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Kingston, Ontario

What to See & Do in Kingston

Kingston was once the  capital of pre-Confederation Upper Canada,  and the downtown is filled with period limestone buildings. Kingston is located at the meeting point of three major waterways: Lake Ontario (connecting to Toronto and the Niagara River), the St Lawrence Seaway / St Lawrence River (connecting down to Montreal) and the Cataraqui River and Rideau Canal (connecting to Ottawa). Old Fort Henry is a mid-1800s built stone Fort to defend the Great Lakes and St Lawrence form American attack.

Visit Kingston ON

Kingston History

Early History and First Nations

Kingston Ontario's Queen's UniversityKingston is a Canadian city on the eastern end of Lake Ontario (and just south of the Highway 401, about mid-way between Toronto and Montreal), where the Cataraqui River and Rideau Canal flow into Lake Ontario,and where Lake Ontario flows into the St. Lawrence River to the Atlantic Ocean. Kingston is known as the “Limestone City” for its grand pre-Confederation heritage buildings, all built after the Fire of 1840, including the lakeside Kingston City Hall.

Other attractions in the city include Bellevue House National Historic Site, with its grand house and gardens which commemorate Canada’s first prime minister, Sir John A. Macdonald. On the east bank of the Cataraqui River, opposite the city, lies Old Fort Henry, built in the 1800s to defend the Lake Ontario approach to the Rideau Canal, following the British experience s of the War of 1812.

Kingston Ontario's Marine Museum
Early European exploration in the 1600s led the French to build a fur-trading fort in 1673, called Fort Cataraqui (pronounced “kah-tah-ROCK-way”) or Fort Frontenac, which attracted settlement. The fort was captured and destroyed by the British in the Battle of Fort Frontenac during the Seven Years’ War in 1758.

British Colonial Rule and Confederation

After the British conquered New France, the village was renamed Kingston. Following the American Revolutoin, many American loyalists relocated to the area in the 1790s. During the War of 1812, Kingston was the base for the Lake Ontario division of the Great Lakes British naval fleet, which was engaged in a vigorous arms race with the American fleet (based at Sackets Harbor, New York) for control of Lake Ontario.

Kingston Ontario's welcome sign
Kingston’s location, where the Rideau Canal (completed in 1832) connected to Lake Ontario, made it the primary military and economic centre of Upper Canada. Kingston was named the first capital city of the Province of Canada in 1841 (when it was the largest center), though this was later moved to Toronto. In the 1840s, the Upper Canadian government built Fort Henry and a series of distinctive Martello towers (emplacements beyond the fort’s defensive walls) to guard the entrance to the Rideau Canal, the shipyard on Point Frederick, and the harbour. The nearby village of Barriefield, overlooking the Cataraqui River is now a well-preserved historical neighbourhood.

Kingston became an important port for transshipment, where cargos from inland (like wheat, flour, meat, lumber, and potash) were put on larger ships that can handle the rougher waters of the St Lawrence. With the completion of the Rideau Canal, some cargoes could be transported mores safely by that route, bypassing the roughest sections of the St. Lawrence .

Recent Post-war History

After World War II, Kingston shifted from an industrial town to an institutional once, with the growth of Queen’s University, the Kingston campus of St. Lawrence College, healthcare at Kingston General Hospital (with a medical school at Queen’s), as well as the now-closed federal Kingston Penitentiary. Following the 1998 amalgamation with surrounding townships, Kingston’s boundaries now encompass large rural areas north of Highway 401 and east of the Cataraqui River.

Kingston Information & Links

Kingston Attractions

Agnes Etherington Art Centre

36 University Ave, Kingston, ON K7L 3N6
(613) 533-2190
Website 

Located on the Queen’s University campus, this art gallery features an impressive collection of Canadian and Indigenous art.

Bellevue House National Historic Site

35 Centre St, Kingston, ON K7L 4E5
(613) 545-8666
Website 

The former home of Canada’s first Prime Minister, Sir John A. Macdonald, who lived there from 1848 to 1849, and is now a museum showcasing Victorian life and political history.

Cataraqui Cemetery

927 Purdy’s Mill Rd, Kingston, ON K7L 4V3
613-546-6545

A 91 acre historic cemetery with beautifully landscaped grounds, rolling wooded terrain, ponds and watercourses, and notable monuments, providing a peaceful place for reflection.  Founded in 1850, it predates Canadian Confederation, and continues as an active burial ground.

Fort Henry National Historic Site

Fort Henry Dr, Kingston, ON K7L 4V8
1 800-437-2233
Website 

Fort Henry is a 19th-century military fortress overlooking Lake Ontario. It offers guided tours, reenactments, and demonstrations, providing a window into Canada’s military history.

Original Hockey Hall of Fam  (formerly International Hockey Hall of Fame)

277 York St, Kingston, ON K7K 5E4
(613) 507-1943
Website 

Honoring the achievements and contributions of individuals to the sport of ice hockey, this museum features exhibits on hockey history.

