Do you remember the cities/towns your parents road-tripped to when you were little? Piling into the car, radio buzzing in the background, windows rolled down… I do! Very vividly in fact. Perhaps it’s the explorer in me, but I was always incredibly fascinated by how different everything was outside of my hometown: the landscapes, the people, the food, the adventures… These short trips around the province sparked my wanderlust and curiosity at a very young age. And like most families, there were places we travelled to more often than others. For us, the quaint city of Stratford, Ontario was one such destination. It also happens to be a city that I haven’t visited in over a decade. Fortunately, I recently had an opportunity to journey back. What a brill idea! With a thriving food and music scene, Stratford has stretched far beyond its theatre roots and transformed into the perfect place to escape to for the weekend. The best part? You can park your car and see most of the city by foot! Here’s how…
Stay At XXVIII – If you’re planning to walk everywhere, it’s really important to book accommodations that are central. This is one of the many reasons I’d recommend XXVIII (free WiFi, cleanliness and decor are a few others). Located a couple minutes from the Avon River and the downtown core, you’ll feel right at home in the beautifully appointed apartments. We stayed in #3 which has two bedrooms (one with a king bed, the other with two singles), a full kitchen, living room and two bathrooms.
Sip On Your Morning Brew At Balzac’s Coffee Roasters – Take a five-minute walk from your “home”, cross the river and grab a coffee at Balzac’s. While there are ten locations sprinkled throughout the province, this is the original cafe where it all began…
Take A Stroll Around The Avon River – At the heart of the city, you’ll find the gently flowing Avon River. It’s a great place to go for a walk, have a picnic with friends or float down via canoe/paddle boat. Oh, and don’t forget to explore the five, prizewinning gardens hugging the river – the Shakespeare Gardens were my fave!
Grab Lunch at Canadian Grub – This is the only restaurant nationwide that doesn’t import any of its products. Yup, everything here is Canadian – no exceptions! The food is delicious, seasonal, local and has very interesting flavour profiles since they can’t use some of the ingredients we are accustomed to (like black pepper and olive oil).
Embark On A Culinary Adventure – Although there is a guided culinary walk around town (for those of you who like structured tours), I tend to dance to the beat of my own drum so I prefer self-guided adventures. For this, I highly recommend the chocolate trail which allows you to wander through the city at your own pace. Make sure to include these three stops on your chocolate-infused journey (full list here):
Enjoy Farm To Table Cuisine At Bijou Restaurant – Do not leave Stratford without dining here. Whether you order from the blackboard menu or nibble on global tapas (served after 7:30 pm), you will not be disappointed. Each dish is expertly conceptualized using local, seasonal ingredients and beautifully executed by Chef Max Holbrook. The menu items are always changing, but if you happen to spot the venison carpaccio or the duck confit do not hesitate: devour these dishes and your stomach will thank you.
Head To The Theatre – You are in Stratford – Canada’s premier arts town – after all. And what better way to spend an evening than taking in a performance at one of the four Stratford Festival venues?! There are plenty of plays to enjoy throughout the year (full calendar here) and the festival grounds/gardens are gorgeous!
Have Your Morning Brew At Revel Cafe – This is the place to head for direct trade coffee in Stratford. A local favourite, the cafe is rustic and celebrates independent coffee. The espressos are served up as doubles and are sure to give you a morning boost!
Go Foraging with Puck’s Plenty – Ok, so I’m cheating with this one. It’s the only activity I’ve listed that you’ll need a car for. But it’s so fun and interesting that I just had to include the reco! Join Peter Blush on an adventure to his secret foraging spots where he’ll teach you how to identify and harvest local edibles (which you get to take home – yeay!). On our three hour trek, we found wild leeks, mushrooms (pheasant back, angel wings, ash tree bolete), orange daylily, wild ginger, Mayapples and lots more. Wear long sleeves and pants, douse yourself in bug spray and get ready for an adventure that will change the way you look at woodland trails. Oh, and if you’re lucky, you’ll end the journey at a local farm where you can help yourself to some delicious veggies and walk through a magical forest…
Grab Lunch At Monforte – If you love cheese, then I highly recommend you stop by Monforte on Wellington. I’ve been buying their cheeses at local markets across Toronto for years, but had no clue they had a restaurant (and kicked off their business) in Stratford. Not only is the food delicious, but the space (both indoor and outdoor) is a great place to grab a quick bite. It’s an osteria so expect condensed menus and local specialties. The grilled cheese with apple butter, hot pepper poppers and organic greens were my top picks.
Visit A Local Craft Brewery – After home brewing for years, two teachers united to launch Black Swan Brewing Co. in the heart of Stratford. Offering beers that range in malt character, aromatic intensity and hop profiles, the microbrewery and taproom is a great mid-afternoon stop! I really loved their English Pale Ale and Porter brews. Something tells me I’ll be seeing a lot more of these guys in the future…
Devour Italian Cuisine At Pazzo Taverna – You’ll find this gem perched right next to the Avon River on Ontario Street. Divided into two restaurants: the taverna (street level) and pizzeria (lower level), it’s where you’ll want to head for your Italiano fix. Chef Yva Santini whips up authentic dishes that reflect cooking from her family’s village in Calabria. Mangia! Mangia!
Experience A Festival/Local Event – We were fortunate enough to be in the city for the opening of Stratford Summer Music on Tom Patterson Island. The festival puts on over 100 musical events over the course of six weeks every summer. If you can’t make it to Stratford for the music fest, there are plenty of other events to experience around town throughout the year (more info here). I personally really love the Art In The Park series where artists showcase their creations…
I hope my weekend itinerary inspires you to visit the Ontario gem. I can’t wait to go back and explore Stratford’s culinary scene in more depth; I poked my head into Red Rabbit and the Revival House and will definitely dine at both restaurants the next time I’m in town. If you have any other local favourites, please share your recos so I can add them to my list!
The accommodation, meals and activities listed above were all coordinated and paid for by the Stratford Tourism Alliance as part of a press trip. As always, all reviews and opinions are entirely my own. If you want to see what other gems I discovered on my trip, check out my Instagram takeover via #TCCTakeover #MyStratford365.