Unique Things To Do in Downtown Stratford, Ontario
Updated: Aug 25, 2022
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The downtown area of Stratford is filled with unique artisan shops, locally run cafes and restaurants, and the odd art gallery or two. The main shopping street in Stratford is Ontario Street, so you can imagine how busy it gets with tourists during the summer months. However, there are plenty of other streets around City Hall that are worth exploring and are often overlooked by tourists who are just visiting Stratford for 48 hours. Oftentimes you can find some unique events happening around the downtown area too, so keep your eyes peeled!
One thing I noticed about downtown Stratford was that there were a lot of new restaurants and shops that had popped up since I was last home. It definitely needed a bit more variety when it came to shops, so this was great to see. Stratford is known as Canada’s premier arts town, so on top of the various theatres spread around the city, Stratford hosts a number of interesting events, festivals, and has various new pieces of street art that are really adding more life into the city. Here’s a local’s guide to the best unique things to do in downtown Stratford, Ontario.
City Hall & Market Square
Stratford’s City Hall was built at the very end of the 19th century, and stands proudly in the middle of the downtown area. It’s a very unique point of interest in Stratford, and is one of the most photographed places in the city. Just behind City Hall is Market Square, which has recently had its pedestrianized space expanded to include lots of covered seating areas to relax under in the summer. This open community space is also where you’ll find the Sunday Slow Food Market which features local producers.
As I mentioned before, Ontario Street is considered the main shopping street in Stratford. However, Downie Street deserves a bit of credit as well, as it’s home to some fantastic eateries, including the vegan hotspot The Planet Diner, as well as some unique shops. If you like art, you need to stop by Matilda Swanson Gallery which features some stunning artwork by professional Canadian artists. I’d also recommend stopping at Angela’s Gelato for a quick break before heading off to see more of downtown Stratford.
The Stratford Festival is made up of four theatres spread around the city, with the largest being near the river. The Avon Theatre is located along Downie Street, and was originally opened in 1900 as an opera house. If you like Justin Bieber, you can find his star outside of the theatre which is where he used to busk before hitting stardom. If you’re more into seeing a play though, the Avon Theatre is a great venue and is sometimes less busy than the other main ones.
The Little Prince Micro-Cinema & Lounge
One of the most unique things to do in downtown Stratford, Ontario is to catch a movie inside the world’s smallest purpose built cinema. The Little Prince Micro-Cinema & Lounge is located along Wellington Street, and plays short films and movies throughout the day. You can grab a drink and some snacks from the vintage desk inside the venue as well before settling into your seat. There’s only room for 13 people inside though, so make sure you plan ahead! It’s certainly one of the more fun things to do in Stratford, Ontario and you won’t find anything like it anywhere else.
Wellington Street is home to some of the best restaurants in Stratford, and is definitely worth taking a walk along if you’re feeling a little hungry. Here’s where you’ll find a lot of locally run shops and eateries, as well as some picturesque buildings to take photos of. If you’re looking for something to take away, you can’t go wrong with a sandwich from Sirkel Foods. For something a little more upscale, an evening at Bijou Restaurant where they serve dishes made of seasonal and local ingredients is a must.
Allen’s Alley may not be your typical tourist attraction in Stratford, but it’s worth noting if you’re interested in history. Located halfway down Wellington Street, this cut-through was originally a passage to the livery stables and was named after a fruit market that used to be located along the street until 1942. Today it features some unique street art that plays on the theme of Stratford being an artistic centre.
If you like unique and Instagrammable streets, you can’t go wrong with York Street. This quaint historic street features some unique shops and places to eat in Stratford, including a very popular ice cream parlour, antique shops, and boutique shops. Just across from York Street is where you’ll find the Avon Boat Rentals, which is a must-try in Stratford where you can explore the Avon River at your leisure while taking in the views of the city from a new perspective.
Stratford may be known by many because of the Festival Theatre, but I guarantee almost every tourist makes a stop at Rheo Thompson before heading home. Grabbing a box of their mint smoothies is one of the best things to do in Stratford, and they make for great souvenirs too (if you don’t eat all the chocolates yourself). Rheo Thompson opened its doors in 1969 and is still very much a small business, despite it having several offers of expansion. They make incredible tasting chocolates, but definitely try a mint smoothie at least once.
Retro Rollers Inc.
There are plenty of activities in Stratford to get involved in, but one of Stratford’s newest and most exciting things is Retro Rollers Inc. located next to Rheo Thompson. You can buy really colourful retro roller skates and accessories here, but they also have events on regularly where you can skate inside the building as well which is a lot of fun. Stratford has never had anything like this before so it’s something you should definitely get involved in if you’re spending more than a couple of days in Stratford.
Some of the best clothing stores in Stratford can be found along Ontario Street - the main street cutting through the city centre. It’s a very busy street at all times of the year, but it’s particularly buzzing during the summer months when many of the restaurants have outdoor patios to sit out on. Places like Pazzo’s, Bentley’s, and El Cactus Taco Shop are all great options for places to eat along Ontario Street. One of my favourite new shops here is called Stilettos & Sawdust which has some unique home decor for sale that can also be personalized.
As you can see, there is quite a lot to see in downtown Stratford, Ontario apart from the usual tourist spots. Of course, there are plenty of free things to do in Stratford as well if you’re planning on visiting this charming town in southwestern Ontario on a budget. Whatever your reason for visiting Stratford, whether that be in the summer or the winter, you’ll thoroughly enjoy walking through the downtown area and exploring all of the locally run shops and restaurants.
Have you had the chance to explore Stratford on foot before? I’d love to hear about your favourite places to eat in Stratford or what shops you enjoyed the most. Please feel free to leave a comment below or get in touch via email if you have any questions for a Stratford native. Don’t forget to follow my travels on Instagram too!
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