If like me, you love to explore lesser known areas, Prince Edward County in the southern parts of Ontario, Canada is a place made for you. Expect to find cosy small towns, beautiful beaches, friendly people, and excellent food and wine.
It only took a couple 100 metres after crossing the huge bridge over the Bay of Quinte that I knew I would love my time in Prince Edward County.
The area, almost completely surrounded by Lake Ontario and Bay of Quinte, is one of these places that first captures you with its picture-perfect rural charm. Next, after you get the bearings of the place you start to capture the huge dynamic and high spirits that are evident everywhere.
Located around two hours from Toronto and around three from Montreal and Ottawa, Prince Edward County has become a highly popular getaway for those living in the nearby cities.
Whilst they might have come initially for the beaches, more recently visitors are flocking to Prince Edward County thanks its rapidly growing wine business and the expanding tourism offer, especially the arrival of innovative chefs opening new restaurants.
If you are planning a trip to Prince Edward County, below you will find some interesting things to do and places to visit in the area.
History of Prince Edward County
Though the first settlements in the area appeared more than 2,000 years ago as some archaeological sites reveal, Prince Edward County was officially established in 1792 by Lord Simcoe and named after the fourth son of King George III, Prince Edward Augustus. This followed the arrival of British Loyalists – colonists from America loyal to the British crown that were forced to flee their former home during the American Revolutionary War – who started to settle in the area around 1784.
These first settlers started out with ‘100 acres, an axe and a kettle’ which they were granted by the Crown, basing their economy mainly on the predominant resources of the area: maple, cedar, juniper, willow and white pine.
Later on, it was mainly wheat shipped to Britain whilst Prince Edward County became eventually known as the main supplier of barley to the nearby American breweries. A business that came to an abrupt stop in 1890 when a nearly 50% tax on agricultural imports to the US caused the barley market to crash nearly overnight.
Nevertheless, the area remains largely agricultural to this day. Recent additions are the vineyards which have started to flourish since the early 2000s.
How to get to Prince Edward County
If you intend to visit Prince Edward County, you will definitely need a car. The area is completely rural and there is very limited to none public transport.
The only way visiting Prince Edward County without a car is joining a tour operator from either Toronto, Montreal or Ottawa, with most tours starting from the closer Toronto.
However, Prince Edward County is really enjoyed best on your own. The area is easy to navigate and it is really a pleasure driving the country roads taking in the landscape, stopping off at a winery, brewery, art or antiques store, or just leave your car somewhere and hike through the area.
The best things to do in Prince Edward County: What to do and see in Prince Edward County
Picton, Bloomfield and Wellington are the three central hubs of Prince Edward County.
Whilst they are tiny – Picton, the largest has a population close to 5,000 whilst the other just count around 1,000 – all three have lively main streets with lots of small independent shops, cafes and restaurants.
I highly recommend starting out in Bloomfield, especially if your time is limited. The little town is full of wonderful shops selling antiques and art by local artists.
Most of them are located along Main Street where you will find the iconic Kokito Design Store along with many other independent stores selling all sorts of art and design.
Located a bit away from the main street, the Dead People’s Stuff antique store in Bloomfield sells pine furniture, old collectibles, and other antiques.
For more art and artisanal crafts, follow the Prince Edward County Arts Trail to discover independent studios and art galleries featuring a huge range of objects from sculptures, paintings, glass, ceramics, photography and fashion.
There are thirteen members on the trail, mainly clustered around Picton and Wellington all linked through distinctive blue signposts.
Two I highly recommend to seek out are Local Store outside Picton where you will find awesome country-made items from more than 130 artists from around Prince Edward County. The shop itself is located in a restored 19th century barn quite typical for the area.
Oeno Gallery on the grounds of Huff Estate Winery is another gem on the arts trail not to be missed. Alongside the shop it features a huge sculpture garden that is absolutely awesome.
Main Street in Picton is also lined by several independent shops, cafes and restaurants, but perhaps more fascinating are the beautiful stately buildings lining the quieter residential part of Picton Main Street.
Many of the buildings here actually date back to the mid 19th century, which marked a very prosperous time for the area thanks to the cultivation of crop which was then shopped to American breweries across Lake Ontario.
Picton Harbour just off Main Street, is another lovely spot to linger for a while.
Outside the main towns, you will come across many historic wooden barns and farmhouses very characteristic to the rural charm of the area. Several are still dating back to the late 1700s when they were built by the Loyalists.
Nestled more than sixty metres above the Bay of Quinte close to Picton, you will find the Lake on the Mountain. Originally called O-no-ke-no-ga (Lake of the Gods) by the Mohawks, it is kind of a paradox. There is no apparent source of water but it yields a continuous flow of water into the Bay.
While you are there, stop at the Lake on the Mountain resort either for lunch or dinner and an incredible view over Prince Edward Escarpment.
Sandbanks Provincial Park is the world’s largest fresh water, sand bank and dune system; and one of the most popular places on Prince Edward County thanks to its incredible beaches stretching for miles on end.
