About this series: With COVID-19 restrictions expected to ease over the next few months, Wheels wants to inspire you to get ready to explore – but only when it is safe to do so. This series of daytrips and weekend drives highlights great experiences you can have in the province once conditions allow and show you why Ontario is “Ours to Discover” this summer and beyond.
For the full series, click here.
Kingston is the gatekeeper to the beautiful Thousand Islands region, sitting at the point where the waters of Lake Ontario, the St. Lawrence River and the Rideau Canal meet. In the city’s historic downtown, you will find stately limestone buildings and restored stone carriageways, farmer’s markets and sidewalk patios, and numerous one-of-a-kind shops. This road trip where you can walk though the past while still experiencing a vibrant, modern city.
In the morning: The fastest route from Toronto is to drive east along Hwy 401 and should take just over two hours. With an early enough start (and a more leisurely mindset), detour south at Hwy 49 through Picton – stopping at one of its local bakeries – and continue along Hwy 33 east to the Glenora Ferry. After a short ferry crossing, continue driving on Hwy 33 into the heart of Kingston. The latter route increases your travel time but makes for an unhurried and scenic start to a weekend getaway.
Once you arrive in Kingston, get your bearings by taking one of Kingston Trolley Tours hourlong rides to learn more about some of The Limestone City’s more than 300 years of history. Or stroll through the heart of Kingston at the water’s edge, where the docks and parkland of Confederation Basin face City Hall, a masterpiece of 19th-century classical British Renaissance architecture. The compact downtown is easy to explore on foot or by bicycle (regular and e-bikes available from Ahoy Rentals).
In the afternoon: Grab a takeout lunch from Sally’s Roti Shop for an authentic Caribbean wrap full of meat and curried potatoes enveloped in a homemade roti. It is the perfect meal to enjoy during an excursion on the free Wolfe Island Ferry, which is just a five-minute walk from Sally’s. The 45-minute round-trip ride features spectacular views of Fort Henry National Historic Site, the Royal Military College of Canada and the Kingston skyline.
If you prefer to dine-in, stake out a spot on the patio at Olivea and watch the goings-on on Springer Market Square. The restaurant is known for its rustic Italian dishes made from scratch, staying true to time-honoured recipes and using only local ingredients. On Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, you can even cross Brock Street to browse the stalls at the Kingston Public Market. Held in the square, it is Ontario’s oldest operating farmers’ market, having been established in 1801. This is also the spot where Confederation was proclaimed in 1867.
End you afternoon experiencing one of Kingston’s best features – its water. Enjoy one of Kingston 1000 Islands Cruises tours of the harbour and the nearby Thousand Islands archipelago, or rent a kayak, stand-up paddleboard or canoe from Ahoy Rentals, located west of downtown next to the PumpHouse museum, and explore on your own.
In the evening: Check into the Frontenac Club, a newly restored 176-year-old limestone inn in the heart of downtown. Guests at the boutique hotel can enjoy a complimentary gourmet breakfast in the morning and relax on its rooftop patio in the evening. If you have kids in tow, reserve a suite with separate living and bedroom areas at the Marriott Kingston Water’s Edge, an easy walk to downtown. A breakfast buffet is included, as well as a fully equipped kitchen, indoor pool and whirlpool.
For dinner, book a courtyard table (or get takeaway) at iconic Chez Piggy. Located in a renovated livery stable it is known for its eclectic mix of international cuisine made using the best local ingredients. Alternatively, enjoy a gourmet pizza cooked in the wood-fired oven and featuring toppings like blackened chicken or spiced salami at Wooden Heads. End your evening by walking back to your hotel while enjoying a traditional Italian gelato infused with local berries from Mio Gelato, or a scoop of old-fashioned chocolate from White Mountain Homemade Ice Cream.
In the morning: Start the day by fueling up with a pain au chocolat from Pan Chancho, one of the enormous buttermilk muffins from Card’s Bakery or the signature caramel apple latte at Crave Coffee House & Bakery, before heading to Fort Henry National Historic Site.
With roots dating to the War of 1812, this landmark fortress is part of the Rideau Canal’s UNESCO World Heritage designation and is a must-visit for families and history buffs. Dominating the hill overlooking Kingston and the water, the walled fortification holds guided tours, explaining with pomp and circumstance how the fort and its soldiers protected the St. Lawrence and Lake Ontario from American attacks during and after the war.
In the afternoon: Order a late takeout lunch from the Black Dog Tavern’s menu of upscale pub food, such as its buttermilk-brined, country-style fried chicken served with fries and slaw, before walking down Brock Street to enjoy a picnic by the waterfront at Confederation Basin.
After lunch, there are 20 museums and historic sites you can visit, but one of the city’s most popular tours is a look behind the walls of the decommissioned Kingston Penitentiary, a National Historic Site and Canada’s oldest and most notorious maximum-security prison. A few blocks away, on the campus of Queen’s University, the Agnes Etherington Art Centre’s permanent collection includes three Rembrandts, Inuit and Indigenous art, and historical and contemporary Canadian pieces.
In the late afternoon: Explore the west of downtown – a short walk away from Queen’s campus – by following the waterfront trail to the Gord Edgar Downie Pier (named after the late-singer of The Tragically Hip) at Breakwater Park, everyone’s favourite swimming spot. After drying off, stop by the Kingston Public Market for a jug of eastern Ontario maple syrup, before getting into your vehicle and beginning your drive back to Toronto.
For the drive
Kingston is known for its deep musical roots that span a range of genres. The city has been the home base for iconic Canadian band The Tragically Hip (a downtown street is even named after it), singer-songwriter Sarah Harmer and the roots-rock group The Glorious Sons. You can also cue up “I’m Thinking of Ending Things,” on audiobook by Kingston author Iain Reid. The psychological thriller about a couple on a road trip was also recently adapted into a film for Netflix.
COVID-19 need to know
Kingston has experienced some of the lowest COVID-19 rates in Ontario, with the area currently following the restrictions and guidelines set by the province. Detailed information on local measures is available on the Kingston, Frontenac and Lennox & Addington Public Health website (kflaph.ca).
• 7 a.m. Leave Toronto
• Drive east on Hwy 401
• 9:30 a.m. Arrive in Kingston
• 10 a.m. Stroll around downtown
• 11 a.m. Kingston Trolley Tours
• 12:30 p.m. Sally’s Roti Shop or Olivea
• 2:30 p.m. Kingston 1000 Islands Cruises or Ahoy Rentals
• 5 p.m. Check into hotel
• 6:30 p.m. Chez Piggy or Wooden Heads
• 8:30 p.m. Walk to hotel
• 9 a.m. Pan Chancho, Card’s Bakery or Crave
• 10 a.m. Fort Henry National Historic Site
• 1 p.m. Black Dog Tavern
• 2 p.m. Kingston Penitentiary Tour or Agnes Etherington Art Centre
• 4 p.m. Breakwater Park
• 6 p.m. Drive back to Toronto
NOTE: Times are suggestions only