There are so many amazing things to do in Elora, Ontario, and it’s the perfect weekend vacation from Toronto or anywhere in southern Ontario. Elora has the perfect combination of outdoor adventures and small town charm. There’s a stunning gorge, lots of parks and green space for such a little place, and a quaint downtown core.
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With all of these wonderful things to do in Elora, you can spend a day or a few days in this cute village. While it’s possible to plan a day trip to Elora, I recommend spending at least one night in town to make the most of your time there. There are so many things to see in Elora that you could easily spend at least two or even three days if you want to experience it all!
Things to Do in Elora: Outdoor Activities
Let’s start with outdoor adventures in Elora. The town is most known for the Elora Gorge, stunning rugged cliffs with a river rushing through the middle. There are many opportunities for hiking, exploring, and even drifting down the Grand River in the center of this impressive canyon.
Elora Gorge Lookout and Victoria Park
The Elora Gorge is one of the top reasons why people visit the village of Elora. The cliffs span 22 metres high in some places and the Grand River rushes through the middle. If you’d like to get up close and personal with the Elora Gorge, head directly to Victoria Park.
Once you enter Victoria Park, take a short walk through a shaded area until you reach the lookout point. There’s a small platform where you can admire scenery of the Elora Gorge from up above.
Now, retrace your steps and continue walking a little bit further and you’ll reach a set of stairs leading down into the gorge. There aren’t too many steps before you reach the bottom. Whether you admire the Elora Gorge from below or choose to walk through the shallow waters here, it’s all up to you.
Victoria Park and the lookout are both free things to do in Elora, Ontario. The gorge can actually be appreciated from several vantage points throughout town. You might stumble upon these spots if you go for a big walk around town. If you walk on the west side of Wellington Rd 7 before you reach David Street, you’ll cross over the Grand River and the Elora Gorge from high above. Then, continue east on David Street where you’ll spot another pretty Elora Gorge view over Irvine Creek.
Hiking at Elora Gorge Conservation Area
The Elora Gorge Conservation Area is another place to experience the gorge in all of its glory. We spent a couple of hours on the hiking trails at the Elora Gorge Conservation Area. Please note that there is a safety fence along the entire edge of the trail, so you aren’t able to get up too close to the gorge and the river. I wouldn’t say that it’s one of the top things to do in Elora, but it’s a nice walk to take if you love hiking and nature.
There are a couple of interesting features at the Elora Gorge Conservation Area. First, there’s a spot called the “Hole in the Rock”. It’s a staircase that’s constructed through a massive boulder that takes you closer to the river. While the views of the Grand River are lovely, I find that the staircase through the hole in the rock to be more interesting. Also, there’s a pretty incredible tree growing on top of a giant rock with all of its roots exposed. It’s so fascinating how nature can adapt in such ways.
As you continue your hike, there’s another lookout on the way and a bridge with some views of the Grand River, too. I don’t find the scenery here to be quite as impressive as the ones you’ll see in downtown Elora or at Victoria Park. There’s also a $7.50 admission fee to the park per person.
If you love to go hiking and have some time set aside in your Elora itinerary, I’d say go for it…otherwise, don’t feel too bad if you have to skip this one. It’s also worth visiting if you plan to go camping or tubing here. I personally find the other lookout points in the village itself among the best things to do in Elora, and they’re free!
The Bissell Park Boardwalk
Bissell Park is a small park and green space in Elora, Ontario. It’s the site of Riverfest Elora and the weekly Elora Farmers Market that happens every Saturday. There’s an expansive wooden boardwalk that extends from one end of the park to the other down by the river.
It’s a lovely place to go for a walk. You can rest at a bench or picnic table on the way if you’d like to appreciate the calming river scenes. It’s only a short distance away from downtown Elora, but it feels a little more isolated from the hustle and bustle in the village. Therefore, it’s a great place to unwind and even curl up with a good book.
Unfortunately, the Elora Quarry is closed throughout 2020, so we were unable to visit this time around. However, we hope that it opens back up soon because we’d love to experience it. It’s an old limestone quarry turned swimming hole where you’re surrounded by 12 meter (40 foot) high cliffs.
