Walking along the streets in downtown Stratford, Ontario, I instantly fell head over heels for the city. With its 19th century architecture, delectable culinary scene, and thriving arts community, it’s impossible for anyone to not fall for the charm of Stratford. It also helps that I grew up 40 minutes away, and have been known to drive down to check out some of the restaurants in Stratford.
Spending a long fall weekend in Stratford, it passed by all too quickly. And I’m already looking forward to my next visit.
Stratford attracts visitors every year with its dazzling restaurants and booming arts scene. As I found out, it’s a place that you don’t need to have an itinerary for. All you need to do is start walking around, and you’ll discover what Stratford is all about.
And a fun fact about Stratford, Ontario, it’s the birth place of pop sensation, Justin Bieber!
Where to Stay in Stratford
Looking to make yourself at home rather than stay at a hotel? Us too! And luckily there are a few great places to stay in Stratford. The first one is Beattie Downtown. It’s your own private, two-bedroom apartment perfectly situated in the heart of downtown Stratford.
With a private entrance, there’s no large lobby to pass through. And immediately you are in your quiet oasis that oozes character and charm. Not to mention, it is super comfy with plenty of spots to relax at the end of a full day of exploring Stratford.
The second, River Merchant Inn is situated a few doors down and gives you the same access to all the shops and restaurants. Parking is included- which is great because you most likely will just be walking everywhere. Named after the Heintzman Pipe & Piano Co, this former music academy is a great piece of Stratford history (chances are that Justin Beiber came here for music lessons)!
There’s an ample sized living room with views overlooking the Avon River, an eat-in kitchen, full bathroom and two large bedrooms. So, whether you are travelling solo, travelling with friends, or looking for a romantic retreat, the Beattie Downtown is the place to stay!
But if you’re comfortable with hotels, you can’t miss a stay at Edison’s Inn. This boutique hotel is located in the same building where Thomas Edison worked when he was 16! Talk about history. But the historic building has been renovated for comfort while retaining a part of its industrial background but with a modern flair.
Being an easy walk to all the main attractions downtown and theaters, your room is never far away. And, rooms are soundproofed to ensure a quality night of rest with free breakfast provided in the morning. There’s even a charming café next door to enjoy throughout the day.
Where to Eat in Stratford
If you are looking at where to eat in Stratford, you are spoiled for choice when it comes to amazing restaurants in Stratford. Not only is the quality of food incredible, but the diverse selection of food makes any stay in the city a culinary feast.
Though it’s hard to go wrong with any of the restaurants in Stratford, here are some of my personal favorites:
The Braai House – This South African inspired restaurant focuses on open-fire cooking serving up traditional (with a twist) South African food in an elegant atmosphere. And, it’s the only place in Stratford that brews its own beer on the premises!
The Pulp – Who knew healthy could taste this good? This delightful restaurant serves up vegetarian bowls, smoothies, freshly pressed juices and more! It’s the perfect place to get some natural energy for exploring Stratford.
The Planet Diner – Serves delicious plant-based comfort food to satisfy the herbivore in all of us. But the owners realize that not everyone can go without meat, so there are a few meat options on the menu, too. It’s a place where there definitely is something on the menu for everyone in your family/group to enjoy.
PS- order the queso fries and the mock chicken sandwich.
Noodle Zone – One of Stratford’s newest restaurants, and though it may be trendy, one taste of their freshly made noodle dished brimming with rich flavors, and you’ll be wanting to eat here more than once.
Stratford Thai Cuisine – One bite here and you’ll swear you are in Thailand. The flavors and spices are pure authentic Thai cuisine. It’s hard to choose between their Pad Thai, noodles, fresh rolls and more.
Sirkel Foods – This charmingly quaint café specializes in breakfast and lunch and has some of the best sandwiches and salads you’ll ever have!
Soup Surreal – With fall and winter on the horizon, Soup Surreal is the perfect spot to keep you warm in Stratford. The menu features seasonal, fresh and delicious soups along with freshly baked loaves. It’s a combo made in foodie heaven.
Edison’s Café Bar – Sometimes we need a slow and relaxing start to the day. And breakfast at Edison’s Café Bar is the ideal place to ease into the day. Their menu is mostly plant-based but they also have freshly baked good, and some of the best coffee in Stratford!
Pazzo Taverna and Pizzeria – This is the IT place in Stratford if you are craving thin crust pizza. But there’s also pasta and a nice selection of wine on the menu, too.
