If you grew up in the GTA, you’ve probably been to Stratford, Ontario at least once by way of a school trip for the annual Stratford Festival or a Shakespearean play that made you realize how much theatre in the round makes sense as a stage setup; everyone gets a fair vantage point! It just makes sense. Anyways, I digress.
A week ago, we took a road trip to the city that’s home to over 31,000 people. Greeted by the friendly team of the Stratford Tourism Board, my #TinyTowntario partner and every day homegirl, Elise, and I quickly dove into our itinerary that saw two days of dining, relaxing, and shopping on their annual Christmas Trail. Not only was this a great opportunity to support local businesses, but also see another and more holistic side to the city that I never had a chance to when I visited in high school. It turned out to be the perfect way to spend a weekend together safely and enjoyably during a season that has seen many of us spending most of our time at home. There were so many offerings that allows for physical distancing and business owners were incredibly diligent with safety measures.
If you’re planning a quick escape to the 5-1-9, here’s a breakdown of recommendations from our visit:
- CHRISTMAS TRAIL
The Christmas Trail is an annual event that sees 23 stores and local artisans participating with their eclectic seasonal offerings. From vintage to contemporary, visitors get the opportunity to experience fashion and art that runs the gamut! For $30 plus HST, visitors can choose 6 stores to redeem a holiday themed gift from as they make their way through the trail which is on until December 20th! All you have to do is visit Destination Stratford, on 47 Downie Street, to purchase your trails in person where you’ll also receive 6 vouchers to redeem your gifts. You can take a look at the map and brochure for the trail here.
We had a blast meeting business owners and shopping their curated collections that aren’t available in Toronto. Sure, we had every intention of getting some early holiday shopping accomplished but as you know, sometimes it’s more fun to holiday shop for yourself, ya know? Some of our favourite stops included Bradshaws & Kitchen Detail, La Osa Jewelry and Vintage, and Touchmark which had ultimate cozy reading socks to take home.
2. RESTAURANTS AND CAFÈS
From farm to table, traditional to contemporary dishes, Stratford’s food offerings are a feast for the eyes and taste buds. Whether you’re into comfort food or healthy options, there are countless of restaurants in the downtown core and steps from the Christmas Trail to give you that fuel, Insta-worthy food shot, or down time with your road trip bud.
York Street Kitchen Bistro – Fantastic sandwiches, salads and comfort food with an adorable back patio that makes you feel like you’re in a relaxed country garden. I’d like to go on record by saying their meatball sub is one of the best you’ll ever have.
The Common – Blending and elevating traditional with the contemporary, The Common uses fresh, local and responsibly sourced ingredients to bring their incredibly flavourful menu to life. I’m still dreaming about their charcuterie board and Gyoza Cheeseburger dumplings! Moreover, it’s a cozy, dim lit environment that makes this spot a really nice and intimate setting for dinner.
Braai House – This is one of the newer kids on the block and known as the trendy spot in town. South African inspired in their dishes with a focus on open-fire cooking, their cocktail menu is also worth taking note of. Braai House is a fantastic spot for dinner or shareables with a night cap, and the ambiance makes you feel like you’re in a trendy spot in Sonoma, California. Tres chic!
Revival House – If you don’t go to Revival House at some point during your trip to Stratford, we can not be friends. I only say this because I want the best for you! Formerly known as The Church until new ownership took over in 2015, Revival House is a very popular food, drink and events venue found in the historic McKenzie Memorial Gospel Church downtown with incredible farm fare, craft brews, wine and more. The owners have maintained the integrity of the building with original stained glass windows and refurbished furniture that allows you to feel like you’re tasting and experiencing the history of the town in one sitting.
The Livery Yard – In the heart of Stratford is The Livery Yard. Its bright and airy environment took me back to the quaint and modern coffee shops in New Orleans! Fantastic coffee (try the Flat White) and fresh pastries, this is a great spot to start your day, unwind in the middle of the afternoon or even for a little work sesh with the good old laptop right by the fireplace.
Edison’s – This shop is part of the Perth Country Inn which we didn’t get a chance to stay in but highly recommend stopping by for a beverage. Edison pays tribute to the great Thomas Edison who reportedly stayed in the Inn in 1863. Definitely a hot spot for a Grammable moment.
3. OUTDOOR VENUES
Avon Theatre – Closed in the meantime because of COVID-19, the Avon Theatre is still worth checking out because front and centre of the building are the stars of hometown heroes, most notably, Justin Bieber, who spent his childhood days performing on the steps of the theatre. The team hopes to have the theatre opened back up in 2021 for stage productions and the annual Stratford Festival.
Tom Patterson Island – Steps away from the Tom Patterson Theatre is the Tom Patterson Island which is an outdoor oasis in and of itself. With benches and stretches of grassy area to relax by the Avon River, this is a great spot for photos, an outdoor picnic, or quiet time with family.
Shakespearean Gardens – Exactly as it sounds, the Shakespearean Gardens is home to 60 varieties of herbs, flowers, and shrubs that are mentioned in Shakespeare’s most notable plays! You’ll find the oldest double-arch stone bridge in Ontario here, and iron benches scattered for you to enjoy a peaceful morning along the calm river bank. I felt like a was walking into a scene of my own little Rom Com when I dropped by!
4. STAY AT THE BRADSHAW LOFTS
Although there are many great Inns and Hotels in Stratford, I must speak from experience and a very memorable one at that! We had a chance to stay overnight at the Bradshaw Lofts. Originally built in 1903, the Bradshaw Lofts recently re opened with 58 units with Edwardian Classical style. Beautiful arched windows, exposed brick, high ceilings, and rustic finishing, this loft made me feel like I was sleeping in a modern castle for a weekend. Best part is it’s steps away from the downtown core where the aforementioned Christmas Trail takes place!
5. SPA DAY AT THE BRUCE HOTEL
The Bruce Hotel is a short drive from the downtown core and worth the very little mileage to get there! This is truly where sophistication and elegance meets. Not only is the property beautiful but it offers a fantastic spa experience in partnership with Illume Wellness Spa. The incredible service paired with the relaxing atmosphere forced Elise and I into deep naps, and we’re always here for a nap.
6. LIGHTS ON STRATFORD – Festival of Lights
Stratford is gearing up for their first Lights On Stratford event which sees their roster of local talents in lighting, props and creativity bring a unique winter experience to life. The downtown core is transformed by luminous art and light installations that injects winter joy to the city. It’s free to the public and designed from start to finish for visitors to enjoy with physical distancing until February 2021!
It’s safe to say that there’s no shortage of experiential offerings in Stratford. When you get a chance to go this season, make sure to leave a comment and let me know what you enjoyed most from this list and what other gems you came across!
Stay safe and keep those spirits up!
B. Tru xx