Burlington is often seen as a quick stop while passing through on an Ontario road trip. Well, it’s about time we changed that! With beautiful outdoor spaces, prime waterfront location and a plethora of incredible eats (and treats!), Burlington should be your next overnight destination. While the borders tend to blur in some spots with neighbouring Hamilton and Oakville, that just adds even more reasons to visit due to their close proximity! Let’s dive in and let me show you all of the incredible things to do in Burlington Ontario.
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Fun Things to Do in Burlington Ontario
As I said, many folks treat the city as a pit stop, but this list of activities will show you that Burlington has so much more to offer. If you’re wondering what to do in Burlington, keep reading or check out the Instagram stories from my visit and you’ll see what I mean!
Enjoy a Stroll in Spencer Smith Park
One of the big draws to Burlington is its waterfront location along Lake Ontario. The city has really capitalized on this by building up around this area while preserving a large amount of greenspace so folks can enjoy the beautiful outdoor views!
Spencer Smith Park is a popular spot for folks to stretch their legs. It was named after the former president of the Burlington Horticultural Society as Spencer Smith was instrumental in developing Burlington’s park system. You’ll find plenty of green space, a children’s playground, fountains, sculptures and more. The paved Burlington waterfront trail runs right along the shores and is popular with runners, cyclists and rollerbladers.
RELATED: Spencer Smith Park is also one of the top spots to find cherry blossoms in Ontario! Remember this for later and think about planning a future visit come spring.
Come wintertime, the Rotary Centennial Pond is transformed into a public skating rink. Spencer Smith Park is also home to one of Ontario’s Christmas light displays, the Lakeside Festival of Lights. Taking a stroll to admire the variety of displays is definitely one of the top Burlington winter activities to enjoy!
Explore the Shops at Village Square
One step inside the Village Square and you’ll feel as though you’ve left Burlington entirely. This adorable nook in downtown’s design was inspired by the style of a turn-of-the-century town square. Old school meets new school shall we say as you’ll find vintage building design alongside current lifestyle trends and establishments. Exploring the Village Square is one of my favourite things to do in Burlington!
It’s the perfect spot to start your day, especially during the week. Enjoy the sights as the sun peeks over the buildings, casting a beautiful golden morning glow. Take a little stroll to appreciate the historic architecture and atmosphere, then settle in at Lola Choco Bar & Sweet House.
They have a wide range of tasty treats from freshly baked goods like croissants and scones to cheesecake and gelato. If you’re a fan of macarons, you NEED to try theirs as they’re imported directly from France. You can have a true taste of Europe right here in Burlington! Plus they pair so nicely with a Hawaiian salted caramel latte. Yes, I’m speaking from experience. If you’re in need of something a little stronger, give their Bosnian coffee a try. It’s guaranteed to give you the energy boost you’re looking for!
There are also some fantastic restaurants in Burlington’s Village Square… but more on the city’s yummy eats later in this post.
Soak Up the Sun at Burlington Beach
Looking to put your feet up and enjoy some of that brilliant summer sun? Burlington Beach is the perfect spot to do just that!
Sometimes referred to as The Beachway, here you’ll find 6.8 acres of park space as well as two kilometres of paved trails that link to the aforementioned Spencer Smith Park. It’s easily the most popular spot in Burlington to soak up some rays and is certainly busy on weekends.
SOMETHING TO NOTE: On Saturdays and Sundays from 8:00am to 8:00pm, you must pay for parking at Burlington Beach. Rates are $2.50 per hour or a flat rate of $20.
Burlington Beach is more significant than many realize. Not only is it part of the largest baymouth bar in Ontario but it’s also the only dune habitat in Halton. As such, you’ll find a number of rare plant species here like seaside spurge and sand dropseed. This dynamic beach is in the process of undergoing restoration as it is susceptible to flooding from high lake levels and heavy storms. Volunteers help to remove invasive species and introduce more native ones to help restore this unique habitat. While it’s important to do this everywhere, be sure to pack out what you bring to Burlington Beach!
