Kingston (Ontario)

Kingston City Hall

Kingston is a small city in the Canadian province of Ontario. It is on the north shore of Lake Ontario and the St Lawrence, almost exactly halfway between Montréal and Toronto.

As the first (very short lived) capital of Canada, Kingston was originally settled in 1673 as Cataraqui, a French colonial outpost which became Fort Frontenac. Today, Kingston is one of the most historic cities in Canada with numerous churches, old buildings, picturesque neighbourhoods, and 19th century fortifications. The city provides venues for nightlife such as clubbing and pubbing, and provides weekend escapes for people living in the neighbouring cities of Ottawa, Montreal and Toronto. There are ample historic sites and museums to visit, as well as many lively summer events.

Kingston is the home of two universities (Queen's University and Royal Military College) and one community college (St. Lawrence College). Along with tourism, these educational institutes and the students they attract provide much to the city's local economy. Kingston is also the home to a number of prisons.

Get in

Tourist information

Kingston is fully accessible by road, air and water. There are no scheduled connections by bus, train or air to any point on the US side from Kingston, despite its proximity (50km) to Interstate 81. However, ferry by car from the United States is possible by taking Horne's Ferry (May–October) from Cape Vincent, New York state to Wolfe Island (Ontario). By driving the short distance across Wolfe Island, you can get to downtown Kingston via the free Wolfe Island Ferry.

By car

Driving into the Kingston area is usually done on Highway 401, although this highway does not go downtown.

Times from major cities are:

The 401 is easily reachable from Interstate 81 (Watertown, Syracuse, Binghamton) at exit 661 and from Ontario Highway 416 (Ottawa) at exit 721.

Kingston may be reached in an hour or less from:

By bus

Buses (Coach Canada) run Toronto-Kingston-Montréal several times daily and one bus (Voyageur) visits Ottawa twice daily. Buses usually take longer from each city and will drop you off on John Counter Boulevard (a converted trucking company warehouse in an industrial park) at the north side of town. Travellers can get downtown by taxi, or by local transit (both a taxi and bus stand can be found on the bus station property, across from the Tim Horton's). By bus, the #2 Division Street travels to the downtown core every half-hour (every hour evenings and weekends); the routes serving the train station (#7, #16, #18) also all stop at the bus station.

By train

Kingston is also served by train (Via Rail Canada). Travel times from nearby locations are as follows:

The station is on John Counter Boulevard at what was the western edge of town; a metered taxi to downtown runs about $15. By bus, the #18 Train Station Circuit meets most scheduled train arrivals (note that VIA trains may well run late) leading downtown; the #16 Kingston Centre bus runs every half-hour (every hour evenings and weekends) to the Kingston Shopping Centre. The #7 bus to the Cataraqui mall passes, but does not enter, the station.

By air

The closest major international airports are all two to three hours distant by road:

There is also Essential Air Service to Dexter, New York (IATA: ART) from Philadelphia, although the same issues with non-existent scheduled surface transportation across the border exist as for Syracuse.

By boat

Confederation Basin

The Rideau Canal goes from Kingston to Ottawa. Quite a few people travel it in various pleasure craft. Kingston is also the starting point of the St Lawrence River and the eastern endpoint of the Great Lakes, a strategic position which has afforded it a key military vocation since 1673.

Kingston has a number of marinas to accommodate boaters in boats of all sizes. These include

Get around

The most interesting area in Kingston for out-of-town visitors is near the downtown core of the city, which includes Queen's University and the waterfront. As such, the "best" areas of the city are better seen on foot or by bicycle.

Taxi fares from the bus and train stations are approximately $10-15 depending on the number of passengers per car as well as luggage stowage. All cabs are licensed and metered; major operators include Amey's (+1 613-546-1111) and Modern (+1 613-546-2222).

Public transport by Kingston Transit is reliable and clean but is infrequent, running at most one bus every 15 minutes or half hour, depending on the route. An express service (which makes limited stops) runs on the most heavily-travelled routes such as Princess Street, Kingston's main street. Local bus fare is $2.75 one-way, effective January 2014.

It is also possible to rent bicycles and sailboats in Kingston. (Additional providers are in Gananoque and the Thousand Islands.)

Various dive charters run from Kingston (or its suburbs) into the islands:

See

Fort Henry defends Kingston against US military invasion
Bellevue House

Do

St. George's Cathedral
Fort Frontenac

The city also hosts events in summer and fall such as the Jazz Festival, Blues Festival, and Buskers' Rendezvous.

Outside the city

Rideau Canal at Kingston Mills

Buy

Eat

Kingston has one of the highest restaurants per capita of any city in Canada, with restaurants to fit anyone's budget.

Budget

Midrange

Higher

Splurge

Drink

Coffee

Alcohol

There is a relatively healthy pub scene in Kingston with many high quality establishments. Many bars and pubs cater to Kingston's strong university & college student population. All pubs in Kingston are non-smoking.

