Kingston threw me for a complete loop – in the most amazing way possible. Despite being born about an hour down the road in neighbouring Brockville, I’d never spent any actual time in Kingston. I assumed it was a small, university town. But boy, was I ever wrong!
Filled with lots of locally-owned restaurants emphasizing fresh, local ingredients, beautiful architecture, arts, culture, and a tonne of fun activities to keep even the most avid traveler occupied, Kingston is a small town that packs a big punch!
I visited earlier this month with my good friend, Solmaz. A quick 2.5-hr. car ride or 2-hr. train ride (our mode of transport for this trip) will get you to Kingston from downtown Toronto. So, it makes for the perfect place for a quick getaway with friends or family. Kingston was lovely to visit in the winter, and we’re told it has a whole different kind of charm in the summer!
Fun fact: Kingston became the first capital of Canada in 1841. However, this was short-lived – lasting for only 3 years, until 1844. Kingston got its nickname, “The Limestone City”, from its many limestone buildings. Kingston takes pride in preserving these buildings, as many have protected heritage status.
Wondering exactly what Kingston is all about? Here are my 11 essential things to do on a trip to Kingston, Ontario.
1. Go on a Food Tour
Perhaps the best way to get acquainted with a city through a foodie lens. I’ve been on many, but the Kingston Food Tours classic Kingston food tour really stood out. Born and raised in Kingston, our guide Jen, is extremely knowledgeable and passionate about what she does. Her friendly, upbeat personality set the tone for a fun, food-filled tour in Kingston.
Stops on the signature Kingston food tour included Dianne’s Fish Shack & Smokehouse, Pan Chancho Bakery & Café, Olivea Restaurant, and more. We left with happy bellies and with a much greater appreciation of the local food scene and history of Kingston.
Fun Fact: Kingston has the most restaurants per capita in Canada, and it’s second only to New Orleans in North America!
2. Stay in a Luxury, Boutique Bed & Breakfast
Worth the trip to Kingston for this place, alone, The Rosemount Inn was one of the biggest highlights of our girls’ trip!
Occupying a historic limestone manor that dates back to 1850, The Rosemount Inn has been operating as an inn for more than 30 years. New owners, Matt & Lucy, completely renovated and transformed it into a luxury, boutique B&B in 2019, in a way that preserves much of the existing history. It is well-suited to families, couples, groups, or solo travelers, with the added perk of a gourmet breakfast included with your stay and a welcome drink upon arrival!
From the moment you walk in, the décor will take your breath away – literally. There’s also service to match from friendly and attentive staff.
There are 11 rooms in the property, each with a different name and style. I stayed in The Coverdale (the pink room) and felt like it was designed just for me! With dark walls and pink and cream accents, it is absolutely stunning and lush.
Solmaz stayed upstairs in an equally beautiful room. All rooms are outfitted with private baths and all the amenities you need, including large, comfy beds, electric fireplaces, TVs, Nespresso coffee machines and more.
There is such attention to every single detail in both the rooms and the rest of the entire property. While elegant and luxurious, it still felt like home.
3. Walk & Take in the Architecture
See why Kingston is called “The Limestone City” by exploring its lovely architecture. From its historic buildings to its churches and university, you’ll be impressed. With a compact downtown, you can easily cover much ground in a few hours. Tip: keep your eyes peeled for the many ‘hidden’ alleyways in downtown Kingston, as they often lead to art galleries and little courtyards.
4. Visit Springer Market Square
Communal centre and described as “the heart of Kingston”, Springer Market Square is a place where the whole city can come to congregate. Located at the back of Kingston’s City Hall building, Springer Market Square turns into a free skating rink in the wintertime, and throughout the rest of the year, is home to a public market that’s been running continuously since 1801, festivals, and outdoor movies.
5. Dive into Kingston’s Coffee Culture
Given the amount of high quality, locally-owned restaurants, I wasn’t surprised to discover that Kingston has a thriving coffee culture as well. There are a number of independently-owned cafés and coffee shops. We visited several on our trip, so you’ll be spoiled for choice on where to grab a cup of java!
Northside Espresso: was a standout for me. It’s set in a bright, airy space with Melbourne café vibes. You can get your caffeine fix here, with a good selection of all the usual espresso-based drinks (coffee beans are sourced from 49th Parallel Coffee). The Prana Chai Latte was also quite nice. If you want something without caffeine, try the Turmeric Latte which is made with almond milk.
But don’t just go here for the coffee – make sure you bring your appetite too! The menu at this place is UNREAL. We tried the Avocado Toast and Tim’s Benny, and both were delicious!
