(This Things to do in Stratford Ontario post was published on June 14, 2023; new entries and updates will be noted here with a fresh date.)
Quaint, historical streets. Riverside walkways. World-class theatre. Stratford, Ontario has it all.
The first time we took our kids to Stratford — home of Justin Bieber and the theatre festival and all-things-Shakespearean — they were just three and six years old. Around naps and early bedtimes, we saw a play, fed some ducks and ate some ice cream. So, to return with Miss Q (now 12.5) and explore the many things to do in Stratford Ontario together, without a nap time in sight, was delightful.
I mean, just look at what tiny, wee little things they were…
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This post will include ideas for the whole family, no matter how old your kids are, but I’m also including our top recos based on the kid-free Stratford things to do we’ve experienced during other visits, too. So if you’re heading to Stratford with a friend or partner, don’t stop reading just yet.
Things to do in Stratford Ontario
Stratford is served best while the Festival shows are playing — about seven months of the year — when the little town comes alive. Even though it caters to an influx of international tourists, lodging, food and attractions are still accessible for the average visitor. And with shows and activities ripe for all ages and whatever the weather may throw at you during your stay, Stratford is an easy place to visit over and over again.
Whether you spend your days doing back-to-back theatre productions and squeezing foodie experiences in between, or spend it casually strolling the river and sipping wine on a patio people-watching, there’s truly something for everyone and every pace in Stratford.
Things to do in Stratford Ontario: what’s in this post?
I’m covering a lot here and I still haven’t found a table of contents plug-in that I like aesthetically, so I’ma give it to you old skool. Here’s what you’ll find in my Things to do in Stratford, Ontario post:
- Stratford hotel options
- Where to eat and drink in Stratford
- Things to do in Stratford (duh), but — more specifically — indoor and outdoor activities and attractions
- Stratford’s Chocolate Trail
- The new Sip & Savour Trail
- And getting around in Stratford (spoiler alert: I hope you like walking)
Which Stratford hotel is right for you?
First thing’s first — let’s talk accommodations in Stratford. Although you can get a Stratford Festival bus ride to and from downtown Toronto for about $40 roundtrip, scheduled around a matinee or evening performance, you’re missing out on the true Stratford experience. Stay at least one night to soak in the flavours and vibe of this Victorian-era town.
Depending on your budget and the kinds/number of beds you need, Stratford has it. Boutique hotels? Check. Vacation homes? Check. Luxury properties? Check. B&Bs? Yep — those, too. Just keep in mind that it’s not a major city with huge traditional hotels boasting thousands of rooms, and the best accommodations book up quickly.
My advice? Decide where you want to stay and be sure it has availability when the show you want to see is playing. Do your best to secure your Stratford Festival tickets and hotel in tandem. You can fill in the rest of the blanks later.
Directly above Bentley’s Bar, there are a small number of loft suites that are priced well considering the exceptional location right in downtown Stratford, within walking distance of basically everything — including a three-minute walk to the Avon Theatre. Each loft is configured differently; ours had a king bed on the main level and two twins in the loft — with one washroom to share, adjacent to the loft space. For those who love a memory foam bed like I do, the TEMPURpedic mattresses were a lovely way to sink into the exhaustion brought on by doing All The Things during our time in Stratford.
Our loft had a microwave, mini-fridge and bar sink as well — perfect for those who need to heat up bottles or baby food, or in our case, store the delish meats and cheese we procured on the new Sip & Savour Trail (more on that below).
