Every time we visit a new city or town in Ontario, two things always happen. One, the destination becomes our new favourite destination and two, we start telling ourselves that we’d be able to live there. Once it’s time to leave, that destination is forever imprinted in our hearts.
Of those cities, Stratford stands out. There are many amazing things to do in Stratford Ontario, from festivals and the expression of all art forms to terrific food and hiking trails. We first noticed that it’s not your typical city with one charming main street running through it. There are several main streets filled with quaint shops, and three of them surround Stratford City Hall like a triangle.
The city celebrates the arts, which can be seen in the many festivals, galleries, and museums. But, it’s not only for art lovers. Stratford is a great place to visit for nature lovers too. There are many outdoor exploration opportunities in his quaint city next to the Avon River.
When planning your weekend getaways in Ontario, add this vibrant city to your list of cities you cannot miss.
History of Stratford
- Between 1831 and 1832, William Sergeant started a settlement called Stratford in Canada.
- The founder named it after the birth town and final resting place of William Shakespeare in England with the same name.
- It is along the Avon River, also a tribute to England’s River Avon, which is mentioned in many of Shakespeare’s works.
- Stratford grew fast in the 1850s with the introduction of the railway. In 1859 it was constituted as a town, and by 1886, it was considered a city.
- The steam railways provided job security for almost a century before it was replaced by diesel in 1950. This caused many job losses, which gave space for the first annual Stratford Festival to arrive in 1953.
Where is Stratford, Ontario?
Stratford is in the southwestern part of Ontario in Canada’s Perth County. The city sits on the Avon River and has a population of about 33,000 inhabitants. While the city may be small, it sees over 1.7 million visitors annually, with most coming to attend the Stratford Festival.
It is also very close to many other Ontario cities like Kitchener, Waterloo, Cambridge, London, and Hamilton. However, the closest is the Diary Capital Of Canada, Woodstock, so be sure not to miss out on the fun things to do in Woodstock, Ontario.
Getting to Stratford
Stratford is a well-connected city with routes from many transportation methods. How much time and money you’re willing to spend on travelling costs will determine your preferred transportation.
Stratford is easy to reach from Ottawa and Toronto, as it’s a straight shot down the Trans-Canada Highway from both major cities. If you’re planning on visiting Stratford by car, it is about 531 km or a five-and-a-half-hour drive from Ottawa.
If you’re leaving from Toronto, you’ll have a much shorter drive of about 149 km. It should take an hour and a half to reach Stratford from Toronto if you stay on the Trans-Canada Highway.
If you’re not in a rush, you can opt to take a train ride to the city through VIA Rail. Prices vary depending on when you’re taking the trip and the train schedule.
A train from Ottawa to Stratford, Ontario, takes about seven and a half hours. There may be a layover in between, but you can get a ticket for as little as CAD 88.
If you take a train from Toronto, it is much cheaper and faster. Tickets can be as low as CAD 50 or less, and the journey takes less than two hours.
What to Do in Stratford, Canada
So, if you’re looking for what to do in Ontario’s Stratford, look no further. These are the city’s top things to do, see, and explore.
Stratford is the home of many popular festivals, attracting millions of visitors annually. Below are a few of the festivals you cannot miss.
Shakespeare Stratford Festival | Stratford Festival Theatre
The Stratford Festival has been part of the city for decades. In operation since its first production in 1953, this seven-month festival aims to celebrate the art of theatre.
Tom Petterson, a journalist, had the fantastic idea to revive Shakespearean theatre through a festival. Today, the festival shows a variety of plays, from classic to modern. Expect classics like All’s Well that Ends Well and Little Women to current shows like Chicago and Hamlet-911.
The festival is a massive production that spans over four venues in Stratford. Enjoy your time by having a picnic pre- or post-show at Tom Patterson Island, Market Square, or the Memorial Gardens.
Tip: Save your parking booking ahead of time so you don’t lose a great spot.