Swimming and sunbathing are the main features at the Elora Quarry. There’s a large beach area where you can relax, and beautiful turquoise waters to take a dip. Please note that cliff diving is not permitted at the Elora Quarry. Neither are any water crafts, like boats, paddle boards, kayaks or canoes. In addition to swimming, you can also go hiking (a short, 1km loop trail) and picnicking here.
Elora Green Space and the Tall Man
If you love parks and sculptures, you’ll adore this tiny park in the middle of the village. This bustling street corner (Metcalfe and West Mill Street) at the entrance to downtown Elora wasn’t always a park. In fact, it used to be home to a gas station. Nowadays, there are big, shady trees and vibrant red chairs where you can lounge.
It’s the perfect place to meet friends, read a book, or even take in some local music or small theater performances. Grassland Music Festival concerts have taken place at the Elora Green Space.
When we visited, Justin and I admired the local sculptures dotted throughout the small park, including one big one at its center. The Tall Man sculpture was created by artist Scott McNichol, and its actually named, “Who’s in Charge”. It’s a very tall man with his finger pointing downwards. We took turns posing beneath The Tall Man, and it’s pretty obvious from the photos that Justin and I have a big height difference!
Elora Cataract Trail
Looking for more hiking treks? The Elora Cataract Trail is the best hiking trail in Elora Ontario and beyond. It’s a 47km trail that’s part of the Trans Canada Trail, also known as The Great Trail. The Elora Cataract Trail starts in Elora and connects several communities: Fergus, Bellwood, Hillsburgh, Erin, and ends at the Forks of the Credit Provincial Park.
Originally, the trail was an old rail line and route of the Credit Valley Railway. After it was abandoned in 1988, the Grand River and Credit Valley Conservation Authorities developed the land into a linear park that several communities can use to explore the natural environment.
Tubing in Elora on the Grand River
One of the most exciting activities in Elora is tubing. You can go tubing down the Grand River from Elora Gorge Conservation Area. Imagine floating down these rushing white waters as you gaze up at towering cliffs all around you. It’s one of the most thrilling things to do in Elora, Ontario.
There are a few things to note in particular, especially as the pandemic has changed the booking process. You need to book your tubing excursion in advance (no walk up sales). You must return the equipment by 7:00pm on the same day; tubing at Elora Gorge Park opens from 10:00am to 6:00pm until September 7th. There is no shuttle bus service, so participants will need to find their own way back to the park.
You’ll still need to register if you have your own tubing equipment, but you are allowed to use your own tube. However, pool inflatables like giant flamingos and unicorns are not permitted. The tubing run is about 2km long, so you should be able to walk back without any difficulty.
Punting Boat Ride in Elora
Have you ever gone punting? A punt boat is a long, flat boat with bench seating in rows. The boat operator maneuvers and steers the boat using a giant wooden pole. Justin and I experienced a punt boat ride for the first time when we were in Tübingen, Germany. We even got to try our hand at punting, too! They’re also popular in England and a few other places in Europe. Well, now you can find a piece of Europe in Ontario with Elora punt boat tours.
Elora Raft Rides operates punt rides and cruises down the Grand River. You’ll start your cruise at the iconic Elora Mill, drift past beautiful Bissell Park and beyond. You can even enjoy a picnic on board the water craft. You’ll learn more about Elora’s history on a classic cruise or there are also customized trips you can book, like a night cruise.
Experiences in Downtown Elora Ontario
Even if you aren’t wildly interested in outdoor adventures or activities surrounding the Elora Gorge, there are still so many amazing things to do in Elora. You’ll find most of these experiences in downtown Elora, including shopping, the arts, and local culture. There’s a wide variety of activities, so there’s truly something for everyone.
Afternoon Tea at The Wild Tart
One of our most memorable Elora experiences was having English afternoon tea at The Wild Tart (61 Metcalfe Street). Justin and I dined in their back patio garden for this peaceful treat, surrounded by flowers and greenery in a quiet space. You’re able to request a vegan or gluten-free formal afternoon tea in advance, so that’s exactly what we did.
You can choose one beverage (tea or coffee), and the afternoon tea experience comes with a variety of little sandwiches, scones (with cream and jam), and bite-sized treats. I was so excited to taste plant-based scones and cream, as well as so many delightful desserts. Justin and I each had our own little pot of tea (he ordered a berry tea, and I ordered an apple & pear white tea), and both were really yummy.