- This is not an accessible hotel; there are lots of stairs involved. If you rely on a stroller or wheelchair, or have mobility issues, it will not be ideal
- Parking is included, but not onsite; it’s in an underground lot at the Skyline apartment building across Ontario Street (about a two- to three-minute walk from Bentley’s). You have in/out privileges thanks to a garage-door opener and I loved how secure my vehicle felt the whole weekend. For those with young children or lots of baggage, pay for 30 minutes of parking behind Bentley’s at 18 Albert Street, where you can unload your family and your stuff at the back door to the lofts. Then move your vehicle to the designated parking garage solo
- If you’re someone who likes to go to bed early or you have kids who aren’t accustomed to sleeping with white noise machines humming in the background, do note that you are staying above a popular bar. The music will permeate the walls at least some nights each week
Still my favourite place to stay in Stratford Ontario, less than a 10-minute walk to the Festival Theatre, The Bruce Hotel features 21 luxury rooms, four extraordinary suites and one beautiful cottage with both laundry and kitchen facilities. Reserve your room well ahead of your stay. And bring your bathingsuits because the pools here are a must.
The devil’s in the details here and, rest assured, the elevated nightly cost is reflected in elevated service and a refined environment at every turn. There’s a grand piano in the sitting room, reading nooks and a gallery-worthy outdoor chess set. There’s an extra-special nightly turn-down service, onsite gardens and the Bruce Bees. There’s a morning coffee service, where you’ll find a carafe waiting outside your door when you wake up. It’s just a very, very special and peaceful place.
- The Bruce isn’t in Stratford’s downtown core; it’s a very short drive or a 15-20 minute leisurely walk
- You’ll pay for luxury and don’t bother looking for deals — The Bruce is an unapologetic splurge and there are no two ways around it. Rooms start at $510/night midweek (and are worth every penny, IMO)
- Children are allowed here, but it wouldn’t be where I’d bring little ones. Older kids who are accustomed to being consistently well-behaved in a high-end setting? Absolutely. But toddlers who are still prone to tantrums? Hard pass
Want to see more from The Bruce Hotel? I featured it in my 2018 things to do Stratford Ontario post.
We still have both The Mercer and The Parlour Inn on our must-stay lists, so I’ll update this section after our next visit.
Things to do in Stratford Ontario: eat + drink
Stratford’s restaurant scene is like Toronto’s in many ways — there are forever favourites and fly-by-nights, with a mix of fine dining experiences and casual eats. There are also budget-busters and wallet-friendly options alike. Stratford has always had a foodie scene, so prepare your tastebuds to play. Here are our (alphabetical) suggestions:
Balzac’s | 149 Ontario St. (website)
It’s a chain cafe, yes; but on a much smaller scale than the likes of Tim Hortons or Starbucks. I think of Balzac’s as the most elevated option among the chains, and perhaps that’s because there are only 16 locations so it maintains that boutique-y feel. If you’re looking for a standard cup of joe and a muffin or other pastry staple offering utter consistency, not only will you find that here but you can also say you visited the first-ever Balzac’s.
Bentley’s Bar Inn & Restaurant | 99 Ontario St. (website)
The patio spillith over here and despite how many tables are available inside, too, you’ll be lucky to get one if you come during prime mealtimes. It’s a very popular spot — and with good reason. Bentley’s has a huge, well-priced menu with great-sized portions offering a lot of value in a time when people are feeling the pinch on the price of food. The pulled pork quesadilla was really yummy and the kids’ burger combo was HUGE and would have even satisfied my teenage boy.
BraaiBar | 34 Brunswick St. (website)
Probably my favourite restaurant in Stratford right now that won’t send you into sticker shock, BraaiBar recently re-opened and serves South African-inspired fare in a cocktail lounge-style atmosphere that has a distinct vibe happening. You could easily come here just for drinks, but consider dinner as well — especially if you can get a reservation between 5-7 p.m. when the prixe fixe menu is served. For just $60, you can choose an app, main and dessert from a number of good options.
The feta dip was so delicious that Miss Q said she wished she’d ordered it for her meal. (Speaking of which, BraaiBar has a kids’ menu with really good prices, though the burger wasn’t as well-received as the one from Bentley’s.)
BRÜ Garden | 156 Waterloo St. S. (website)
On a beautiful day, this open-air beer garden is one of the best spots in town to find a bit of shade and not feel like you’re being ushered out of your picnic table to make room for a fresh batch of customers. You’ll be able to chill here, whether you only have a 30-minute window or you’ve got a couple of hours to kill before a show. With a bevy of bevvies available — both alcoholic and non-alcoholic, including slushies! — you don’t need to be a beer-lover to love BRÜ Garden.