World in a Weekend Festival
If you’re unsure what to do in Stratford in summer, go to the World in a Weekend Festival. For one weekend in August, guests are treated to a theatrical showcase with music, puppets, and outdoor entertainment for the whole family.
The festival is family-oriented, with various ticketed and complimentary events and shows — many of which are Canadian. We cover everything you need to know in this World in a Weekend Festival guide.
We suggest you check out Factory163 on King Street. This rustic venue is one of the theatres for the World in a Weekend puppet shows but showcases terrific shows and events all year-round.
Note: This festival only started in 2022, but keep an eye out for upcoming events.
Tom Patterson Theatre
As mentioned, Tom Patterson founded the Stratford Festival in 1953. The theatre is one of the festival venues and showcases many performances throughout. And after a two-year hiatus, the newly renovated spot is back to doing what it does best — theatre.
The vast building on the Avon River boasts floor-to-ceiling windows all around, which overlook the waters. It has several rehearsal areas, a forum hall, an educational centre, and a cafe.
While the theatre may be big, the auditorium is intimate, with just 487 seats. This allows for no ‘bad’ seats in the house and creates a space of total immersion of sound and sight.
Avon Theatre | Stratford Festival
The Avon Theatre opened in the 1900s as an Opera House. It has since seen a variety of audiences entering to see live theatre, vaudeville shows, and movies. By 1963 it became part of the Stratford Festival and has been showing live theatre celebrating Shakespeare’s work ever since.
Float on the Avon River
The Avon River is the heart of Stratford, so what better way to learn more about the city than through a peddle boat ride on this river?
The Boathouse is on the riverside and offers many ways to tour the Avon River. Rent a canoe, peddle boat, or kayak to travel on water or ride alongside the river with a rental bicycle. The views (and workout) will be worth it once you see the green shrubbery on either side of the sparkling blue waters.
Relax on the riverside restaurant’s patio to continue enjoying these fantastic views. You can order from a selection of light lunches, including a few vegetarian options. But, if you only need a quick pick me up, opt for their sweet treats for a sugar boost.
Memorial Gardens Stratford
Stratford’s Memorial Gardens is often left off by many Ontario travel guides discussing Stratford. However, this quaint garden shouldn’t be missed. Many information boards and sculptures are in the park to memorialize wartime soldiers. For many, it is a great place to relax, have picnics, read and reflect in the Stratford sun.
Picnic in Upper Queen’s Park Stratford
Upper Queen’s Park sits along the River Avon and Lake Victoria, which runs right through it. Pack your picnic basket as picnicking is a popular Stratford day activity. Other daytime activities include cycling, walking, or jogging along the 115-acre grounds.
Art lovers can visit Art in the Park on select days between May and September. Here local artisans can showcase and sell their original artworks to the public.
Downtown Stratford is booming with activity and is where you’ll find most of the best restaurants, activities, and shops. As a creative town, you’re sure to see some unique art, trinkets, and dishes here.
Be sure to stop by Distinctly Tea for a treat. Here, you can find teas and tea-related accessories from around the world.
MacLeods Scottish Shop
This gift shop has brought the best of Scotland to Stratford for over 30 years. You can pick up traditional Scottish attire like tartans, kilts, and clan crest accessories. They also sell Scottish foods, gifts, jewellery, and novelty items. So it’s well worth a look.
Bradshaws has been an independent family-owned business for over 126 years, and isn’t slowing down any time soon. It is a good place to go to pick up homeware, gifts, and kitchen products. This place is a must-visit for home goods from local vendors like Appleflats and Chandler Honey.
Stop by Small-Mart if you’re a lover of odd and fun trinkets. Wacky clothing, accessories, and novelty gifts often line these shelves. They’ve recently expanded to a second store called “Werk Shop,” which is also worth a stop.