Get Out for a Paddle
Speaking of Burlington Beach, did you know you can go for a paddle here? You’ll even find rentals on the beach thanks to Maria over at Burlington Beach Rentals! Operating out of the historic Pump House, she offers both kayak and stand-up paddleboard rentals by the hour. I was absolutely impressed with how professional and smooth the process was. Full disclaimer, I did have my own lifejacket but proceeded to rent her gear and had a great time on the water!
While I only enjoyed a quick paddle on Lake Ontario, Maria also offers experiences such as floating meditation, full and new moon beach yoga, and “girlfriend Friday retreats” where you enjoy a full day of fun in the sun with a dedicated spot on the beach in comfy Muskoka chairs, a morning beach yoga class, an hour-long paddle rental, a delicious dessert from a local eatery and a mini SUP or mindful paddle yoga session. That sounds like the perfect girls’ day to me! Check out her website for more details.
If you have your own kayak and are just looking for a spot to launch, you can do so here as well. There is also the option to launch from Sioux Lookout Park as well as LaSalle Marina. I can’t wait to return and see more of Burlington from the water with one of my favourite outdoor activities!
Learn About Burlington’s History at the Joseph Brant Museum
If you aren’t aware, Indigenous peoples have resided on these lands long before European settlers ever stepped foot on them and what is now Burlington came to be. The Anishinaabe, Attiwonderonk (Neutral), Haudenosaunee and Mississauga Peoples traversed these lands, often stopping in this area to rest as they were sustained by the area’s rivers and forests. It wasn’t until the 18th century when colonization began that Burlington began to grow into the city we recognize today.
The Joseph Brant Museum speaks to the numerous eras of Burlington’s history, beginning with its namesake Kanyen’kehà:ka (Mohawk) warrior and statesman, Thayendanegea. From his pivotal role in the 1800s, you’ll learn about the many phases Burlington has gone through since then.
You’ll also find the travelling exhibit, Health and Space, that was developed by the Canada Aviation and Space Museum in collaboration with the Canadian Space Agency. Hurry though as it’s only there until September 21, 2021!
Enjoy a Chocolate Experience at Miss Bailey Brown
You may think of Miss Bailey Brown as a chocolate shop but it is honestly so much more than that. When a business is born of a chocoholics anonymous tea party – you know you’re in for a real treat. When Natasha aka Miss Bailey Brown herself challenged herself to make truffles for her friends, little did she know that it would snowball into what you see today.
Leave the classifications of milk and dark chocolate behind as you hop on the flavour train that will “punch you in the face”. Okay, not literally but these flavour profiles are unlike anything you’ve seen before! The staples like her namesake flavour Miss Bailey Brown (Irish cream and brownie) won’t change but you’ll always see something new like icewine and ginger, Spanish coconut latte and ube bubble tea. If you’re really looking for something unique, order her Avant-Garde collection with truffle flavours like cranberry, goat cheese and basil along with marshmallow, caramel and prosciutto. The best part about them all though? Each truffle is absolutely decadent, not overpoweringly sweet and just bursting with flavour.
While she had to pivot to more of a bakery setting due to provincial limitations with everything that’s been happening, shes’ returning to her roots with Ontario reopening. Big things are coming like open mic chocolate jams on the first Friday of every month, some soul food Saturdays and possibly even some Sunday jazz brunches. If you’d still like to enjoy some delicious doughnuts and cinnamon buns, don’t worry – they’re here to stay. So stop by and treat yourself to some soul food!
Indulge your Sweet Tooth with Sunshine Doughnut Co
One of the most iconic sights in Burlington is the 30-foot floating pink doughnut in the sky – yes, you read that correctly.
Sunshine Doughnut Co opened in 2016 with the mission of finding the freshest, sweetest ingredients to bring sunshine to the city. What better way to do that than with a delicious doughnut?! Each one is handmade fresh daily with constantly changing flavours and iconic colours. The bright blue icing of their cookie monster doughnut or the bright teal of their over the rainbow doughnut is sure to put a smile on your face.
