When planning your visit to Canada, Stratford, a city in Southwestern Ontario with a population of nearly 33,000, may not be the first place that comes to your mind. It is not a top destination on many travelers’ bucket list, however, for about six months out of each year, Stratford booms with tourists because of the world’s largest and most renowned Shakespeare festival. In addition to the festive activities, there are several attractions and a selection of restaurants at which you can spend your day.
For those who look for an escape to somewhere tranquil, artistic, and affordable, head to the beautiful Shakespeare hometown Stratford.
How to get to Stratford
Stratford is two hours away from Toronto. VIA Rail Canada has two trains each day that depart from Toronto and back. For theater-goers, a festival bus runs from May to October, transporting passengers from Toronto Union Station to Stratford theaters.
What to Do in Stratford
Stratford city hosts Shakespeare Festival from April to October. Here national and international renowned actors, directors, and talent artists come to Stratford and perform at the show. Non-Shakespearean plays have been introduced to the theater. This year, the genre of the show includes but is not limited to a musical A little Night Music, a comedy Shakespeare in Love, and a drama John Gabriel Borkman.
The festival runs at four venues: Festival Theater, Avon Theater, Studio Theater, and Tom Patterson Theater. Most shows take place at the Festival Theater and Avon Theater; the former is across the street from the Avon River, and the latter is surrounded by restaurants, hotels, and coffee shops.
Stratford Ontario is not the only host of the Shakespeare Festival. Many festivals and activities related to Shakespeare are held in various locations across the globe. For more information on Shakespeare Festival and literary events, please read this blog post: 400th Anniversary of Shakespeare’s Death: 10 Shakespearean Travel Destinations and Activities.
After watch the play, take a stroll along the Avon River and look for the dark swans that are released to the river each April. There are sitting areas and benches for relaxing and afternoon reading. Boat tours are available from June 16 to October 10th this year. For more information about boat tours and rentals, please visit here.
I stayed in Stratford for a year and I walked around the riverside almost every week. The waterfront never gets old. In winter, the water is drained, resulting in the soil and debris being highly visible on the surface. This spring, before I left Stratford, the Avon River comes back to life with the swans swimming around.
Where to eat
Bentley’s: one of the locals’ favorite restaurants. It is a great place to hang out in a cozy and vibrant environment. It offers an extensive list of scotch, beer, and wine. The daily specials are displayed on a sign board in the bar area. The menu offers a number of great gluten-free food options, pub food, and several main courses. It is difficult to narrow down to one or two choices, as everything on the menu is amazing.
Mone-Thai: if you love Thai food, especially gluten-free Thai, this is your place. This is a restaurant my friend and I frequent for lunch and dinner. My favorites are spring rolls, basil seafood, and basil roasted duck. Lunch specials are available on weekdays from 11am to 3pm, and each order comes with soup and spring rolls, or mango salad. The price is reasonable and the food is tasty.
Tips for visiting Stratford
- I highly recommend booking your theater play tickets in advance. Certain shows are very popular and cheap tickets are sold out in a short period of time. Click here for show information and tickets for the 2016 season.
- Stratford is the birthplace of celebrity Justin Bieber, who used to play music outside the Avon Theater. Unfortunately, I have never seen him perform during my year in Stratford. If you are one of his fans and happen to visit Stratford, please visit his website for his tour dates: http://www.justinbiebermusic.com/.
- Stratford is a small city and it is simple to navigate. There is no need to take a cab or the bus, just walk through the city and you will find quaint shops, impressive restaurants, and the beautiful Avon River.
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