Sleep

Kingston is separated from Barriefield (the area containing Fort Henry, the military base and the Royal Military College) by the Cataraqui River, part of the Rideau Canal system. Most of the popular Kingston attractions, including the downtown core, are west of the bridge; most travellers therefore seek lodgings in, near or just west of downtown. The few points of interest on the east side include Fort Henry, the military base and its communications museum and a rural woodworking museum.

Highway 401 in Kingston pulls north to cross the Rideau Canal near Kingston Mills, bypassing the city. National chains provide some food, fuel and lodging options at Division and 401 to serve highway travellers on the Windsor-Quebec corridor, but one cannot easily walk to museums, universities, the downtown waterfront, tour boats, ferries or points of historic interest from this area.

Downtown

The area near the downtown waterfront is the most favourable location (as many but not all activities are within walking distance) but also the most expensive. Accommodations range from large chain hotels with full facilities to smaller historic properties, such as the Hotel Belvedère, to a niche market of small but upscale bed-and-breakfast style inns. There is plenty of good accommodation to be had in the downtown and waterfront area if one is willing to pay top dollar.

West of downtown

Kingston's downtown area runs from the waterfront at Ontario Street one mile west-northwest to Division Street. The majority of upscale properties are in the lower (easternmost) part of downtown, near the waterfront area. Most main street motels/hotels from Division west to Sir John A. MacDonald Boulevard, as of 2014, have either closed or been converted to other uses.

Kingston's train station is awkwardly located at the northwestern edge of the city (the tracks were the pre-1998 town line); a few hotels serve this area:

West of the city

West of Sydenham Road, the selection is dominated by low-priced (or at least under-$100) suburban motels on the old Highway 2 (now Princess Street), with many small independent operators. Most west-end motels are on this one main street, in what is now Kingston's fastest-growing suburb. There are no hotels or restaurants at Kingston's tiny airport and relatively little along the 401 this far west.

As the "Kingston Bypass" (built 1956 as what is now Highway 401 km 613 through 623) was not extended west of Sydenham Road until the early 1960s, a large number of motels were built on Highway 2 in the then-rural west end. Suburban development began to spill into the area in the 1980s, with Kingston's currently-largest indoor shopping mall constructed at Princess and Gardiners (near the then-rural Highway 2 and 38 crossroads) in 1982. While the small, independent roadside motels in this area are a throwback to an earlier era, most are reasonably-well maintained (with a few unfortunate exceptions) at moderate prices.

Near the 401 highway

If staying near the 401 (and it may not make sense to do so if the objective is to see Kingston itself), lodging choices are growing but limited. Kingston was built around the Lake Ontario / St. Lawrence River waterfront and around Princess Street. Most popular local destinations (such as Bellevue House, Fort Henry or the museums) are between the main street and the waterfront. The one notable exception is the Rideau Canal, which begins north of the city at Kingston Mills and leads to Ottawa.

West of the city, the old and new roads (2 and 401) are nearly-adjacent in Odessa with one motel and a fuel station between the two highways (401 exit 599, Wilton Road). The roads then diverge as old 2 heads toward downtown Kingston and Highway 401 bypasses the urban area.

One relatively new Motel 6 hotel stands at former Highway 38 and 401 (exit 611) at the edge of the western suburbs. A few moderately-priced chains (Courtyard by Marriott, Holiday Inn Express, Days Inn, Comfort Inn, FirstCanada Inns) are located among a growing selection of fast-food emporiums, highway services and outlet stores at Division & 401 (exit 617).

Further east, across the Cataraqui River (and the Rideau Canal, which begins at Kingston Mills) additional independent motels may be found at the Highway 15 & 401 interchange (exit 623). Highways 2 and 401 reconverge in the east end of Gananoque (exit 648) twenty miles beyond downtown Kingston.

East of the city

Kingston is separated from CFB Kingston and Old Fort Henry in the east by the Cataraqui River and Rideau Canal. The city itself is west. There are a few small motels along the old 2 and 15 highways intended primarily to serve visitors to the Fort.

On Highway 15, motels are typically located near the 401 (exit 623). (See "Near the 401 highway", above). There is fuel at this crossroads but amenities are otherwise somewhat limited. Following 15 northward gives access to the Rideau Canal at Kingston Mills Road.

On Highway 2 (the old Kingston Road) motels are located to the east of Old Fort Henry and CFB Kingston. McDonalds and Tim Horton's are located near Highway 2 at one of the main entrances to the Kingston army base. This road continues eastward through Gananoque, where it crosses the 401 at the western end of the Thousand Islands Parkway near the casino.

In Gananoque, a town of just over 5000 people near the centre of the Thousand Islands region, a selection ranging from small B&B's to hotel/motel chains is available. Leeds and the Thousand Islands has a number of campgrounds available during the warmer months.

Go next

Routes through Kingston

Toronto Napanee  W  E  Gananoque Montreal
Toronto Napanee  W  E  Gananoque Ottawa
Oshawa Napanee  W  E  Gananoque Montreal
Arnprior CR 29 Smiths Falls  N     END
Prince Edward County  W     END


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