– Stratford, you said? Shakespeare’s birthplace?
– Not quite. This one is in Canada, in the province of Ontario, not far from the North American London, though!
It’s not easy to travel to small towns in North America, if you don’t want to drive. So when I stumbled upon this list of places accessible by the public transport and Via Rail system of Canada, I was delighted. It didn’t take us long to choose Stratford, a city known for its theatre festival. 🎭 The Stratford Theatre Festival runs from May to October every year, with an impressive line-up of plays from around the world. However, the city is worth a visit even if you’re not a theatre buff.
🚉 If, like us, you don’t want to drive, you can take the direct train from Toronto Union Station to London (Ontario) and get down at Stratford. The train leaves at 11 a.m and reaches Stratford after a very comfortable journey through Brampton, Georgetown, Guelph and Kitchener at lunch time. The return train to Toronto is in the evening, so this is really the best option if you want to do a day trip.
🚉 There is also a train to Sarnia, which runs from Toronto later in the day and is better suited for those who want to spend the night in Stratford.
🚌 If you are attending a play, you can even avail of the shuttle services that run between the cities on play days.
Since we had a short time in the city, we had to be wise in our choice of activities. It wasn’t very difficult, since the city is small and everything you need to see is on three (ok, maybe four) streets!
Once you’re in the city, you have to :
✨ Meander through the four main streets : Downie Street, Erie Street, Wellington Street, Ontario Street, popping into the streets that shoot off these main streets, to get the best of the city’s 19th century architecture, with the red brick houses topped with steeply pitched roofs. All blogs talk about the street art in Stratford, especially in Allen’s Alley, but if you’ve seen the graffiti in Toronto or elsewhere, you’re going to be disappointed. So don’t go searching for that street – if you stumble upon it, you’ll probably appreciate it more than I did!
✨ Visit the Shakespearean Gardens, which is conveniently located between the Perth County Courthouse and the Huron Bridge, built in 1885. Wonderfully quaint, this cute, little garden boasts not only of an effusion of blooms, but also a gazebo, which is perfect for a short stop or maybe even a picnic, and even a little wooden bridge that takes you to small isle.
✨ Walk across the Huron bridge to explore the streets on the other side, ambling past pretty houses and churches towards Avon Boat Rentals by the riverside. You can choose to go paddling in the river or just sit back on one of the benches and enjoy the breeze.
✨ Pop into the various boutiques and stores on Ontario Street, especially Watson’s Chelsea Bazaar, a delightful store with all kinds of knickknacks, accessories and serve-ware for the house, as well as some really quirky and pretty things which you can buy as souvenirs/gifts. The Stratford Festival shop is another good place to pick up gifts for your literary friends.
✨ Eat at one of the many restaurants in the city – from Downie Street Burgers not far from the Stratford VIA Rail Station to Red Rabbit and René’s Bistro on Wellington Street and Mercer Hall Inn on Ontario Street, you can choose where you want to eat, based on your culinary desires of the day..and these are just the restaurants recommended by blogs. We found ourselves at Foster’s Inn for lunch, Mercer Hall Inn for a quick drink and The Hub at the Stratford Market Square for an early dinner of beer flights (the Herald Haus for T and the very feminine Sweet and Sour for me) and loaded nachos.