Hamilton is a Canadian port city on the western tip of Lake Ontario, located about an hour’s drive from Toronto. The city is divided by the Niagara Escarpment, a huge forested ridge known to the locals as “the mountain” and dotted with conservation areas and waterfalls. Hamilton is actually known as the Waterfall Capital of the World.
Recently I spent a weekend in Hamilton as part of what my boyfriend and I are calling “Project Home”, where we go to different towns in Ontario for the weekend to explore them as potential places to buy a house and live in. Right now we live in Toronto, which is one of the most expensive cities in the world to live in, so naturally, buying a home here is not an option. So we’re on a quest to find somewhere we love outside of the city of Toronto that we could see ourselves relocating to in the near future.
In my extensive research, asking friends who live in Hamilton, and our actual visit, I learned a lot about the city that I thought I’d share in case you are planning a getaway in Hamilton, or are just looking to gain more information about the city and what to do there.
Where to stay
It’s important to note that in 2001, several smaller towns surrounding Hamilton were merged into the city of Hamilton such as Ancaster, Dundas, and Stoney Creek. These areas are all considered part of the city now, however, they are more suburban and almost feel like their own individual little towns than part of Hamilton. If you are staying for the weekend, you likely won’t want to base yourself this far out, despite these areas being easily accessed by transit and car.
We stayed in Strathcona, we found this neighbourhood to be a very convenient point to base ourselves for the weekend as it was away from the noise of downtown, but still within walking distance to a lot of great restaurants, bars, and things to do. It is also family-friendly, and well located to the beautiful Bayfront Park on the waterfront.
The popular areas of Hamilton, and the more sought-after places to live, are around Locke Street, neighbourhoods like Durand, Beasley, and Corktown. This is a very trendy, family-friendly part of the city, and also a great option if you are looking for an Airbnb to base yourself in for a weekend in the city.
A bit more information on neighbourhoods if you are considering Hamilton as a place to live…
Westdale and Kirkendall areas were beautiful, and as potential home buyers, we loved driving through these neighbourhoods as the houses were historical, gorgeous and had so much character, although significantly out of our budget.
The up-and-coming area of Hamilton would be surrounding Ottawa Street. We really loved Ottawa Street because it was lined with some cute vintage and antique stores. the neighbourhoods around here can really range from adorable, well maintained, to a bit more dingy (however, this can be said for a lot of the city (and any city), there are nice areas, and not-so-nice areas). There were some cute neighbourhoods around Gage Park such as Crown West, Delta West, and Rosedale that we really loved.
To me what I really liked about Hamilton is that being close to “downtown” really didn’t overly matter. There are some great restaurants and bars on the downtown strip, but every area of the city, and every neighbourhood seemed to be based around their own main street which was often lined with restaurants, bars, and cute shops too.
How to get around
Getting around Hamilton is very easy by car. Everything is pretty close together, and you’re never driving more than 10 minutes to get from point A to point B. We found parking to be really cheap and convenient everywhere we went too.
If you’re not into driving, if you’re staying pretty central, like in Strathcona, everything is fairly walkable. The city is also serviced by public transportation and is well connected by Uber, Communauto, and bikeshare and scooters.
Hamilton is also easily accessible by the GO transit system.
What to do in Hamilton
Let’s talk about what to do in Hamilton, Ontario. Here is my sample itinerary on how you can spend two days in the area.
Start your day off by going to the Hamilton Farmers Market. If you are visiting on a Tuesday or from Thursday-Saturday, you can pop by the market between 9 am-4 pm (8 am-4 pm on Saturday) to grab some local produce, meats, cheese, or a quick bite to eat. The market was renovated in 2011 and it is a great spot to start your day.
After the market, you can spend your morning/day doing any of the following:
- Museums & Art: If you are a museum or history-lover, you can plan stops at the Warplane Museum, Dundurn Castle, Museum of Steam & Technology, or the Battlefield House Museum. You can also visit the Art Gallery of Hamilton if that’s your thing.
- Get Outdoors: If you’re visiting during the warmer months, you may want to spend some time in one of the many Hamilton parks. Bayfront Park by the waterfront is the city’s largest park. They also have beautiful cherry blossoms in bloom in the spring! The Botanical Gardens can be a great spot all year round for a little dose of greenery.
- Neighbourhood Hunting: If you’re like us who were trying to get a real feel for the city to maybe live in, we took this time to drive and walk around different neighbourhoods from the list in my “where to stay” section of this article.
- Music & Sports: Hit up a concert or sports game in the city. The FirstOntario Centre sees a number of acts and events throughout the year, and the city is home to a football team (Tiger-Cats), a soccer team (Forge FC), and Toronto Rock (lacrosse).
- Vintage & Antique Shopping: Head to Ottawa Street for vintage and antique shopping. We spent about 2 hours in the Antique Mall there and we could’ve spent so much more time!
Next, let’s stop for lunch. There are some fantastic restaurants in the city of Hamilton many that you’ll find lining the streets of James Street North and Locke Street specifically. Here are some that you may want to check out:
- HAMBRGR: A hamburger joint with multiple locations in the city
- Burnt Tongue: A popular soup shop with multiple locations across the city
- The Mule: A Mexican spot located in downtown Hamilton
After lunch, head out on a brewery tour in the city. Hamilton is home to a ton of local breweries that could supply you with something to do for an entire day if that’s your thing. Here are some that you may want to check out:
- Collective Arts (this is one of the bigger, and more popular breweries in the city)
- Fairweather (west of the city centre right by Grain & Grit)
- Clifford (in the Nashdale neighbourhood)
- Grain & Grit
- Merit (great, downtown location)
- Steel Town Cider (located in the Kirkendall neighbourhood)
End your day by having dinner at one of the above breweries or heading to one of these highly recommended restaurants:
- Berkley North: This is where we went. We did their tasting menu and everything was amazing!
- Castelli’s: Italian restaurant
- Born & Raised: Italian restaurant
If you want to end your night with some drinks, you can hit up one of the above breweries, or you can head to Bar Sazerac or My Father Was Famous. My Father Was Famous is a new speakeasy hidden below a restaurant at 229 James Street North. You’ll need a password to enter which is posted on their Instagram stories the day of.
Start day two off with breakfast or a coffee. I recommend walking up Locke Street as there are a lot of little cute spots to pop into. Locke Street South is also home to the famous Donut Monster, a popular donut spot in the city with gourmet donuts and delicious lattes. If you are looking for a typical breakfast spread, you can also try Saint James Cafe if you find yourself on James Street North.
Here is a great brunch guide if you’re looking for the perfect spot for breakfast
After breakfast, head out for some hiking. There are so many beautiful areas and trails to hike for all levels in the Hamilton area so it’s definitely worth adding it to your list when visiting (if the weather is nice). Here are some routes you may consider:
- Dundas Valley Conservation Area: The Tiffany Falls and Sherman Falls is the most popular route in this area. There is a 3.9km moderate route you can take that covers both
- Spencer Gorge Conservation Area: Dundas Peak has spectacular panoramic views, especially in the fall when the leaves are changing colours. Tews Falls is also a very popular trail
For a full guide on the best hikes in the Hamilton area, visit my friend Lauren’s site, Ontario Hiking here. She also recommends Christie Lake Conservation Area, Borer’s Falls Conservation Area, and Smokey Hollow Falls.
After a hike, reward yourself with some wine. Stoney Creek is actually home to a few wineries, given its close proximity to Ontario’s Niagara region. Head out to any of the following:
That ends your weekend in Hamilton. Hope you enjoyed it! If you have any additional recommendations I left off this list, leave them below in the comments.