Kingston is a town that never loses it attraction for me, partly because I’ve been going there almost all of my life. As a youngster living just a few miles west in Napanee (hometown of me and pop star Avril Lavigne) family outings often ended up in what has become widely known as “the limestone city” for its proliferation of beautiful stone buildings.

On the best of those trips we boarded a large, triple-decked paddle wheeler at the city’s waterfront and went on delightful sightseeing adventures in the famous Thousand Islands. More than three decades later, a paddle wheeler and other tour boats still depart from the town dock, some for day trips, some for lunch and dinner cruises, and others for multi-day itineraries that go beyond the islands making port stops at places that include Brockville, Gananoque, Upper Canada Village and Montreal.

Many of those who take Thousand Islands tours often spend an extra few days exploring Kingston, Canada’s first capital and arguably one of province’s prettiest cities. Moreover, there’s no shortage of things to see and do.

One of the highlight attractions is Fort Henry, a National Historic Site and the largest fort ever constructed west of Quebec City. Built by the British during the war of 1812, visitors to this solid limestone citadel can witness costumed re-enactments of military life in the 1860s, artillery demonstrations, mock battles, a daily half hour parade and other fort-related events. Every Wednesday during July and August, there are world famous, award-winning Sunset Ceremonies featuring 90-minute historic performances by the Fort Henry Guard, Drill Squad and Artillery Detachment.
Also during summer there are themed candlelit dinners in the Officers’ dining rooms, complete with costumed servers.

A very different kind of fortress – albeit a tourist attraction – is the Canadian Penitentiary Museum. Here, visitors can trace the history of the country’s federal prison system from an era when hard labour was the order of the day. The award winning museum is housed in “Cedarhedge,” the original Kingston Penitentiary Warden’s residence built in 1873 by inmate labour. In 2003, the museum won the Rand McNally Best of the Road Award, one of only 27 North American sites chosen to receive this prestigious designation.
Kingston is also widely known as a scuba diver’s paradise. Located at the confluence of the Rideau Canal, Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River, the city boasts some of the best freshwater shipwreck diving in the world.

Visibility can be 80 feet deep and hundreds of ill-fated vessels lie beneath the waters that have been a major trade route since the late 1700s. Some of the doomed ships went down during violent Lake Ontario storms, some of them within sight of land.

Overall, the city’s waterfront location makes it a natural for other water-based activities. Ahoy Rentals, for example, can outfit visitors with canoes, kayaks and sail boats. The company also offers skippered sailing charters.

For land lubbers, the city that’s home to the Royal Military College and Queens University is filled with historic sites and modern attractions and the easiest way to see most of them within a limited time frame is aboard the Confederation Tour Trolley. Bright red trolley buses offer one-hour show-and-tell tours of the main sites of interest including Fort Henry, the Royal Military College, Olympic Harbour (site of the 1976 Olympic sailing events) and Bellevue House (once the residence of Sir John A. MacDonald, Canada’s first Prime Minister).

Kingston also has a well developed cultural cornucopia. The city is home to the Agnes Etherington Art Centre at Queen’s University where more than 14,000 works of art are widely considered the best university fine art collection in the country. The Grand Theatre, a fully restored 1879 opera house, regularly features big name music, dance and theatre.

Over its history, famous artists such as Harry Houdini, Al Jolson, Oscar Wilde and Sarah Bernhardt have performed on the Grand’s stage. Today, the theatre presents a roster of high profile entertainers featuring dance, drama, comedy and music. There is also the Kingston Symphony plus 21 world-class museums.

Admittedly, it’s quite a stretch but The Boiler Room offers its own brand of “performing art.” This indoor rock climbing facility features 30 ft. high scaling walls plus a 100 ft. wall ranked the highest in Canada.

For a change of pace, Kingston visitors often take a water journey to Wolfe Island (largest of the Thousand Islands), a 20 minute car ferry ride from the harbour. It’s a tradition among many to have lunch or dinner at the island’s historic General Wolfe Restaurant and Hotel. Established in 1860, the General Wolfe is renowned for its French-inspired cuisine prepared according to Old World traditions. Guests can even stay the night in one of the hotel’s nine charming rooms.

A Wolfe Island visit merely enriches a Kingston getaway where, in addition to its abundance of historic attractions, there are 200 restaurants in the downtown area alone plus outstanding shopping. Strategically situated halfway between Toronto and Montreal, the city that was the first capital of 19th century Canada and home to the country’s first prime minister, Sir John A. Macdonald, has come a long way from its pioneer beginnings when streets were mud-packed roads lined with hastily constructed wooden buildings. “We’re a unique destination in the province with an eclectic blend of choices and a phenomenal historic heritage,” says Rob Carnegie, Kingston’s tourism director.

Kingston Tourism: or 1-888-855-4555
Fort Henry: or 1-800-437-2233
Penitentiary Museum: or 613-530-3122
Wolfe Island:

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