This post was most recently updated on July 9th, 2019
Perhaps, like me, you have never heard of Kingston, Ontario…until now, anyway. Of course I had definitely heard of Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal, and Quebec City. They were the larger cities I based my epic Canada road trip on. But you can only do so much driving in one day, and eventually you’re going to end up stopping midway between two of these cities for a break — maybe for lunch, maybe for dinner, or maybe even for a stopover. That’s what happened to us, and that’s how I discovered Kingston, Ontario.
How did it start?
Do you really want to know? My husband and I had never been to eastern Canada, and it seemed like a great place to explore. It was cheaper to fly into Toronto than to Quebec City, so we decided to start there. We planned to fly to Toronto, rent a car and make our way east, then fly home from Quebec City. That was…until we saw the penalty we’d be charged for leaving our rental car in a different city — $1000.00 CAD! There was no way we’d be paying that.
Plan B: Kingston, Ontario and Lord Nelson Motel
Plan B was to make a big loop from Toronto to Quebec City and back again without doing all of the driving in long days at the beginning and end of the trip. It really helps make a long road trip more do-able if you split up the driving into one, two, and three-hour stints. Plus, you get to see more towns and explore a little more territory that way. So you start asking yourself questions like, “What town is about an hour from the Toronto airport? (Port Hope) or “What is about an hour from Montreal? (Lanoraie) and “What is about halfway between Montreal and Toronto? (Kingston) Ah-hah! That’s how Kingston, Ontario came up on our radar!
Since this was really about getting from point A to point B, I prefered not to stray too far from the major highway near Kingston. We’d have to get up early the next morning and hit the road. While perusing the map I spotted a smaller family-run motel right off of Highway 401. Bingo! What attracted me to the Lord Nelson Motel?
Lord Nelson Motel
First of all, I almost always prefer a smaller place. It seems more personal to me. I like family-run lodging because it feels more inviting — it’s as if they’re welcoming you into their “home”. And when the owner of the motel is the one checking you into your room, he’s going to be more attentive and concerned for your welfare. I also love a good motel where you can drive up and park free right next to your room — also just like at home.
Don’t be misled by this small motel, because I was pleasantly surprised by how nice our room was! And I couldn’t find a better location for getting off and on Highway 401 to continue our road trip. (And yet, it wasn’t noisy.) Besides having a spacious room with a VERY comfortable bed, free wi-fi, nice shower, mini refrigerator with ice, a power strip for charging our phones, and chocolates set out on a welcome tray, the motel also had a nice park-like space that included a barbecue, hammock, and ping-pong table. I was beginning to rue the fact that we had to leave so early the next morning. Also, right next door was a gas station/convenience store called Mac’s, where I was able to pick up a few things I needed. Oh, and did I mention our room had a small balcony?
The Lord Nelson Motel was perfect for our stay. There’s probably always room for improvement, but I couldn’t think of anything I needed that was lacking. While there are certainly many other accommodations available in the heart of Kingston, this motel provided a quiet respite from our road trip and a very comfortable night’s stay. And I should add that Lord Nelson Motel gets rave reviews from other guests on TripAdvisor and has very reasonable rates. (King bed room only $82 CAD, and still well under $100 with taxes)
Don’t Forget Kingston!
If you do want to explore Kingston, it’s a little over 5 miles and a 13-minute drive away from Highway 401. I highly recommend it. Even though it hadn’t been on my radar, I found myself there at the end of a long day of visiting Montreal and driving about 3 hours. I was tired and really wanted to just relax in our motel room, but my sense of curiosity got the best of me, and we decided to go for a drive and check out the center of Kingston. Because you do have to at least take a picture of a town’s name sign, right? There’s so much more, too!
On the way into Kingston, we stopped at the Fort Henry National Historic Site. It was closed for the season, which is too bad, because it would have been a fascinating place to visit. It was originally built during the War of 1812, and today you can take guided tours, see a flag ceremony, a cannon firing, military parades, and learn about life in 1867. Fort Henry is open May 20 – September 4, from 9:30 am to 5:00 pm, Adult tickets are $20.
