How to spend a weekend in Kingston, from on-the-go history lessons to the best baked goods in town.
Though it was short, Kingston’s two-year stint as the capital of pre-Confederation Canada has granted the city a quiet grandeur. You’ll see it in the tony limestone facades of homes once belonging to 19th-century notables or in the neoclassical city hall. Set your gaze out to the glittering shores of Lake Ontario, and you’ll spot a pair of rounded, squat Martello towers, part of a sophisticated fortification system to protect this once-strategic port.
But it’s not all about the past. Today, Kingston’s nearly 30,000-strong student population (split between Queen’s University, St. Lawrence College and the Royal Military College of Canada) lends it a buzzing, youthful energy. And then there’s the food scene: an eclectic mix, ranging from family-run, fine-ish dining destinations to inventive, casual drop-in joints. It all adds up to a place that’s hip yet refined and completely worth a weekend trip, just about a three-hour drive (or 2.5-hour Via train ride) away.
For brunch with a rock-legend connection: Pan Chancho Bakery (44 Princess St.)
Pan Chancho was opened by musician Zal Yanovsky (of the Lovin’ Spoonful fame) in the ’80s. Today, it’s kitted out with a $30,000 bread oven — all the better to supply nearby restaurants with sourdough daily — and is still family-run. You might have to line up for weekend brunch on the back patio, but if that’s not your style, grab a pastry to go. The decadent pouding chômeur, infused with maple syrup and topped with whipped cream, is a must-try. If you can tear yourself away from the pastry case, you’ll find plenty of artisanal home goods, from woven market totes to stacks of shabby-chic textiles, to shop.
For a kid-friendly retro ride: Kingston Trolley Tours
The trolley in question is actually just a cute red bus, outfitted with old-school wooden benches and chauffeured by a cap-and-vest-wearing driver, who will tell you all about Kingston’s history and famous residents (from John A. Macdonald to Gord Downie). In under two hours, you’ll zip through the Royal Military College’s sprawling waterfront campus, with its hilltop views of Wolfe Island (the largest of the 1000 Islands), get a condensed tour of Queen’s University and eye some nice real estate, from idyllic 200-year-old stone cottages to outright mansions. Just hang on to your hat: It’s a breezy drive.
For a strolling lunch: Kingston Food Tours
Sure, you could sit down for a slice of creatively topped pizza at Atomica (fig and brie, anyone?), or a local-beer-battered fish taco at Dianne’s Fish Shack & Smokehouse. But with Kingston Food Tours, you can do both — and then some (anything from beef cheek gnocchi to seasonal gelato flavours). Plus, there are a few welcome palate cleansers in the form of short stops at historic spots, like the old Kingston train station. Every eatery visited has to be locally owned and operated, and at least some menu items must come from a local producer.
For al fresco shopping: Kingston Public Market (Springer Market Sq.)
Dating back to 1801, the Kingston farmers’ market is the longest continuously running market in Canada. It’s worth waking up early to grab a coffee at the nearby Kingston Coffee House before strolling the rows of locally grown flowers and veggies, as well as artisanal honey and maple syrup. Also, on Sundays until Sept. 25, the same square hosts the Katarokwi Indigenous Art & Food Market. Kingston is located on the traditional lands of the Huron-Wendat and the Mississauga of the Ojibways, and Katarokwi (the Mohawk name for the area) means “the place where there is clay.” Highlighting local Indigenous makers, artisans and musicians, it’s the only market of its kind in Eastern Ontario.
For a casually stylish dinner: The Everly (103-171 Wellington St.)
Instead of white tablecloths, sweet-smelling peony blooms top the dark walnut tables at the Everly. Inside the unfussy, art-deco-inspired space, owners Amber Thom and Jamie Hodges offer up a rotating seasonal menu, with dishes like crispy polenta topped with foraged mushrooms, or chicken liver pâté with rhubarb compote. Ingredients come from a roster of 15 nearby farms and growers — and that’s not counting the wine list. A glass of bubbly from award-winning Hinterland in Prince Edward County is just one tempting option.
Writer Liz Guber travelled as a guest of RTO 9 (Region 9 Regional Tourism Organization), which did not review or approve this article.