These aren’t the only places to get delicious treats in the city. Stratford is filled with highly rated restaurants, cafes, and bars. Check out Bentley’s Bar Inn for a cozy spot serving the city’s best comfort food. On the other hand, Pazzo Pizzeria serves gourmet Italian food perfect for date night.
Get Cultured at a Stratford Museum
The Stratford Museum is just outside the city centre and is open every day from 10:00 to 16:00. It showcases the city’s past and presents through many permanent and rotating exhibitions.
Public members can join many recurring events at the museum without membership. These events include markets, yoga classes, concerts, socials, and learning programmes for every age.
In the summertime, a picnic experience encourages you to enjoy the summer breeze through activities like reading, love letter writing, and games.
Indulge Yourself in the Chocolate Trail
Gather ’round if you’re a chocolate lover because this activity is for you. The Stratford Chocolate Trail is a sweet treat for the palette and senses as you go on a self-guided tour to your sweet tooth’s content.
Buy six vouchers for just $40, and you’ll be able to sample chocolate from 24 bakeries and confectionaries on the trail. As you’ll only get a limited number of vouchers, see what they offer before your visit. Coupons do not expire and are available year-round.
The confectionaries are unique, with each treat offering a different variant of chocolate, from liqueurs to ice cream sundaes. Some obscure options include chocolate balsamic vinegar, cacao honey, and chocolate teas.
Here are the places we visited:
Poppin Kettle Corn
This popcorn store serves gourmet hand-popped corn of both savoury and sweet varieties. For this chocolate tour, we got to choose one bag (approximately eight cups) of either Decadent Chocolate Cherry or Chocolate Banana popcorn. However, Wendy, the wonderful owner, will often allow you to sample any flavour you want.
Black Swan Brewing Co.
This local microbrewery and taproom serves many craft beers but has three main staples and crowd favourites. These are the India Pale Ale, English Pale Ale, and Porter. On our tour, we got to sample a glass of their Porter. You’ll enjoy this spot if you’re a chocolate and craft beer lover.
Jenn & Larry’s Ice Cream Shoppe
This colourful ice cream shop in York Street serves everything ice cream, from cones to sandwiches and cakes. We received a hot fudge sundae with crushed chocolate-covered brittle on our tour. They serve dietary sensitive and vegan ice creams too.
The Livery Yard
This specialty cafe and espresso bar was great. We got a Decadent Chocolate Mocha on our tour, which you can order either hot or iced. The great drinks and live events make it worth visiting, even if it’s not part of a tour.
Rheo Thompson Candies
Rheo Thompson has been making candy since 1969, so you can trust they know what they’re doing. Our tour samples included four handmade creams, caramels, barks, and specialty chocolates. There was more than enough to take home for later too.
Rocky Mountain Chocolate
If you know a chocoholic, they’ll love these exciting chocolate options. The wacky menu includes classic and fun flavours to try. We got to try the one-piece, classic milk chocolate shaped in theatre masks — and loved it.
Whether you visit Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory on the chocolate trail or on your own, it will pull you back. This all-Canadian brand serves fun products every time. Try their s’mores on a stick, chocolate ice cream bars, caramel, and chocolate-covered apples when you visit.
Treasures gift shop was another stop on our chocolate trail. We received a 110ml jar of creamed cocoa honey with our voucher here. The honey is sourced locally.
Follow the Bacon and Ale Trail
Like the Chocolate Trail, the Bacon and Ale Trail takes you on a self-guided tour throughout the city. For $40, you get five vouchers to sample the best beers and bacon from 16 shops and breweries.
While some classics like craft beers and bacon burgers are on the trail, there are also a few surprises. Merchants often swap out which items they have on offer. But, if you’re lucky, you’ll get to try out things like bacon-flavoured jelly beans or get your hands on a bacon candle.
Here are the restaurants we visited:
Black Swan Brewing Co.
We’ve already sampled some brews from Black Swan Brewing Co., But this time, as part of the bacon and ale trail, we got to have a mini craft beer tasting instead. In our tasting, we tried four seasonal beers from their curated menu.
