There are so many fun things to do in Stratford Ontario in the winter months. While Stratford is an awesome city to check out all year long, it’s a really magical place to visit in the winter, too. You might know Stratford best for the Stratford Festival or the fact that it’s the hometown of Justin Bieber, but there are so many things to see in this picturesque Ontario city.
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Downtown Stratford has many unique boutiques and small businesses you’ll love. As an artsy city, there’s no shortage of festivities, public art, and local galleries. Stratford is nestled on the banks of the Avon River, so you can soak up beautiful views and explore its scenic trails. Add delicious food and warm beverages to the mix, and you’ve got the makings of a delightful winter trip to Stratford, Ontario.
It’s also the main city of Perth County, Ontario. You can visit Stratford for a weekend and then take a road trip around the small towns and villages of Perth County. I suggest visiting Perth County in the summer so you can take advantage of the fresh produce and farm gates.
As a quick note, I visited Stratford in November before there was a lockdown in the Toronto area. If you’re living in a higher transmission area in Ontario, please avoid visiting lower transmission areas for the time being. Please save these ideas for the top things to do in Stratford Ontario in the winter for when it’s safe to do so. Thanks so much for understanding!
Things to Do in Stratford in the Winter: Shop the Christmas Trail
The Stratford Christmas Trail is one of the most fun things to do in Stratford in the winter, and it’s happening through to December 20th. It’s a great way to experience the local shops and come away with a bunch of awesome gifts for yourself or your loved ones.
Purchase your set of six Christmas Trail vouchers for $30 from Destination Stratford, Bradshaws, or MacLeods Scottish Shop. Then, you’ll be able to redeem your vouchers for six Christmas gifts from any of the stores along the trail in downtown Stratford or the nearby village of St. Mary’s.
You’ll receive a list of the participating Christmas Trail shops, along with their store locations and hours. There are 24 shops on the list this year. Plus, there’s a listing of what each store is offering as the redeemable gift. The retail value of many of these gifts far exceeds the cost of the Christmas Trail vouchers. And when I was wandering around inside the shops, I discovered so many unique, artisan gifts, so I was able to do lots of holiday shopping.
I was really impressed with all of the local businesses because they had lots of precautions in place for planning a safe trip inside their shops. First, you must wear a mask to enter. Next, there are limits to the amount of people allowed in the shops at a time. Everyone is asked to keep a safe distance from others. Last, many businesses had hand sanitizer outside of their shop on a small table or just inside their store to properly sanitize.
Here are a few of my favourite shops on Stratford’s Christmas Trail. I redeemed some of my vouchers here, too. In some cases, I ended up simply going shopping for Christmas presents there.
La Osa Jewelry & Vintage
La Osa Jewelry & Vintage offers Canadian made goods and vintage wares in this beautiful destination boutique. There’s new and vintage clothing, jewelry, and things for the home.
La Osa supports the slow fashion movement and uses repurposed materials in their necklaces, earrings and bracelets. I fell in love with the dreamy retro design of this shop, which looks straight out of the 1960s and 1970s.
For the Stratford Christmas Trail, La Osa Jewelry & Vintage offers a two-pack of mini botanical bath bombs. They’re made with natural ingredients and pure essential oils, and one of them includes a rose quartz crystal.
Stilettos & Sawdust
Stilettos & Sawdust is a home decor shop, featuring local handmade gifts and wares. They specialize in wedding and shower decor and gifts, too. I love their cute wooden signs, mugs with sassy sayings, and beautiful pottery. Stilettos & Sawdust has some wonderful Christmas displays in their shop, too.
For the Christmas Trail, they’re offering one of three beautiful handmade wooden Christmas ornaments. Choose your favourite one to hang on your tree!
The Touchmark Shop has beautiful articles of clothing to add to your wardrobe, as well as accessories, jewelry, and things for the home. I couldn’t resist buying a cozy sweater that caught my eye when I was in the shop. They’ve got lots of great gift ideas, like comfy PJ sets and fuzzy socks. There are also purses, ponchos made out of repurposed sweaters, and all kinds of unique delights.
Your Christmas Trail voucher is good for one pair of thermal reading socks with a non-stick bottom. Plus, you’ll receive 15% off any purchases in the store, too (regular priced merchandise).
