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  • Krista the Explorer

Free Things To Do in Stratford, Ontario For First Time Visitors

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Stratford is one of the best day trip options from Toronto, and is a popular destination for many people planning a road trip around southwestern Ontario as well. Although technically a city, Stratford is regarded as a small town by many, and still gives off that small town vibe with its quaint shops, locally run eateries, and serene spots along the Avon River. If you happen to be visiting Stratford during the warmer months, you’ll be able to catch a play at the Festival Theatre and may be in town when there’s a unique outdoor event taking place as well.


Unlike other larger cities in Canada, Stratford is quite a budget friendly destination if you know where to look. There are plenty of delicious places to eat in Stratford, and depending on your budget you can either indulge in one of the more upscale restaurants or be pleasantly surprised at one of the local diners or pubs in and around downtown Stratford. And like all cities, there are some fantastic free things to do in Stratford that will fit in seamlessly with your itinerary, and at the same time give you a better understanding of what makes Stratford such a popular tourist destination in Ontario.

Gallery Stratford

Outside Gallery Stratford on a sunny summer day.
Gallery Stratford

Did you know that Stratford is home to one of Ontario’s longest running public art galleries? Gallery Stratford was founded in 1967 and sits inside what was once Stratford’s original pump house. The architecture has been kept the same, so it’s a very unique building to look at from the outside. Inside though, the gallery showcases a wide variety of Canadian artistic talents, and often hosts events too. This is one of the best free things to do in Stratford, Ontario so make sure you take full advantage of it.


Get up close to some swans

A swan and its baby floating on the Avon River.
Swan and cygnet

If you’ve been to Stratford in the summertime before then you’ll probably have noticed that the city has quite a lot of beautiful swans and Canadian geese hanging around the Avon River. Every year on the first Sunday of April the swans are released from their winter home and lead by a pipe band to the Avon River. This Swan Parade attracts visitors from all over Ontario and is a great free thing to do in Stratford with the kids. If you miss the parade, you’ll be able to see the swans and their cygnets all over Lower Queen’s Park throughout the warmer months, so don’t forget your camera!


Walk around the Avon River

View of the Avon River in Stratford from a bridge.
Avon River

If you’ve had your fill of downtown Stratford, a leisurely walk around the Avon River is a great way to unwind and take in the beautiful scenery. Walking the full circuit of the river should take no more than 90 minutes depending on how many times you stop to take photos or look at the different animals roaming around. Many people choose to stay on the near side of the river, closest to the Festival Theatre, but the opposite side of the river provides you with stunning views and has a bit more to look at in my opinion. Don’t forget to check out Tom Patterson Island as well, which is now fully lit up in the evening.


City Hall and Market Square

Large city hall building in downtown Stratford.
City Hall

One of the most popular things to see in Stratford is the City Hall. It’s an iconic building sitting right in the heart of the downtown area, so you really can’t miss it. Behind the City Hall’s main entrance is the Market Square, which is a popular place to sit during the summer months and is home to one of the main breweries in Stratford as well. If you’re looking for the best restaurants in Stratford, you’ll find many of them located along Wellington Street at the side of City Hall.


Admire the free art

A colorful shed covered in art in Market Square.
Market Square

Stratford is famous for being an arts town in Canada, and people come from all over North America to catch a play here. On top of the performances, Stratford boasts a number of art galleries and events too which attract a crowd. One thing to look out for if you’re planning a day trip to Stratford, Ontario is the street art. There’s some unique art in and around Gallery Stratford, in Upper Queen’s Park, but there’s quite few pieces popping up in the downtown area as well thanks to local artist Claire Scott. There’s nothing better than finding free things to do in Stratford, Ontario - so get street art hunting!


Explore the downtown area

Exterior of a rooftop patio bar in Stratford.
The HUB

Wherever I travel to, one of my favourite things to do is to explore the area on foot and find some unique places that only locals know about. If you’re planning on doing some shopping in downtown Stratford, it’s worth taking some extra time to explore all of its streets, not just Ontario Street. Many of the smaller streets have a lot to offer visitors as well, and doing a bit of window shopping is always a great free thing to do in Stratford.


Shakespearean Gardens

Shakespearean Gardens located in downtown Stratford, Ontario.
Shakespearean Gardens

This one is more of a seasonal activity in Stratford, so if you’re in town during the summertime you should take the opportunity to explore the Shakespearean Gardens. You’ll find the gardens next to the Perth County Court House, at the end of Ontario Street, and the gardens are completely free to enter. It’s a lovely greenspace to walk around and even features a replica of an English medieval building and the remains of an old woollen mill in the centre.


This is just a little glimpse into the many unique free things to do in Stratford, Ontario but there are always new things popping up. Stratford is a beautiful city in Ontario to visit, whether you’re staying for 48 hours or only have time for a day trip. Unlike the largest cities in Ontario, Stratford’s small town charm is still attracting people from all over the world, and continues to be one of the best places in Ontario to go on a road trip to. And Stratford has just introduced Culture Cab which provides visitors with free rides to 5 key cultural destinations in Stratford!


Are there any other free things to do in Stratford that I missed? Feel free to send me an email or let me know in the comment section below. And don’t forget to get in touch through Instagram too and follow my travels there for more tips.


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