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Downtown Hamilton is the vibrant heart of the city, steeped in history and pulsing with new energy, thanks to new businesses and cultural experiences taking root.
It includes the core (think Gore Park), West Harbour, James Street (North and South), Hess Village, and eclectic King Street East.
As you stroll the area, you'll discover some of the city's leading attractions, buzzworthy eateries, bars, coffee shops, historic buildings, street art, and unique retail.
And getting here is now easier than ever thanks to all-day GO Train service coming in and out of the West Harbour station, on James Street North, steps from the waterfront.
Eat & Drink
The Burnt Tongue
This small, popular Cannon Street spot built a reputation on its delicious soups. The lineup changes daily, but you might find minestrone, mulligatawny, or a hearty loaded baked potato. Added to the mix are salads, burgers and loaded fries.
Some argue Hambrgr on King William’s famed “Restaurant Row” makes the city’s best burger. Its beef is freshly ground and locally sourced. And it’s anything goes for toppings. Sides like onion rings and Buffalo cauliflower bites are wickedly good.
Tacos, tacos and more tacos are the mainstay at this King William fave. Choose from fillings like pork belly, brussels sprouts, fish or beef tongue. They all go well with its tequila – and bourbon-based cocktails and imported beers.
The brew house has a rotating lineup of beers made onsite. The food offerings are designed to pair well with their bold flavours. Nibble on the house-made butter chicken sausage and cheddar-cheese filled pretzels so good you’ll want seconds.
Earth to Table Bread Bar
This local favourite has been a staple on Locke Street for more than a decade and recently opened a second location on James Street North. Locals visit at all hours of the day, starting with coffee and delicious scones in the morning, hearty lunch specials and dinner mains like pastas and their famous pizza. Its motto, “Good Ingredients Matter,” is accurate.
Caro on James
The newly opened second location of this popular east-end Italian eatery has downtown visitors saying ‘salute’! Think generous, affordable portions of Italian classics prepped with a twist, served in an uber-friendly setting.
This New Orleans-style cocktail and oyster bar is staffed by some serious cocktail experts. Pull up a stool and let them pour you an artful drink. Or pick up one of their amazing cocktail kits so you can play bartender at home.
This twist on a classic sports bar offers a more playful and laid-back alternatives for fans looking to catch a game and a quality menu of great food and craft beer. It’s also co-owned by the lead singer of Hamilton’s Arkells, Max Kerman. If you love nachos and a great brunch, add this to your list! They’re currently open for takeout and patio dining.
Hamilton’s pizza scene is expanding in bold, new directions. The latest trend is Roman-style pizza. The dough is slow-fermented, which creates an airy, crispy, yet chewy, crust. Right out of the gate, this new downtown spot has won plenty of raves from ‘za enthusiasts.
True to its name, this new arrival to King William doesnât fit neatly in any single category. Let’s call it elevated comfort food as defined by mains like glazed pork belly mac and cheese and braised short ribs, paired with inventive cocktails and well-curated list of beer and wine.
This popular diner is a treat for all the senses from its bright neon and pastel 1980s decor to gram-worthy menu items with a focus on creative all-day breakfast and epic milkshakes. Now in two locations: Hess Village and King William Street.
Rapscallion & Co.
Two favourite former John Street South eateries - Rapscallion and Two Black Sheep - have merged to create Rapscallion & Co. specializing in seriously delicious and inventive comfort food.
Bistro food made with French flair is front and centre at The French, located downtown on King William Street – Hamilton’s newly coined ‘restaurant row.’ The menu features the greatest culinary hits of France, from onion soup to steak ‘n frites.
Its chef knows how to make ingredients shine, especially vegetables. Located on the King William Street’s ‘restaurant row,’ it pleases meat eaters, vegans and vegetarians equally with its West Coast-driven menu. The vegan ‘cheezcake’ (made with cashews) is a must try.
Born and Raised
You’re in good hands with Top Chef Canada alumni Vittorio Colacitti. Ask for the tasting menu and be prepared to experience a wide range of flavours, from steak tartar and the squid ink pasta. Or go casual with thin-crust pizzas and fresh oysters from the raw bar.