Go Shopping in Downtown Elora
Downtown Elora has so many shops where you’ll get a dose of retail therapy. There are many unique gift shops and art galleries all over town where you can find something special for your home. Half Moon Boutique has interesting gifts, crafts, art, and clothing. LemonTree & Co is a design studio and retail shop featuring natural and handmade goods for the home. The Elora Pottery offers custom dinnerware and shelves full of handmade mugs, bowls, and so much more.
Mermaid in Elora is one of the largest retail stores in Elora. Its owners travel the world to find intriguing gifts and wares, including a whole room dedicated to silver and costume jewelry. They’ve also got a great collection of items for DIY projects, like heritage hardware for things around the home.
More into vintage and upcycled items? Head straight to ReFIND Salvage to discover old antiques, quirky vintage items, and handmade goods. Honeychurch Lane has upcycled furniture and vintage finds, as well as apothecary gifts and antiques from all over the countryside. Twice Loved Books is the only used bookstore in Elora with books from all genres in their cozy retail space. They have an elaborate collection of over 20,000 books in pristine condition. You can easily spend hours browsing all of the shops in downtown Elora.
Take Instagram Worthy Photos at Mermaid in Elora
When you visit Mermaid in Elora, be sure to wander around the corner to snap a few photos at this Instagram worthy location (Metcalfe St and Church St). There are brightly painted doors covered in vines and greenery. Colorful flowers and sculpture art will draw you in. Since it’s down one of the side streets, this cute place is easy to miss. I’ve added it to this list so you know exactly where to find it!
The Elora Mews
The Elora Mews is a cute little shopping area on West Mill Street, and it’s where you’ll find ReFIND Salvage and the Lost and Found Cafe. Even if you don’t go inside the shops and cafes, it’s an adorable little nook that you’ll want to check out.
Spa Day at Elora Mill
In need of a little pampering? Treat yourself at the luxurious Elora Mill and Spa. Once a grist mill back in the early 1800s, it’s a newly renovated and stunning hotel, spa, and restaurant on the edge of the Grand River. You’ll be able to spot the best views of the rock formation, the “Tooth of Time” from the expansive glass windows inside the Elora Mill.
There are a variety of your favorite spa treatments to rejuvenate your body and mind. In addition, you’ll find a state of the art fitness center, yoga classes, sauna and steam rooms, and an outdoor infinity pool overlooking the river. It’s likely the most relaxing place in town where you can also soak up unobstructed views of the gorge.
Elora Centre for the Arts
The Elora Centre for the Arts is the hub for arts and culture in the village. There are two gallery spaces with rotating exhibits all year long and a pop-up gift shop with handmade products. The historic building itself used to be the old Elora Public School, dating back to 1912. One of two art galleries, the Minarovich Gallery, is situated inside the principal’s office and reception area of the old school house. Visiting the galleries is one of the best free things to do in Elora.
There are also many special events, live performances, classes, and workshops throughout the year for adults and children alike. There’s also a satellite art exhibition at the Elora Mill with 35 pieces on display and sale all over the property.
The Gorge Cinema
Feel like checking out a movie? The Gorge Cinema isn’t your average movie theater. It’s an art house cinema dating back to 1974, and Canada’s longest continuously running repertory cinema. They showcase many genres and films both new and old.
Events in Elora
There are events and festivals all year long through every season in Elora, Ontario. I grew up in a small town and I know first hand that small town festivities contribute to the magic of the place. If you’re visiting during any of these events, I highly recommend that you check them out. These are some of the best things to do in Elora. There are even more that go beyond the scope of this list, so I suggest that you check out this town events and festivals page for more details.
The Elora Farmers Market
If you’re planning to visit Elora on a Saturday in the summer, head straight to Bissell Park where you can browse the Elora Farmers Market. There’s lots of fresh produce, local treats, and artisanal products. The Elora Farmers Market operates from May to December. From May to October, you’ll find this lively community event in Bissell Park between 9:00am and 1:00pm. Once October arrives, the market moves to an indoor facility at the Paddock Building (Grand River Raceway).
The Elora Festival is an annual music festival showcasing all styles of music: classical, folk, jazz, and international. The festival has taken place for over 40 years, and it happens every July for three weeks. The Elora Singers are the in-residence performers, and they are one of the top chamber choirs in the country.
