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Don’t let size fool you - there is so much to see and do in this little city, it packs a powerful punch! With all that Stratford has to offer, it is virtually impossible for anyone to ever be bored. Whether you enjoy exercising outdoors along the Avon Trail, sitting in the park with a picnic lunch and a good book, revel in the unique boutiques, dining, and galleries down town, take a tour of the city with your ‘chocolate passport’ on the ‘Chocolate Trail,’ or entertain a play at the Festival Theatre, there is something to tickle everyone’s fancy! Let’s peruse just ten of the myriad of events, venues, and adventures that await in little Stratford, Ontario.
When we’re talking about things to do in Stratford, the list would not be complete if it did not include theatre! The world renowned Stratford Festival hosts a variety of plays and performances from May to October in all four of its theatre venues: the main Festival Theatre seating 1800, located in Upper Queen’s Park; the remarkable, newly built, $68 million dollar Tom Patterson theatre overlooking the river on Lakeside Drive; the regal Avon Theatre in the heart of down town on Downie Street; and the most recent addition, The Studio Theatre annexed behind the Avon on George Street. As a local, you can easily opt for an impromptu night out by chancing ‘rush tickets’ for up to half price, two hours before show time on shows that are not sold out. It pays to be a Stratfordite!
2) GARDENS AND PARKS
Stratford’s Shakespearean Gardens, created in 1936, have been an attraction all their own, located next to the Perth County Courthouse and adjacent to the Avon River. The beautifully manicured English gardens bespeak of Shakespeare’s day with such a wide array of colour and variety. Further in, a gazebo often plays host to summertime weddings. Trails twist in and around the myriad of vegetation. A wooden footbridge to a small island on the river offers serenity and solitude.
Up river in the wooded area of Upper Queen’s Park, the Confederation Park hosts a perfect place to picnic, surrounded by pines and a rock waterfall. This is another hot spot for weddings and family portraits.
But more than just these, Stratford is home to 5 prize winning gardens. In fact, every garden and flowerbed throughout the city are eye catching and thoroughly enjoyable. Which is no doubt one of the reasons why Stratford was named the “Prettiest City in the World” by Nations in Bloom in 1997.
3) THE AVON RIVER
The Avon River is central to Stratford’s highlights. Boasting two dozen mute swans dotting the river, the striking Tom Patterson Island connected by a photogenic arched wooden footbridge, paddle boating, miles of trails, picnic tables and parkland, the Stratford River is a destination all in itself. With 115 acres of maintained parkland, Stratford is a nature lover’s paradise. A 2.6 km trail encircling the River is the perfect place to get your daily exercise, with a 360° stunning vista, year round. The Avon River is one of those ‘only in Stratford’ delights that cannot be found anywhere else on earth.
Your experience at the Avon River would not be complete without renting a paddleboat from the Boathouse and floating along the River with a trail of swans and ducks behind you. Waterfowl-friendly food is available for purchase at the Boathouse to take along so you can practically feed the birds by hand. If paddleboating is not your style, canoes and kayaks are also available to rent. Once back onshore, enjoy a delicious salad or sandwich at the Boathouse, or grab one of their $1 cones to enjoy while strolling along the River.
5) SHOPPING AND DINING
With multiple unique shops ranging from Totally Spoke’d for all your cycling needs, to MacLeods Scottish Shop offering a wide assortment of imported clothing, tartans, and giftware from across the United Kingdom, to world class confectioners like Rheo Thompson Candies for their famous mint smoothies since 1969, to healthy-style options at the unique Little Green Grocery and The Gentle Rain, to Olive Your Favourites tasting bar with an astounding assortment of olive oils and balsamics… the list of ‘only in Stratford’ shopping venues is simply amazing and practically endless. And with well over a hundred restaurants, one does not have to look very far to find a savoury bite to fit any taste after a day of shopping adventure.
