Stratford, Ontario may be known as Canada’s Arts Town, but should also be added to your list as one of the best places to visit in the province during the winter months.

Despite being a city, Stratford has a uniquely small town feel, due in part to its beautiful Victorian architecture and quaint downtown core.

That combined with its many winter festivals, trails, music and arts scene, and local shops and galleries make it an incredible day-trip or weekend destination, especially with snow on the ground.

From April through October, the annual Stratford Festival draws tourists from all around the world with its celebrations and productions of Shakespearean plays. 

However, many might not know about all the awesome winter festivals the city puts on.

Since 2020, Lights On Stratford has returned annually to light up the town with festive lights. 

Lights On transforms the city’s heritage downtown core and parks with luminous art and interactive light installations, many of which are created by local artists.

Stratford Winterfest is another celebration which takes place in February, with everything from ice sculptures and busker performances to fire pits and petting zoos.

This year, the event takes place on Feb. 18.

Downtown Stratford has a ton of allure which makes it feel almost European, with a mix of old and new. 

Victorian lamp posts and old heritage buildings contrast with modern coffee shops, boutiques, and art galleries. There are also plenty of unique walkways covered in artistic murals to discover and works of public art, such as Allen’s Alley dedicated to the music history of Stratford.

While you’re downtown, pop into Treasures, a shop that features the creations of over 200 Canadian artists and artisans.

Visit Gallery Stratford, one of Ontario’s longest operating public art galleries which displays contemporary visual art including regional and Canadian art works.

Stratford also has a thriving food scene, with a myriad of restaurants and cafes catering to all dietary needs. Coffee lovers will love Stratford’s aptly named coffee shop To Bean or Not to Bean.

Head to el Cactus Taco Shop for delicious Mexican street food, or go to The Common for incredible elevated traditional and contemporary dishes with live music events.

Another experience you can’t miss is The Stratford Chocolate Trail, a year-round experience in the form of a self-guided tour around Stratford to experience the best chocolate creations in town.

Not into chocolate? How about bacon and ale? Stratford’s Bacon & Ale Trail shows off the city’s pork and brewing history. You can choose five stops from the participating businesses to redeem your vouchers for a bacon or ale treat on this self-guided tour.

Stratford also has a ton of pretty trails within walking distance of downtown. The Avon Trail will take you along the Avon River running through Stratford, and is one of the longest hiking trails in Ontario reaching 121 km in length.

The T.J. Dolan Natural Area is another trail which will take you through a forested area by the river, extending about 3-4 km in length.

Another must to add to your list is to wander through the Shakespearean Gardens.

While you should definitely also visit in the summer to see all of the garden’s blooms, a winter walk is still beautiful and will take you through past remnants of an old mill, a Shakespeare bust, and down a path along the river with a bridge to the small island.

With seasonal festivals, a vibrant food scene, enticing art and architecture to admire, and always something going on, Stratford should definitely be on your list of destinations to visit this winter.

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