Royal Military College of Canada
We also passed the Royal Military College of Canada, which sits on the original site of the Royal Naval Dockyards during the War of 1812. It’s a beautiful campus in a gorgeous location. As we drove past, we saw military students jogging alongside the road. It seemed that the presence of the Military College makes Kingston a safer and more interesting place to visit!
The heart of Kingston
Highway 2 led us right to a waterfront area in Kingston…where we found a beautiful little marina and park (Confederation Park) with the Kingston sign, Visitors Center, a train, a fountain, and historic information. We also discovered Springer Market Square, where public farmers’ markets are held regularly…and Kingston’s grandest building, the City Hall, built when Kingston was Canada’s capitol in 1844. I was intrigued by the Martello Towers we saw — one in the marina and one near Fort Henry. They are small round defensive towers built across the British Empire in the 19th century.
Kingston is a very picturesque town, with lots of historic buildings and some fun restaurants and boutique shops. We decided to catch a bite to eat at Dianne’s Fish Shack right on the corner of Clarence and Ontario Streets. I was disappointed the patio wasn’t open for dining because we would have had great views of the marina from there. But the fish was great, and the atmosphere, too.
Are you convinced?
After dinner, we strolled the quiet streets nearby. What a pretty little town! I imagine it holds many more treasures, and this was one of those times I wished I could change my itinerary and stay longer to explore. It was a nice change after being in the much-bigger city of Montreal. And this is why I say “don’t forget Kingston, Ontario!” when you make your plans to visit Canada. Here are my parting shots of Kingston:
What do YOU think? Would you like to visit Kingston?
Note: I’d like to graciously thank Josef at the Lord Nelson Motel for offering me a media discount. My review and my opinions are my own, and I chose Lord Nelson Motel for its merits.
Please share these pins with others who might also enjoy Kingston:
Kingston was beautiful and the motel was great! We got so many great photos and it was a perfect night for strolling.
Those shots of Kingston at night are beautiful!! What a lovely adventure you had.
Thank you! It was just the remedy after visiting a large city and driving for several hours!
I confess I have never been to Canada! I’m going in May to Quebec City.
You will LOVE it!
The Lord Nelson Hotel sounds divine – it’s always hard to find a good motel with something like a balcony. And that fountain in Confederation Park looks very sleek. I’ve never really thought that a concrete structure could look ‘elegant’.
I would totally visit Kingston. Your pictures really bring out its charm, and I love that for a city it is on the smaller side. Thanks for such a detailed post. I can’t believe they were going to charge $1k to drop the car off at a different location. Highway robbery!
That’s for sure. I’ve seen those charges before in Europe or even in the states, and it’s like $150. But I’d never seen a $1000 penalty before!
Wow, the marina looks so cute! I had never even heard of Kingston, but glad it’s on my radar now! 🙂
Kingston looks so cute. I’m pretty much sold by any city that sits on the water. 🙂 I hate to admit this, but it has been a while since I’ve stayed at a motel. I think it’s because the chain ones seem so dated that I’ve avoided the concept altogether. But, the Lord Nelson Motel has me rethinking that. Perhaps the trick is to find a family-owned property. You can tell that family takes pride in their business and creates an atmosphere welcoming to travelers. Since the Women in Travel Summit will be in Quebec City this coming spring, I’m considering a road trip similar to yours. This post was great inspiration to get planning my trip!
What a delightful find with the Lord Nelson MotelQ I too prefer small family owned motels for the same reasons as you. And so much history to be seen in the surrounding area. One day we. David and I, will holiday in Canada.
We discovered Kingston the same way, traveling from Toronto to Montreal! Your post is spot on, so much charm in this small town. Next time we’ll try the Lord Nelson Hotel sounds just what we’ll love after a long ride.
I’ve never been to Kingston – will have to check it out next time we’re in Canada. Thanks for the inspiration!