Kingston Coffee House: conveniently located directly across from Springer Market Square, head to this place for a great latte, complete with the cutest latte art! After spending a few hours at the outdoor market or skating on the rink, you’ll definitely be in need of some fuel!
Juniper Café: located in the basement of the Tett Centre, this licensed café serves coffee (beans are from Pilot Coffee Roasters), teas, and alcoholic drinks, and has a seasonally-changing food menu. The Juniper Café’s menu is based on sourcing quality, local, sustainable ingredients. You can find a variety of sandwiches (using with their fresh, house-made focaccia bread), salads, and charcuterie.
The Common Market: off the main drag and along the scenic waterfront in Kingston, The Common Market is an intimate coffee shop with limited seating, if you want to dine/drink in. Although we didn’t get a chance to try, the baked goods and food here are well-loved by locals.
Balzac’s: one of the best examples of local coffee shop success, Balzac’s now has locations all across Ontario, including Kingston. Each Balzac’s location has a unique personality and serves high quality coffee, and the one in Kingston is no different.
6. Immerse Yourself in Arts & Culture
If you’re looking to indulge in a bit of theatre or the performing arts, Kingston has great options! The Isabel Bader Centre for Performing Arts at Queen’s University is an impressive building with pretty lakeside views.
Inside, you’ll find a main concert hall with excellent acoustics, rehearsal hall which replicates the acoustics of the concert hall, and film screening room. The concert hall has 566 seats and hosts performances from September to May.
Just next door, the Tett Centre for Creativity and Learning is an independently-run charitable arts organization located inside a heritage building. It’s home to art centres and studios, guilds, dance schools, and other organizations.
7. Check Out a Brewery
If beer is your thang, Kingston has no shortage of craft breweries. To visit many in a short period of time, Kingston Food Tours has a beer & bites tour as well. We stopped in at Kingston Brewing Company, Ontario’s oldest brew pub. Walking inside, you feel like you’re transported to a British pub – with wooden booths and an eclectic mix of signs, art, and pictures on the walls. There’s an extensive list of beers to sample and pub fare on the menu. I enjoyed a pint of their cider.
8. Shop Local
It’s not in every city that you can have easy access to locally-owned specialty shops. Kingston residents are spoiled with a plethora of artisanal shops specializing in everything from cheese to olive oil, bakeries, general stores, antique shops, art galleries, boutique clothing stores and more.
We especially liked Cooke’s Fine Foods and Coffee, which has been around since 1865! There were shelves and shelves of artisan products, including cheeses, coffees, teas, jams, candies, chocolates, sauces, you name it!
9. Enjoy a Night Out
Kingston has plenty of restaurants, bars, and clubs, so the fun doesn’t have to end when the sun goes down! Depending on what you’re into, it may just be beginning 😉
On our first night, we dined at The Everly. From the décor to the food and cocktail menus, it was totally my jam! Open from 5 p.m. until ‘late’, you can start with dinner and then continue with more drinks in this restaurant and lounge.
The Everly features a rotating, seasonal menu – working with local farmers and food producers to get their ingredients year-round. The beef tartare, beef pappardelle, and butternut agnolotti were all delicious! For a well-balanced cocktail, try to the Earl Grey Martini, made with earl grey-infused Tangueray and egg white.
On our second night, we checked out Tango Nuevo – a place that came highly recommended by many. Specializing in tapas and small bites, their food is also made from locally-grown, seasonal fruits and vegetables and locally-produced meats and cheeses. Dishes are inspired by the flavours of many different cuisines, including Turkish, Spanish, Thai, Italian, Moroccan, and Japanese, to name a few.
The wine list at Tango Nuevo would please any wine snob. And if you want to experience a Chef’s Tasting menu, you can do so in their private wine cellar called “La Bodega”.
For more info on where to enjoy Kingston’s bars and nightlife, you can go here.
10. Go to the Spa
If pampering and relaxation are on the agenda, be sure to hit up The Refinery Spa + Social House. They offer a range of services, including skincare, manis & pedis, aesthetics, massage treatments, and hair styling. What’s more, this gorgeous space has a steam room on-site and offers amazing views of Springer Market Square from its big, beautiful windows.
11. Stroll Through Queen’s University Campus
Finally, no trip to Kingston is complete without a walk through the Queen’s University campus – one of the most picturesque sites in the city.
While here, visit the Douglas Library reading room (also called “The Harry Potter room”) and the impressive staircase at the Joseph S. Stauffer Library.
So, has Kingston piqued your interest yet? Take a quick road trip here and I guarantee you won’t be disappointed. I can’t wait to return!