The fries are amazing on their own and the poutine was good, but I’d pass on the pizza if you’re hoping for a wood-fired oven type of Neopolitan-style pizza dough.
Edison’s Cafe Bar | 46 Ontario St. (Instagram)
If you’re looking for a Bulletproof Coffee or a mushroom-forward hot chocolate sweetened with maple syrup (just the way I like my reishi hot cocoa at home), Edison’s is for you. With a list of interesting espresso-based and other hot beverages, including all of the alternative milks your heart desires, creativity lives here. Although it opens at 8 a.m., what I expect are the real stars of the foodie show — the “toasts” (think charred sourdough toast with avocado and smoked salmon) — are not available until 9 a.m. There are still food options before then, though, and we found the owner really accommodating when we asked if we could add prosciutto to the pre-made croissant-brie-and-honey sandwiches.
Features | 10 Downie St. (website)
Voted Stratford’s best breakfast for 11 years, go in expecting typical diner food at prices that’ll make you wonder if you stepped back in time. There’s an early-bird dish for $6.95 if you order before 9 a.m. You can’t even get a McMuffin Meal for $6.95 anymore! There are even some dishes, like the eggs Benny (which is, by the way, served on French toast at Features), that are available in half portions — and are still plenty big.
One important word of warning, though: if you loathe waiting in line (or your day’s itinerary just can’t handle a delay), arrive by 8 a.m. By 8:30, we had a 10-15 minute wait and ultimately shared a long table with strangers just to be seated faster; and by 9:15ish when we emerged, the line had snaked through the lobby and out the front door, heading down the side of the building.
Fellini’s Italian Cucina | 107 Ontario St. (website)
We haven’t dined here in years, but it’s a Stratford staple and a great choice for families (because what kid doesn’t love pasta?!). We actually used one of our Sip & Savour Trail passes (details below) at Fellini’s and the olive bread and marinated olives were to die for.
Mercer Kitchen & Beer Hall | 108 Ontario St. (website)
This is a great spot for late-night, post-show snacks and cocktails — and don’t be surprised if the entire cast of the show you just saw rolls in as well. The atmosphere is lively, the food is elevated but accessible, and the drinks go down FAR too easily.
The Common | 80 Wellington St. (website)
Before BraaiBar, I would have told you that The Common was the best Stratford restaurant downtown. Now it would be a close tie. Ignore The Common’s terrible website and just trust me — get the charcuterie board.
The Parlour Inn Restaurant | 101 Wellington St. (website)
We really enjoyed brunching at The Parlour Inn. It’s got a distinct British pub thing going on and there’s something on the breakfast menu for everyone.
The Restaurant at The Bruce | 89 Parkview Dr. (website)
This gal LOVES a tasting menu and The Restaurant at The Bruce is a memorable one. The chefs have changed since we visited, but the $115 tasting menu price has not, which is impressive since we stayed there pre-COVID.
Raja Fine Indian Cuisine | 10 George St W. (website)
This place was a nice surprise! Miss Q and I had a tiny window of time for lunch on the day we arrived in Stratford, and we popped into a couple of restaurants who couldn’t promise we’d be in and out in less than 30 minutes, so we kept going and landed at Raja. I didn’t have time to look up reviews, which meant we just took a chance. (For those who know me well, this is nearly unheard of; I plot out itineraries with restaurant research burning a hole in my planning pocket.)
The butter chicken dish was delicious and came with a huge plate of rice, chana masala and really yummy naan. We also tried Raja’s version of mulligatawny soup, which was a fresh broth-y one with a nice lemon zing — and, even if I prefer mine thicker and more bisque-like, we finished the bowl. The best part? Our lunch bill was $28!
Revel | 37 Market Pl. (website)
Revel is my go-to coffee shop whenever I’m in Stratford. They have THE BEST and often innovative pastries (hello, cruffin) and there’s absolutely nowhere else in town that makes an oat milk mocha as good as they do. Nowhere.
