Nestled along Lake Ontario just two-and-a-half hours east of Toronto and only three hours west of Montreal, Kingston, Ontario is a beautiful, small city with a vibrant downtown area, eclectic mix of restaurants and retail shops, and historic, interesting and fun things to do–some of them free and cheap too!
Green Acres Inn, TripAdvisor “Certificate of Excellence” winner.
Super 8 Kingston, TripAdvisor “Certificate of Excellence” winner.
Lord Nelson Motel, TripAdvisor “Certificate of Excellence” winner.
Knights Inn Kingston, rated 4 out of 5 on TripAdvisor.
More accommodation ideas: Check the Kingston Groupon pages.
The first Kingston attraction you will want to explore is Fort Henry. This national historic site was constructed between 1832 and 1837 to protect the town of Kingston, which at the time was a major transshipment point along the supply route between Montreal and Ottawa. Visit during the day and join a guided tour and experience what 19th century military life was like at Fort Henry. If you’re visiting during the summer months of July and August, book yourself a ticket to affordably-priced Sunset Ceremony which takes place on Wednesday nights at the Fort. This event is a multi-media, educational spectacle featuring the precision of the Fort Henry Guard Drums, Drill Squad and Artillery Detachments performing 1860s military music, drills, artillery manoeuvres and a simulated battle. Gun and canon fire wake up the night and the whole evening climaxes with a stirring fireworks display. Afterwards, if you’re feeling brave, you can embark on The Haunted Walk Experience at Fort Henry.
One of the latest affordable and fascinating things to do in Kingston is to take a tour of the Kingston Penitentiary. In operation from 1835 to 2013, for over 180 years this maximum security prison housed Canada’s most notorious criminals before closing in 2014. Since officially opening for tours in June 2016, it’s become one of the hottest tourist attractions in town. Before your 90-minute tour begins, your guide asks that no questions be asked about specific prisoners out of respect for the victims of their crimes. Once this formality is complete, you are led into the prison. Among the things you get to see are prison cells, the “hole” or solitary confinement, the main dome which is the hub that leads to various cell ranges, the prison yard, the shop and more. Along the way retired Kingston Pen guards greet you and explain how each area operated and relay personal insights and stories about topics such as the riot of ’71, escape attempts, prisoners making homebrew and what life was like if someone was sent to “the hole”. Tours run from June to the end of October. Check the Kingston Penitentiary Tours website for exact times and days when the tours are running. As mentioned before, this tour is extremely popular and tickets sell out fast. Book your tour well in advance. TIP: If tickets are not available when you’ll be visiting Kingston, there may be another way. A special tour time (8:40 AM) was created just for guests staying at certain hotels in Kingston. When you book your accommodations, ask your hotel if they are part of the program.
Across the street from the Kingston Penitentiary is Canada’s Penitentiary Museum in what used to serve as the house of the Kingston Pen warden. This attraction is free to visit (though they do encourage you to make a donation) and is definitely one you should visit in order to round out your Kingston Penitentiary tour experience. Among the displays is a glass box containing hundreds of confiscated shivs (knives fashioned out of forks, toothbrushes and other objects), various homebrew-making kits, and a cut out stack of cafeteria trays that one ingenious prisoner glued together, hid inside and then used as a way to escape to the outside world.
Sir John A. MacDonald, the first Prime Minister of Canada, was one of the founding fathers of the country. In 1867 he was instrumental in convincing the provinces of Upper and Lower Canada, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick to unite as one and become Canada. Not content with the alliance being made up of just four, he went on to persuade British Columbia, Prince Edward Island and the North West Territories to become part of Canada too. Besides creating a country, Sir John A. also had a major hand in the construction of the Trans-Canada railroad in 1886, which allowed Canada to be connected not just symbolically but physically as well. In 1891, Sir John A. MacDonald died while still Prime Minister. Kingston, Ontario was his home through most of his life. It is here where he lies, buried in a family plot in the Cataraqui cemetery, his grave marked by a simple stone cross, as he requested in his will. Naturally, this is a free thing to do.
