The best things to see, eat and do in Kingston, Canada’s first capital

Located halfway between Toronto and Montreal, Canada’s first capital, Kingston, is an attractive historic city ideal for a weekend getaway. Kingston’s nickname is “Limestone City” because of its grand 19th-century buildings, including the lakeside Kingston Town Hall. And for oenophiles, the award-winning winemakers of Prince Edward County and Frontenac County are an hour away. In the warmer months, Kingston is the starting point for a day (or overnight) cruise of the beautiful 1000 Islands.

Top attractions

Canada’s first Prime Minister, Sir John A. Macdonald, lived in Bellevue House when Kingston was Canada’s first capital. Built in the early 1840s and designated a National Historic Site for its Italianate architecture, the historic house museum will reopen in the spring of 2023 following extensive renovations. New exhibits and experiences will speak to Macdonald and themes of colonial power and privilege from the 1840s through Confederation to the present day.

Fort Henry, built during the War of 1812 to protect the Royal Kingston Dockyard (today’s Royal Canadian Military College) at 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 to the world-famous 1,000 Islands, including sightseeing cruises, dining cruises and special event cruises, from May to October for lunch, brunch and sunset cruises.

Kingston Penitentiary Prison Tours 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 a National Historic Site.

Eat, drink, sleep and shop

Princess Street and adjacent streets is Kingston’s main shopping area and has several independent boutiques, Novel Idea Books in business since 1988 and plenty of cafes, bars and restaurants. Also for music fans, Zap Records is a great record store that sells new and vintage vinyl.

The Frontenac Club Hotel and Restaurant is a former Bank of Montreal, Canada’s first. The beautiful building dates back to 1845 and retains many historic features, including the bank vaults. The 20 unique rooms each have a different theme, with limestone walls, private terraces, water views, deep soaking tubs, fireplaces and carefully selected artwork. The Bank Bar and Restaurant has a large and attractive terrace with live music in the warmer months.

Housed in a 125-year-old former woolen mill, The Rivermill on the banks of the Cataraqui River is one of Kingston’s only waterfront restaurants. It has been a favorite dining destination for 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 waterfront patio.

Nosh, a small downtown eatery, 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 regular daily direct train service between Montreal, Ottawa, Kingston and Toronto. Fares start at $68 one way.

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