First off, let me say that 36 hours was not nearly enough time to spend in the picturesque Ontario town of Stratford. Most people know Stratford as the home of Shakespeare in the Park, the Stratford Festival and perhaps, memories of school field trips start to surface. Now, more famously, it’s become known as home town of Justin Bieber.
In addition to all that, what you’ll discover is an absolutely serene, storybook of a town that prides itself on supporting local while fostering creativity and inclusion on every corner. My fiance and I were looking to get away from the city for a few days and Stratford came up as an option especially after seeing some of my fellow Instagram friends share their experiences.
I definitely could have spent at least another day in town but we still did a lot. Here’s my detailed guide on how you can make the most of your stay in the small town of Stratford Ontario.
How To Get There
Stratford just under two hours away from Toronto. Definitely factor in traffic if you’re leaving on a weekend, we left on a Wednesday so it was smooth sailing for us. You can also take the train to Stratford from Toronto which will take you just over two hours.
Where To Stay
During our walks we discovered so many different Inns in the main city square some of which I mention below. We opted to stay at The Bradshaw Lofts, located on Downie street, which is just a few blocks away from the city square. We booked our stay via Air Bnb which you can also do through the Bradshaw site directly. The building was built in 1903 and is named after J.L. Bradshaw, one of Canada’s oldest wholesalers. The room was modern yet rustic with all the historic elements still in place – think exposed brick, wooden beams and artfully selected furniture.
Where to Eat
You may not think of Stratford as a food destination, but they have an ever evolving food scene and the passion of the chefs comes through at every spot. There’s something for everyone! The emphasis on local ingredients and creative approaches to dining will make your dining experience a unique one. We were only there a short time so I’ve included where we ate and some other suggestions that will be on my list for next time!
Braai House – we had dinner here on our first night and were completely blown away. Braai is a South African style of cooking where everything is made on an open fire. Even their vegetables! I’ve never had South African cuisine before but after my time here, I will definitely be back. General Manager Johnny K will greet you and take you through a culinary journey of South Africa, not only helping to select your meals, but expertly pairing your wine and cocktails with your selections. The restaurant interior is beautifully modern and sleek and their back garden patio looks like a dream. Their cocktail game is on point and everything we ate was incredibly delicious, you can’t go wrong with anything on this menu!
Revival House – this is a must have when you’re visiting Stratford! It’s a restaurant in an old refurbished church. The grounds are surrounded by lush greenery and over 1400 flowers planted and cared for by Peter the gardener, who we met during our dinner! Expect a little bit of everything on this menu from Indian, Thai, Greek and Italian.
Fellini’s – we were looking for a lunch spot and stumbled upon Fellini’s during our walk. This classic Italian restaurant is family owned and operated and has been in business for 27 years. They serve up classic Italian fare and make everything in house. Much to my fiance’s delight, their pastas can be made gluten-free. I didn’t partake in any pasta but their selection of salads was awesome!
On the List for Next Time
Pazzo Taverna & Pizzeria – another classic Italian joint which claims to serve the best pizza in Stratford, not gluten free though. There’s an impressive and large dining room and patio space in the front and back.
The Common – Chef Tim Otsuki’s travels from around the world have influenced the menu at The Common. “A cross cultural fusion of freely adapted recipes from my own experiences” is how he puts it. They use fresh, local and sustainably sourced ingredients for their menu which include classic dishes like burgers steaks, fish and asian inspired dishes like donburi, khao soi gai and baos.
The Red Rabbit – described as a hipster bistro, this spot serves up classic Canadian fare however, they are currently doing 4 week dining themes! For the month of August the theme is “Charleston to New Orleans” with menu items like fried green tomatoes, devilled crab, fried catfish and a seafood boil! Keep an eye on their social media for upcoming themes!
Rene’s Bistro – this classic bistro has been around in Stratford since 2008 and has recently moved locations. They have a small menu which has something for everyone including gluten free options.
The Mercer Kitchen and Beer Hall – hows this for one stop shop. This spot is a kitchen, beer hall and hotel all in one! They have an extensive menu featuring pub classics like chicken wings, nachos, fried chicken and burgers; but if you look carefully, even their classic dishes have a little twist to them. The one that caught my eye? A big bowl of Poblano, Chorizo Mac & Cheese, biscuit crumble, salsa verde with a side organic green salad. This is another option that’s great for dietary restrictions as they have plenty of dairy free, gluten free and nut free options.
Edison’s Cafe Bar – another one stop shop – a small intimate inn, cocktail lounge, and cafe and takeout resto! Think bowls, toasts and a ton of grain free and dairy free options.
Revel – the go to spot for coffee in Stratford and a local hangout. Upon entering Revel coffee house you can’t help but notice the hustle and bustle and how everyone knows each-other by name. Although this is probably true of the entire town. They serve up locally sourced coffee in all the drink combinations you need with a selection of sweet and savoury treats.
Balzac’s – did you know that famed coffee Balzac’s was actually founded in Stratford? This stunning location of Balzac’s was actually the first to open in 1996. With mosaic tiled floors, white textures and and brass finishes, the shop is as much of a delight as the coffee. Try their salted caramel latte!
The Livery Yard – this cafe was super close to our air bnb but we never ventured in!
What To Do
Chocolate Trail – this is a self guided tour that takes you through the town and introduces you to some of the most famous confectioners and bakers. The cost is $30 + HST you get to choose 6 spots where you can redeem a pass for some treats. A great activity for all ages!
Shakespeare Gardens – along the Avon River you’ll find the expertly curated Shakespeare Gardens.
Avon Boat Rental – and while you’re on the Avon River, don’t forget to take a tour down the river. You can choose from a paddle boat, kayak or canoe or if that’s not your style, you can also take a tour boat. Bike rentals also available at this location.
Trails and Bike Tours – I didn’t even know all these existed! Great options for hiking trails, bike tours and nature walks.
Stratford Festival – this festival runs from April to October and due to restrictions they are currently featuring a limited number of plays in various styles.
Shopping – no trip is complete without a little retail therapy. There are independent, local retailers all over the town but Ontario and York street wis where you’ll find the most of them. We popped into Kinna Sohna, an Indian textiles and clothing shop, Small Mart, a novelty gift store and Bradshaw’s, one of those little bit of everything stores. But there were so many other cute spots that we just didn’t have the time for.
And there you have it. I think you can also agree with my first statement that 36 hours was not enough in Stratford. Aside from all the things to do and eat it was also refreshing to be in a small, quiet, unassuming town and just disconnect and relax. Stratford you stole a little piece of my heart and i can’t wait to be back.