Kingston Mills Locks

Kingston Mills Rd, Kingston, ON K7L 4V3
613-548-4415
website

A historic site featuring a flight of locks on the Rideau Canal, providing a picturesque setting for picnicking and enjoying the outdoors.

Kingston Penitentiary Tours

560 King St W, Kingston, ON K7L 4V7
Website 

This former maximum-security prison, now a museum, offers guided tours providing insight into the history of the Canadian penal system. Open 7 days a week. Admission is by donation, making it accessible for everyone to explore and learn.

Kingston Trolley Tours

209 Ontario St, Kingston, ON K7L 2Y8
1 800-848-0011
Website 

Offers guided tours of Kingston’s historic sites, providing a comprehensive overview of the city’s rich history. The site of the first mill on the Rideau, the King’s Mill, built at Cataraqui Falls in 1784, Kingston Mills features a lovely set of three locks, a turning basin, and a detached upper lock. Discover the military lifestyle of 1839 by visiting Kingston Mills’ restored Blockhouse, or bring a picnic lunch and relax by the water.

Kingston Waterfront

Along Ontario Street, downtown Kingston

The Kingston Waterfront is a picturesque area along Lake Ontario featuring parks, walking paths, restaurants, and shops. It offers stunning views of the lake.

Little Cataraqui Creek Conservation Area

1641 Perth Rd, Kingston, ON K0H 1S0
Located just north of Kingston
(613) 546-4228
Website 

A beautiful  394-hectare natural area with trails, wildlife viewing, and opportunities for outdoor activities like hiking and cross-country skiing.

MacLachlan Woodworking Museum

2993 Highway 2 East, Kingston, ON K7L 4V1
(613) 542-0543
Website 

Woodworking museum in an 1885 log house offering unique exhibits & creative workshops. This museum celebrates the art and craft of pioneer woodworking, displaying a collection of hand-crafted furniture and artifacts.

Marine Museum of the Great Lakes

55 Ontario St, Kingston, ON K7L 2Y2
(613) 542-2261
Website 

This museum showcases the maritime history of the Great Lakes region, featuring ship models, artifacts, and interactive exhibits. From shipwrecks and lighthouses to ecosystems and water quality, we invite you to explore Kingston’s unique history and the world’s largest inter-connected body of freshwater through our programs and exhibits.

Murney Tower National Historic Site

33 King St E, Kingston, ON K7L 3E4
(613) 217-8235
Website 

This 1846 military tower offers a glimpse into Kingston’s military history and provides panoramic views of the city. The Tower was built in response to the Oregon Crisis, which was a tense dispute over the border between British North America and the United States in the 1840s.

Pumphouse Steam Museum

23 Ontario St, Kingston, ON K7L 2Y2

613) 544-7867

Website http://www.kingstonpumphouse.ca/

This museum located in a 19th-century pumping station showcases the history of steam power and its impact on the development of Kingston. One of Canada’s oldest original water works, that used steam-powered pumps to provide the first running water to Kingston.

 

Queen’s University

99 University Ave, Kingston, ON K7L 3N6
613) 533-2000
Website 

The campus of Queen’s University is known for its beautiful historic architecture and vibrant student life. Queens University began in 1841 with a royal charter from Queen Victoria and began teaching the next year. In 1869, Queen’s became the first university west of the Maritimes to admit women to classes.

Skeleton Park/ McBurney Park

Corner of Ordnance and Alma St, Kingston, ON
(613) 546-0000

Officially known as McBurney Park, it’s a lovely green space named for the burial ground that existed here in the early 19th century.

Tett Centre for Creativity and Learning

370 King St W, Kingston, ON K7L 2X4

(343) 266-0009 ext. 3091

Website https://www.tettcentre.org/home

Housed in a historic building, this center hosts various arts and cultural events, exhibitions, and workshops.

The Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts

390 King St W, Kingston, ON K7L 3N6
Website 

This modern performing arts venue, part of Queen’s University,  hosts a wide range of concerts, theater productions, and art exhibitions.

Thousand Islands

In the St Lawerence River east of Kingston

The Thousand Islands region is renowned for its natural beauty, characterized by numerous small islands. Boat tours are a popular way to explore this scenic area.

Wolfe Island

[Accessible by ferry from Kingston]

A peaceful island known for its countryside, cycling routes, and the Windmill Point Wind Farm.

Kingston, Ontario Area Map

Kingston Road Trip Planner (explore our directory)

Look for what to see & do, and where to stay in Kingston and the nearby communities along Lake Ontario, the St Lawrence Seaway, and north into the Rideau Lakes.  First click on the LOCALE to search, then use the CATEGORY filter on the left side for the feature of interest!

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Kingston Ontario Tours and Experiences

Here are some tours and experiences you can book: