Hamilton is only about an hour away from Toronto, making it an ideal weekend getaway. Although you may need a reintroduction if you haven’t been to Steeltown in recent years. The city is slowly shedding its blue collar reputation and embracing an influx of creatives, artisans and foodies.
The landscape downtown is populated with indie coffee shops, restaurants, bars and brewpubs while the outskirts boast numerous geological attractions in the surrounding Niagara Escarpment.
Here’s how to spend 48 hours in Hamilton.
4 p.m. Check-in at your B&B
It’s slim pickings when it comes to hotels ever since the historic Royal Connaught Hotel began converting into condos. The Premier C Hotel by Carmen’s (a Best Western property) might be the next best boutique-y option, but there are ample AirBnB listings for chic private abodes, stylish flats and garden cottages.
5 p.m. Freshen up at Architect Hair Design
Don’t forego happy hour in lieu of primping for a night out. Tackle both tasks at once at Architect Hair Design, Hamilton’s only licensed barbershop. Gentlemen can enjoy a hot towel shave with a beer in hand, but you don’t need to get a haircut to hang out.
7:30 p.m. Dinner on James Street
This lively stretch of the city is a hub for restaurants. At the south end there’s tacos and tequila at Mezcal TNT. At the north end, find fried chicken and BBQ at Salt Lick, plates of kimchi nachos and bowls of ramen at Work Restaurant and delicacies from the stone oven at Lake Road.
10 p.m. Bar hop your way south to Augusta Street
Ease into the local nightlife with post-dinner drinks at Mullberry Coffee House before checking out theBalitmore House. Or head to Augusta Street where you’ll find boisterous bars like The Ship.
9 a.m. Breakfast at Papa Leo’s
Get an early start at this locally famous breakfast joint. Papa Leo’s does all the a.m. standards along with biscuits stuffed with things like double smoked bacon, cheddar, tomato, slaw and ranch, or crispy chicken, kimchi and mozzarella.
10:30 a.m. Go chasing waterfalls
Literally! Hamilton is home to 100-plus waterfalls and cascades accessible through hiking trails and cycling routes. Hop on a SoBi, Hamilton’s social bike share network, then try to track down the 20 biggest falls in the region, each one is over 50 feet tall.
2 p.m. Lunch at the Hamilton Farmers’ Market
Founded in 1837, this year-round marketplace is home to butchers, bakers and produce purveyors galore. Devour a poke bowls at Pokeh Bar and then visit Henry Browns next door. This small-batch ice cream maker offers an ever changing array of flavours, including recent features like white chocolate cardamom, Vietnamese coffee, cotton candy and peanut brittle.
4 p.m. Shop Hamilton
Head to James Street North where you can peruse curiosities at Mixed Media and shop lifestyle wares at La Bichette and Pretty Grit. For vintage goods check out Newolds’s Vintage and O’s Clothes. On Locke Street South, find chic cottage-inspired pieces at Canoe and for vintage sportswear and Hamilton-pride pieces, take a detour to Bodega on Main.
8:00 p.m. Dinnertime on Ottawa Street
Finely crafted cocktails and garam masala spiced chicken skins, devilled eggs and kimchi-pork belly tacos are among the rotating lineup of small plates at Black Sheep Snack Bar. Looking for something more substantial? Try Southern Smoke BBQ next door where pit-smoked ribs, burnt ends and pulled pork are on the menu, or head down the street to Gorilla Cheese for an ooey, gooey sandwich.
11 p.m. Still thirsty?
There’s likely to be live music or a dance party happening at the Casbah or This Aint Hollywood on the weekend. Meanwhile, The Brain attracts a relaxed and lively crowd of beer lovers.
10 a.m. Coffee first
Hamilton might be the birthplace of Tim Horton’s, but there’s no shortage of indie alternatives when it comes to getting a caffeine fix. Get a slow start at Saint James with espresso and breakfast sandwiches, or fuel up for your next adventure with grab-and-go coffee at Smalls.
11 a.m. Soak up a little sun at one of Hamilton’s many green spaces
No need to venture out of the city to work on your tan or do a little yoga in the park. Gage Park is centrally located and boasts gardens and greenhouses. The Royal Botanical Gardens offers trails, canoe launch pads and a newly revamped Rock Garden.
1 p.m. Brunch at the Aberdeen Tavern
Once you’ve worked up an appetite, feast on a Mississippi Benny (that’s pulled pork and Andouille sausage on cheddar cornbread smothered with smoked mustard hollandaise) or cheesecake stuffed French toast at thisindulgent brunch destination.
3 p.m. Sample the local brews
Visit Collective Arts Brewing’s tap room, beer garden and gallery, which showcases all the artists and musicians featured on CAB labels since the company launched in 2013. The brewery offers tours every day in the summer, leaving on the hour, every hour from noon until 5 p.m. Also worthwhile (granted it’s a bit of a scenic detour) is the Shawn & Ed Brewing Company (SHED for short) in Dundas.
4 p.m. Devour a deep dish
Once you stock up on local brews stop in for one last meal in Steeltown and relish in the cheesy, saucy goodness that is a deep dish pie from Chicago Style Pizza. You’ll be back in Toronto in no time (pending traffic on the QEW) and totally hankering for those leftovers that sat on your lap the whole way back.
Do you know Hamilton well? Add your must-see travel suggestions in the comments.
Photos in order: Megan Lorenz via the blogTO Flickr pool, airbnb, Mezcal TNT via Facebook, @pokehbar, Jesse Milns, Jesse Milns, @stjameseatery via Instagram, Collective Arts Brewing via Facebook, @jsscwllc via Instagram.