We must give Black Swan some extra love simply because they have a beer called Roade Trip Golden Ale. Which, by the way, is delicious!
Brch & Wyn
Brch & Wyn is a coffee shop and wine bar. On our tour, we got to choose one of two house-made drafts. As a snack with our drinks, we received a sausage roll with homemade chutney.
Heritage Hops Brew Co.
This quirky brewery offered a flight tasting of four five-ounce glasses of beer from their line-up. They have a great variety, including ales, lagers, IPA, and sours. On select nights they also have karaoke and live music, so you can enjoy more drinks at your leisure.
Mercer Kitchen & Beer Hall
Mercer Kitchen & Beer Hall is a restaurant in downtown Stratford with indoor and outdoor seating. On our tour, we had a pairing experience. We tasted two kinds of artisan bacon paired with local craft beer.
Enjoy a warm atmosphere, fresh produce, and an extensive craft beer menu seven days a week at Mercer Kitchen. An Otsumami snack menu is available daily from 15:00 to 16:30, offering a selection of tasty Japanese appetizers.
On this tour, Treasures gave us another great set of gifts. This time, it was, of course, beer-themed gifts. We received an absorbent ceramic and cork-backed beer coaster that resembles tumbled marble.
Tip: Plan your route ahead of time to get the best bang for your buck. The Chocolate Trail has at least 24 participants/ vendors, and the Bacon & Ale Trail has at least 16.
Also, check each store’s hours of operation, whether reservations are required, and their location. Not all places are in Downtown Stratford, and you will thus require a car.
Forage Your Dinner at Puck’s Plenty
Puck’s Plenty is a foraging activity acknowledged by Travel Marriot as one of the best summer activities. The founder, Peter Blush, is a naturalist known for his extensive foraging knowledge.
This is a fun activity that is rare to find anywhere else. Come rain or shine. Puck will take you to the forest to “hunt” for dinner. You’ll learn how to spot edible plants and mushrooms along the trails before heading to the kitchen to start cooking up dinner with your day’s catch.
Visit an Art Gallery
It’s no secret that Stratford loves expression and all things art. So, why not visit the most significant art gallery in the city — Gallery Stratford?
This free-admission gallery is one of the province’s oldest running galleries and has been running for over 60 years. Here you’ll see displays of regional and local art pieces. There are even a few outdoor art pieces in the scenic gardens.
There are also a few smaller spaces like Mountain Galleries East, Gallery Indigena Inc, and Koolen Fine Arts. These galleries showcase and sell Canadian artists’ work on a smaller scale but are still well worth a visit.
Take an Audio Walking Tour
Stratford, ON, is home to many beautiful sights, artists, and singers. A complimentary walking tour is a great way to learn more about the city at your own pace. To access the audio tour, visit the Stratford website and download the Mapme app.
This is the city where Justin Bieber is from, and Stratford celebrates this. The city offers an audio walking tour of the young singer’s life and rise to fame among other local celebs. Their Bronze Stars of Stratford tour combines artists, sportsmen, and city community leaders.
Some artistic tours include the Art Walk Tour, Stratford Gardens, and Top Insta-Worthy Spots Tour. These tours offer tons of excellent artwork and photography opportunities while still being an educational trip around the city.
Stroll Through the City’s Gardens
As the city is named after Shakespeare’s birthplace, you can expect a few places within the city to pay tribute to the iconic dramatist and writer.
Shakespeare’s Garden is one of the best places for a romantic getaway in Ontario. The garden is a lush oasis in the city’s heart, offering outdoor activities like hiking and biking trails along the Avon River.
You can enjoy over 60 plants, from trees to flowers and herbs. Many were explicitly planted here because they are mentioned in Shakespearean plays.
Arthur Meighen Gardens
This garden near Festival Theatre offers a dose of sunshine and fresh air in the city. It also has many theatrical references, with plants mentioned in plays performed at the Stratford Festival.
