With an abundance of natural beauty, small-town charm, wineries and culinary offerings, there are plenty of things to do in Prince Edward County.
This region in southeastern Ontario, also known as The County, is often compared to its more famous sister, Niagara-on-the-Lake, but there are notable differences. Whereas Niagara-on-the-Lake is a town in itself, The County is made up of three: Picton (the hub), Wellington and Bloomfield. It’s quieter, less commercialized and more affordable.
As an area with its own arts trail, it has more character too. This island is a special destination to many Ontarians and was even named one of the best places to visit by Travel + Leisure magazine.
So my visit of three days that should have been seven left me and my friend wanting more. More beach. More food. More wine.
Which is why I’ve returned to The County again and again, and my friend purchased a cottage just weeks after our first visit. It’s become my favourite weekend escape from Toronto.
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In this Prince Edward County travel guide, I offer my list of favourite things to do, where to eat and drink, and where to stay.
Things to Do in Prince Edward County
I’m smitten with the warm residents, well-preserved country homes and shops filled with retro art and handcrafted products.
I love browsing the goods at Frugal & Company (Picton), a retro shop and take-out cafe filled with an array of vintage paraphernalia.
I’ve also spent a half-hour in Kingston Olive Oil Company sampling extra virgin olive oil flavoured with Tuscan herbs, chipotle and black truffle, and aged balsamic vinegar infused with everything from red apple to dark chocolate. The flavour combinations here are endless!
My biggest dilemma was choosing which ones to buy as gifts and, of course, for myself but the staff helped me decide (thanks, Jackie).
To find all things County-made under one roof, I sometimes stop at the Local Store (Picton), a shop located in a restored 19th century barn.
It’s a good thing the space is enormous because the owners pack a lot in there, including: art, jewellery, woodwork, linens and edibles. The Local Store showcases and promotes the work of over 130 artists and artisans from Prince Edward County. But it’s not just for shopping — upstairs is a spacious hayloft for antiques, a gallery filled with original oil paintings and a children’s area.
L’epicerie Maison Depoivre (Bloomfield) is also worth checking out for Europe-imported, gourmet food.
Sandbanks Provincial Park
Imagine a spruce-fir forest, Caribbean beach and the North African desert, and you have Sandbanks Provincial Park, home to some of the largest, most beautiful beaches in Ontario with powder sand that feels like velvet to the feet.
Outlet Beach is the closest beach to the park entrance. Travel mid-week in May and it will be nearly deserted.
Deeper into the park is Dunes Beach, the largest freshwater sand bar and dune system for which the park is named. On the edge of Lake Ontario, these steep, undulating formations of golden sand reach up to 25 m high. Of course, the dunes are modest compared to the Sahara or Jordanian desert but for someone who’s lived in flat Toronto most of her life, this was a welcome discovery in my own province just two hours outside the city.
Keep in mind Sandbanks Provincial Park sees a lot of activity June-August but, during mid-week in the spring and later in the fall, it’s amazingly quiet.
One day, I’d like to explore Sandbanks Beach – I’ve read this third beach most closely resembles a tropical waterfront.
Drive Along the Country Roads
Summer is a fantastic time to visit Prince Edward County but don’t forget autumn. Drive along the winding country roads to take it all in.
In October, I love the cool, crisp air and the multicoloured foliage: vivid hues of tangerine, gold and scarlet.
Lake on the Mountain
Just a 20-min. drive from Picton, high above the Bay of Quinte is Lake on the Mountain, a mysterious body of water that isn’t connected to Lake Ontario whatsoever. How did it come to be? No one knows but it’s one of the most scenic areas of The County.
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Take the time to sip beer or a glass of wine on the patio of The Miller House Cafe-Brasserie (part of the Lake on the Mountain Resort) with front-row seats to a gorgeous panorama of the waterways below.
On a clear day, the view is absolutely worth the drive. It’s stunning in the fall as well.
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Acoustic Grill (Picton)
Looking for nightly entertainment? The Acoustic Grill is a favourite watering hole for drinks, eats and musical performances by both local and touring artists, some of whom are Juno award winners. Check their website for listings.
Prince Edward County Lavender (Hillier)
Get a dose of Provence and aromatherapy in the purple fields of Prince Edward County Lavender just a 10-min. drive north of Wellington.
Tour the fields, shop the boutique for handcrafted products, maybe even book a room in their B&B for the ultimate lavender experience.
The peak flowering time is from late June to July. During this time, the lavender farm hosts the two-day Lavender Festival.
Restaurants in Prince Edward County
Spandex pants are made for places like The County. With its agricultural bounty, the region has become known as the gastronomic capital of Ontario, thanks to their skilful chefs who focus on locally sourced ingredients, from farm-fresh meats to County-grown produce.
Amelia’s Garden (Picton)
This formal dining room is housed in a centuries-old stone farmhouse at The Waring House, the country inn I’ve called home for two nights (more on the accommodations below). Serving breakfast, lunch and dinner, Amelia’s Garden is where I had breakfast each morning (included with an overnight stay). I couldn’t resist the poached eggs with cheddar sauce — a more flavourful take on eggs benny.