Revival House – This is not your ordinary dining experience. Housed in the historic McKenzie Memorial Gospel Church, the Revival House reimagines favorite dishes and traditions giving you one truly memorable dining experience in Stratford.
Jenn and Larry’s: Can’t say enough great things about Jenn and Larry’s. I highly, and I mean highly, recommend getting the dark cherry and cream cheese combo.
You can find a more exhaustive list of places to eat in Stratford here.
Things to Do in Stratford
Indulge in Chocolate: Any place that has a Chocolate Trail is a place I must visit! I may not be much of a hiker, but Stratford’s Chocolate Trail is my type of trail that I can do over and over again. This self-guided trail takes you to Stratford’s world-famous confectioners and bakers.
Purchasing a trail pass allows you to choose 6 places to stop at and pick up samples (of a very nice size and variety) of their treats including a dark chocolate ale at Black Swan. There are currently 20 individual confectioners participating in the trail, so you really can do this trail several times and have a totally different experience each time. It’s certainly one of my favorite things to do in Stratford.
Cruise the River: The Avon River and Lake Victoria are the heart of Stratford. Though walking along its shores is lovely, for a more picturesque and memorable experience, you have to get on the water. Avon Boat Rentals offers paddle boats, kayaks, and canoes so you can enjoy the serene waters and see Stratford from a different perspective.
Gallery Stratford: One of Ontario’s longest running art galleries, the magnificent Gallery Stratford combines contemporary art with regional and Canadian works in its massive collection. And just to see the inside of the historic pump house is enough to make a visit a worth while stop. Plus, the Gallery is surrounded by a sculpture park giving you plenty of art to enjoy before entering its doors. It’s definitely one of the top things to do in Stratford.
Experience Live Theater: Home to the legendary Stratford Festival, you cannot leave Stratford without seeing a world class production (or two) ranging from the Bard to contemporary musicals (from April to October). Sadly, due to COVID-19, the 2020 season has been postponed.
Enjoy Some Green Space: Part of what makes Stratford have a relaxed vibe is the many green spaces found around town. One of my favorite parks is the Shakespearean Gardens with its colorful, manicured designs full of plants mentioned in Shakespeare’s plays.
In fact, there’s the delightful Stratford Gardens Trail that links five of the major parks along the Avon River. It’s the perfect way to enjoy the outdoors while still in the heart of Stratford.
Stratford Perth Museum: Not only does the Stratford Perth Museum celebrate the diverse cultural heritage of Perth County, but Bieber fans flock to the museum for the famous exhibit of the singer’s life. It’s a wonderful museum with a little bit of everything in it.
Enjoy some Retail Therapy: Whether you like shopping or not, it’s hard to resist window shopping when walking around Stratford. The city if full of enticing and eclectic boutique shops. From whimsy to practical, you can find just about anything here.
Some of my favorite stores to browse are:
Got it Made – an amazing store full of artisan, handmade products from over 80 local artists. With so many unique offerings, it’s doubtful that you’ll leave empty handed.
La Osa – from their colorful and fun jewelry to vintage offerings, the store feels like a treasure chest. Who knows what you will find.
Bradshaws & Kitchen Detail – Established in 1895, Bradshaws remains a locally independent store featuring products of the highest quality standard. And it’s not just kitchen goods but lots of housewares, too. Browsing here is a lot fun and highly tempting!
Illume Wellness Spa – Sometimes while on vacation, I just have to pamper myself. And if you need some amazing R&R, a visit to the Illume Wellness Spa will leave you feeling rejuvenated in both mind and body. Their organic treatments are a pampering you need to treat yourself to.
One of the attractions of Stratford is that it has all four seasons. So, you can visit throughout the year and have a completely different experience. And, the city is gorgeous to explore regardless the time of year.
Summer is an ideal time to go as not only are the days longer, but the temperatures are moderate and comfortable. It never truly gets hot in Stratford.
But in fall, the city starts to get a chill in the air. The fall colors of the trees perfectly accentuate the many historic brick buildings in town. It’s like walking through a postcard.
In winter, a blanket of snow descends on the city as colder temperatures linger. And in spring time, the city bursts into color especially along the river gardens.
Trust me when I say that you will end up adoring Stratford. With so many things to do in Stratford, you are never bored. But you never feel rushed. Time starts to lose meaning as you let Stratford work its charm on you. And isn’t that really the best kind of holiday?