Things to do in Stratford Ontario: indoor activities
Whether you’re visiting during shoulder season with unpredictable weather or you just need to escape the summer heat, Stratford has enough indoor activities — which I’ll list alphabetically below and add to over time — to offer that you can spend a whole weekend under some kind of roof if you really want to.
One important note: bring socks! (Or you’ll have to buy a pair for $1.75.) Open since 2019, the Alley Cat Cafe is just across from the bustling Market Square, so if you visit on a Sunday, you can follow it up with a stroll through the Slow Food Market (more below). It was definitely a big highlight for Miss Q, and one she said she’d like to repeat when we come to Stratford again.
For $10.50 per person, you get an hour in the cat playroom. There are both resident cats and adoptable cats (and sometimes kittens!) there to hang out with, and the space is basically cat Disneyland. All of the cats we encountered were happy to be petted and some were exceptionally playful. One climbed up into my lap for a long cuddle session, but you aren’t allowed to pick up the cats — they need to come to you.
Just be forewarned: if you come to the Alley Cat Cafe thinking anything other than “I am 150% certain that I cannot leave with a cat,” then you may find yourself inquiring about one of the lovely fosters.
There’s no shortage of shopping within an easy three-block radius that encompasses most of downtown Stratford. Some of our favourites include:
- Small-Mart General Mercantile — definitely our favourite store in Stratford, with the kitschiest selection of things (including retro chocolate bars that are part of the Chocolate Trail, per the section below)
- The Theatre Store, adjacent to the Avon Theatre’s lobby — get all of your Stratford Festival tchatchkes here (my personal fave is the Shakespeare Insult Generator book…hilarious!)
- Bradshaw’s — though I didn’t find staff here as friendly as every other shop in town, you can’t beat the selection of beautiful gifts, homewares and more
- APT. 6 Apothecary — a beautiful collection of skin-care brands and in-house-made wares in a store that smells as gorgeous as it looks
- Got It Made — a really lovely artisan-centric shop featuring local and almost-local goods
- Blowes Cards & Gifts — some really funny/punny gifts, loads of greeting cards and a huge selection of stationary
- Danna Nicole — a nice selection of womenswear and some footwear (I bought my first pair of Lemon Jelly shoes!) with lots on sale at the back
- neob lavender — just get the lemongrass room spray; you won’t regret it
- Daisies & Doilies — a cute new store that’s got some nice womenswear and home goods
And there are stores I still haven’t even made it into that looked beautiful, with pottery and artwork and more. Just keep in mind that a number of shops are closed on Sundays in downtown Stratford, so if you’re on a spending mission, that’s the day to avoid.
If you come all the way to Stratford and don’t see a Stratford Festival performance, shame on you! No, really — it’s a must. One of the big draws for those with kids is that there are kids’ ticket prices for every show. You won’t find that in Toronto, friends. That’s a StratFest thing, and the savings are huge. Take the RENT performance we saw during this year’s visit: my adult ticket was $158 and change (we had second-row seats) while Q’s ticket was just $57!In addition to RENT — which is not appropriate for kids under 12, but is a longtime favourite of mine and now Miss Q’s as well thanks to her StratFest experience — the Stratford Festival 2023 lineup also includes A Wrinkle in Time, which is a magical journey on stage that younger children will really enjoy.
Seeing more than one show is a great way to spend a weekend in Stratford and allows you to better appreciate what it means to be part of the acting company. During a performance one day, an actor may be triple-threating their way through a mature musical while the very next day, they’ll be playing a child in a play.
Don’t wait until you get to Stratford to get tickets, though. You might find yourself very disappointed.
Pro Tip: for the most diehard theatregoers, the Stratford Festival offers costume warehouse tours from May through October, and it’s absolutely worth the price of admission.