You could easily spend a lot of time at Treasures. It’s home to the wonderful creations of over 200 Canadian artists and artisans. Also, it’s one of the best places to go shopping for handmade Mennonite quilts.
You’ll find something for everyone here. There are displays full of handmade pottery, Stratford themed shirts, books, mugs, bath and body products, and jewelry. There’s an entire section with spices, condiments, and other delicious additions for your next meal or snack.
Treasures is offering a package of luxurious Kogi Naturals ginger and wintergreen bath salts in exchange for a Christmas Trail voucher.
Small Mart General Mercantile
Small Mart General Mercantile is an intriguing gift shop full of all sorts of kitschy wares. There are retro themed shirts, quirky novelties, games, accessories, unique gifts and retro candy. You’ll find stocking stuffers and gifts here that are perfect for the holiday season. On the Stratford Christmas Trail, they’re offering some fun and festive Christmas socks in exchange for one voucher.
Illume Wellness Spa
Illume Wellness Spa is one of the best places to be pampered in Stratford. They offer clean and green spa treatments, and they’ve also got a clean beauty market within the spa, too. Shop these relaxing and rejuvenating products, and you can also receive a five step at-home spa treatment as a Christmas Trail offering.
The Stratford Chocolate Trail
As a similar concept to the Christmas Trail, the Stratford Chocolate Trail is offered all year long. It’s a self-guided tour around Stratford to experience the best chocolate creations and delectable treats in town. For $30, you can pick up your set of six vouchers from Destination Stratford, Bradshaws, or MacLeods Scottish Shop (just like the Christmas Trail). You’ll receive a map and a list of 20 participating businesses around town to redeem your vouchers for all things chocolate.
It was an absolute delight to wander around town to redeem my Christmas Trail and Chocolate Trail vouchers for a variety of goodies. It’s one of the best things to do in Stratford Ontario in the winter, and you can take the Chocolate Trail tour any time of the year. While it was difficult to choose, here are my experiences embarking on the Stratford Chocolate Trail.
Totally Spoke’d is a local bike shop, and it’s not somewhere you’d expect to find chocolate. First, Totally Spoke’d is a paradise for cycling enthusiasts with bikes, accessories, parts and service needs. They are offering delicious and decadent chocolate bars by ChocoSol Traders.
But, what’s the connection between bikes and chocolate? The cacao beans for these chocolate bars are ground up using the pedal power of stone grinders. So, you’ll propel your bike forward with pedals and your chocolate is made with the use of pedals, too. If you’re interested in purchasing any bike accessories, you can also receive 15% off your purchase by participating in the Chocolate Trail.
To Bean or Not to Bean
Stratford’s coffee roasting company and coffee shop is To Bean or Not to Bean. It’s a short drive outside of downtown Stratford and it’s worth the trip. You can buy whole coffee beans, coffee making accessories, and cups of coffee at To Bean or Not to Bean.
Your Chocolate Trail voucher gives you two options in the shop: 1/4lb of Ethiopian coffee beans (with a chocolate flavour) or a freshly brewed 12oz cup of coffee paired with a homemade all-natural energy bar. I opted for the best of both worlds – I redeemed my voucher for the coffee beans, and I also bought a cup of coffee.
Speaking of coffee, you do know that I’m a coffee fanatic, right? It’s no surprise that I took advantage of every coffee stop on the Chocolate Trail, which included Buzz Stop. Buzz Stop has over 50 varieties of coffee from around the world. They’ve also got some packaged international cookies and treats to pair with your coffee, too.
Take a trip to Buzz Stop on the Chocolate Trail to receive a 1/4 pound bag of Bavarian chocolate coffee beans. You’ll keep the magic of the Chocolate Trail alive and well when you brew this chocolate coffee back at home.
Olive Your Favourites
Olive Your Favourites is Stratford’s first olive oil and balsamic vinegar shop, located in downtown Stratford. This boutique oil and vinegar store is on the Stratford Chocolate Trail and the Stratford Christmas Trail, featuring two different offerings.
You’ll receive 10% off your purchase when you use either voucher in the shop. Plus, if you redeem your Chocolate Trail voucher, you’ll receive a bottle of chocolate balsamic vinegar, ideal for salads, fresh berries, and even drizzled on ice cream.