Renowned Canadian and international choirs make up a big portion of the festival line-up. Other notable past performers at The Elora Festival include Gordon Lightfoot, Sarah McLachlan, Buffy Sainte-Marie, Randy Bachman, and Chantal Kreviazuk.
Riverfest Elora is a three day festival at Bissell Park featuring live bands, art, vendors, food trucks, and more. There’s an impressive past line-up of bands, like The Flaming Lips, MGMT, July Talk, The Rural Alberta Advantage, Tokyo Police Club, Born Ruffians, and more. There are always lots of great acts from indie to major labels across a variety of genres. Plus, it’s in a really unique setting: a lovely park on the Grand River in one of Canada’s prettiest villages.
Elora’s Monster Month
Elora’s Monster Month is a spooky celebration like no other! It all started when local resident, Tim Murton, lit up the streets of the village with his own collection of lanterns. Murton has decorated Elora in October for over 20 years with his event called Twilight Zoo, and it’s attracted guests from all over the province. As the Halloween celebrations expanded, it turned into a full Monster Month with all kinds of scary delights.
The Monster March is a non-motorized parade where families (and their pets!) are encouraged to dress up and march through the city streets. There’s also the Scare Fair at the Elora Center for the Arts with many spooky exhibits and Twilight Zoo lanterns, too.
Christmas in Elora
While much of this itinerary caters towards visiting Elora in the summer, there are also festivities and events happening in the winter, too. There are a number of festivities around the holiday season, like a Santa Claus parade, decorated downtown shops, a winter concert series by the Elora Festival Singers, a Christmas festival at the Wellington County Museum & Archives, and a Christmas show and sale at the Elora Centre for the Arts.
Where to Eat in Elora
For such a small town, there are so many amazing restaurants in Elora. As I follow a vegan diet, I’m going to highlight my favorite restaurants that offer delicious vegan options. There isn’t a strictly vegan restaurant in Elora, but hopefully that changes in the future.
Justin and I dined at the Shepherd’s Pub, and it was conveniently located right across the street from our Airbnb apartment. Their menu contains pub fare like burgers and typical pub classics, but there are also an impressive selection of vegan and vegetarian options. It’s also really easy to tell which items are vegan because they’re all marked with a green V.
I ordered the vegan burrito which had a great spicy kick to it. There’s also the option of ordering the “Beyond” classic burger, curry sauce and chips, and vegetable samosas. There are a couple of vegetarian selections that could possibly be made vegan, too. We dined out on the back patio, and we enjoyed the relaxed environment with a couple pints of beer.
Elora Bread Trading Co
While we didn’t go to the actual location of Elora Bread Trading Co, our Airbnb hosts surprised us with a fresh loaf of their delicious sourdough bread. It’s perfectly fluffy, light, and has a crunchy crust. We devoured this bread as a late night snack and as part of breakfast the next morning.
Elora Brewing Company
Did you know that Elora has its own craft brewery? The Elora Brewing Company is a brewery and a gastropub, so you can sample their brews and stay for a meal. I suggest sampling a few different beers in a beer flight if you’re new to this craft brewery. Currently, they only have a small patio menu, but they’re working on a bigger menu as they complete some kitchen renovations. There is a veggie burger on the menu (unfortunately, the bun has egg in it). Stay tuned for updates!
The Cellar Pub & Grill
The next time we go to Elora, we’ll dine at the Cellar Pub & Grill for sure. They have a beautiful riverside patio and lots of vegan menu items, too. You can add smoked tofu to any salad and there’s a vegan Italian sausage penne as a main course. Sounds delicious!
Elora Coffee Shops
Even though Elora isn’t that big of a town, they have quite a few darling cafes and coffee shops to get your caffeine fix. In addition to the afternoon tea that we enjoyed at The Wild Tart, here are the best places to grab a coffee in the village.
The Elora Cafe
The Elora Cafe is a cheery coffee shop with a bright yellow sign that’s super inviting. I stopped by this cafe because it stayed open later than the other ones, and I’m one of those crazy people that drinks coffee at night, too. In addition to coffee and espresso beverages, they have a healthy breakfast and lunch menu. Try the avocado toast, the health bowl, or the vegan wrap if you’re looking for a light lunch.
