It is absolutely impossible to visit Ontario without exploring some of its small towns! I agree that there are many tourist towns and areas where you can be one of the crowd, but exploring the small towns of Ontario which are located off the beaten path are much more fun and rewarding.
To help get you started on your exploring, I have outlined my favorite small towns in Ontario which are located off the beaten path. This list is by all means not exhaustive as you will find a small town to explore at your every turn. So grab a glass of wine and let’s start exploring!
- Paris, Ontario
- Population: 12,320
- Distance from Toronto: 110 km (68.35 miles)
Voted as the “prettiest little town in Canada” by Harrowsmith Magazine, Paris is a mecha for visitors, however an unheard of town by many. This little gem is situated on the Nith and Grand Rivers, and has much to offer the outdoor enthusiast, as well as the history buff. Even though “downtown” area is less than 2 blocks long, it is jammed packed with quaint little shops, unique cafes and restaurants. If you are a foodie, Paris is definitely a place you will want to visit.
If you are an outdoor enthusiast, Paris is in the perfect destination for you! There are plenty of trails to hike or bike along-side of the Grand River, which will keep you busy for hours. For the water lover, be sure to rent a kayak or canoe and paddle the Grand. Canoe, kayak, stand-up paddle boards and bikes rentals are available, as well as rafting tours and bike tours through various outfitters in the Paris area.
- Grand River Rafting Company
- Grand Experiences
- Canoeing the Grand
Once you have completed whatever adventure you choose, be sure to make an appointment to relax at Ahh the Spa, located in downtown Paris.
EXPLORE SHOPPING & ARCHITECTURE
Be sure to leave enough time to explore the historic downtown Paris and its quaint little shops, as well as the Edwardian, Gothic and Post-Modern buildings which all inhibit the downtown core.
My favorite spot to visit whenever I am browsing the shops in Paris, is Wincey Mills. Wincey Mills is a historic building which was built in 1889. It has recently been restored and now operates as a year-round market, featuring the goods of local artisans and yummy cafes. It is a must see for the shoppers visiting Paris.
Where to start with this section. Paris is a food haven and has some of the most amazing restaurants that I have been to, if not the most amazing. They range from cafes to casual fine dining, and every single one of them is as good as the next and are worth a try.
Stillwaters: casual, fun and affordable which serves usual lunch and dinner fare and is located along the banks of the Grand River
The Cedar House Grill & Martini Bar: casual restaurant and martini bar, located a block off the main street
Cobblestone Public House: a comfortable fun place to enjoy the usual pub fare and a brew or two
Midtown Paris Cafe: a fun and vibrant cafeteria style cafe, which serves amazing coffee, wraps, soups and sandwiches
Edit: located downtown Paris in the historic Arlington Hotel, hosting a creative and tasty blackboard menu which changes frequently. This is also the perfect place to stop for a cocktail throughout your travels
Paris also has the usual restaurants, such as Swiss Chalet, MacDonalds, and Tim Hortons, but my view is that you can eat at these places anytime.
Paris has so much to offer that you surely will want to spend the night in order to enjoy every moment of your stay. Why let the fun stop at the end of the day? The historic Arlington Hotel is a fun place to rest your head. It is located in the middle of the downtown core and has been renovated to feature the personality and spirit of its favorite authors and creative minds.
If you prefer one of the tried and true hotels, the Hampton Inn & Suites is located just outside of the Town of Paris and offers amenities suitable for families with young ones.
If you don’t mind making a 10 minute drive, there is always the City of Brantford, Home of the Great One, which offers various types of accommodations:
If roughing it is your style, Pinehurst Lake Conservation Area is located a short 5 minute drive outside of Paris. Pinehurst offers camping, hiking trails, swimming, paddle boat rentals and fishing. Lots of fun for the entire family!
To obtain more information about the Town of Paris, contact Paris-Brant County
- Kincardine, Ontario
- Population: 11,389
- Distance from Toronto 224.3 km (139.37 miles)
“Kincardine where you’re a stranger only once”
Kincardine is a small town located in southwestern Ontario along the shores of Lake Huron, and is one of the five Great Lakes. The first settlers of Kincardine arrived by boat in 1848 at which time the name of the town was established to be Penetangore, after the river that runs through the town. In 1858, the Village of Kincardine was incorporated and is still known as Kincardine to this day, with its Scottish heritage remaining evident throughout the town.
Kincardine is known as the gateway to Cottage Country and comes to life throughout the summer months. Lake Huron offers some of the best water sports in Canada, including surfing, stand-up paddle boarding and kiting, which draws many millennial’s to its shores. In my opinion, it also offers the most beautiful sunsets in the world. If you are feeling brave enough to give the waves of Lake Huron a try, paddle boards can be rented at Surfsup Eco Shop or West Shore Clothing. If you aren’t feeling so adventurous, sit back and enjoy the sand and watch your little ones build their sand castles. Jump in the lake when you are feeling the need to cool off, as Ontario summers do get hot. Don’t forget to bring a picnic!
If you feel the need to get a daily dose of exercise, be sure to explore the Kincardine trails, which offer over 30 km of accessible trails. Strap on your roller blades or your cross-country skis and explore the trails, all of which are marked according to length and difficulty.
For the not so active explorers, not to worry, I have you covered as well. Hop in the car and take a short drive out of town towards the Bruce Nuclear Plant, the world’s largest operating nuclear facility. A visitor’s center is open to the public, which also has an exhibit hall offering various inter-active displays. Free bus tours of the 2,300 acre site are offered during July and August and can be booked by contacting Bruce Power .