Distinctly Tea has a massive selection of loose leaf tea, including green, oolong, black, white, yerba mate, rooibos, and herbal teas. There are also lots of beautiful teapots and tea accessories to brew the perfect cup at home. On the Stratford Chocolate Trail, you’ll receive a 50 gram bag of chocolate tea (choose from rooibos, yerba mate or black tea).
The Livery Yard
The Livery Yard is a cozy espresso bar and coffee shop nestled in a historic livery stable. Stop at the Livery Yard to redeem one of your Chocolate Trail coupons for a decadent double mocha, handcrafted using high quality espresso beans and rich Ghirardelli chocolate. I ordered my mocha with oat milk (they have a variety of plant-based milk).
I savoured my double mocha indoors at the cafe, but you could also take your beverage to go. Strolling the streets of downtown Stratford with a yummy chocolate drink in your hands isn’t such a bad idea!
Lights On Stratford: Winter Festival of Lights
Visiting Stratford Winterfest is one of the best things to do in Stratford Ontario in the winter. However, the celebrations are looking a little different this year. Stratford Winterfest will return in 2022. This year, the city has a brand new festival called Lights On Stratford, the Winter Festival of Lights.
Lights On Stratford will transform and illuminate downtown Stratford with interactive art installations and light exhibits. You’ll be dazzled by the creations of talented local artists, lighting designers, and prop builders from the city. This winter festival is free to attend, and it is an uplifting and enlightening experience during these dark times.
This winter lights festival will have several displays that will launch at different points throughout the season. You can wait until later in the winter to visit all of them, or you can keep going back to discover new installations as they open to the public. When I visited Stratford, it was the opening night of the Market Square portion of Lights On Stratford.
Market Square is the heart of downtown Stratford with the impressive and historic city hall building at its core. While you can see some of the installations during the day, it’s best to appreciate these works of light art when they’re all lit up at night (between 6pm and 9pm nightly).
Starting on December 17th, there will be projections and unique light features on the city hall building. Also, starting on January 8th, there will be lighted ice sculptures at Market Square.
More Locations for Stratford’s Winter Festival
As the winter progresses, there will be more and more locations and public light art installations for Lights On Stratford. The entire Lights On Stratford event lasts until February 14th. Here are the launch details:
- Tom Patterson Theatre: a light experience projected on the walls of this architectural gem (starts Nov 26)
- Downtown Stratford storefronts: light art displays in the store windows (starts Dec 1)
- Tom Patterson Island: dramatic light installation (starts Dec 10)
- City Hall light projections at Market Square (starts Dec 17)
- Shakespearean Gardens: a field of tiny white lights, colour and sound at this treasured Stratford garden (starts Jan 2)
Explore Downtown Stratford
Besides the shops in downtown Stratford, there are lots of unique features that makes Stratford Ontario such a special place to visit. You’ll discover a very friendly atmosphere paired with alluring heritage buildings. The Victorian lamp posts and old architecture makes me feel a bit like I’ve stepped back in time. It also makes me feel a bit like I’m traveling in an old European town.
At the same time, there are lots of modern features and striking places to visit in Stratford, like unique walkways and works of public art. You can check out Junction 56 Distillery or Black Swan Brewing Co for a tasting. I was also drawn into NEOB Lavender Stratford after I caught the scent of fragrant flora aromas just outside the shop. Revel is another favourite coffee shop in town with its handcrafted espresso beverages and welcoming environment. Here are a few places in downtown Stratford that you could easily miss if you aren’t in the know.
Allen’s Alley is a passageway on Wellington Street that originally lead to the livery stables behind the road. Nowadays, you’ll find a tribute to the musicians that hailed from Stratford.
There are murals and street art featuring Stratford bands and artists throughout this short alleyway. Take a stroll through Allen’s Alley to learn a little more about the music history of Stratford. It’s also a must for fans of street art.
Tir ‘na Nog Gates
The Tir ‘na Nog Gates is a work of art by Mark Czajkowski, and you’ll find it in the Downie Street parkette. It’s a decorated iron gateway just off Downie Street. Tir ‘na Nog means “Land of Youth”, and it comes from Irish mythology. Tir ‘na Nog is thought to be reachable by a long journey or invitation from a resident fairy.
