sun go down and even saw a double rainbow.
Spa Day at The Refinery Spa + Social House
The Refinery Spa + Social House is the premiere place in Kingston to go for an assortment of spa treatments, and they’re famous for their eucalyptus steam room. Owners Lesley and Heidi have such a beautiful and relaxing spa in the middle of downtown Kingston. I highly recommend that you go there and get pampered.
I had a manicure at The Refinery Spa and Justin had a facial. It had been quite some time since I had a professional manicure, let alone even painted my nails, so I was incredibly pleased with the outcome. In fact, I really couldn’t stop looking at my fingernails for the rest of the day. Justin’s complexion looked so great after his facial, and it’s inspired him to start a skincare routine at home.
Stand-Up Paddleboarding with Ahoy Rentals
Standup paddle boarding is a really fun outdoor activity that you can do right from downtown Kingston. You don’t need to own your own paddle board because you can rent SUP gear from Ahoy Rentals on the waterfront. Kingston is a great place to try this watersport for the first time. The waters of the St. Lawrence River are relatively calm with a few small waves here and there.
You can rent your gear by the hour. I suggest making a reservation in advance if you can, but you can always take your chances by walking up to the booth. Please note that reservations are required if you’re booking out gear for the full day.
Fort Henry and the Kingston Fortifications National Historic Site
Fort Henry is a National Historic Site of Canada and a UNESCO World Heritage Site (included with the Rideau Canal). The Kingston Fortifications National Historic Site includes Fort Henry, the Shoal Tower, the Murney Tower, and Fort Frederick.
Nowadays, Fort Henry is a museum and historic site where visitors can learn more about 19th century military roles, demonstrations by the Fort Henry Guard, and embark on guided tours. Justin and I learned briefly about Fort Henry on our Kingston Trolley Tour as the trolley takes you around the grounds of this historic site.
If you love visiting haunted places, Fort Henry has its share of ghost stories. While Justin and I took a Kingston ghost tour around downtown Kingston, you can also take a ghost tour of Fort Henry, too. One more interesting tidbit: if you stay at the Delta Hotel Kingston, you might have a view of the Shoal Tower right from your bedroom window like we did!
Go Shopping in Downtown Kingston
Downtown Kingston is home to many wonderful shops and boutiques with something for every taste. The main city street in Kingston’s downtown core is Princess Street. Take a stroll up and down Princess Street to browse the shops. You’ll likely end up on Princess Street when you’re frequenting Kingston’s restaurants and coffee shops, too.
We loved the mix of contemporary and antique shops. Justin and I browsed through bins of records and old video games at one shop, and then thumbed through beautiful novels and coffee table books at the nearby bookstore. There’s a good chance that you’ll stumble upon a shop that strikes your fancy in downtown Kingston.
Marvel at the Cute Cottages and Historic Homes
One morning, I woke up a little earlier than usual to go for a walk around Kingston’s old Sydenham ward. The Old Sydenham Heritage Area is a neighbourhood in Kingston known for its gorgeous architecture and historic homes. There are about 550 properties that are fine examples of 19th century architecture. There’s even a castle in Kingston!
The Old Sydenham Heritage Area is bordered by Johnson Street, Barrie Street, King Street East and Lake Ontario. If you love old houses with brightly painted doors, beautiful gardens, and charming neighbourhoods, you’ll feel right at home here.
Visit the Kingston Public Market and Springer Market Square
The Kingston Public Market is the oldest market in Ontario, and it happens every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday at Springer Market Square (April to November). There are an assortment of vendors selling fresh produce and locally made products.
Whether you’re looking for some fresh fruits and veggies or a wonderful handmade gift, it’s worth strolling through this historic market in a heritage setting. The backdrop of Kingston City Hall makes the market feel more like you’re in Europe than Canada.
In addition to the Kingston Public Market, there are also vending stalls where little shops can rent a space. We stumbled upon a beautiful plant stand featuring succulents in adorable little pots. I couldn’t resist bringing one home with me.
This project is part of the Love Kingston Marketplace. There are a variety of events happening all summer long, including a night market and live musical performances. Check the City of Kingston website for more details.
Get a Photo With the Kingston Sign
Did you even visit Kingston if you don’t get a photo with the sign? All jokes aside, this is a really fun photo opportunity where you’ll become the letter “I” in Kingston. The Kingston sign is right beside the Kingston Visitor Centre and near the Confederation Arch / Confederation Park Fountain.
There’s also the Engine 1095 fully restored train to celebrate Kingston’s locomotive history. Confederation Park was once an active train yard, and the visitor centre used to be the Kingston & Pembroke Railway station. And for even more photo opps, there’s also a mini train where you can take your picture!
Fun Things to Do in Kingston: The Best Kingston Tours
The best way to learn about a new place is from a knowledgeable guide or a local resident. With such a historic place like Kingston, it’s hard to know where to start. Thankfully, there are a few unique Kingston tours that are both informative and entertaining. We highly recommend that you embark on these popular Kingston excursions.
Kingston Penitentiary Tour
One of the most unique things to do in Kingston is take a tour of its historic penitentiary. The Kingston Penitentiary is the oldest penitentiary and maximum-security prison in Canada. It opened in the 1830s and housed some of Canada’s most notorious criminals until it closed in 2013. Justin and I took the extended Kingston Penitentiary Tour, a 2.5 hour guided tour through the living and working areas of the prison.
We had an in-depth exploration of Kingston Pen, from the jail cells to the hospital and gymnasium. Our tour guide provided intriguing stories about former inmates, including stories of escapes and prison riots. At several points along the way, we met with former staff members for personalized accounts of what it was like to work at the Kingston Penitentiary.
Taking the Kingston Penitentiary Tour provides a unique behind-the-scenes experience that uncovers a portion of Canadian history to the general public that isn’t often on display. This is a National Historic Site of Canada that predates Canada’s confederation in 1867. Be sure to book your tours well in advance as they tend to sell out daily.
Haunted Walk of Kingston: Kingston Ghost Tour
One essential tour that you need to take is the Haunted Walk of Kingston. You’ll go on an evening and nighttime stroll of downtown Kingston and Kingston’s old Sydenham ward with your spirited guide. You’ll learn about spooky tales and scary stories of events that happened throughout the years in Kingston.
Some of these stories go way back in history, and some of them took place in the not-so-distant past. These hauntings happened at haunted hotels (thankfully, not where we were staying!), local pubs, and old homes. There are tales of hangings at the old courthouse, hidden burial grounds, and grave robbings that all took place in Kingston.
Embarking on a Kingston Ghost Tour is a really fascinating way to learn about the city’s history through a new lens. The stories are insightful and creepy, and our tour guide was fantastic. Be sure to take a ghost tour of Kingston…if you dare!
Kingston Trolley Tour
The Kingston Trolley Tour is an iconic thing to do in Kingston. You’ll see red trolleys all over town, and it’s easy to take part in the fun of it. I suggest taking a Kingston Trolley Tour when you arrive. It’s an hour long guided trolley ride where you’ll get a great overview of the city’s history, attractions, and activities.
We had a lively and enthusiastic guide who took us all over town, from Fort Henry to the Kingston Penitentiary. We saw Queen’s University, the courthouse, and heritage homes. You’ll drive by historic landmarks and learn all about them on the way. It’s a comfortable and scenic ride.
One of the most interesting parts of the tour was a recent addition: the old Rockwood Asylum for the Criminally Insane. The property is permanently closed and there’s a security guard on site 24/7. You are unable to enter the building, but we caught a glimpse of it from the exterior and learned more details and stories from our driver.
Self-Guided Tour of Kingston’s Public Art
If you’re a fan of outdoor art and public art, you need to visit Kingston. There are quite a few public art exhibits that are always changing, and I was excited to be able to discover a few of them during my stay. First, there’s an art installation called “Paved Paradise” just around the corner from Kingston City Hall. Paved Paradise is an annual temporary art exhibit at the corner of Brock Street and Ontario Street.