The environmental enthusiast will find Ontario’s first wind farm right next door to the nuclear plant.
In keeping with Kincardine’s Scottish heritage, a bagpipe band parades through Kincardine’s downtown core every Saturday night during the summer months, ending at Victoria Park. If this is your first visit to the parade, be sure to follow the pipers, as it’s a great way to meet people.
If you can’t get enough of the bagpipes, be sure to join the pipers in the park where they will continue to entertain you. If you are a piper, bring your pipes with you, as you are more than welcome to join the band. The bagpipe parade is a Kincardine tradition that began in 1948 and continues to entertain both old and young alike.
EXPLORE SHOPPING AND ARCHITECTURE
As many of the small towns in Ontario, Kincardine offers many quaint little shops which line the two blocks of its downtown core. You will also find numerous antique stores in Kincardine and surrounding area.
For the social person, I recommend a visit to the Market in the Park, held at Victoria Park every Monday from Victoria Day until Labour Day.
I know by now that after all of this activity, you must have worked up a thirst or hunger. Again, I have you covered. Visit one of these pubs and/or restaurants to re-fuel:
Bruce Steakhouse: Located in the heart of downtown, this is the perfect place to have a burger or a beer while enjoying the view overlooking the lake
Bar Down: For pub fare and daily specials, a visit to the Bar Down on Kincardine’s main street is in order.
Hawgs Breath: This is your restaurant if you are looking for a small, intimate, fun atmosphere to grab a sandwich or a beer. It’s a favorite of the locals (and mine).
Erie Bell Restaurant: For fish and chips and a view overlooking Lake Huron, a visit to the Erie Bell is in order.
Grey Matter Beer Company: This is the place to go for a “cold one”. It’s so much fun and the tastings are HUGE! Dogs are allowed!
Given the distance of Kincardine from the major cities, I highly recommend spending at least one night to rest up…..after all, I know you had a very busy day.
Kincardine has recently acquired some brand name hotels, and also offers mom and pop type of accommodations:
If you are visiting with your family or a large group and are staying for a week or more, I highly recommend reserving the Kincardine Cabins! This is the perfect spot for a family get-together!
To obtain more information about the Town of Kincardine, visit Kincardine Tourism
- Stratford, Ontario
- Population: 32,000
- Distance from Toronto 149.4 km (92.83)
Stratford is a small city located in Southwestern Ontario along the Avon River, situated smack dab in the middle of dairy farming country. This little gem was established in 1831 and was originally known as Little Thames. In 1835 and in honour of the birthplace of William Shakespeare, the name was changed to Stratford. The city is best known as the site of the Stratford Festival, which has been held each summer since 1953. It is also the hometown of Justin Bieber.
The main attraction which draws people to Stratford from all across the Province, is the live theatre performances. Stratford currently boasts four live theatres which offer both Modern and Shakespearean productions for the entire family to enjoy.
For the outdoor lovers, take a stroll through Shakespeare Gardens or rent a bike from Avon Boat Rentals and bike along the Avon River. For the avid hiker, visit the Avon Trail which offers 133 km of hiking trail spanning from the Town of St. Marys to the Village of Conestogo.
Throughout the summer months, paddle boat rentals are available from Avon Boat Rentals, or take a leisurely cruise along the Avon River. This is the perfect way to relax and enjoy the swans which make the Avon River their home during spring and summer.
EXPLORE SHOPPING AND ARCHITECTURE
For the lover of architecture, as I am, Stratford is definitely a place you want to visit. You will marvel at the historic landmarks that greet you around every corner, as well as up and down the street in the downtown core. Make sure you save enough time to take the self-guided walking tour and explore all of the amazing architecture that Stratford has to offer, as well as the endless shops lining the downtown core.
Let me begin by saying that you will need at least a week, if not more, to enjoy all of the cafes and restaurants that Stratford has to offer. There are so many restaurants and cafes in this little Town that it’s difficult to know where to begin. Here are some worth exploring:
Bentley’s Bar & Inn: whether you are wanting some pub food or a drink to cool off, be sure to visit Bentley’s. The service is impeccable and the rueban sandwich was to die for.
Pizza Bistro: for a quick and reasonable bite to eat, be sure to visit Pizza Bistro, located in the downtown core across from City Hall.
Bijou: If it is an upscale dining experience you are looking for, a visit to this award winning french bistro is in order.
Kandy Cakes: For those with a sweet tooth, be sure to visit Kandy Cakes and try one (or all) of their many flavors of cupcakes. My favorite was the lavender! Located on a side street across from the Avon River, makes this spot quite handy.
Junction 56 Distillery: If you want to quench your thirst, stop in at Junction 56 Distillery and try one of their many cocktails. Tours and tastings are available.
In keeping with the historic nature of Stratford, the town jammed packed with historic Inns, most of which are located in the downtown core.
- The Parlour Inn
- Queens Inn at Stratford
- Bentley’s Bar & Inn
- Mercer Hall
- Forest Motel & Woodland Retreat
- Best Western – The Arden Park Hotel
There are also many Bed & Breakfast accommodations available, located throughout Stratford.
To obtain more information and plan your visit to Stratford, visit the City of Stratford.
I hope that you enjoyed exploring Small Towns Ontario with me. Make sure you join me on my next journey, as I explore Tourist Towns Ontario.
I would love to hear which of these towns were your favorite? Or if you have another town off-the-beaten-path that you love to explore in Ontario, let me know, as I am always looking for new places to explore.
SAFE AND HAPPY EXPLORING!