York Street has some of the best architectural features in downtown Stratford, and it’s one of the best places to take photos. There’s a stretch of brick buildings with metal fire escapes that look like they’re straight out of New York City.
If you’re interested in checking out more public art in Stratford or the best place for Instagram photos, take a look at Stratford Tourism’s visual art guide.
Walking Trails in Stratford Ontario
Exploring the walking trails along the Avon River and beyond is one of the best free things to do in Stratford, Ontario. There are so many beautiful places in nature here, and they’re all within walking distance of downtown Stratford.
Avon Trail and Avon River
A portion of the Avon Trail runs right through Stratford. It’s a popular Ontario hiking trail that extends from St. Mary’s to Conestogo, and it’s 121km long in total (one of the longest hiking trails in Ontario). This lengthy hiking trail will take you past farmland, rivers, and country back roads. The Avon Trail is marked by rectangular white blazes.
For maps of the Avon Trail, download the free Ondago app and search for “Avon Trail”. There are two sections of trail maps to download from the app to find your way around the trail. Walk along the Avon Trail on the Avon River in Stratford for many gorgeous views during all seasons of the year.
When I visited Stratford in mid-November, the city was experiencing seasonably warm temperatures. None of my photos will have snow in them, even though you’re likely to experience snowy weather during the winter in Stratford. I’m sure it looks so pretty with a light dusting of snow on the ground and tree branches.
While the Shakespearean Gardens will look best throughout the spring and summer months when the flowers are in bloom, it’s worth strolling through this popular garden in all seasons. It’s one of the best free things to do in Stratford Ontario in the winter.
Visiting the Shakespearean Gardens will be one of the most amazing things to do in Stratford Ontario in the winter during the Lights On Festival. However, I also suggest walking around the Shakespearean Gardens by day, even in the winter. There’s a really intriguing Shakespeare bust by artist Cleeve Horne. You’ll also discover the remains of the 19th century Dufton Woollen Mill, which is simply one lone chimney.
T.J. Dolan Natural Area
If you’re looking for a more forested hiking trail, check out the T.J. Dolan Natural Area. You’ll find a few loop paths by the river, through the trees, and across short meadows. A lot of local residents take their dogs for walks here. The trail is about 3-4km in length, and you should be able to hike the whole property in about an hour.
Once there’s snow on the ground, there are opportunities for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing here, too. It’s one of the best things to do in Stratford Ontario in the winter, whether you’re going for a short hike or a snowy adventure.
Free Things to Do in Stratford: Gallery Stratford
Visiting Gallery Stratford is one of the top things to do in Stratford Ontario in the winter or any season, for that matter. It’s one of Ontario’s longest operating public art galleries, and it’s open to all members of the public for free (or a small donation, if you wish). The gallery focuses on contemporary visual art, especially regional and Canadian art works.
Before entering the gallery, feel free to wander around the pathways surrounding the property. There are a series of outdoor sculptures and picture perfect parks that you’ll want to explore. Then, you can easily spend a half hour to an hour discovering the works inside the gallery. There are currently four exhibits on display (when I visited in November 2020).
Exhibits at Gallery Stratford
Pictures of the Future TBA is an exhibit by husband and wife, Michael Walton and Tara Walton. Michael created an image each day when he was in lockdown during the pandemic, and Tara paired each image with words to create a narrative. They started creating a work of art a day on March 22, 2020.
Portraits of a Pandemic by Denise Nonomura is an exhibition featuring everyday events during the pandemic as collectively cope with this new reality. The works are created in graphite and charcoal, rather than using colour. Each drawing is a stand alone work of art, but it is interesting to see the progression of art as the months of the pandemic moved along. There are works devoted to essential workers, families, children, and social distancing.
Bonnie Richardson’s exhibition is a series of events that have happened in her life since February 2020. She usually paints in bright, vibrant colours. After the passing of close family members, she felt as though she could no longer paint in colour. These works are her expressions of grief during these difficult times.
Two Point Seven Percent is a showcase of Indigenous art from Gallery Stratford’s permanent collection. Out of the 1100 works owned by the gallery, only 2.7% were created by six Indigenous artists: Kenojuak Ashevak, Carl Beam, Shirley Bear, Benjamin Chee Chee, Brian Marion, and Norval Morrisseau. This exhibition addresses the lack of representation of artwork by Indigenous artists and people of colour in art galleries. Gallery Stratford is looking at ways that they can collect and create more diverse collections of art in the future.