Next, Skeleton Park Arts Festival hosts Next Door, a Skeleton Park neighbourhood art project. This year, there were 26 artists and 16 unique installations, from paintings to sculptures. It’s an interesting art project because the pieces are scattered throughout the neighbourhood on various properties around town. While Next Door 2021 is over, stay tuned for new and exciting projects in the future by the Skeleton Park Arts Festival.
In addition to the public art that you’ll find around town, you need to check out Martello Alley. It’s a hidden gem in Kingston. You’ll find this art alley on Wellington Street, between Princess Street and Queen Street. Wander down Martello Alley to view works by local artists and a public art gallery. At the end of the alley, there’s an indoor gallery shop featuring more pieces by local artists that you can buy for your home.
More Things to Do in Kingston Ontario
Looking for even more things to do in Kingston? There’s no shortage of fun attractions and activities. We didn’t have the opportunity to visit these Kingston sights this time around, but they’re on our list for next time. You might have some extra time to add these to your Kingston itinerary.
Go Hiking at Lemoine Point Conservation Area
Lemoine Point Conservation Area is a protected greenspace within the city of Kingston. There’s 136 hectares of land and 2500 metres of shoreline. Go for a hike on 11km of trails. You can also go swimming or even enjoy a picnic lunch there.
Take the Ferry to Wolfe Island
From Kingston, you can take the ferry across to Wolfe Island for a fun outing. Wolfe Island is the largest of the 1000 Islands, and it’s a haven for outdoor adventurers. Cycling is one of the most popular activities at Wolfe Island as there are four main cycle routes on the island. You can also go birdwatching, golfing, or wander around the quaint village of Marysville.
Wander Around Queen’s University
Who loves visiting historic universities? I’ve wandered around university campuses in Glasgow and Galway on my overseas travels. You can have a similar experience right here in Kingston. We were introduced to The Queen’s University campus on our Kingston trolley tour. If you love visiting historic buildings, you’ll love wandering around Queen’s. The university dates back to 1841. Go for a walk around the campus to see the old structures and green spaces.
Agnes Etherington Art Centre
When you visit Queen’s University, pop by the Agnes Etherington Art Centre. It’s a small art museum containing collections of historic and contemporary pieces. There are also exhibitions and programs all year long. It’s free to enter the Agnes Etherington Art Centre.
Bellevue House National Historic Site
Bellevue House is a national historic site in Canada that once told the story of Sir John A. Macdonald. It’s currently closed for renovations. However, when the site does eventually reopen, it will tell a new story. Parks Canada is working with Indigenous groups and other experts to ensure that this story includes many perspectives, such as the way his decisions caused a lasting harmful impact. I’d be interested to visit when it does reopen. Currently, the gardens are open to members of the public.
Bike Tour of Kingston
Love cycling? This bike tour of Kingston will allow you to leisurely ride around the city with a knowledgeable guide. You’ll learn about Kingston’s historic landmarks and top attractions by bike. The tour includes a bike rental and insights from a local guide.
Best Kingston Restaurants: Where to Eat in Kingston
Kingston has the most restaurants per capita in Canada, making it the foodie capital of the country. It’s second to New Orleans in the entirety of North America. You can imagine that this can make it tricky to narrow down which restaurants to visit for a few days in Kingston.
We set out to look for the best vegan food in Kingston and found a wide array of options. Justin and I thoroughly enjoyed all of the restaurants we frequented. Whether you follow a vegan or vegetarian diet or like to dabble in plant based eats, these establishments are all incredible. With that said, none of them are entirely vegan and you can find an assortment of omni and veg dishes at every restaurant.
Chez Piggy, known to locals as “The Pig”, is a sweet restaurant tucked down an alleyway. Dining on its patio is an unforgettable experience as you’ll feel as though you’ve been transported to Europe. Chez Piggy’s stone building is actually a renovated abandoned stable. It exudes charm and romance, making it the perfect dining choice for you and your other half.