You’ll want to make sure you get there early though, especially on weekends. It’s not uncommon for Sunshine to sell out by noon!
Enjoy the Epic Views from Mount Nemo Conservation Area
You’ll find a peaceful paradise along the Niagara Escarpment just 15 minutes from downtown Burlington. Mount Nemo Conservation Area is one of Conservation Halton’s parks and features some breathtaking views as you explore the park’s 5 kilometres of trails. You can see as far as Toronto on a clear day!
You won’t be surprised to see the iconic Bruce Trail blazes as you wander through the beautiful forest. Strap on a sturdy pair of shoes as some spots can be a little tricky with uneven terrain. Otherwise, the trails are fairly easy and make for a perfect nature break. Oh, don’t forget to pack some bug spray as the odd deer fly may torment you en route from the parking lot to the trails!
SOMETHING TO NOTE: Reservations in advance are required for visiting Mount Nemo Conservation Area. You can book yours online here. You can even book the day of as long as there’s availability!
My visit may have been in the summer but I already can’t wait to visit again come fall and winter. The colours will be absolutely spectacular in autumn and I guarantee the area will look like a Christmas card with a fresh bout of snow!
Quench Your Thirst at Nickel Brook Brewing Co
Founded in 2005, Nickel Brook has been at the forefront of Ontario’s craft beer movement. Named after the owner’s children, they have beer down to a science as premium ingredients intermingle with ingenuity to create iconic, award-winning brews.
Chances are you’ll recognize their Cause & Effect Blonde and Naughty Neighbour APA as they’re some of the most popular beers in the province, however I believe their seasonal, specialty beers are truly what makes them shine. Good things come out of their small-batch facility, the Funk Lab. Nickel Brook also has an immense barreling program where they age beer in over 400 wine, whiskey, gin and tequila barrels!
When you visit, don’t just grab a pint but rather a flight. That way you can truly enjoy the brew-licious expertise Nickel Brook has to offer. One taste and you’ll see why Burlington is so proud of them!
Wander Through the Royal Botanical Gardens
Did you know Ontario is home to Canada’s only royal botanical gardens? RBG is also Canada’s largest botanical garden, protecting over 2400 acres of wetlands, forests and important ecosystems for 80 years now. It attracts thousands of visitors year-round as it’s a popular place to go for a hike, offering some of the top trails in Hamilton as well as Burlington.
The Royal Botanical Gardens have six distinct areas for visitors to explore: Hendrie Park, the Rock Garden, Laking Garden, the Arboretum, the RBG Centre itself and Cootes Paradise. One visit certainly isn’t enough, making RBG a Burlington destination you’ll want to return to again and again!
RELATED: For a true taste of what it has to offer, check out my full guide to the Royal Botanical Gardens.
On Thursday nights during the summer, RBG has their Rock at the Rock event series which is not to be missed! Stroll through the gorgeous rock gardens as you enjoy music from various eras of the genre. Each week is a new decade so take a look online for the schedule to enjoy the gardens with your favourite jams I went on 60s night and it was certainly a groovy experience!
Explore Downtown at Night
As the sun begins to set, the vibe in Burlington changes. Of course, there are adorable spots like the Village Square that are cute no matter what time of the day you visit, but the city takes on a whole new light – literally!
Take a stroll along the waterfront and check out the Brant Street Pier. Climb the stairs towards what is referred to as the “beacon” for some of the best views of the city. The Brant Street Pier includes a number of environmentally friendly features like a wind turbine to generate energy to power the energy-efficient LED lights!
FUN FACT: The colours of the Brant Street Pier aren’t always random, they often signify a certain day or are lit in honour of something. Take a look at the schedule here to see if you’ll be treated to a specific colour!