Gallery Stratford stays open until 8:00pm on Thursday and Friday nights. If you’re visiting Stratford for a weekend getaway and you’re arriving after work on a Friday evening, I suggest popping into the gallery on your way into town. Otherwise, feel free to stop by after dining at a local restaurant on a Thursday or Friday night. It’s a great date night recommendation, too!
Where to Eat in Stratford
Of course, dining at amazing restaurants is one of the best things to do in Stratford Ontario in the winter. There are so many incredible restaurants, cafes, and dining establishments in downtown Stratford that you might have trouble choosing where to eat.
As I follow a vegan diet, I was ecstatic to learn that Stratford has a thriving vegetarian and vegan scene. I’m going to show you the best places to eat in Stratford that serve vegan food, from healthy dishes to comfort food.
Grounded Vegan Cafe
Grounded is a 100% vegan and plant-based cafe with a focus on fresh and healthy meals created with whole foods. Everything is lovingly made from scratch by the owner and chef, Heather McArthur. Right now, you can pre-order your meals in advance by taking a look at the menu for the week. There are so many delicious choices, from starters to mains and desserts.
I started with the creamy turmeric hummus with gluten-free flatbreads, which was way more tasty than your standard hummus. The spices really take this hummus to the next level! Then, I ate the stuffed sweet potato with ‘sausage’, sprouted rice & maple mustard sauce as my entree. Every element of this dish worked perfectly with the others, and it was so full of flavour. For dessert, I had a little chai cheesecake and some peppermint brownie bliss bites that were delightful!
The Planet Diner
The Planet Diner is a mostly vegan restaurant and they describe themselves as a place “where herbivores can bring their carnivores”. While there are a couple of omni-options on the menu, the vast majority is 100% vegan. Meat eaters certainly won’t miss the meat here!
This mostly plant-based restaurant features vegan comfort food, like poutine, mac & cheese, burgers and more. I ordered the Chick’un Burger with a side of queso fries and it was so delicious. Don’t leave the restaurant without sampling their delicious donuts. I was so full after my dinner, but I brought home a couple of donuts because I couldn’t resist them. It was a good decision!
The Pulp is a family owned juice bar in downtown Stratford, featuring pressed juice, fresh fruit smoothies, and vegetarian bowls. There are several gluten-free and vegan options on the menu.
It was hard to decide, but I ended up ordering the California bowl and it was really yummy (marinated tofu, carrot, cucumber, seaweed avocado, pickled ginger and vegan sriracha mayo).
Edison’s Cafe Bar
Edison’s Cafe Bar is a whole foods cafe owned and operated by a local husband and wife team. They have lots of vegan, dairy-free, and gluten-free options on the menu. It’s a great place to have breakfast in Stratford, as well as your morning cup of coffee. I enjoyed a healthy and delicious chia pudding with fresh fruit, as well as a mug of freshly brewed coffee.
It’s called Edison’s Cafe Bar because Thomas Edison was once a resident of the upstairs inn in 1863. You’ll see a beautiful drawing of Edison across one of the cafe’s brick walls.
Where to Stay in Stratford: Foster’s Inn
I highly recommend spending the night at Foster’s Inn, Stratford’s original boutique inn. If you’re spending a weekend or a couple of days in Stratford, this hotel has got it all. It’s conveniently situated in downtown Stratford in the middle of all the action. You can’t ask for a better location than this.
Foster’s Inn is located on the upper floors of a turn-of-the-century Victorian building above a restaurant and cocktail lounge. There are nine individual guestrooms with everything you need for a comfortable stay. My king sized bed was super comfy and the room is really spacious.
There’s complimentary Wi-Fi, a flatscreen TV with cable channels, a mini fridge, and a small seating area for relaxing. The window from my room overlooked quaint downtown Stratford. Book your stay at Foster’s Inn in Stratford. You can also read more reviews by fellow travelers who have spent the night. When you’re planning to experience the best things to do in Stratford Ontario, it’s best to spend the night for a memorable weekend away.
Thank you so much to Visit Stratford for sponsoring my stay. I had an amazing time in Stratford, Ontario, and highly recommend that you plan a trip there, too.