It’s the World’s Smallest Cinema — with the official Guinness World Record certificate hanging on the wall to prove it — and it’s in the cutest little space in downtown Stratford. Although it offers mostly private bookings (and with only 12 seats, you can fill it up easily), allowing customers to choose from a catalogue with nearly 30,000 titles, the Little Prince Cinema also has dates for public viewing — just click on “Tickets” from the nav bar on the home page to see what’s coming soon.
Be sure to grab a house-made cotton candy for the road; it was SO good.
Things to do in Stratford Ontario: outdoor attractions
When the weather co-operates, there are fewer places where you can walk to so much and feel like you’ve seen and done it all — and barely hit 5,000 steps on your Apple Watch. Stratford is compact in the best way, because it doesn’t feel like everything is on top of each other and yet you don’t need to go far for food, shopping, shows or nature.
The pace is simply slower here, so shake off the city smog and prepare to put on your leisure pants.
Avon River walk
It’s one of the best ways to get a sense of place in Stratford — and it’s FREE. Stroll along the Avon River (named after the River Avon in England), starting at the Thomas Orr Dam and heading northeast along the paved pathway, keeping watch for the many families of ducks, geese and the massive white swans. There’s quite a bit of tree cover along the walkway and you’ll have a great view of the riverfront heritage homes. Watch out for goose poop!
If you head southwest on the Avon River path and skirt around (or above) the dam, the Shakespearean Gardens touch the riverbank and are also completely free to explore. There’s a 65-foot remnant of a chimney where the Dufton Woolen Mill once stood until it burned down in 1919, a cute little (but steep!) bridge that takes you to the perfect picnic spot on a tiny island, and rows of beautiful flowers. I especially loved the Shakespearean quote about roses near a rose bush.
Stratford Sunday Market
Formerly called the Perth County Slow Food Market, this Sunday-only affair turns the Market Square into a local (and localish) spotlight on food and wine producers, home goods artisans, herbalists and other makers. It’s free to look and some vendors have samples, too. Come hungry!
Avon Boat Rentals, available at the lower level of The Boathouse, is an even better way to experience the Avon River. Take out a paddleboat, canoe or rowboat by the hour (starting at $26) and gently take in the scenery from the middle of the river. There’s also a well-priced half-hour river tour that we’ll be trying during our next visit. The Boathouse is open for rentals from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., seven days a week, so getting out onto the water is easy.
Things to do in Stratford Ontario: Chocolate Trail
This visit marked the third time we’ve done the Stratford Chocolate Trail, and it never gets old. The value proposition here is remarkable: $35 (plus tax) for a Trail Pass that allows you to make any six stops on the trail, where there’s a different chocolate-themed treat to take home. Be sure to build in time to browse along the way, too, because there are some gems to discover.
The Chocolate Trail is one of our all-time favourite things to do in Stratford Ontario!
Our favourites, in no particular order, include:
- JENN & Larry’s Ice Cream Shoppe — one of the yummiest stops with it’s ice cream sundae
- Olive Your Favourites — I’d just finished the bottle of Chocolate Balsamic Vinegar from our last visit (it’s a small bottle and it’s nectar from the gods, so I savour every last drop with intention) and was thrilled to pick up a new one
- Lady Glaze Doughnuts — a new stop for us this time and it was a goodie! We nabbed a strawberry-and-NERDS-glazed doughnut with an iced coffee, and they were both *chef’s kiss*
- Small-Mart General Mercantile — another new one that we loved so much I added it to the shopping list above! It’s a novelty goods store where you’ll be as likely to find sassy socks as you are duck feet that fit on your fingertips. It carries a boatload of KIKKERLAND-branded products, which are often uniquely practical. Pick up a couple of retro chocolate bars with your Chocolate Trail pass and just try to walk out otherwise emptyhanded
- Bradshaw’s — we scored a tasty chocolate peanut butter sauce (even though the official Trail listing notes it’s a Dark Chocolate Sea Salt Caramel Sauce) and swooned over a $150 tic-tac-toe set
- Poppin Kettle Corn — the sweet and salty kettle corn may be one of the more “boring” flavours available here but OH MY GOD it’s heavenly (and even though it’s not chocolate-y, they’ll let you swap out the featured flavours for the one you like best for your Trail voucher)
- Rheo Thompson Candies — a Stratford icon, the mint smoothies are a classic that you have to try as part of the four chocolates you’re allowed to select. But don’t stop there; stock up for your fave choco-files while you’re here
Things to do in Stratford Ontario: Sip & Savour Trail
I’m going to lead with this: don’t forget to bring a cooler bag — preferably with an ice pack. Even if you plan to consume everything the same day you’re doing the Trail, you’ll probably want to keep those glorious meats and cheeses nice and cool while you wander from one spot to the next. And, in some cases, stops may be a 30-minute drive away.
