What’s the deal with Stratford, you might ask? Isn’t it just theatre and seniors enjoying pre show roast beef before heading home on the bus? I think there might be some swans….

beautiful, stately homes, stunning gardens and Lake Victoria, part of the Avon River

I’ll tell you what the deal is – this place has it all. Small town charm, beautiful homes that will have you checking to see what kind of mortgage you can qualify for on your phone as you stroll down Douglas Street, a street that is home to more dream homes per square foot than any street that I have had the pleasure of strolling down.

 

I grew up in London Ontario and so I had some pretty outdated ideas about Stratford before I  was invited to join a small group of travel writers for a media tour back in 2014 and absolutely expected to see a play, eat some prime rib in a dusty old restaurant with a bunch of Red Hat ladies and, maybe, feed a swan.

Imagine my delight when I discovered that the Stratford of my youth was long gone, and in it’s place was a vibrant little city where you couldn’t swing a cat without hitting amazing restaurants and culinary happenings. Yes, they are home to the wonderful Stratford Chef’s School Does anyone remember the juicy TV series about the school from 2008? Okay I just totally aged myself, but if you have Amazon Prime Video, it’s on there. The Wives of Wherever has nothing on this crew.

Yes, there are lots of swans down by the lake but beware – babies are cute and fluffy but mama has a temper

Since then, I have made Stratford one of my top destinations for summer getaways. It’s close enough to go for a day but it’s really nice to stay overnight, see a play, go grab drinks at The Mercer, have breakfast at Edisons and spend a second day doing something fun like foraging with Puck’s Plenty, do a tea tasting at Tea Leaves or spend the day exploring the Chocolate or the Beer and Ale Trail.

Without further ado, here is my list of recommendations that will help you get the most out of your visit. I have not even touched on the cool stuff in the surrounding areas with cheese makers and farms that offer tours and tastings. For now, let’s just concentrate on the city of Stratford.


Where To Stay

Stratford Holiday Lets

thoughtful touches like this made the spotless apartment extra cosy

Newly renovated 2 bedroom apartment – this one is not right downtown but it’s a 5 minute drive (or a 25 minute walk/under 10 minute bike ride) , it has ample parking and it’s a great choice for a group or a family. This place also has a nice little deck off of the kitchen but it’s at the top of a flight of steep steps so definitely not appropriate for anyone with mobility issues. It comes with Keurig, plenty of coffees and teas and when I stayed, milk, a bottle of wine and eggs were a lovely touch.

 

 

List of Suites/Apartments on the Stratford Tourism Site

The Parlour Inn old school charm downtown

The Mercer hipster worthy downtown

Edison   this lovely cafe is also an equally lovely Inn right in the heart of downtown

Airbnb if you want an apartment in a specific neighbourhood


Where To Eat 

Stratford Ontario is a dining powerhouse

first of all, check out my current favourites here

The Mercer   Japanese Izakaya meets a more traditional gastro pub that doubles as a beer hall

 Planet Diner   “herbivores can bring their carnivores”

 Grounded    Healthy, delicious vegan fare

 Edison  great coffee and amazing breakfast and lunch

prepared food counter, food market on the main floor, roof top patio and a pub upstairs at The Hub

 The Hub   The Hub has a huge pub and patio upstairs but it’s the downstairs deli and gourmet market that gets my vote. Delicious, freshly made sandwiches with a plethora of delicious deli side dishes make it a perfect lunch spot.

Revel  Long established fair trade coffee and great baked goods, made in house

Pazzo  Italian Tavern with a pizzeria downstairs in the back

The Prune  In the mood some fine dining? this place is still great

Okazu  Great Bar with late night snacks, Asian forward but only open from 5pm to 1am Wednesday to Sunday

AO Pasta    Italian spot featuring freshly made pasta with standard starters like arancini and meatballs with sauce

The Red Rabbit “A locally sourced restaurant, run by workers, owned by workers, shared by the community


How To Get Around

My trusty steed from Totally Spoked came with a lock and a helmet and was all I needed to get around town

Totally Spoked  Rent a bike. My bike, which came with a helmet and a lock cost $25 for 1/2 day and $35 for a full day (4+ hours).

Walk– Stratford is absolutely walkable with most places you might want to visit never more than a km away from wherever you are

Taxi -I will be honest and admit I have never taken a taxi here as I walk and bike when I am there and so I can’t give a recommendation for any particular service. There is no Uber or Lyft at the present time, so I really do think that renting a bike or walking is the way to go when at all possible


What To Drink

Junction 56 Distillery is a craft distillery with some really creative gins and other spirits

Junction 56 Distillery

I was very curious to try the Fireshine here after finding out that they collaborated with Karen Hartwick of Tea Leaves for this spicy, cinnamon heavy spirit – think Fireball but for grown ups. It packs a wallop, courtesy of Hartwick’s  Hot Cinnamon Spice Tea and that’s when I saw that they also do a Mint Smoothie liquer which is the result of another collaboration with local icons, Rheo Thompson Candies. Hartwick has a collaborative Mint Smoothie Tea with Rheo Thompson too – I was starting to see a pattern here.

Mike Heisz attended a whiskey tasting in 2012 and the seed was planted – he wasn’t sure how he was going to do it, but he wanted to learn how to distil so after taking courses and teaching himself all he could, he left his career as an engineer to open Junction 56 in 2015.

You can drop in for a tasting for $5 or if you do a $15 tour, your guided tasting is included but for a tour, you should call in advance.

Jobsite Brewery

Grab a pizza and a beer

Much like Junction 56 (which is actually located in the same building so make it a twofer), founders Dave Oldenburger and Phil Buhler made the decision to open their own brewery while they were on a tour of another brewery – a copious amount of beer might have been consumed that day but when it still seemed like a great idea the next day, they just needed to do two things: find a location and teach themselves to brew.

With a quartet of their versions of classic beers on tap and a pizza oven, if you ask really nicely, you might be able to snag a taste of one of their science experiments that brew up in small batches in the back. I tasted a milkshake beer that tasted of coconut suntan lotion IN A GOOD WAY

Black Swan Brewing

Okazu  Great Bar with late night snacks, Asian forward but only open from 5pm to 1am Wednesday to Sunday