Plank Resto Bar
This chef-inspired resto-bar serves up fresh, creative comfort food on bustling Augusta Street and specializes in small plates and great music.
Coffee Shops and Treats
Good things come in small packages. This tiny downtown coffee bar caters to serious caffeine lovers with a curated menu of perfectly roasted coffee and a handful of delicate pastries from De La Terre Bakery.
Pull up a seat at this self-described ‘house of free spirits.’ This retail cafe is home to a wickedly good coffee bar as well as plenty of unique lifestyle items including motorcycle gear, vintage art and their house brand of apparel and leather accessories.
Visit one of Hamilton's most famous roasters in person at its King William Street CafÃ© or the Staircase Theatre.
This barbershop and coffee shop is a Hess Village standout thanks to its colourful vintage signage and uber-friendly and talented staff.
Black Forest Inn
The King Street East landmark has been serving massive crisp breaded schnitzels and hearty German fare since 1967. It regularly draws crowds who adore its kitschy Bavarian décor and its generous portions.
The lineups at lunchtime tell you what you need to know. The main attractions at this north-end deli are the hot and cold sandwiches made with house-baked buns. You’ll likely also leave with Portuguese custard tarts and a fresh loaf of crusty bread.
Shakespeare’s Steak and Seafood
This famed steakhouse has been serving some of the city’s most perfectly cooked cuts since 1969. The filet mignon is a standout, especially with a side of crab legs or bacon-wrapped scallops. Patrons also love the friendly, yet formal, service.
Simple, home cooking has won this family-run restaurant offering Middle-East favourites many loyal customers. Kabobs, shawarma and falafel are the most popular, but do try the special platter. It comes piled high with yellow rice and succulent chunks of grilled meat.
Head downtown for excellent soup. As you eat, you can hear the slam bam of fresh noodles being made in the kitchen. While soups rule, you can also order a stir fry or dumplings. If the noodles are too long to eat easily, ask your server for scissors.
Find Dutch inspired menu items at this warm cafe and restaurant including Appelstroop, paired with double-smoked Bauernspeck ham and made-in-Ontario Gouda.
Hui Lau Shan
This dessert hangout on King Street East is an export from Hong Kong. It has built a world-wide reputation for tasty desserts that showcase the sweetness of mangos imported from the Philippines.
The Real Food Hall at Hamilton Farmers’ Market
It’s an ideal place for those looking to grab something with international flavours. Perhaps paneer tacos, homemade ice cream, an authentic muffuletta sandwich, or a quick samosa? Find them all here.
Afrolicious highlights healthy food with African roots with traditional flavours from the Caribbean, South America, and the southern US. Think curry and rice dishes, stews, soups, and specialties like mandazis, East African doughnuts.
Taste of Lagos
Owners Victoria Adefala and Funmise A. Oladeji started their Nigeria-focused restaurant to highlight the food of their homeland, rich in flavour, thanks to a bounty of spices and herbs. Start your tasting journey with a signature dish, like jollof rice, made with stewed tomatoes and peppers.
The flavours of Italy shine in every dish on the menu, from gorgeous-looking pizzas, featuring trendsetting ingredients, like hot honey and aged balsamic, to a luscious carbonara with a sunny egg yolk served on top. A spacious patio, complete with an eye-catching mural, awaits summertime diners.
Resto Chez Chloe
Hess Village has new French flair, thanks to the arrival of this casual eatery. The menu created by owner, Chloe St Pierre-Grills, originally from Quebec City, is chockfull of French classics, like beef bourguignon, croque monsieur, coq au vin and French onion soup, of course.
SEE AND DO
Art Gallery of Hamilton
AGH showcases the best of local and Canadian art. With more than 10,000 pieces, the gallery provides a big picture of what’s going on in the art world. New exhibits keep visitors coming back for more as does the fantastic gift shop.
Notable downtown galleries
Art lovers will also appreciate some of the smaller galleries downtown. Centre combines exhibit space with workshop and classes. Contemporary art is on display at Hamilton Artists Inc., a sleek, modern artist-run venue. The Assembly on King Street shines the spotlight on the contemporary works of local artists.