Below, I’ve shared the original Sip & Savour schedule I created to ensure we experienced good variety and had plenty of yummy things for the picnic we had planned that day. In the end, we had to cut Stonetown Cheese from our list because we were delayed by breakfast, but if your pace can be a bit more forgiving, I think it’s awesome to support some of the more out-of-the-way businesses who are participating in this new Trail.
Additionally, plan ahead so you can (a) be cognizant of each business’s opening times to make sure your route is efficient, and (b) think through what other extras you’ll need for your picnic or charcuterie board, like crackers, a baguette, fresh fruit, etc. There are a bunch of stops on the Trail where you can stock up on extra provisions, like Wild Hog Country Market and The Milkey Whey.
The Sip & Savour Trail is one of the best new things to do in Stratford Ontario!
We drove for the first part of this list, then parked back in the Bentley’s underground lot and finished from No. 5 onwards on foot:
- Stonetown Cheese (opens at 9 a.m. — 30 mins from downtown Stratford, one way)
- Wild Hog Country Market (opens at 8 a.m.) — the assorted meat sandwich here is ridiculous and it’s hard to believe it’s part of the Sip & Savour Trail because it’s huge!
- The Best Little Pork Shoppe (opens at 10 a.m.) — don’t choose between the buffalo pepperettes or summer sausage; use one of your vouchers for one and buy the other…they’re that good
- Shakespeare Pies (opens at 10 a.m.) — the most adorable little fruit pie you ever did see, with a really beautiful crust
- Bake My Day and The Bean (opens at 9 a.m.) — soooo many ooey-gooey tarts
- The Butcher The Baker (opens at 9 a.m.) — you can NEVER have too much summer sausage
- Bradshaw’s (opens at 9 a.m.) — carve out enough time to try to choose just one preserve (I dare you)
- The Milky Whey (opens at 10 a.m.) — this place was my weakness; so many gorgeous cheeses
- Fellini’s (opens at 11 a.m.) — do not miss these marinated olives and the house-made olive bread; you could enjoy this to go or consider eating in and using the voucher as a way to enjoy a starter before your main meal
And this is just the tip of the savoury iceberg.
Things to do in Stratford Ontario: Getting around
Fortunately, most of Stratford’s best can be explored on foot within a few blocks of each other. But if you’re staying downtown and have a show at the Festival Theatre, plan ahead. It’s a good 15-20 minute walk so you’ll need decent walking shoes and a bit of extra time on your side. If you want to take a taxi, book one in the morning because it could take 30 to 60 minutes to reach you otherwise. There aren’t enough taxis on the road in Stratford to shuffle everyone where they want to be as efficiently as a big city, so pack walking shoes just in case.
And — this is a big one — ride-share companies are NOT allowed to operate in Stratford, so even if you open your UBER app and it tells you your driver is minutes away, THIS.IS.A.LIE. UBER isn’t coming for you. Ever. (Ask me how I know.)
The good news is that Stratford’s side streets make for a lovely stroll to and from the theatre and the theatre itself is a destination, with stunning gardens, statues of Shakespeare and other installation art. Like most things in life, plan ahead and enjoy the journey.
DISCLAIMER: Destination Stratford (located at 47 Downie Street and open 9am-5pm for all of your touristy questions, literature and Trail tickets) compensated me for this content. All suggestions and opinions, however, are my own.