6) THE STRATFORD PERTH MUSEUM
The Stratford Perth Museum, located on 7 acres at the western edge of town, exhibits thousands of artifacts and particulars concerning Perth County; some of which include the history of the railway, the Perth Regiment, the Stratford Festival, and of course, Stratford’s son: Justin Bieber. The Museum is well worth a visit at any time of the year.
7) JUSTIN BIEBER TOUR
Yes, Stratford is Justin Bieber’s hometown. He was discovered by his YouTube home videos showcasing his singing in a local talent show and busking on the steps of the Avon Theatre. The rest is pop star history! Guide maps are available at Tourism Stratford for ‘beliebers’ to visit Justin’s favourite hangouts from when he was growing up as well as his frequent visits back home. With his new home just an hour away, Justin frequently visits his old hometown, so Bieber-sightings are highly possible for all his star-struck fans.
8) THE STRATFORD FARMER’S MARKET
The Stratford Farmer’s Market, established in 1855, is one of the oldest in the province. Located inside the Stratford Agriplex at the Stratford Rotary Complex, the Market is open year round, offering meats, cheese, baked goods, honey, maple syrup, farm fresh eggs and produce, take home meals, coffee, handmade crafts, birdseed, fresh cut flowers, and more. From May until October the Market overflows into the parking lot with many in season offerings of fruit and veggies from local farms. Stay for lunch with the savoury bacon on a bun or a sausage on site.
9) PUCK’S PLENTY
Get off the beaten path with Puck’s Plenty, a highly acclaimed forager that has been featured in national papers such as The Globe and Mail and The National Post, and television on The Oprah Network and Global TV. This unique experience will take you into nature’s garden with a new set of eyes and garner you invaluable knowledge of healthful and tasty local plants and mushrooms. Since 2010, naturalist Peter Blush has been educating people through Puck’s Plenty excursions on the countless varieties of edible vegetation as wells as sensible harvesting techniques. Sharpen your survival skills and find out more by booking your own foraging trek into the lush nature around Stratford at www.pucksplenty.com
10) FESTIVALS AND EVENTS
Stratford’s festivals and events are many and varied. The following is just a small sampling of how Stratford entertains visitors and locals alike.
The Stratford Summer Music Festival is a month long array of dozens of concerts, both indoors and out, by numerous international, Canadian, world renown and up and coming performers. Many performances are free or pay by donation. And then there’s everyone’s favourite, the music barge, providing diverse styles and genres to an audience seated on the sloping banks to the River. https://stratfordsummermusic.ca/
The Dragon Boat Festival, held every September and drawing from all over the province, spectators have been watching and cheering dragon boat races on the Avon River for 25 years. https://rotarystratford.com/SitePage/stratford-rotary-dragon-boat-festival
The Stratford Kiwanis Garlic Festival is now 14 years strong, holding the annual event at the Stratford Rotary Complex grounds. Offering a myriad of garlic products, from sauces to lotions to even ice cream, along with cooking demonstrations and info seminars, this potent festival is sure to make a strong impression. Spotlighting 26 varieties of garlic, this is one event that totally stinks—but in a completely delicious way! https://stratfordgarlicfestival.com/
While shopping down town, hop aboard a horse drawn carriage in the square above the Memorial Gardens to take a tour of Stratford’s core. Or be entertained by one of many buskers throughout the city streets. Or stop and watch the filming of Murdock Mysteries or some other show or movie using the city as a setting for their film.
The Winter Festival of Lights, the Stratford Blues and Rib Fest, the Stratford Concert Band, Art in the Park, the Friday night music barge strumming down the River, the Swan Parade – just to name a few of the many events always happening in this city where community spirit is alive and thriving.
With these highlights as just a sampling, it is not out of the way to say that there is always something going on in Stratford. It’s all the unique shops, sights, and events that make this city absolutely one of a kind. There is simply never a dull moment in Stratford. For a small city it packs a big impact… and you don’t want to miss a beat!
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