The port city of Hamilton sits on the west end of Lake Ontario and is the ninth-largest city in Canada. An hour’s drive south of Toronto and east of Niagara Falls, Hamilton often gets short shrift yet is a worthy destination in its own right. The city with steel-making roots has developed an art vibe in the last decade, with an array of historical and natural delights.
A top attraction in Hamilton is the Art Gallery on King Street, newly remodelled with eye-catching displays and over 9,000 works of art. The gallery inhabits the heart of the city and highlights historical and contemporary Canadian works, as well as European art.
Just off of Main Street is the cobblestone-paved Hess Village, with music venues and bars. At Gown and Gavel, you can dance or simply enjoy the view while sampling Italian, German or Greek specialities.
A one-hour drive east takes you to one of the Seven Wonders of the World, Niagara Falls. On the Canadian side of the border, Horseshoe Falls plummets from a height of 174 feet and stretches 2,201 feet wide. You can marvel up close on Maid of the Mist, which sails you to the base of the thunderous cataract. Elegant Queen Victoria Park is a 10-minute walk north, offering year-round beauty, waterfall views, hanging baskets and Magnolia trees.
You can to return to Hamilton on Queen Elizabeth Way. At Hamilton’s harbor is the Naval Museum for the H.M.C.S. Haida, launched in 1942 and now the last of the Royal Canadian Navy ships known as Tribal Class destroyers.
Things to do in Hamilton include touring Dundurn Castle with its three floors of grandeur and 40 rooms depicting life in the 1850s. This cliff-side mansion features a gift shop, a Victorian kitchen garden and military paraphernalia on display at the Hamilton Military Museum.
Continuing the military theme, you can drive south for 20 minutes to the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum, a top attraction in Hamilton, which displays planes from World War II to the present. An interactive focus lets you occupy a jet fighter cockpit or test your flight skills in a combat simulator.
Five minutes by car on York Boulevard rounds out your sightseeing with more things to do in Hamilton, including experiencing nature’s majesty at Royal Botanical Gardens. This National Historic Site is the largest garden of its kind in the country and a living museum with an arboretum, rose garden and wildlife refuge for birds, coyote, fox and muskrat.
For a chance to view the king of beasts, along with 1,000 other exotic animals, you can head north on ON-5 for 30 minutes toward Guelph and visit African Lion Safari. The park is a favorite with children for the Pets’ Corner, animal shows and drive-through Game Reserves. Alternatively, you can take the Safari Tour Bus instead of your own vehicle.
Digging into the layers of eclectic Hamilton is well worth your while. The only question will be where to start.