Stratford, Ontario is the creative heart of Ontario. Every street is charged with inspiration, from the buildings to the galleries, the shops and the perfectly designed gardens. You could spend an entire day walking along the streets and still be in love with Stratford the next day. There is plenty to do in Stratford so we’ve narrowed it down to our top favourites–those that really capture the spirit of Stratford, Ontario.
Where is Stratford, Ontario?
The city of Stratford is built on the banks of the beautiful Avon River in Perth County. It sits in southwestern Ontario, around a two-hour drive from Toronto. You can also travel by rail and let someone else do the heavy lifting on your way home.
Top Things to Do in Stratford, Ontario
- Gallery Indigena – 69 Ontario Street |
Before European settlement, the area now known as Stratford was home to the Anishnabek, Haudenosaunee (Iroquois), and Ojibway/Chippewa peoples. One of the best places to explore the indigenous creative arts is at the Gallery Indigena, located on the corner of Ontario and Downie. It began as a family business in the early 1970s to promote the art of indigenous peoples. There is an extensive collection of Inuit Sculpture and Prints, along with North West Coast masks, Iroquois Sculpture, paintings, and wood art. The gallery is spacious, allowing the art to be displayed in unique and independent ways. It’s a delightful place to spend an hour, and more if you pick up a personal piece to take home.
- Gallery Stratford – 54 Romeo St S |
Ontario’s longest-running art gallery is famous for its ample contemporary art collection, including regional and Canadian works. Gallery Stratford is located in Stratford’s original pump house (now a designated heritage building). This historic building is the perfect setting for the range of art exhibits telling the many stories of Stratford. The gallery features contemporary visual art exhibitions rotated every three months, along with interactive learning displays, and amazing sculptures in the parkland outside. It is truly a feast for the eyes and the mind.
- Stratford Perth Museum – 4275 Huron Road |
If the art has inspired you, head to Stratford Perth Museum to delve a little deeper into Stratford’s history. The museum’s collection dates back to the early 1900s when it was starting out as the local library. Since then its collection has grown to over 20,000 artifacts from the people and the communities in Stratford and Perth County. There have been many homes for the Stratford Perth Museum, with the current venue opening up opportunities for more contemporary exhibits and plenty of indoor/outdoor displays. Check out the current exhibit Steps to Stardom, showing the rise to fame of local boy fave Justin Beiber!
- Shopping District
Time to go shopping! If all this art and history has you thinking about your own home, then Stratford has the perfect shopping district for you! Downtown Stratford is filled with adorable shops and boutiques filled with local goodies to bring a little of Stratford home with you. Some of our faves are:
- Distill Gallery (96 Downie St) – with its range of sustainable clothing and home decor
- Stilettos & Sawdust (155 Ontario St) – artisanal gifts and decor for inside and outdoors
- La Osa Vintage + Jewellery (34 Ontario St) – offers handmade jewellery, vintage and Canadian-made clothing
- Wills and Prior (22 Wellington St) – for vintage and new home decor
- Grace the Boutique (76 Ontario St) – perfect for women’s clothing and accessories
- Dale + Company (17 Market Place) – home goods and decor
- Take a coffee-and-chocolate break
Stratford is famous for its Stratford Chocolate Trail, and it’s the perfect opportunity to refuel. This self-guided tour takes you to the best confectioners and bakers in Stratford with six vouchers to try their wares. Every store has its own unique selection of chocolatey treats, showcasing its own Stratford touch. You also get to meet the makers and learn what inspires their marvellous creations. Check out the list of stores, map, and how to purchase on the Visit Stratford website.
- Stratford Festival |
Every year in November, Stratford Festival hosts a prodigious selection of stage performances, including a vibrant collection of cabaret. The Festival celebrates performing arts of all kinds, bringing together classical and contemporary theatre for many years. Catch one of the many shows on stage (streamed online for 2021) throughout the festival, and then follow it up with a tour of the Festival Theatre for some extra behind-the-scenes magic. Full details of each season can be found on their website.
- Shakespearean Gardens – 5 Huron Street |
Stratford fully embraces its theatrical namesake in almost every corner but none more so than the Shakespearean Gardens. Originally, the gardens contained only plants mentioned in Shakespeare’s plays but the garden has literally grown quite a bit since then! Now, it feels more like a ‘ye olde’ storybook garden, watched over by a 65-foot (20-metre) chimney, the remains of the Dufton Wollen Mill that was originally on the site. You’ll love the lovely Huron Bridge at the edge of the gardens! If you have the time, take a walk through The Elizabethan Garden and The Arthur Meighen Gardens, to compare botanical notes. Both are located near Festival Theatre and are often included in Stratford Festival celebrations.
- Allen’s Alley – Wellington Street
Nestled between shops in Downton Stratford is a small, easy-to-miss alley with a hidden treat. Allen’s Alley is an amazing little outside gallery with portraits of musical artists! It’s a short and sweet history lesson on music and its place in Stratford history. It was originally a passage to the livery stables behind the Wellington Street hotels. It’s quite the contrast as a quiet little homage rather than the bold displays of appreciation found elsewhere. There are more hidden alleys to find in Stratford; that’s the best part of exploring!
- Avon Boat Rentals – 30 York St |
Stratford is located on the Avon River, and the river has the perfect vantage point for enjoying the picturesque character of the town. There are plenty of walks along the river banks, passing through many beautiful gardens. However, the best way to enjoy the river is on the water. Head to Avon Boat Rentals and take your pick of paddle boat, kayak, or canoe. On a clear sunny day, the water is calm and you’re surrounded by lush green scenery. It’s simply gorgeous. The paddle boats are a great workout for the legs but if you’ve already enjoyed walking around Stratford, go for the kayaks or canoes instead.
- Alley Cat Cafe – 1 Market Place |
When you need some downtime, head to Alley Cat Cafe for snacks and pats. The cafe is open for fabulous coffees, delicious breakfasts, and an awesome selection of grilled cheese sandwiches. While you wait, you can book some chill-out time in the Kitty Lounge and share some affection with the resident and foster cats. It’s great for some purr-therapy and you can learn about cat rescue and care. Check out their website for upcoming special events including Yoga, Kittie Paint Night, Mewvie Nights, and Kids’ Story Time with Cats.
Best Time to Visit Stratford, Ontario
With so many fantastic things to do in Stratford Ontario, the hardest part is choosing when to visit. Our tip: You’ll just have to come back to enjoy every season.
Winter: Stratford is often blanketed in snow and turns into a Winter Wonderland. The entire town dresses up with lights with a self-guided Christmas Trail across the shopping district.
Spring: The annual Swan Parade is one of the quirkiest but most enjoyable spring festivals we have seen! It is a free family celebration to announce the return of spring and the mute swans to Avon River.
Summer: Music comes alive during the Stratford Summer Music Festival. Many of the events are free, with performances at indoor and outdoor venues around Downtown Stratford. Look out for Barge Music performances on the Avon River.
Fall: The biggest drawcard is of course the Stratford Festival in November but Nature puts on its own show with a stunning change in colours all around town.