Around the World
Sep 2023 | By Anne Bokma
The play’s the thing at Stratford, Ontario’s premier arts city with its world-renowned theatre festival that draws more than one million visitors to this city of 30,000 – and plenty of retirees too. In fact, it’s been named a top retirement destination thanks to its vibrant arts scene, compact scale, walkability, elaborate “foodie” scene and “real town” feel that provides a solid sense of community. The quaint downtown area is surrounded by rolling farmlands, making for an idyllic fall road trip.
Of course, you’ll want to catch a play or two (if you’re in the mood for belly laughs be sure to see Spamalot, if it’s drama you’re after, you can’t go wrong with King Lear), but there are plenty of other attractions that make a fall visit worth putting on your travel calendar.
1. Catch the magic behind the curtains
Experience a behind-the-scenes Set Changeover Experience that shows how the Festival Theatre’s skilled stage crew transforms the stage for its performances. Guides at the Festival Treasures costume warehouse and archives will walk you through theatre history as you explore its huge collection of props and costumes. Back stage tours of the Festival, Avon and Tom Patterson theatres are also available.
2. Self-guided culinary tours
Three self-guided tours offer the chance to select half a dozen delicious treats from a wide selection of downtown businesses. The Chocolate Trail and The Bacon and Ale Trail are year-round experiences while the Savour & Sip Trail, which introduces you to locally-made products, runs until October.
3. Take a tour of farm life
Drive along the country roads and visit one of the many local family farms in Perth County, where Stratford is located. Pick up preserves, homemade baked goods and garden fresh produce at stops such as McCully’s Hill Farm, enjoy a farm-to-table experience at Lynn River Farm, pet dwarf goats at The Perth Farmhouse, meet the critically endangered Ojibwe Spirit Horses at the Open Barn Event at Aspens Ojibwe Horse Sanctuary or take an alpaca for a walk at TLC Alpaca.
4. Spooky stuff
Get in the treat-or-treat spirit with a variety of pre-Halloween experiences, including Ghost Walks at Castle Kilbride and the Avon Theatre. Follow the spheres of fairy lights along the Avon riverside during the annual Lantern Parade and come dressed as your favourite supernatural creature for the Witches & Wizards Halloween Market.
5. Museum and galleries
At the Stratford Peth County Museum, Shakespeare is getting a little competition from another famous artist with a big following (almost 300 million Instagram followers to be exact). The Justin Bieber “Steps to Stardom” exhibit, on display until the end of the year, pays tribute to Stratford’s most famous son, who buskered with a rented guitar on the steps of the Avon Theatre when he was 12 years old. There are also a number of small galleries in town, in addition to the prestigious Gallery Stratford, one of Ontario’s longest running public art galleries.
6. Feast on this
Thanks in great part to the Stratford Chefs School, the city has become a culinary destination serving a discerning foodie clientele. There’s always something new to try in town, including the Braai House, a South African inspired restaurant focused on open-fire cooking. Other great spots to dine include Bluebird Restaurant and Bar, Fellini’s, Mercer Kitchen and Caf7. é Bouffon.
7. Shop the downtown & take a bit of Stratford home with you
There are dozens of independent specialty stores in Stratford where you can shop to your heart’s content. Check out Watson’s Chelsea Bazaar, a 5th generation run family business with an eclectic range of housewares and gifts, Distinctly Tea, with an expansive selection of specialty teas, and The Barkery, which offers pets and their owners a wide variety of delicious and healthy treats. And because it’s never too early to start thinking about the holidays, you can pick up some unique gifts at the Stratford Sparkles Christmas Market (Nov. 11), which showcases the handcrafted works of 50 vendors.
Anne Bokma is an author, journalist, memoir writing instructor and travel writer in Hamilton, Ont. Find her at: annebokma.com