I’m relatively new to Kingston and I don’t consider myself a true “Kingstonian” yet, so I was really looking forward to exploring the Limestone City on this trip. Kingston never disappoints and seeing other things it has to offer, just confirmed why I love this city so much.
I had been waiting for this moment for the last two years! I was unable to get tickets to the Kingston Penitentiary last year and then this year, I purchased tickets but ultimately couldn’t use them due to another trip. So when I learned this was one of our stops, I was incredibly excited and I’m happy to say, this tour didn’t disappoint. The Kingston Penitentiary (aka the Kingston Pen), was a maximum security prison that was decommissioned in 2012. It was the home to many infamous inmates; such as Paul Bernardo, James Donnelly, Russell Williams and more. In 1971, there was a riot which lasted 4 days, caused the death of 2 inmates, heavily damaged the prison and led to prison reforms. Last year, the St. Lawrence Parks Commission (SLPC) began public tours in the Kingston Pen. On our tour, we met many people that worked at the Kingston Pen when it was still functioning as a prison. Prior to taking the tour, I had no idea that it was lead by former guards and employees of the pen. Kudos to the SLPC for creating a genuine experience!
The architecture of the Kingston Pen is what fascinated me the most. It was built by inmates and both the interior and exterior are stunning. There are some large sweeping staircases, beautiful arches and interesting details in the buildings. I highly recommend taking a trip to visit the pen, to learn about the history or to see the architecture. More tickets were released recently, which means you have no excuse not to check it out!
This tour worked up our appetite, so we headed to one of my favourite spots in Kingston- Juniper Cafe. The cafe is located on the ground floor of the Tett Centre, facing the lakeshore. The Juniper has the best breakfast sandwiches in Kingston, some amazing coffee and a beautiful view to boot.
After refuelling, we headed back to downtown Kingston and jumped on a Kingston Trolley Tour. The Hop On, Hop Off Trolley Tours are an excellent way to travel around Kingston and see some of exciting destinations while learning about our historic city. Locations include City Hall, RMC, Fort Henry, Bellevue House and more! We completed the entire tour and then hopped off in downtown Kingston for lunch at Wooden Heads. Wooden Heads is one of downtown Kingston’s best restaurants and specializes in gourmet pizza. This popular spot is always busy, so if you’re planning on heading there, I highly recommend making a reservation!
One of my favourite historic sites in Kingston is Fort Henry National Historic Site. Also run by the St. Lawrence Parks Commission; Fort Henry invites visitors to experience 19th century military life. The Fort Henry Guard is a group of highly disciplined university student recruits that are trained to act as British soldiers from 1867, interact with visitors and create an immersive environment. When we arrived at the fort, we were greeted by Mark Bennett who is the Supervisor of Programs. Mark was in full character from 1867 and he taught us how to properly salute and fire rifles.
To finish our long (but exciting) day, we boarded the Sunset Dinner Cruise by 1000 Islands Cruises. We were treated to a four course meal aboard the Island Star and some hilarious live entertainment. Shoutout to Billy Bridger, a true Kingston gem. We watched the sunset while experiencing a wine tasting by Pelee Island Winery and then headed back to downtown Kingston for the rest of the night.
We started off our day at another awesome cafe, Northside Kitchen and Espresso. Inspired by the thriving cafe culture of Melbourne, Australia; Jess and Cade created an instagram-worthy cafe with excellent food and coffee in downtown Kingston. My favourite dish is the avo smash, with a side of bacon and a warm cappuccino. It’s hands down the best way to start off your day, trust me.
After an excellent breakfast, we travelled to Agnes Etherington Art Gallery to meet Peg Dunnem, the Program Coordinator. I have visited the Agnes before but didn’t know much of its history until this guided walkthrough. The Agnes Etherington Art Centre carries The Bader Collection, with nearly 200 paintings including three Rembrandts (the art history student in me swoons at this). The art collection is mostly Canadian, with some exciting contemporary art. With free admission (donations are welcome), this should definitely be on your list to visit in Kingston.
Random fun fact: Did you know that Kingston has more restaurants per capita than any other city in Canada? We have some really incredible food in this town. You can experience a variety of this culinary greatness during a Kingston Food Tour. Kingston Food Tours is a walking tour of downtown Kingston with tastings at some of the best restaurants in the city. Bonus: they are locally owned and operated and are fantastic people. On our tour, Dan was our guide as we travelled to some great places; such as Chez Piggy, Tango Neuvo, General Brock’s Commissary, Kingston Olive Oil Company and more! At an affordable price point that includes an excellent guide; I highly suggest taking this tour to try out samples from Kingston’s top restaurants.
To finish our day we had a fantastic (and boy do I mean fantastic) meal at Bayview Farm Restaurant; owned by Kingston’s renowned chef, Clark Day. Bayview Farm is Clark Day’s family homestead, which has seen some transformations throughout the years. Starting as a working farm, Bayview Farm has also been a tourist home, an ice cream business and a hobby farm. Today it’s an amazing restaurant, using ingredients from the farm. Everything we had was exquisite and it was an unforgettable dining experience. We were served by the chefs and were able to talk to them about how they prepared our food. Prior to this, I hadn’t heard about Bayview Farm, but boy am I glad I had the opportunity to eat here on this leg of the trip.