Enjoy a Stratford Shakespeare Festival Weekend With Our Tips

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Canada is a beautiful place to visit in the late summer and early fall. Known for stunningly scenic landscapes, Ontario is especially popular for active travel options. But, it’s not all hiking, biking or building sandcastles at the beach. If you’re looking to mix a little culture into your next Canadian adventure, guest contributor Kirsten Gallagher is here to share her tips for a weekend at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival in Ontario.

Every year, from May to October, seasoned thespians hit the stage in a selection of Shakespeare’s plays during the Stratford Festival in Ontario. Follow my tips for making the most of your weekend. The festival’s official web page is the best place to confirm details like dates, time, plays, theaters and parking.

Stratford Shakespeare Festival Weekend  makes a great getaway from Toronto

Less than two hours by car from the major city of Toronto, Stratford is a quiet and quaint town where everything from the most famous to the most obscure of the Bard’s works has been delighting audiences since the early 1950s. If you’re a theater lover, you can get your dose of Shakespeare during a quick weekend getaway

But beyond the amazing theater experiences, there’s so much more to do and see in Stratford. From shopping to fine dining to biking along the Avon river, active boomer travelers will find plenty to interest them.

a road leading to a building with lights on the overhang
The Avon Theater is a compact structure, which gives their plays an intimate atmosphere.

Shakespeare Festival Theater tips

My partner and I traveled to Stratford to celebrate our anniversary. We bought tickets to see two plays by Shakespeare (for those who would like a mix of old and new, there are contemporary pieces, too).

The first was Coriolanus, which played in the smaller Avon Theatre (99 Downie Street). The production modernized the story of a Roman soldier surrounded by a cadre of ambitious hangers-on, giving it a dystopian edge.

The second, The Tempest, was mounted in the grander, amphitheater-style Festival Theater (55 Queen Street) located along the Avon river. Often an audience favorite due to its magical elements and wild creatures, The Tempest starred Stratford veteran Martha Henry as Prospero, a role normally played by a man.

Ticket prices range from about $29 CAN to $100 CAN (U.S. readers, here’s a handy currency converter), which means that you don’t have to break the bank to take in a show or two. As we waited for the curtain to rise, we took note of many students, seniors and families in attendance.

shot of a theater with people in the seats lookint at a stage with a tree on it
Not a bad seat in the house!

Both Coriolanus and The Tempest were evening shows, leaving us the entire day to explore the town. Stratford’s main street, Ontario Street, is lined with boutiques, restaurants, chocolate shops and bookstores carrying—what else?—collections of Shakespeare’s plays and books devoted to their study.

a book called Mapping Shakespeare
The local bookstore is stocked with all things Shakespeare.

Where to eat in Stratford

One afternoon, we wandered in and out of the local establishments, found a stylish coffee spot in Balzac’s Café (149 Ontario Street) and then picked up a free horse-drawn carriage ride through the historic downtown at the junction of Ontario Street and Downie Street.

a cafe with a wooden making coffee
Balzac’s Café is a nice place for a pre-theater snack.

For a meal before or after a show, Stratford offers everything from pubs to elegant French bistros. Most of the better restaurants are small with limited seating, so book ahead if you’re interested in dining at a venue with a sparkling reputation like Bijou (105 Erie Street).

Whatever you choose, all the restaurants in Stratford share one thing in common: speedy service. Working in a theater town, the staff are used to getting those with tickets for an eight o’clock show out the door in decent time.

Swans swimming in the Avon River
Don’t miss a stroll along the Avon River.

What to see and do in Stratford

Of course, we wanted to offset some of that time well-spent sitting in theater seats and indulging in the cuisine with some exercise.  Fortunately, there are a number of options in Stratford. You can rent a bike at locations like Totally Spoked (29 Ontario Street) and ride along a shady stretch of the Avon River, populated by swans.

Would you rather take a walk? Visit the Tourist Office (47 Downie Street) for maps detailing longer walks beyond the downtown. The Shakespearean Gardens makes for a pleasant morning or afternoon stroll.

You can even do a hot yoga class at the Moksha Yoga studio (164 Downie Street) which offers reasonably-priced week-long passes to tourists in town to check out the festival. All within walking distance of the main tourist area.

Looking for a place to stay in Stratford? Start your search for hotels in Stratford with us!

A Stratford weekend getaway of two or three days can be a whirlwind of wonderful theater, fabulous shopping and dining, and outdoor activities. For theater lovers visiting the area, it’s a destination that certainly ought not be missed. Play on!

Scratch those itchy travel feet!

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