And I apparently didn’t get enough of the cheese so, for dinner, I started with the cheddar and apple soup alongside a salad sourced from their own garden. The unlikely pairing of fruit and dairy was outstanding.
I never say no to sea scallops, so when they were presented to me on a bed of risotto with my favourite vegetables, my stomach rejoiced.
And, hello, coconut cream pie! It’s not often I see it on a restaurant menu.
After inhaling it, I understood why Amelia’s Garden is known across The County for this dessert.
The Vic Cafe (Picton)
This coffee house is committed to serving food in a way that respects both the environment and our health. You’ll also find ethically sourced coffee, as well as wholesome breakfast and lunch items that make use of seasonal products that are both vegetarian- and vegan-friendly.
The Vic Cafe is worth a visit just for its bright, colourful and sunlit interior.
Want to feel like you’re in a spread in the latest issue of House & Home magazine? Come here.
Parsons Brewing Company (Picton)
I visited Parsons Brewing Company not for beer but a glass of wine and Mexican food after a friend tipped me off about their fish tacos. Any establishment that incorporates the flavours of Central or South America is worth checking out, in my books. Their elotes (corn on the cob, a popular Mexican street snack) and ceviche are also impressive.
I’m sure their beer is great… to people who like beer.
Slickers Ice Cream (Picton and Bloomfield)
Whenever people talk about Prince Edward County, you’ll inevitably hear about Slickers Ice Cream. There’s an unspoken rule among both locals and visitors that ice cream just isn’t acceptable unless it’s from Slickers.
East & Main Bistro (Wellington)
A local favourite, East & Main Bistro serves up “luxury comfort food” at reasonable prices in a casual yet beautifully designed space.
You can also check out Pomodoro, their Italian sister restaurant.
The Drake Devonshire (Wellington)
For an upscale, hipster vibe, The Drake Devonshire in Wellington is the place to dine if you want to see and be seen. Expect the same calibre of cuisine as you would at its flagship property in Toronto. I’ve never had a disappointing experience here.
(More on the hotel below.)
Enid Grace Cafe (Wellington)
For a dose of loveliness, Enid Grace Cafe is the spot. This little breakfast and lunch eatery is an ode to the rural cafes of Italy where food is fresh and prepared daily. No wonder the Americanos are so good.
Saylor House Cafe (Bloomfield)
Such a charming place! Tucked away off the main road, the Saylor House Cafe feels like a secret. I’ll probably regret giving it up like this but, heck, you’ve gotta share a good thing.
The cafe is a great spot for breakfast, lunch or just coffee/tea and a baked treat in an antique-filled, whimsical setting. You can also snag a seat in the garden during the summer.
The Hubb Eatery (Bloomfield) – CLOSED
Update: The Hubb Eatery was replaced by Seedlings restaurant which has also closed. As of April 2019, it’s unclear what will replace Seedlings.
My most memorable dining experience was at The Hubb Eatery at Angeline’s Inn, a boutique, hip hotel consisting of a Victorian house, motor inn and cabins filled with vintage furniture. Each dish was superb: the tuna tartare, beet & blue salad, roasted striploin and gnocchi.
Prince Edward County Wineries and Cideries
The newest and fastest wine-growing region in Ontario, Prince Edward County is now home to nearly 40 wineries (with more on the way), many of which are independently owned.
I wanted to spend a few hours sipping wine in various locations responsibly, so it made sense to contact Sandbanks Vacations & Tours, a company that offers wine tours and vacation rentals.
Wolf, a guide intimately familiar with the history, wineries and people of The County, was informative and clearly well-connected in the tight-knit community. He drove my friend and me to five wineries during our half-day tour, regaling us with stories and leaving us tipsy by the end of the afternoon (we can only imagine what state we would have been left in had we opted for the full-day tour!).
Karlo Estates (Wellington)
Our favourite stop by far on our wine tour was Karlo Estates where we sampled wines with small food pairings in the rustic setting of an old barn, surrounded by aged wood beams and oak barrels.
I love coming back here.
Waupoos Estates Winery (Waupoos)
Head to the water’s edge in Waupoos and you’ll find the vineyard where The County’s wine industry was born. I’ve visited a few wineries in the area and Waupoos Estates Winery may be the most scenic.
Stop by for a tour and tasting of their wide selection of vino from light and crisp whites to full-bodied reds and their award-winning Baco Noir.
But there’s so much more here to enjoy: hard cider made from the apples in their orchard, maple syrup from their sugar bush (maple ice wine, anyone?), a chocolate/gelato shop, a fruit winery on the other side of the road offering peach- and chocolate-flavoured wines, a petting zoo for kids and four rooms in a farmhouse from the 1900s with views of the vineyard and Lake Ontario for overnight stays. (Note: some activities and products are seasonal.)
Next to the winery is the Gazebo Restaurant, a gorgeous setting for lunch and dinner (and wine pairings, of course!) with an emphasis on local ingredients. Their vegetables are sourced from their own garden. My lunch in the Gazebo was outstanding — every bite was a mouthful of freshness, quality and flavour.
The Gazebo Restaurant offers patio seating on select days, and is closed December to March.
