Winter may be a time where you want to hole up next to a warm fire and drink hot chocolate, but it’s also the perfect time to go on a weekend getaway. Not only is it cheaper, but there are fewer people and who doesn’t love snow city scenes. So bundle up and pack your bags. Next stop is Kingston, Ontario.
Kingston was Canada’s first capital city located right on Lake Ontario in the eastern portion of the province. Known for its limestone buildings, gorgeous water vistas and the nearby Thousand Islands region. Kingston in winter can be a pretty magical place, so here is the best way to spend a winter weekend in Kingston.
The first thing you’re going to want to do is pick up your K-Pass. This is your key to all the fantastic things to do in Kingston. In winter, this pass is $49.95 plus tax and gives you access to Improbable Escapes, Little Cataraqui Creek, the VR Hut, and many more. With the K-Pass you can get discounts at numerous restaurants in the city as well as tours and the magical Lumina Borealis light festival.
A k-pass is valid for three consecutive days, so you’ll have lots of time to do all the wonderful things in the city.
Walk to the wintery waterfront
Kingston’s main attraction is its proximity to Lake Ontario. It’s steps away from the lake, which freezes significantly in the winter.
Take a walk along Waterfront Pathway/ Rideau Trail that strolls along the downtown core through Battery Park, MacDonald Park and Breakwater Park. Once here, be sure to marvel at “time” a 1970s art piece that is both loved and hated by residents.
It was built to mark the 300th anniversary of the city in 1973 and stands, shining against the natural landscape.
Related: Winter Camping at Silent Lake Provincial Park
Grab some skates
What’s a winter getaway without a little skating? During the cold winter months, you can skate for free at the Springer Market Square in downtown Kingston. If you didn’t bring skates with you, then no worries. You can use your K-Pass at Trailhead Kingston to get your skate rental fee covered.
You’ll be skating in the shadow of the remarkable Kingston City Hall, a national historic site.
In February, Springer Market Square is basecamp for the city’s FebFest. The event runs all February long. You can dive into some delicious Beavertails (a Canadian delicacy), slip and slide on the ice slides in Boucher Park, take a horse-drawn carriage ride, go snowshoeing, try your hand at curling, watch rival teams battle it out in a hockey championship game, dive into some scrumptious food and more!
Take a wintery stroll through Queen’s University
I may not be a university student anymore, but I had the opportunity to get the inside scoop on Queen’s University from two Queen’s alumni.
Queen’s is a stunning campus – totally jealous over here – with some pretty interesting traditions. If you take a tour, make sure to spot the engineering students and their purple leather jackets.
Tops spots to see are Douglas Library, Gordon Hall and Ontario Hall. You’ll understand the meaning of “Limestone City.”
Related: See the enchanting sculptures in Gatineau, Quebec
Check out an escape room
With your winter K-Pass, you can get locked into one of the outdoor adventures at Improbable Escapes. They have a featured game for free with the K-Pass, or if you would rather go inside and try one of the other games, they are $10 off.
We mistakenly tried the terrifying Coroner’s Report – a mix of haunted house and escape room. To be honest, it was too much for the four of us, who hate scary movies and that sort of thing.
I would have liked to try one of their other rooms instead, but it didn’t work out. However, don’t give up on them. They have incredibly detailed escape room games with all types of adventures ranging from easy to difficult.
Explore Kingston by trolley
Even in winter, the fantastic red trolley can take you on a tour of Kingston’s top sights.
If you bought a K-Pass, then the trolley is free! It leaves from Waterfront Gifts and Apparel near City Hall.
Tours take you on an adventure through Kingston’s history including stops at City Hall, Royal Military College of Canada, Fort Henry, Bellevue House, Queen’s University, Kingston Penitentiary and more.
Unfortunately, due to a raging winter storm, we missed the trolley tour. I’m hoping to head back soon to take advantage of this neat mode of transportation!
Related: Three days in Quebec City
Get a bite to eat
As I mentioned before, purchasing a K-Pass will get you deals at numerous places in Kingston. We chose Atomica, and I had the most delicious ravioli!
The K-Pass will get you $10 off $50 spent at Aquaterra, Atomica, Chien Noir, Dianne’s Fish Shack, Harper’s Burger Bar, The Work’s, Kingston Food Tours and Windmills.
Get mesmerized by Lumina Borealis
(2019 update) Lumina Borealis was cancelled in Kingston due to lack of funding.
Finish off your night with the most fantastic winter experience you will ever have. The former military base, Fort Henry, is transformed into a magical winter oasis, allowing you to unlock the mystery.
As the story goes:
“A long time ago anyone could see the beauty of winter. But as the greater world became distracted with greater stories, only children kept a warm heart for the cold season. Left out in the frost, the spirit of winter found shelter in Fort Henry.
“One night, as winter transformed into a wolf howling at the moon, the wind asked why it was crying. ‘My beauty is invisible to most humans,’ said winter. ‘What is your beauty?’ the wind asked. ‘Only a warm heart can see it’ the spirit responded.
“That night the spirit of winter found a new purpose. It decided never to leave Kingston and to take all its beauty to Fort Henry. Transformed into a deer, it whispered a spell at the wind, concealing behind a magic veil all the secret wonders of the cold season. ‘Only those who keep a warm heart will be able to lift this veil!’ said the spirit as he waited for guests to arrive.” – Lumina Borealis
I was lost for words in the beauty of the entire light show and event. You could interact with each “exhibit” as you move to break the spell and discover the secret of winter.
This was by far the best experience I had in Kingston. The Lumina Borealis light festival is only on from December 1 to mid-February.
Winter may make you want to hibernate, but it can also be a great way to get out and explore the places around you, like Kingston, Ontario!
Q: What are some wonderful winter escapes near you?
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