A 2-hour drive from Ottawa and about 3 hours from Toronto (172km/107 miles southwest of Ottawa, 255km/158 miles northeast of Toronto), Kingston draws on more than 300 years of history -- a history that includes a brief tenure as Canada's capital city. That rich heritage lingers in grand old limestone public buildings and private residences lining downtown's streets; the city has a gracious air. It's a university town, which makes for some lively culture -- small galleries, good restaurants -- and it's also home to one of the country's biggest jails, the Kingston Penitentiary.
The city is at the confluence of Lake Ontario, the Rideau Canal, and the St. Lawrence Seaway. This position makes for remarkable scenery, best viewed by taking the free ferry to Wolfe Island. Ferries leave at frequent intervals for the sparsely populated island that doubles as a quiet offshore retreat. A stroll along Kingston's waterfront is a must; there are many hotels and restaurants here, as well as marinas, pocket parks, gardens, and a maritime museum.
During the summer, Confederation Park, at the harbor, is the site of blues and buskers festivals, as well as frequent free concerts; in winter, you might catch a local hockey game. Three times a week, a farmers' market assembles behind City Hall in the refurbished Market Square. On Sundays, this space is transformed into a flea market with a few lingering produce stalls. It's all worth exploring at your leisure.