Huff Estates (Bloomfield)
Huff Estates offers an intriguing combination of award-winning wines and contemporary art in a fabulous setting. Opened in 2004, the winery began crafting chardonnay, pinot gris and merlot wines but their Off Dry Reisling was the clear winner for me and my friends.
Following a tasting and tour, visitors can enjoy lunch on the patio overlooking the vineyard from May to October.
What makes Huff Estates unique in The County are the indoor and outdoor displays of art and sculpture from both Canadian and international artists. Inside, the Oeno Gallery is bright and worth a peek.
Outside, the Sculpture Garden takes visitors on an artistic journey across four acres of a landscaped garden where they can pause at, and contemplate, each art installation and sculpture.
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The County Cider Company (Waupoos)
Prince Edward County’s craft breweries are making a name for themselves, but so too is The County Cider Company, the oldest cider-producing company in Ontario. Located in Waupoos (15-25 min from Picton) among apple orchards and against a stunning backdrop of Lake Ontario, it’s known for having one of the best views in The County.
I’m a cider enthusiast so I couldn’t pass up a visit to this cider house. A tasting includes a flight of five refreshing ciders (all of which are gluten-free), from their best-selling Waupoos Premium to their crisp pear cider — my two favourites.
Loved my al fresco lunch of a porchetta sandwich too although The County Cider Company has replaced their menu with wood-fired pizzas.
In Ontario and can’t wait to try their ciders? Look for them at the LCBO and Loblaws supermarkets.
Hotels in Prince Edward County
The Waring House (Picton)
It’s not the hippest hotel in The County but The Waring House, a farm-turned-country-inn surrounded by picturesque gardens, maintains its rural roots and is conveniently located for activities across the region.
If you prefer contemporary design like I do, request a Premium room in the Heritage Lodge or Quaker Lodge — they’re newer and more spacious than the units in the other buildings. My room with a balcony was traditional (it is the countryside, after all) with modern comforts. I had a tonne of space and the bed was among the most comfortable I’ve slept on.
With 49 rooms housed in five buildings, The Waring House is one of the larger hotels in Prince Edward County (but not too large that it feels impersonal) so chances are you’ll find accommodations here when all the boutique inns and B&Bs are full.
Jackson’s Falls Country Inn (Milford)
From the moment I read about this boutique property, I wanted to visit. Located in an idyllic setting, Jackson’s Falls Country Inn is designed with antique furnishings and contemporary flair. No two guest rooms are alike — each of the 10 spacious suites comes with its own personality. I stayed in the hip and sassy Canadiana-themed Pilsworth Suite surrounded by National Geographic magazines and an art collection, each piece with a story to tell. Just ask the owner Lee about them and she’ll regale you with animated tales and a healthy dose of humour.
She opened the inn as a place to introduce the richness of indigenous culture to her guests. The dream catchers, native art and massive Mohawk Suite are a nod to her Mohawk heritage.
So too is the restaurant, a restored school house from the 1870s that serves up farm-to-table, indigenous-influenced cuisine like bannock, elk chorizo sausage and corn ice cream sandwiches against the backdrop of blackboards and vintage maps. To be a guest of Lee’s is to walk into history. I’ve dined at the Public School House twice now and will always want to return.
But it’s not just its unique character that makes Jackson’s Fall Country Inn stand out — it’s the cozy atmosphere, down-to-earth hospitality and personalized service from Lee, Meghan (the chef) and Paul (server).
This place has heart.
It was also Lee who inspired me to visit the reservation where she spent her childhood, Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory (just a 20-minute drive away), where an indigenous artfest happened to take place during my visit. It was small but impressive, showcasing the many talents of the local community.
The Drake Devonshire (Wellington)
If you want to spend the night at the Drake Devonshire, you’ll need to make a room reservation oh, I don’t know, five months in advance. If that fails, consider at least dining in the restaurant.
Opened in 2014 to much fanfare, this lakeside hotel of only 13 rooms is indeed seductive — it’s country rustic with a touch of modern chic, designed with swanky decor and contemporary art. It’s also a hipster hotbed for live music and parties.
Sandbanks Summer Village (Cherry Valley)
Got a family? Then consider Sandbanks Summer Village, an 80-acre resort community of cottages situated on or near the waterfront. It’s also just 9 km from Sandbanks Provincial Park. The cottages have all the comforts of home including a full kitchen, and the sunsets by the lake are beautiful.
Amenities for kids include: a family pool, playground, splash pad and children’s activities. For quiet grown-up time, the resort has an adults-only pool and hot tub.
What Have I Missed?
I’ve covered a lot but I haven’t been everywhere so if you have your own suggestions for things to do in Prince Edward County, please share them below. I’d love to know.
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Many thanks to the restaurants, Sandbanks Vacations & Tours, Waupoos Estates Winery, Jackson’s Falls Country Inn, The Waring House and The Corporation of the County of Prince Edward for hosting me as their guest. As always, all opinions expressed in this post are my own.
I also earn a small commission from Booking.com if you click on their link and make a reservation through their site – at no cost to you. Thank you for your support.
This post was originally published June 4, 2016 and updated in 2019.