The menu is easy to navigate as someone who follows a vegan diet. There’s a “V” next to every item that can be made vegetarian or vegan upon request, and I was pleased to see quite a few Vs! I started with the Baby Greens + Nabulsi Salad (omitting the cheese) and opted for the Kimchi + Tofu Stew as my main. Both dishes were really tasty and I’d return to Chez Piggy in a heartbeat to try some of their other offerings.
Northside Espresso and Kitchen
Northside Espresso and Kitchen is a cute cafe in downtown Kingston that’s perfect for breakfast, lunch, or a coffee break. Justin and I went there for lunch one day and we adored their quiet, plant-filled patio. The menu is about 50% vegan and the plant-based options are marked with a V.
I suggest ordering the Spring Brekkie Bowl. It’s one of the most unique bowls I’ve ever eaten (yes, there’s popcorn in it!). There’s a mix of crispy grains, legumes, roasted asparagus, kale, chickpea hummus, lemon vinaigrette, and more. Pair it with an oat milk latte for the perfect midday meal.
Atomica specializes in Mediterranean cuisine and Italian comfort food, including an entire section devoted to vegan meals. On their plant-based menu, you can choose from tofu bao buns, Caesar salad, Caprese mac & cheese, fungi pizza, or the carne finta pizza. Atomica uses innovative ingredients like cashew mozzarella, fungi bacon, walnut parmesan, and fennel tofu sausage.
There are some other vegan dishes that aren’t on the plant-based menu, like the loaded hummus that I couldn’t resist ordering. Paired with the vegan Caprese mac & cheese, and you might want to wear your stretchy pants in advance (or a stretchy dress, in my case!). The flavours are bang on, making Atomica a restaurant in Kingston that you need to check out.
Stone City Ales
Stone City Ales is a craft brewery in Kingston that also has a small menu of pub fare. We were delighted to sample some pints on the patio while noshing on some delicious eats for lunch. They have a variety of beer on tap with something for every taste.
A good portion of the menu is vegan or has items that can be made vegan. For instance, the nachos comes with a vegan queso and Beyond meat by default. We couldn’t resist splitting the nachos and the hummus sandwich, where hummus and veggies were served on fluffy pita bread.
The Grocery Basket
The Grocery Basket has two locations in Kingston (as well as a food truck), and one of their shops was right across the street from our hotel. It’s a quick serve / grab and go breakfast and lunch joint that also has a small selection of grocery items. There are a few vegan menu items, including fruit smoothies and bagel sandwiches.
We had the vegan veggie bagel, which had lots of veggies and a herb & garlic vegan spread. In addition, we tried the vegan breakfast sandwich (Beyond Meat breakfast sausage, vegan cheese, tomatoes and mushrooms). Definitely try the purple passion smoothie, too. Everything was made to order (and quickly, I might add!) and very tasty.
Pan Chancho is a favourite place to dine in Kingston, and it’s also an artisanal bakery, too. While they have loads of grab and go items, Justin and I went to Pan Chancho for breakfast. It goes without saying that you need to try their coffee or espresso bevvie for breakfast. I also suggest that you try the red quinoa berry bowl.
Eating quinoa for breakfast might sound a little strange, but trust me, it works here. There’s red quinoa, puffed rice, fresh berries, grapes, granola and a coconut lime cream. It’s light, refreshing, and delicious. I wish I knew how to make this one at home as I could eat it every day!
AquaTerra (at the Delta Hotel Kingston)
AquaTerra is located within the Delta Hotel, but anyone can feel free to dine here anytime. It was a convenient choice for us, as we only had to go down a couple of flights of stairs to reach it. We dined at AquaTerra for breakfast.
There’s only one vegan item on the menu, but we were both pleased to order it: the Avocado Smash. It’s grilled sourdough, charred corn & tomato salsa, radish & pea tendrils, and everything bagel spice. Yum!
This blog post is brought to you by Visit Kingston.