Despite a tight timetable, a couple of hours exploring the park area was definitely on my to-do-list. Yet unfortunately, the area was closed during my stay due to a recent storm causing severe flooding (which actually followed me around several places during my trip through Ontario).
An absolute must when visiting Prince Edward County is stopping of at some of the areas cute little boutique wineries. The area is one of the newest yet most dynamically growing wine regions in Canada with now nearly 40 wineries mainly spread around Picton, Bloomfield and Wellington.
If a visit to local wineries is part of your plan (and it definitely should be), check out my post A visit to Prince Edward County Wineries.
There have also been a couple of lavender farms opening in the area over the past ten years. Prince Edward County Lavender Farm is open nearly year round. The best time to wander the lavender fields surrounding the farm house is during July when the crops are in bloom; otherwise seek out the lovely farm store selling all sorts of lavender-based products.
The farm also hosts an annual lavender festival during two weekends in July with lots of activities, food and live music. Check out my post Visiting Prince Edward County Lavender Festival for more information.
Where to eat in Prince Edward County
The County is full of awesome places to eat whether you are looking for a quick sandwich, bistro food or fine dining.
The chefs of Prince Edward County have embraced the trend of sustainable and locally sourced field-to-plate food, and wherever you go, you can be sure to be served excellent fresh local produce.
A great place to start your day with a hearty breakfast or a short coffee break or lunch later in the day is Saylor House Cafe in Bloomfield. Located in a historic barn dating back to 1875 along main road, albeit a bit hidden in the backyard, expect freshly baked pastries, breads and sweets along with sandwiches and salads for lunch.
For a great lunch with a view, definitely head to the Lake on the Mountain. On warmer days, the patio at Miller House Brasserie directly overlooking the Bay of Quinte is the perfect place to enjoy artisanal meat and cheese platters served with the most delicious freshly baked bread. It is also a great spot to taste craft beer from Lake on the Mountain Brewing Company and other Ontario craft breweries.
Just across the road, the Inn at the Mountain is open for lunch when it serves paninis and burgers whilst for dinner you can expect hearty dishes based on fresh local ingredients.
Both buildings are part of the Lake on the Mountain Resort and date back to the end of the 18th century.
Other great spots for a light meal are the Vic Cafe in Picton, a cheerful modern diner or Crape Escape (Picton) serving you guessed it all sorts of hearty and sweet crapes.
The Drake Devonshire is perhaps the most hip place for a meal since it opened back in 2014. It is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner serving snacks, paninis, and burgers. The beautiful outside patio nestled directly at the shoreline of Lake Ontario was named one of Canada’s top 100 patios.
If it is for fine-dining you are looking, I highly recommend the restaurant at Merrill House. Chef Michael Sullivan used to work for several top kitchens before he moved to Prince Edward County in 2004, where he is now counted among the best local chefs. It is also the only one between Toronto and Ottawa with a Wine Spectator Aware of Excellence. In addition to the a-la-carte menu the restaurant offers a six course tasting menu on Thursdays.
Another option in Picton is Warring House, where executive chef Nicholas Loshak looks at stops in London, Switzerland and the Bahamas before taking over a job in Ottawa that saw him cooking for two presidents and six prime ministers.
The one place not to be missed visiting Prince Edward County is Slickers Ice Cream. A local institution selling all-natural artisan ice cream which is freshly made every day in small badges. Ingredients are all locally sourced and ice cream is made without any artificial colours or flavours. The huge range includes flavours such as rhubarb ginger, apple pie, campfire cream, chocolate peanut butter and Jack Daniels & chocolate among others. Slickers shops are located both in Bloomfield and Picton.
Where to stay in Prince Edward County
From B&Bs to guest houses, inns, Airbnb’s and luxury hotels, accommodation across Prince Edward County is aplenty. That said, with the growing popularity of the area finding a room can become difficult in particular during peak season.
If you are looking for luxury accommodation, you can’t go wrong with Merrill House in Picton. The 14-room luxury boutique hotel located in a historic 19th century red brick building spotting an absolutely gorgeous interior design is one of the County’s leading hotels. For more information about Merrill House, check out my post Merrill House Review: A luxury country house retreat in Prince Edward County.
The Drake Devonshire is the only outpost of the iconic The Drake Hotel in Toronto. Located just steps away from Boomfield Main Street, the hotel occupies a prime location directly on the shore of Lake Ontario. Opened in 2014, Drake Devonshire occupies a carefully restored former foundry dating back to the 19th century. With only 11 rooms and two suites, the hotel books up quickly so make sure to plan well ahead should you want to stay here.
The Warring House Inn is a charming country inn offering 49 rooms distributed over various historic 19th century buildings. In case you want to learn more about local food, sign-up to the in-house cookery class. Or just enjoy excellent food in the two on-site restaurants.
If you love vineyard stays, The Inn at Huff Estates might be a perfect option. All of the 21 rooms have a private outside patio and their own fireplace but if you go, check out the winemaker suite. A free wine tasting and winery and vineyard tour is included in all room rates
Have you been to Prince Edward County yet? What has been your favourite spot or activity? Let me know about your experience.