About six or seven years ago, Hamilton, Ontario, would have been considered a hidden gem by some, but one local business owner says the area, though still a gem, isn’t so hidden anymore.
“There’s a vibe that hasn’t been here for so many years that is here now,” said Mark Wilson, owner of Ye Olde Squire restaurant, which has three locations in the Hamilton area. He says Hamilton has experienced a resurgence in recent years, thanks to growing development and the city’s investment in the waterfront.
Located along the western edge of Lake Ontario, Hamilton boasts a diverse collection of attractions, ranging from downtown arts events (for the more culturally-minded traveler) to trails and waterfalls (for the more nature-minded types). The best way for a Fort Worthian to get there, according to the City of Hamilton’s tourism and culture division, is to take a flight to Toronto and drive less than an hour to Hamilton. Another option is to fly to Buffalo, New York. From there, Hamilton is about a 1.5-hour drive.
Travelers seeking luxury accommodations will find rooms with a little historical charm mixed in. The Barracks Inn (thebarracksinn.com), located in Ancaster, just 15 minutes from Hamilton, combines 18th-century design with modern amenities. Suites inside the stone, barracks-style building feature period décor like a Victorian-style chandelier and bathtub – plus Wi-Fi and a 42-inch high-definition TV, of course.
Another option is the historic Osler House (oslerhouse.com) in Hamilton’s Dundas neighborhood. Built in 1848, the restored home of Dundas lawyer William Miller (and later physician William Osler) has been transformed into a bed and breakfast. The house’s largest suite is the 340-square-foot Sir William Osler Room, featuring historic furnishings, antique items and heated flooring.
Plenty of lakefront options can be found on Airbnb – or, if you prefer to be on the lake itself, WaterCraft Inn (watercraftinn.com) is a 55-foot yacht that doubles as a bed and breakfast. Located on Hamilton Harbour, the inn floats over Lake Ontario, and guests can enjoy the view from a 16-foot private deck.
Dining options abound in the city, and as of recently, the local restaurant scene has been booming, Wilson says. Locke Street, in particular, is home to several chef-driven restaurant concepts like Earth to Table: Bread Bar, which serves dishes like Mac & Cheese Gratin, Apple & Bacon Pizza and quinoa veggie burgers. Another Locke Street resident, Mattson & Co., is a high-end eatery that regularly hosts live jazz sessions. Open for brunch, lunch and dinner, Mattson & Co.’s offerings include mussels, clams, lamb and chicken, along with a menu of vegan and gluten-free items.
Another street making a buzz in the Hamilton food scene is King William Street. A couple King William favorites are The Mule, a Mexican joint serving an entirely gluten-free taco menu, and Berkeley North, a modern diner with a menu listing plates like Eggs Benedict + Smoked Salmon and Alaskan King Crab Pasta.
If there's anything Hamilton isn't short on, it's water. In fact, it’s known as the Waterfall Capital of the World, with more than 100 waterfalls to visit. Most of the falls can be seen along the Niagara Escarpment and Bruce Trail. The trail offers a two-day guided walk in which hikers can view 19 waterfalls, as well as a five-day walk to view 28 waterfalls. Another famous waterfall, Devil’s Punchbowl Falls, reaches at more than 100 feet, dropping from a bowl-shaped cliff with red and bluish-green layers that almost resemble a rainbow.
For daredevils, a visit to the falls is best saved for winter. ONE AXE Pursuits, an outdoor recreation company based in Ontario, offers visitors the opportunity to climb the ice at Tiffany Falls when it freezes in the winter. The activity is open to beginning climbers, and all equipment is provided.
But there’s a lot to see closer to civilization as well. Downtown Hamilton is well in tune with the arts, home to dozens of museums and performance venues. Every second Friday of the month, James Street North hosts Art Crawl, a festival that lines the sidewalks with local art, musicians and vendors.
Hamilton is also full of history, having served as a battle site during the War of 1812. What was once a British military encampment is now Dundurn Castle, a 40-room, 1830s mansion built in Italianate-style. Located on York Boulevard, the site is open for tours year-round. Other landmarks include gothic-style structures like Christ’s Church Cathedral and the Cathedral of Christ the King.
Unlike other parts of Canada, Hamilton isn’t exactly known for skiing, Wilson says, so the best time to visit is the summer. Whether it be hiking by the waterfalls or taking in the art of the city, Hamilton has enough variety to please both the rough and the refined.
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By: Malcolm Mayhew