Along the pier, you’ll also notice a plaque with handprints. Before the Brant Street Pier was unveiled in 2013, the city gave children across the city the opportunity to leave a lasting impression on this unique part of Burlington. 444 entries were received with one name drawn from each of the city’s six wards and a seventh name from the city at large. These seven children will forever leave their mark on Burlington!
More Places to Go in Burlington & Nearby
This is just the tip of the iceberg of all the great things to do in Burlington! If you’re looking for more ideas of how to spend your time in town, here are a few more suggestions of Burlington attractions to experience.
Experience the Longhouses at Crawford Lake Conservation Area – As I mentioned earlier, these lands have been home to Indigenous communities since time immemorial. From 1973 to 1987, archeological work uncovered 11 longhouses and over 10,000 artifacts from a historic Iroquoian village. Three of these longhouses have been reconstructed based on the findings and it’s a great place to learn about Indigenous traditions, art and culture. You’ll also find beautiful hiking trails and one of Ontario’s few meromictic lakes.
Check Out a Burlington Farmers Market – There are not one but two farmers’ markets in town! There’s the Burlington Lions Farmers Market located in the Prospect Street parking lot at Burlington Centre. Running for over 60 years now, you’ll find a plethora of goodies on Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays from 8:00am until 2:00pm. Then, there’s the decade-old Centro Garden Farmers’ Market on Sundays from 9:00am until noon. Start your day right with some fresh eats and local treats!
Visit the Art Gallery of Burlington – Described as a place of intersection, Burlington’s public art gallery also serves as a community centre. Creators, cultures and communities mix and mingle in the spirit of creativity. The gallery has accumulated over 4,000 ceramic works – the largest collection of contemporary Canadian ceramics in the world! You’ll find highly functional pieces to more sculptural installations within the collection. A visit to the art gallery is another one of the fantastic free things to do in Burlington!
Hike Bronte Creek Provincial Park – Residing on the border of Burlington and Oakville, Bronte Creek Provincial Park was established in 1972 to preserve the creek valley as well as the history of the area’s local agricultural practices. You’ll find a number of things to see and do within the park including five hiking trails, a children’s farm, a disc golf course, cross-country skiing in the winter months, and various interpretive programs throughout the year. With all these activities, Bronte Creek Provincial Park is one of the top things to do in Burlington for families!
Step Back in Time at Ireland House Museum – Dating back to the late 1830s, Ireland House at Oakridge Farm was once home to one of Burlington’s earliest settlers, Joseph Ireland. He emigrated from England in 1819 and his descendants lived on the homestead until 1985. The City of Burlington purchased the property and restored it to create the museum. It now depicts three distinct generations of Irelands who lived in the house: the 1850s, 1890s and 1920s. While it is currently closed due to local restrictions, keep it on your list for a future visit.
Explore Paletta Lakefront Park – While the Paletta Mansion is closed to the public and only available for events, the park itself is divided into two distinct areas. You’re welcome to explore the 14 acre Shore Acres Creek heritage park that blends open spaces and wetlands. Wander the waterfront trails and pathways where you’ll enjoy access to the lakeshore and incredible panoramic views of Lake Ontario. Don’t miss the Discovery Trail that will take you past one of the only flood plains of its kind that remain along the Halton Region shoreline.
Burlington Restaurants to Eat At
You probably wouldn’t think of it as a foodie destination but there are a number of Burlington culinary experiences to be had! With a wide range of cuisines scattered across the city, you won’t go hungry at these top Burlington restaurants.
Barra Fion Tapas & Barrel – Looking for a taste of Spain? Barra Fion has you covered! Their menu consists of mainly small, shareable dishes that make it perfect for a romantic date night in Burlington or a girls’ night on the town – especially with their extensive wine list. Every dish is incredibly fresh and flavourful with tasty eats such as grilled calamari, patatas bravas, white wine garlic mussels and paella. I hadn’t had paella since my trip to Europe back in 2011 and it was absolutely incredible!
Familia Fine Foods – As soon as you step inside Familia Fine Foods, you feel as though you’re family. This welcoming space Luis and Juliana have created allows you to not just enjoy a healthy, scrumptious meal but a moment to take a breath during your busy day. Their passion for food and hospitality spans decades and it shines through in every aspect of Familia Fine Foods. On Saturdays, they offer a Colombian menu with traditional lunch recipes from all over the country. If you’re unsure of what to order, I highly recommend one of Familia’s bowls – there’s a reason why it’s their top seller!
Son of a Peach – Located on the edge of Village Square, what originally caught my eye was the name. I heard about Son of a Peach months ago and had it on my radar so when I was in town, I KNEW I had to try it. If you’re a fan of pizza, then you MUST go to Son of a Peach! The dough is made in-house and their ingredients are sourced from as close to Burlington as possible. With a wide range of combinations from squash and kale to spicy salami and wild honey, there’s bound to be a combination you’ll adore.
Port House Social Bar & Kitchen – Previously known as the Beaver & Bulldog, it has since been transformed into one of the top patios in Burlington! Overlooking the gorgeous Brant Pier, this contemporary eatery serves up local pub fare with flair. You have staples like burgers and tacos but then modern eats like their Korean BBQ salmon with coconut rice, sugar snaps, edamame, sesame and bok choy. Don’t forget to check out their cocktail menu as these drinks pair perfectly with a patio seat in the sun.
This is just a small sample of the amazing restaurants in Burlington to dine at. I can’t wait to return again and explore even more of the city’s fantastic eats!
Where to Stay in Burlington
Like I said, Burlington isn’t just a pit stop – it deserves some quality time! I’ll be honest in that I never really thought of treating the city as a destination, but my mindset sure has been changed. If you’re wondering where to stay in Burlington, I fully recommend the Courtyard by Marriott Burlington/Oakville!
This beautiful hotel is just two years old and is located on the border of Burlington and Oakville. This bright, spacious hotel features an on-site restaurant, fitness centre and shared bar/lounge area in the lobby. If you’re planning a family getaway, you can book a time at their indoor pool to keep the kiddos happy! Concerned about arriving late in the evening? Not to worry as the Courtyard by Marriott Burlington/Oakville has a 24-hour front desk so you can check-in at any time. Oh, and I’d be amiss not to mention the gorgeous outdoor patio space for guests to enjoy!
You’ll feel right at home in their sleek, modern rooms as you settle in for your overnight stay in Burlington. Each room features a mini-fridge, safe, in-room coffee maker and your usual bathroom amenities. However, one thing I LOVED was that you could pair your phone with the in-room flat-screen TV, meaning you didn’t have to touch the remote if you didn’t feel comfortable! While their cleaning protocols are top-notch, the remote is still one of the germiest spots of a hotel room so I was extremely impressed with this feature.
After a long day exploring the city, your body will thank you as you sink right into their cozy beds. Courtyard by Marriott is always known for its superior comfort and this location is no different. I could feel the stress in my muscles leaving as I snuggled into cozy sheets and mountain of pillows. Plus I was thrilled to enjoy a view of Bronte Creek Provincial Park from my window!
While my stay was short at just one night, I had a wonderful time at the Courtyard by Marriott Burlington/Oakville and would stay again in a heartbeat. Take a look and see what others have to say about their experience or if you’re ready to visit Burlington, book your hotel room today! In case the Courtyard by Marriott Burlington/Oakville is booked for your dates, take a look at these other fantastic Burlington hotels for your visit.
Ready to Explore Burlington?
As you can see, there are so many fantastic places to visit in Burlington. While yes, the city makes a great day trip destination, there’s nothing like a short drive to your hotel room after a long day of exploring. Treat yourself to a getaway and start planning your weekend in Burlington!
This post is brought to you in partnership with Tourism Burlington. While I was compensated for many of these activities, all of the content and opinions here are honest and speak to my personal experience!
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