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Canada’s first capital city mixes historic sites, arts venues, and outdoor activities. Tour Bellevue House National Historic Site to learn more about the country’s early days, or visit Fort Henry, an early-19th-century British fort that’s now a living history museum where costumed interpreters march in military bands or teach lessons in the fort’s schoolhouse. Home to Queen’s University, Kingston also has several museums and a waterfront performing arts centre with regular concerts and lectures.
You can base yourself in Kingston to explore the Thousand Islands region along the St. Lawrence River, head for the hiking trails and lakes of Frontenac Provincial Park, or paddle to see the Indigenous pictographs on the cliffs above Mazinaw Lake in Bon Echo Provincial Park. Back in town, Kingston has lots of good restaurants and bakeries, and you can find fresh produce and other local foods at the Kingston Public Market, Ontario’s oldest continuously operating public market.
From Ottawa International Airport (YOW) or Syracuse Hancock International Airport (SYR), the international airports closest to Kingston, shuttle services can take you into town. Both airports are about two hours away. You can also fly into Toronto Pearson International Airport (YYZ), which is two and a half hours away, or Montréal–Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport (YUL), a little under three hours away, and continue to Kingston by bus, shuttle, or train. The small Kingston Airport (YGK) has limited commercial service. Kingston is on VIA Rail’s convenient Toronto-Ottawa and Toronto-Montreal train routes, and you can reach Kingston by bus from Toronto, Ottawa, and Montreal, and from smaller Ontario communities.
Kingston’s downtown and waterfront are compact and walkable. The public bus system, Kingston Transit, can take you to the bus and train stations, Fort Henry, and many other places around the city. Enjoy cycling? Rent a bike to pedal the Kingston-area sections of the Great Lakes Waterfront Trail.
While the warm, humid summer is Kingston’s busiest season, the best time to visit is in the fall (and the months leading up to it), when the large crowds have returned home, the weather starts to cool, and arts activities are back on the calendar. In July and August, Fort Henry hosts weekly Sunset Ceremonies with music and fireworks over Kingston Harbour. The autumn colours around Kingston are normally most vibrant in October, making it a good month to head outdoors. Many Kingston-area attractions are closed between mid-October and mid-May, during Ontario’s cold, snowy winters. Winter is best for an arts- and food-focused visit, or for cocooning indoors by the fire.
Canada’s oldest maximum-security prison housed many of the country’s most infamous criminals, beginning in 1835, when the imposing stone structure opened on the Kingston waterfront, until it closed in 2013. On a tour of “The Pen,” your guides, many of whom are former prison guards, walk you through the cellblocks, recreation yard, and isolation units, and share stories of life on the inside. For even more details about Canada’s prison history, stop into Canada’s Penitentiary Museum in the former warden’s residence opposite the prison, which includes sobering exhibits about how prisoners were disciplined through the years.
This modern art museum on the Queen’s campus exhibits works by Canadian and international artists. Among the noteworthy collections at the Agnes Etherington Art Centre are contemporary Canadian artwork, works by Indigenous creators, and Canadian historical art.
From Kingston, you can reach some of the more than 1,800 islands in the St. Lawrence River in the Thousand Islands region that spans both sides of the Canada-U.S. border. Take a boat cruise from Kingston’s waterfront, or kayak around the islands in nearby Thousand Islands National Park.