For a small city, it’s amazing how eclectic and varied the downtown Kingston restaurant scene is. That’s why one of the best things you can do when you visit the city is to call Kingston Food Tours and book their Classic Kingston Tour. Led by an engaging host, you’ll go on a fun and informative 2.5-hour guided walk through the historical downtown streets of Kingston. You’ll learn some tasty tidbits about the history of Canada’s first capital city and revel in the stories behind some of the Kingston’s most admired food destinations. Oh, of course, while you’re visiting each of the hand-picked restaurants, bakeries and foodie stores you’ll indulge in some palate-pleasing sampling. Take the tour the day you arrive and in two hours time you’ll know exactly where you’ll want to eat your meals for the rest of your visit.
A city with as much history as Kingston is bound to have a few good ghost stories to tell. Hear the best ones and delve into the colourful history of the area by embarking on The Haunted Walk of Kingston tour. This fun thing to do is 90-minutes long and takes place in the evening by lantern light in Kingston’s old Sydenham Ward. For some added chills, sign up for The Haunted Walk Experience at Fort Henry. With almost 200-years of history behind it, one can only imagine the eerie vibe and supernatural stories that lurk behind the walls of this historic 19th-century fortress.
A great spot to pick up an affordable memento of your visit to Kingston is Martello Alley. It’s just what its name suggests—an historic alleyway but it serves as a gallery. The works of numerous Kingston-area artists are on display here. The gallery is always manned by one or two of the artists themselves who look forward to meeting you and talking about their creations. You may even see a work in progress. The common goal of this artist collective is to create great art and make it available for people to purchase at a reasonable price. This is certainly the case with Martello Alley, making this attraction the perfect spot to shop for a unique and original keepsake of your trip to Kingston.
Kingston, Ontario is located where Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River meet, affording you wonderful views of the water. There are many ways to take them in. The simplest way is to pause at the park—Confederation Park in downtown Kingston. During the summer months you can enjoy free concerts here too. Want to get out on the water? Take the free ferry ride over to Wolfe Island. The ferry holds up to 55 cars and takes approximately 20 minutes to cross the water. Once you get over to Wolfe Island take some time and do a little exploring. There’s Big Sandy Bay beach which is considered a local gem. Birders regularly flock to Wolfe Island to try and spot some of the over 200 species that live here. The island is also known for being a great place to go cycling. Print off the free map and take your bike for a spin on one of the four cycling routes. Like to spend more time on the water? Book your spot on a sightseeing cruise with 1000 Islands Cruises. Choose from a 90-minute trip or a three-hour excursion and explore the 1000 Islands region—a vacation paradise for over 150 years that boasts gorgeous water views of cottages, bays, lighthouses, castles and more.
In the mood to kick back and enjoy a few laughs? A night at the Absolute Comedy comedy club is an ideal thing to do. It’s fun and cheap. Every Wednesday night they feature amateur Kingston comedians and a couple of pros, and all it will cost you is $6 to get in. Thursday through Saturday the professional comedians command the stage. On Thursday admission is $10. On Friday and Saturday it’s $15, still a very reasonable price when you want to pack some laughs into your visit to Kingston.
A great way to find deals on fun things to do and places to stay in Kingston, Ontario is by checking Groupon, the money-saving website that features local discounts in 150 cities. Visit the Kingston Groupon pages and you’ll find savings of anywhere from 40-90% on tours, attractions, tickets, activities, events, dinner spots and accommodations. The Groupon Kingston pages are a smart place to check out when you’re first planning your trip and even when you’re in the middle of your Kingston, Ontario visit because new deals get added weekly and even daily many times.
Be thrifty and practical! This information was accurate when published, but can change without notice. We recommend you confirm all details with the provider in question before planning your excursion.
Photo credits: TripAdvisor and Dougtone.