There are so many things to do in Hamilton and the surrounding area of southwestern Ontario that we couldn’t fit it all in one page. That’s why we have spread the Hamilton love across a number of pages. So, if you are short on time, check out our highlights below — and don’t miss the rest of our Hamilton City Guide for more in-depth information on the “Hammer”.
The variety of activities and things to do in Hamilton is impressive — particularly considering that this comparatively small city frequently has to compete with the nearby cultural heavyweight that is Toronto. But thanks to lower rents, as well as investment from city hall, small and independent artists, musicians, and businesspeople flourish alongside long-standing institutions throughout downtown Hamilton and the neighbouring towns.
An ideal starting point for your exploration of Hamilton is the Lister Block, at the heart of downtown. One of Canada’s first indoor shopping malls and a key example of early Hamilton’s architecture, the Lister Block underwent significant rebuilding in 2011 and now houses the Tourism Hamilton Visitor Centre, making it the perfect place to learn more about what goes on in Hamilton, your new home.
The Arts in Hamilton: Museums and more
One of the top local attractions is the monthly art crawl, which takes over James Street North on the second Friday of every month. The unique ambiance created by the street art, food, and music is best explored on foot, as shops and galleries stay open late and locals gather to enjoy the atmosphere and artwork.
While Hamilton may have fewer museums and cultural attractions than nearby Toronto, its museums still manage to put on some excellent exhibitions, and receive touring exhibitions as well. Museum-goers won’t be short of things to do in Hamilton.
Quite a few permanent museums in Hamilton focus on local and national military history — the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum is one of the best examples — and a few historic houses are open to visitors as civic domestic museums (highlights include Dundurn Castle and Whitehern).
Hamilton also boasts the second-largest permanent art collection in Ontario — and third-largest in Canada — housed at the Art Gallery of Hamilton.
Parks and gardens are scattered around the city and waterfront; Gage Park, Bayfront Park, and Pier 4 Park are particularly popular. The Royal Botanical Gardens are definitely worth a visit, or several. Home to a dizzying array of plants, many of which are endangered or protected, the gardens are arranged to showcase various environments including greenhouses, a rock garden, and wetlands. Keep an eye on their calendar: seasonal activities like the Lilac Dell in springtime, winter hikes, and educational programs are offered year-round.
A highlight of the social calendar in Hamilton is the Supercrawl, which takes place in September on James Street North. This four-day free festival showcases music, craft, and food, and has been credited with contributing to the revival the local indie arts scene in Hamilton. Another major annual music festival is the Festival of Friends, a free three-day event held in August in downtown Gage Park. You may not have heard of all the performers, but you may discover a new favourite — and it is worth a trip just for the atmosphere alone: over 250,000 people attend each year.
Let’s go Ti-Cats!
Hamilton has just one professional sports team: the Canadian Football League (CFL) team Hamilton Tiger-Cats. On first appearance, CFL action looks just like its US counterpart, the National Football League (NFL), but look a little closer and you’ll see a wider field, an extra player on each team, and teams punting on their third (and final) down. Yep, it’s a similar, but ultimately different, sport altogether – and Hamiltonians turn up in their thousands to Tim Hortons Field east of downtown to cheer on their beloved “Ti-cats”. If you’re looking for thins to do in Hamilton either alone, with friends or as a family, heading to a game is a good option.
Little-league and amateur sports are also popular year-round if you want to keep up your skills or learn a new sport (hockey is a good place to start!).
The Canadian Football Hall of Fame
If going to a Ti-Cats game isn’t quite enough CFL action for you, you can head over to the Canadian Football Hall of Fame, which is conveniently located in the stadium complex. The museum are is a completely redesigned and refurbished 10,000 square foot space in the club level, and here you’ll fine the names and likenesses of those who have entertained and enthralled fans across Canada going back decades.
Shopping in Hamilton
If you are hoping for the classic North American shopping mall experience in Hamilton, you won’t be disappointed. There are several malls downtown — the largest is Lime Ridge — all of which offer a standard selection of national and international chain stores, as well as the classic food court. Some of the largest malls are found outside the downtown core; locals will often make a day trip of it and drive even to the edges of Toronto to get to some of the most popular malls, including Sherway Gardens, Vaughan Mills, and Yorkdale.
The strip mall format is also common, ranging in size from several single-storey small businesses grouped together in a strip, to chain giants in a shopping complex. Expect to see big-box stores such as Winners (a national chain offering discounts on new clothing and homewares), Indigo (Canada’s largest chain bookstore), Home Depot (for DIY needs), Walmart, and grocery stores grouped together with fast-food restaurants and even entertainment offerings such as cinemas and bowling. One of the largest and most comprehensive examples of these suburban strip malls is SmartCentres Ancaster.
This lengthy and stunning hiking trail – the oldest and longest marked hiking trail in Canada – passes through the Hamilton area as it makes its way from the Niagara Peninsula all the way to Tobermory, a small town at the tip of the Bruce Peninsula further north.
The main trail is more than 890 km long, with an additional 400 km of associated side trails.
Hitting the Bruce Trail is a fun and healthy way to spend a few hours, either alone or with family or friends.
Hamilton also nurtures a great variety of independent businesses, many run by local artisans. The city has a growing offering of independent shops selling everything from local gifts to records, clothes, and craft supplies — James Street North, King Street, and Locke Street host some of the highlights. Ottawa Street North, a former textile district and the site of the very first Tim Hortons coffee shop (still in operation), is a firm favourite for antiques shopping and small, independent galleries.
Hamilton and surrounding towns also offer an exciting variety of farmer’s markets for unique local food and more. See our Supermarkets in Hamilton article for more information.
The Cotton Factory also deserves a mention here. This former industrial facility now houses several small companies and artists, in addition to coworking space, and is open to the public once a month as a market showcasing work from artists, makers, and galleries.
Cinephiles won’t be disappointed either. Hamilton hosts a film festival every November, and recently-refurbished independent cinemas the Zoetic and Sherman Avenue Playhouse frequently feature cult classics and new releases. The Zoetic also hosts family and participatory events like sing-a-longs to favourite musicals. Hamilton’s oldest cinema, built in 1914, is currently undergoing renovations and is hoping to open again as the Playhouse.
For real retro fans, don’t miss one of the region’s few remaining drive-in cinemas, the Starlite. Grab some friends (it’s pay-by-the-car on Thursdays) and enjoy a film al fresco. Sadly (although perhaps understandably, given the weather) the Starlite closes during the winter months. Heading to the Starlite is one of the classic things to do in Hamilton, a real throwback to simpler times!
More things to do in Hamilton, Ontario
If you are on Instagram, check out the hashtags #MyHamilton and #hamont. Local brands, businesses, and individuals alike make frequent use of social media to share their special deals, insider tips, and new discoveries.
If we have missed any important things to do in Hamilton on this page, please feel free to contact [email protected]. We’re happy to add your insider tips to this page.