Cruising by Kingston & the 1000 Islands

Kingston was on my Canada bucket list, ever since I first read about the Lumina Borealis, an interactive winter night walk with illuminations and stories. And then I read about Wolfe Island and the one of a kind winter channel, which allows ferries to run to and from mainland Kingston even when the lake is frozen! Further research about Kingston, brought up a post about the 1000 islands cruise and how it’s one of the best ways to soak in the autumn colours. Needless to say, I didn’t make it for any of those. But I did finally make it for the 1000 islands cruise in spring.

– 1000 islands ? Surely a misnomer, at best an exaggeration.

– Well no. Not really. The thousand islands are actually part of an archipelago, straddling Canada and USA. There are more than 1,800 islands formed by granite, limestone and sandstone in this cluster in Saint Lawrence river, with some of them being just a tiny piece of land with one tree. Once home to the elite colonisers, some of the bigger islands now have elaborate summer homes and mansions of the rich (and not always) famous.

The city of Kingston itself offers various things to see and do, but I was only interested in the cruise, so we made it a day trip, deciding to make the cruise our priority and visiting only some of the tourist / historic sites.

Getting there:

🚂There are multiple trains leaving from Toronto Union Station to Kingston all through the day. If (like us) you want to do a day trip, you can take the 06:40 train which reaches Kingston by 09:00. We took the 20:41 on our way back, which gave us the entire day to explore the city AND do the cruise.

🚌 You can also take a bus, or even a flight to Kingston…

🚘…and of course, there’s always the option of driving down, if you enjoy that.

Once you’re in the city, you have to :

Find your way to Princess Street, which is where you will find all the lovely restaurants, cafés and shops. I can vouch for the highly recommended Pan Chancho bakery for coffee and some delicious cookies or viennoiseries, even though it was very crowded when we got there (it is really popular and everyone seems to recommend it!).

Explore Kingston City Hall and read about the city’s history. The first capital of the United Province of Canada, Kingston was an important military post, and is still a base for the Canadian Forces. Inside, you can admire the large stained glass windows representing their soldiers who fell in the many wars in which Canada has participated over the centuries.

Visit the Kingston Public Market (open on Tuesdays, Thursdays and weekends) for local specialties and other curios. It’s a great place to pick up a snack while you walk around the city.

Walk up from the city center, past Queen’s university to Agnes Etherington Art Centre, before visiting Bellevue House National Historic Site of Canada, home to Canada’s first Prime Minister Sir John Alexander Macdonald.

Take the 1000 islands cruise – you can choose between a shorter 90 minute cruise 🚢 or a longer 3 hour cruise, which also has the possibility of a 3 course lunch. We took the Heart of the Island lunch cruise on the Island Queen. The ship sails down from Kingston, leaving lake Ontario to enter Saint Lawrence river, past hundreds of islands towards Gananoque, before turning around and heading back to mainland. As we worked our way through the buffet meal, we feasted our eyes on the picturesque islands, most of which are home to gorgeous island homes.

Leaving behind Lake Ontario, to enter Saint Lawrence river and sail past Wolfe Island.

This would indeed be a wonderful way to see the best of the autumn colours in Canada, but I’d recommend this for any season (despite the rather loud commentary in the beginning of the cruise, which made conversation impossible). Go, before the islands disappear under the rising water levels. 
[Random fun fact about the 1000 islands? Apparently the Thousand Island dressing owes its name to this region!]

Make a trip to Fort Henry and the Penitentiary. We wanted to linger on our memories of the islands, and chose not to visit either of these sites, though both come highly recommended, especially since Alias Grace has been filmed at the latter.

Linger over a meal at one of the restaurants, or wind down over a leisurely drink at Stone City Ales on Princess Street, before heading back to the station.

✳️ P.S There is an extremely convenient bus service that runs between the station and the city center, and everything else can be done on foot, so please resist the urge to pull out your Uber app!

✳️ ✳️ P.P.S If you decide to stay longer in Kingston, you can also do the Haunted Walk and visit Frontenac Provincial Park…or even visit Wolfe Island for a true island experience!

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