The energetic atmosphere of cities is thrilling, but the charm and pace of small towns offer visitors an opportunity to discover a different aspect of local culture. Strolling through quaint little streets, picking up local goods from cute boutique stores, stopping off in a dainty teashop, trying local craft beers and wines or having a chat with friendly residents is what sets these small towns apart. Check out these gems in Ontario.
You won’t want to miss the historical little town of Collingwood. The heritage of the buildings downtown adds to the appeal of wandering through the local shops and restaurants. Visitors to Collingwood can also enjoy the neighboring Blue Mountain ski resort. As well as outdoor activities in the summer and winter sports during the colder months, there are plenty of great places to eat and a Scandinavian spa for unwinding.
The small town of Merrickville is known as “The Jewel of the Rideau”—a befitting title for one of the best-preserved 19th-century villages in Ontario by the Rideau Canal. Artist studios, boutique shops, and restaurants add to the character of Merrickville’s beautiful downtown. Many of the restored stone buildings are under the Ontario Heritage Act. The Blockhouse, built in 1832, is a National Historic Site of Canada, houses a museum and is a must-see.
Famous for its wineries, Shaw Festival and proximity to one of the world’s natural wonders, Niagara-on-the-Lake has something for just about everyone. Aside from perusing the historic downtown, you could see a show or cycle through the vineyards and visit Niagara Falls. As it’s known for its culinary excellence, foodies will enjoy the elegant restaurants, local beer, and wines of the town, and shopaholics will love The Outlet Collection at Niagara. Niagara-on-the-Lake is one of the best spots for sunsets. For a stunning view of the sun going down, head to the lake by Queen Street.
Overlooking Lake Huron, Goderich has earned the accolade of Canada’s prettiest town from Queen Elizabeth II. Full of natural beauty and historic charm, the town designed in an octagon boasts parks, three beaches, award-winning flower gardens, and heritage architecture. The central focus of Goderich is “The Square,” which is where a majority of local events take place.
The dreamy riverside town of Paris is postcard perfect. The downtown embodies a number of architectural styles—Victorian, Edwardian, Gothic, and Post Modern—but Paris is renowned for its cobblestone buildings, including two churches and 10 residences that are still in use today. The open-air cafés, bakeries, award-winning restaurants, and the blend of history and modern amenities make this small town truly unique.
Elora sits on a stunning gorge alongside the banks of the Grand and Irvine Rivers. The 80-foot (24.3-meter) limestone cliffs, gushing waters, romantic old mill, and stone storefronts of this town make it an ideal place to spend the weekend at a cottage for fun as well as natural beauty. Elora has plenty of outdoor activities and its own music festival called Riverfest. Over time, Elora has maintained its historical allure, and the century-old buildings have been transformed into galleries, gift shops, artists studios, and restaurants.
Picton lies in another one of Ontario’s wine regions, Prince Edward County. Picton’s Main Street has all the small town attractions, bakeries, tea shops, a theatre, historical landmarks, and shops. Prince Edward County’s countryside, farmhouses, famous vineyards, and Sandbanks Provincial Park are close by, so you will have plenty of things to do and access to wine and cheese galore.
Founded by some Pennsylvania Quakers in the 1820s, the pretty hamlet of Sparta retains its historical connection to the past. Visit the Ye Olde Forge and Anvil Museum to see artifacts from the past, and for a truly quaint afternoon, head to Sparta House Tea Room. Their vast collection of teapots are sure to delight avid tea drinkers.
The serenity of Port Hope offers city dwellers and tourists some colorful respite and heritage beauty. The Ganaraska River weaves its way through this picturesque heritage town. As it boasts waterfront nature trails, a sandy beach, a historic downtown, quaint villages, and scenic country driving routes, any amount of time here is time well spent.
Scenes from the hit television show Gilmore Girls were filmed on Unionville’s lovely Main Street. This fact is hardly surprising, as Unionville’s picture-perfect charm gives it the feel of a movie set. This pleasant little town, founded in 1794, exudes old-world vibes. From arts and culture to shopping and dining experiences, or sampling freshly made fudge at The Old Firehall Confectionery, there are plenty of activities in which visitors can indulge.
Like England’s Stratford-upon-Avon, Ontario’s Stratford also lies upon the Avon River and is renowned for its theatrical productions and in particular, showcasing the plays of William Shakespeare. Apart from being a cultural hub for the performing arts, beer and cheddar are also highlights here, along with the town’s swans. If that doesn’t float your boat, you can play a game of golf, relax in a spa, explore the old-world downtown or check out some of the trails and gardens.