- Gabrielle Nunez -
Welcome to Stratford, Ontario. Population, 32,000. Popularity, known by tween-age girls all over the world as the home of Justin Bieber. But of course, that’s not the reason we go visit, *cough*. No, the real reason you want to drop what you’re doing this very second and start planning your next trip to this cute little Canadian city is because the absolute charm of it is something out of a storybook. This place will leave your tastebuds tantalized, your memories full, and your breathe taken, as you roam its streets and indulge in its entertainment. But let me not get too ahead of myself.
An ideal trip may start by landing in the nearest (international) airport, Toronto’s YYZ. A short hour and a half drive brings you through Ontario’s rich countryside, boasting broad horizons, beautiful nature, and some good ol’ farmland to give you a little eye candy for the journey down. You know you’re getting close when you pull through a little antique town named Shakespeare, and believe me, the town and name very much sets the stage (pardon the pun) for what your Stratford-encounter will be like.
In case it’s not overtly obvious, something you’ll certainly want to know about this attractive little city, is that it is named after Stratford-Upon-Avon in England, the birthplace of the famous playwright, William Shakespeare. The Canadian city also touts an Avon river, and is renowned for its four Shakespearean theaters that produce plays and draw crowds from all over world.
FESTIVAL THEATRE. Stopping in for a play is almost a mandatory experience for any Stratford newbies. The costumes and artwork themselves are enough to add it to your trip itinerary, but the acting, singing, dancing is sure to gain your rapt adoration. My favorite theatre to visit happens to be the largest, the Festival. I’ve seen more than a handful of plays here over the years including Oliver, Henry IV, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and my personal favorite, Caesar & Cleopatra (starring Christopher Plummer!)
Shows run primarily through the early Summer-Fall season, and tickets can be found on their website (stratfordfestival.ca). Keep an eye out for those student discounts and particularly their “rush seats”, which discount tickets 50% two hours prior to the beginning of a play.
Other fun events not pictured:
SUMMER MUSIC FESTIVAL. Be sure to plan your trip during this annual, summer-long event and listen as the city comes alive with classical performances, jazz bands, choirs, and various other international artists that offer a diverse array of musical genres. Plus the season always begins and ends with fireworks right above the Avon River!
SAVOUR STRATFORD. This year-round culinary experience broadcasts local restaurants and vendors and shops in a tasty event you won’t want to miss!
Eats and Treats.
MONFORTE. This downtown restaurant is a fave! You walk in and are immediately enthralled by the décor: the wooden carts, hanging lights, cute tables, and wine bottles that line the walls. You can sense the “family environment”, like you’ll want to sit down, plan to stay for a while, and enjoy some hearty conversation with the table of strangers beside you. But what makes this osteria “all the rage”, is that it’s run and supplied by a local farm that specializes, and takes (well earned) pride in their craft of cheese-making. Care to have some small plates, charcuterie boards, and a relaxing glass of wine? This is just the place.
Check out their instagram feed, @monforteonwellington for some mouth-watering ideas of what they serve, and location/ hours information.
SIRKEL. This local hotspot is clearly well-loved by the people of Stratford. It’s encouragingly heart-warming to see customers walk in and stop by a couple tables to enjoy a little small talk with other locals first before taking their own seats. But no wonder this café is the place to flock to, it offers delicious eats, prepared fresh on site. So whether you’re in the mood for a taste of homemade bread, salads, sandwiches, or a delectable breakfast, you’ll be sure to leave ‘licking-your-lips’ satisfied.
Located on Wellington St, downtown Stratford, across from City Hall. For hours and more information, check out sirkelfoodsstratford.com
RHEO THOMPSON CANDIES. Have a sweet tooth? You won’t want to miss this place. The reputation of Rheo Thompson precedes it, and so does the yummy smell of mint chocolates as you take a stroll into the store! Attached to the shop is a private kitchen and chocolate factory, where these goodies are perfected by hand, resulting in 152 delicious products. They also take very special care of the way their sweets are packaged, which results in colorfully wrapped candies mounted, and perfectly decorated around the shop. My personal favorite, and my guilty pleasure, is their Mint Smoothie bar, which you can find in Milk, Dark, Orange, or Raspberry flavored, for only a $1.35 each. Excuse me while I go snack on one from my last trip there.
Everything you might want to know about the store can be found on their website, rheothompson.com. Or better yet, just plan to stop in and ask a few of the shopkeepers their advice. They’re always happy to recommend their favorites, answer any nutritional questions, or help you decide which chocolates would pair with your most-loved scotch.
Other local favorites not pictured:
LET THEM EAT CAKE. A fun rendezvous point between plays, this eatery is great for lunch, coffees, teas, and desserts.
YORK STREET KITCHEN. An absolute favorite if you’re looking to chow down a delicious double-fisted, two-napkin sandwich, or a tasty soup or salad, all in a fun atmosphere!
BALZACS. I’ve saved the best category for last, because we all know that a city is only truly great if it’s coffee shops are great. This café wins its name from a French novelist, Honoré de Balzac, whose works were famously produced by drinking copious amounts of strong, black coffee through the night. Its with that inspiration in mind, that this café brings its historical ambiance, and artisanal coffee to life. By far one of my most prized experiences in Stratford is sitting down with a couple of long-time friends, a hot brew (or in the summer an iced latté paired with their artisanal ice cream) in hand, and quality conversation to give you beautiful memories that last a life time. Believe me, you’ll make this a daily visit once you’ve darkened the door.
Located downtown, on 149 Ontario Street, Stratford.
REVEL. This fairly new café has quickly become popular for its delicious coffee, artistic atmosphere, and a place to gather with friends from the community. They put great care both into their bean selection, roasting and coffee-brewing, as well as their baked goods, which you can quickly tell from your first taste. Rarely will I order a mocha when I go to a coffee shop, but this place is the exception. Revel reserves specialized chocolate squares, that, once placed in the bottom of your cup, and steamed with local milk, melts into a rich and creamy beverage, that will make you want to order it every time. And I’ll add just for fun, that I’ve spotted the occasional celebrity here, namely Colm Feore- you never know who you’ll run into in Stratford!
37 Market Place, Stratford, across from City Hall.
Other local favorites not pictured:
SLAVE TO THE GRIND. A “hole in the wall” café that will not disappoint, this espresso bar offers great coffees, teas, and baked goods with fun vibes that will be sure to give you the fun time you’re looking for! (Located at 46 Ontario Street, Stratford, between Fundamentals and Jane’s).
My list of most- loved places could go on and on, but I hope I've whet your appetite to be your own explorer in this beautiful little city. Let its peaceful calm, and beautiful charm give you memories to talk about for years to come, and be a place you'll most definitely want to share with your most cherished loved ones. And who knows, maybe one day we'll run into each other there? Till then.
For the dreamers - For the adventures