Each corner was perfectly curated by the landscaper and designer Neil Turnbull. He sought to create a beautiful space from every angle at any time of the year.
Visit the Stratford City Hall National Historic Site of Canada
If you’re a history buff or love intricate architectural designs, you’ll love the Stratford City Hall in the business district. It is set in a triangular town square that often holds community events and gatherings.
In 1879, it, unfortunately, burned down but was quickly restored to its former glory in 1900. In 1976, it was officially declared a historic landmark of the city because of its period architecture and decor.
The Stratford City Hall is a red-brick-faced clock tower built in the 19th century in a Victorian style. This civic building incorporates a lot of eclectic Victorian designs and is unmissable.
Hike a Trail
Stratford has many gardens and green spaces scattered about the city. Naturally, a few hiking, biking, and running trails will be available.
Walk around the city’s many gardens and green spaces for just a light stroll. The TJ Dolan and Avon Loop Trail are easy picturesque trails you can hike in under an hour each.
If you’re looking for more of a challenge, try the Avon Trail Hike. Depending on where you start, it can be a long hike of 47.3 km or a short and easy one of a few minutes.
Enjoy the Snow
Stratford is one of the best places to visit in Ontario during winter. The city has endless places to ski, snowshoe, or snow tube in the freshly fallen snow.
Don’t let the snow stop you from walking the fantastic trails of Stratford. Go snowshoeing instead. Many walking trails offer this but visit WildWood Conservation for a bigger-scale snowshoeing trail. You can choose from a 1,2 km to 25 km trail to explore.
Or, head to River Valley in St Mary’s for an even more amazing snowshoeing and winter tubing experience. Tickets are about 28 CAD for a 90-minute tubing experience, which includes a tube, a conveyor belt that transports you to the top, and helmets.
Places to Eat in Stratford
el Cactus Taco Shop
This Mexican taco restaurant is one of the best places to get authentic Mexican cuisine prepared by a Mexican chef. The chef, Alondra Galvez, is classically trained and fuses these techniques with traditional taco recipes. So, while the shop may be small, the fantastic flavours pack a punch.
Revival House offers a modern, French-style menu served in an unusual setting. This restaurant venue was a church. You can see remnants of it by the intricate detailing on the roof, the organ pipes on the wall, and the stained glass windows.
Boar’s Head Pub
This pub is open Tuesdays to Sundays and is the best spot for pub grub. Their extensive menu serves typical Canadian and British comfort food. You’ll find it here if you’re looking for something light, greasy, and heavy after a long night.
Lady Glaze Doughnuts
This donut shop in Festival Square offers old-fashioned donuts in a colourful and modern way. They have all of the classic flavours and more, with variations like cinnamon toast twist, buttered popcorn, and raspberry fudge. They also serve vegan and gluten-free options.
Alley Cat Cafe
Alley Cat Cafe is the only cat cafe in Stratford. But more than that, they aim to make tremendous strides in helping abused cats and finding them a forever home. Honestly, some of the stories behind how these cats ended up here will break your heart.
Grab a drink or snack in the cafe before heading to the kitty lounge for some cuddles and playtime. It’s a win-win cat therapy session for you and the many purrr-fect felines here.
Tip: Make a reservation beforehand as a limited number of visitors are allowed. You can find their website here.
Final Thoughts on Things to Do in Stratford
Since its conception, Stratford in Ontario has been beaming with artistic influence from William Shakespeare’s life and work.
The most prominent evidence of this is the Stratford Festival which shows many of Shakespeare’s works. So, it’s no wonder this quaint town has an overflow of artistic events, exhibitions, and restaurants dotted in the city that echo this sentiment.
Nature is also a great performer with its beauty showcased in the beautiful gardens, trails, and outdoor activities. I think it’s safe to say that Stratford is a work of art — no exaggeration — and it would be a shame to miss it. Book a glamping in Ontario trip now.