Theatre Aquarius (See Update)
Every season, there’s a roster of live, crowd-pleasing performances, from well-known musicals to Canadian productions. Its downtown location is ideal for dinner-and-a-show dates with many dining options close by.
Take a walk along the waterfront trail and stop at Parks Canada’s docked HMCS Haida at Pier 9, Theodore Tugboat docked at Pier 8 and camera ready, and visit the outdoor skating rink. Then refuel at Williams Fresh Cafe while watching the boats sail past.
Whitehern Historic House and Garden
The former home of the McQuesten family showcases local history starting in 1850 (when it was built) up until 1939. This downtown museum is notable for being historically intact and its gorgeous walled garden. A real urban oasis.
While currently closed to visitors, this National Historic Site is still a stunner from the outside and one of the city’s most photographed buildings.
Workers Arts and Heritage Centre
The roots for WHAC were planted more than 25 years ago by a group of labour historians, artists, union and community activists who thought it was time to start a museum to celebrate the local history of labour and workers. Under one roof, it offers educational programs, exhibits, workshops and events in a beautiful heritage building.
Street and Public Art
There’s a riot of colour and inspiration around every corner of the downtown core, if you know where to look, thanks to a huge variety of street art, murals and public art. Just a few highlights to look for include:
Catch of the Day, a giant bold mural at Hughson and King William Streets, by famed muralist WERC featuring flora and fauna including a giant eagle and fish.
Gateway Mural by local artists Vivian Rosas and Vesna Asanovic celebrating this city’s diversity of culture and landscapes. Find it along James Street South, across from the Hunter GO Station
Helping Hand by Scott Martin, the artist behind Burnt Toast Creative, can be found just steps away on Hunter Street East. This piece, with a large blue sky with marshmallow clouds and a cartoon figure resting on a hand, was a contribution to the 2019 Concrete Canvas Festival.
Find live music in every corner of downtown from international arena acts at FirstOntario Centre to more intimate performances at venues such as Casbah and Bridgeworks.
Historic Walking Tours
Learn about downtown Hamilton’s fascinating history through the stories of some of its most treasured buildings. Downtown Hamilton BIA offers an in-depth self-guided tour called Memory Lane with scannable QR codes revealing incredible stories and vintage photos.
Or take yourself on a self-guided architecture crawl with our guide to some of downtown's most noteworthy and inspiring buildings.
If you love music, follow the beat to this well-loved retailer on Wilson Street. It sells new, used and imported CDs, vinyl and DVDs – some rare and hard to find. The staff is super helpful so don’t be afraid to hum a few bars. They’ll know the song you’re looking for.
This downtown shopping mall is conveniently attached to downtown hotel and meeting spaces and home to a variety of retail shops as well as a movie theatre, food courts and the sprawling Nations grocery store.
Just like the street it’s on (James Street North), this store is both pretty and gritty. Find housewares with a modern edge to decorate your home, from eye-catching door mats and barware, to specialty serving dishes and candles, here.
This destination fashion boutique has dressed stylish customers since 1964. Its excellent selection of designer brands is the main draw, along with superior service. Allow its experts to make suggestions about what will fit you best and impress.
Great things happen when a mother and daughter team up to create a women’s consignment store on James North. It focuses on quality, name-brand clothing and accessories. You never know what you’ll find, which heightens the excitement of every shopping quest.
Pale Blue Dot
Indulge your love of planet earth and all things beautiful at this gorgeous shop, focused on sustainable, ethically sourced products including fashion, home furnishings and all kinds of lovely little treasures.
International Village Shopping District
This downtown stretch has a unique cluster of boutiques located on King Street East. Unique is the key word here. Vintagesoulgeek focuses on fashion classics from the 1920s to 1970s – many of which were used in the Oscar-winning film, The Shape of Water, shot partly in Hamilton. Or find handmade treasures from Canadian artisans at Studio 205 and grab a coffee to go onsite. Girl on the Wing is a must visit for lovers of well curated vintage finds and other lovely little things, both new and old.
For more information, visit Downtown Hamilton Shopping District and International Village. We have created a print-friendly Downtown map to help you find your way around the Downtown area.
Michele Sponagle is a prolific journalist born and raised in Hamilton. Her work has appeared in top media outlets across Canada. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.