Kingston, Ontario, the first capital of Canada, is typically overshadowed by Canada’s more famous cities. But with its lush natural beauty and rich heritage, there are plenty of cool things to do in Kingston if you visit with kids. The city is home to several historic sights such the City Hall, Fort Henry and the Rideau Canal. With sweeping views of the St. Lawrence River, taking a cruise to explore the Thousand Islands is one of the must dos on your visit.
First Capital of Canada
As the first capitol of Canada, Kingston still retains its old world charm with its well preserved colonial structures. With most of its old buildings made of limestone, the city has been dubbed the “limestone city”. Located about three hours away and in the route between the more famous Canadian cities, Toronto and Montreal, it is definitely worth making a trip to explore Kingston.
The downtown area is great for exploring on your own walking tour. Be sure pass by the city hall, a grand building with its characteristic dome. The 19th century landmark still functions as the city’s administrative center and is designated as a national historic sight. The colorful imagery of stained glass windows commemorating the lifes lost in the various battles of World War I will be the highlight of the tour.
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You can take a self-guided or a free-guided tour learn more about the beautiful architecture and fascinating history. Be sure to check their website as the tour hours change depending on the season.
If you would rather admire the building from the outside, you can explore Springer Market Square, located directly behind city hall. It holds a seasonal farmer’s market and various outdoor festivals in the summer. In the winter it transforms into an outdoor skating rink.
Within a few blocks from city hall, you can access a number of restaurants and coffee shops.
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Visit the Waterfront
With beautiful views of the lake and not much commercial activity, the Kingston waterfront has a pastoral feel. There is a nice pathway for a leisurely walk or bike ride along the water. The park area is great for a picnic and there are several eateries to pick up some food along the way.
Our toddler enjoyed being able to run about and stretch his legs after being confined to his stroller for most of the day. Despite being home to a large retirement community the city was very kid-friendly. We were greeted by smiles as our active little one ran past many older couples enjoying an evening stroll.
Cruise the Thousand Islands
The Thousand Islands constitute an archipelago of more than 1000 islands that straddles the U.S.-Canada border in the Saint Lawrence River. They stretch for about 50 miles downstream from Kingston, Ontario, towards upstate New York.
The ferry stop to the largest of the thousand islands, Wolfe Island, was located adjacent to the Kingston waterfront. This is one of the spots you can take a cruise to tour the islands but the cruise would mostly consist of views of the Wolfe Island.
Driving about 30 minutes South to Rockport or Gananoque enables you to embark on a more picturesque tour instead of touring the Wolfe island harbor for a large portion of the cruise. We embarked on a two-hour cruise from Rockport as that suited our toddler’s schedule. During the busy season it does help to buy the tickets early if you want a morning cruise when the weather is most pleasant.
Strollers were allowed on board but had to be kept folded. We were responsible for holding the baby on our laps and we used our discretion when carrying him around the deck. He really enjoyed having the wind on his face as he watched boats passing by.
The tour offered spectacular views of natural beauty and island homes with interesting décor and architecture. Dubbed incorrectly as the shortest international bridge, the footbridge between two Zavikon Islands was one of my favorite sights. Both Islands are part of Canadian territory though the small one is often mistaken for being a part of the United States.
The Boldt castle located on Heart Island was the most magnificent structure with a fascinating backstory. Originally built as a six-story “castle” and one of the largest private homes in the U.S., it was to be a gift of love from George Boldt, a millionaire hotelier to his wife. But upon her death, the work on the building was ceased and the island was later acquired by the state. Since then the castle has been restored and even new innovations such as a stained glass dome and marble floor have been added.
More to See
How I wished to have spent time exploring the island and taking a tour of the castle. But we didn’t want to stretch our toddler’s limits by keeping him confined through an additional hour of sightseeing and resigned ourselves for enjoying the views from the boat.
We brought along snacks and spent time basking in the sun as the breeze washed over us. There were several kids with ages ranging from babies to teenagers who seemed to enjoy the tour. This was a great affordable family activity that was easy to plan and pleased a multi-generational crowd.
We got a great feel of the city and for Canadian hospitality as we spent a three day weekend in Kingston. But we only scratched the surface in terms of exploring its heritage. Fort Henry, a military post established by the British in the 18th century and Rideau Canal, the oldest continuously operated canal system in North America have been noted as must do items on our next visit.