The Lost and Found Cafe
The Lost and Found Cafe has all of your favorite coffee drinks and a great breakfast and lunch menu, too. You can order vegan spiced coconut oats, a vegan burrito, and the soup of the day is always vegan. They source a lot of their baked goods locally, and their hand crafted beverages contain the finest organic ingredients.
Wreckless Eric is another coffee shop that I need to check out in Elora. They have five choices of fair trade organic coffee, loose leaf tea, smoothies, and beer, too. As for food, there are always a few vegan baked goods on hand, and you can easily swap some ingredients out of the vegetarian dishes to make them vegan.
Where to Stay in Elora Ontario
As Elora is a pretty small village, there aren’t a ton of big hotels or anything like that. What you will find are cute bed and breakfasts or adorable Airbnb rentals. The Elora Mill is the main luxury hotel choice in town, and you might decide to stay there if you’re in town for a wedding or a special occasion. We stayed at the most wonderful Airbnb ever, and I’m excited to tell you all about it!
The Luxury Gallery Airbnb
Justin and I spent the night at the most incredible Airbnb we’ve ever had the pleasure of calling home! It’s a third floor apartment above the Karger Gallery, right in the heart of downtown Elora. You can leave your car at their property (it includes a parking space) and walk all over town. This third floor apartment has its own private balcony where you can watch the sunset or enjoy that first cup of coffee in the morning.
The apartment itself is spacious, clean, and modern. There are so many little details that the hosts add to make their guests feel comfortable. For instance, there’s a bottle of red wine and a bottle of white wine to enjoy. Pro tip: bring your wine out on the balcony with the Bluetooth speaker they’ve provided for a wonderful evening! They’ve also left lots of coffee and tea, some snacks, and a loaf of freshly baked bread from the Elora Bread Trading Co.
The apartment is open concept with one space leading naturally into the next. There is a couch and a flatscreen TV with Netflix and Amazon Prime (fully logged in and ready to go). The bathroom is also very clean and modern, and we enjoyed a fantastic night’s sleep in the king sized bed. All in all, it was a highly memorable stay that really contributed to a magical weekend away. Book your stay at this Elora Airbnb.
More Airbnbs in Elora
If you’d like to browse all of the Airbnbs in town, check out this handy map! You can scroll around and find an Airbnb that’s exactly to your preference and price range.
Cozy B&B: The Cheshire Cat Bed and Breakfast
If you’re a fan of B&Bs, you need to experience The Cheshire Cat Bed and Breakfast. It’s only a quick jaunt across the river to reach the downtown core, and both parking and Wi-Fi are complimentary. This highly rated B&B comes with a full English/Irish breakfast to start the day off right. The owners are very hospitable, helpful and accommodating. Book your stay at The Cheshire Cat B&B or check out reviews by fellow travelers who have stayed there.
Mid-Range Comfort: The Village Inn
It’s only a short walk into town from The Village Inn and you’ll be in the middle of it all. The Village Inn offers comfortable and clean rooms to rest your head at night, but it’s far from a no-frills hotel. Every room comes equipped with a small fridge, a microwave, and complimentary Wi-Fi. There’s also a big parking lot with free parking. Book your stay at The Village Inn and feel free to check out reviews by fellow travelers who have stayed there.
Frequently Asked Questions
Planning your itinerary and have some questions? Here are some of the most frequently asked questions from visitors.
If you love outdoor adventures, you can go hiking, tubing, and camping at the Elora Gorge Conservation Area. The Elora Quarry has a beach and a swimming hole. If you love arts and culture, you can attend an event or festival, wander around downtown Elora to the shops, or check out the Elora Centre for the Arts. There are also fabulous restaurants all over town with a variety of options for every taste.
You can take a day trip to Elora, but I recommend spending at least one night there. You could easily spend two to three days in Elora or longer, depending on your plans.
The summer months (between June and September) offer the most activities and the best weather. But, Elora is a year round destination where you’ll find fun events and things to do in all seasons.
It is free to park on all of the city streets. It can be more difficult to find prime parking spots on summer weekends.
Looking for More Places to Visit?
There are many more lovely and beautiful places to visit in the region of Huron, Perth, Waterloo, and Wellington counties in southern Ontario. Here are some more great ideas for road trips and places you need to see: