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Five Reasons You Should Visit the Stratford Shakespeare Festival

A theatre-lover's paradise.

the Festival Theater at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival

Ladies and Gentles and Humans Beyond the Binary, it’s time to talk about the destination I visit almost annually: The Stratford Shakespeare Festival in Stratford, Ontario.

The Stratford Festival is a long-running Shakespeare festival with decades of history. It started with seasonal performances of Shakespeare classics, staged in a tent, and has grown into a massive festival spanning six months of the year and performing on four glorious stages. Every season features a mixture of Shakespearean productions, showstopping musicals, sharp modern plays, and new works.

I started attending the festival in my college years, on guided tours organized by the school. After graduation, I deeply missed the experience and started returning on my own. My very first solo trip was to the Stratford Festival!

So why should you consider a visit to this charming town and its brilliant festival? Here’s five reasons why.

#1 - Top-Notch Performance Art

The Stratford Festival seasons attract top artists from all over the globe. The directors, designers, performers, and everyone in between are all at the top of their fields. It’s a hallmark of the Festival’s quality that dozens of their performers and designers return to Stratford year after year.

a program for Hamlet at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival

The quality of the productions and the power of the performances is, in my experience, nearly unparalleled. Plus, a venue as established as the Stratford Festival has the leeway to make bold choices with their performances. There are always new works in every season, and many of them take bold stances on current or historical events. And they have the freedom to reinterpret classics like Shakespeare with confidence.

The most innovative production of Hamlet I’ve seen to date was from the Stratford Festival in 2022, and the extra speech they wrote for Hero and added to the end of Much Ado About Nothing in 2023 turned the play on its head in the most empowering way possible. For stunning and powerful theatre, there’s no better destination than the Stratford Festival.

#2 - Amazing Food

For a small town, Stratford commands a lot of luxury. Drawn by the theaters, the establishments tend to be more upscale than you’d usually find in a town surrounded by soybean fields. And Stratford’s restaurant scene has risen to the challenge. The culinary landscape of Stratford is wide and diverse, and you can find everything from pub food, to Italian pasta dishes, to French-inspired bistros, to elegant steakhouses. Eating is an art in Stratford, and you’ll never be short on choices.

My go-to restaurants in Stratford are: 

  1. Fellini’s: Italian masterpieces and the best bread with oil and vinegar I’ve ever had

  2. Mercer Food Hall: Upscale pub classics with an Asian twist. Plus their carrot cake is to die for.

  3. Lovage: exquisite European-style bistro with a menu that changes to reflect the seasons

  4. Bluebird: a cozy space with a hearty and diverse menu and glorious cocktails to match

  5. JENN & Larry's: for the toasted-coconut-dipped soft serve that haunts my dreams between visits.

a traveler in a unique hat

#3 - Fun Boutique Shopping

But even with all the glitz and elegance of the theaters and the restaurants, Stratford is still a small town. And it has the high-street style shopping to match! The main streets of Stratford are a beautiful collage of small businesses and local chains. You’ll find shops full of artisan creations, charming home and clothing boutiques, cozy indie bookstores, specialty food shops, and one-of-a-kind locales like Stratford’s infamous Scottish Shop. You easily can -and should- while away an afternoon hopping in and out of these charming shops. You never know what kind of treasures you might find!

#4 - Stunning Surroundings

And did I mention that Stratford is beautiful?? Assuming your hotel or B&B is near the center of town, Stratford is the kind of destination where you can park your car at check in and not need it again until you leave. The town is quaint and charming, the theater buildings are remarkably stunning, and green areas abound. The center of Stratford is the Avon river that winds through town, surrounded by walking paths and beautiful parks. Take advantage of the picnic tables and benches, explore the manicured island near the Festival Theater, wander the English-style gardens on the west end of town, and keep your eyes open for the famous Stratford swans.

#5 - The American Dollar Goes Farther

And if all of this isn’t enough to inspire you on its own, this amazing and luxurious vacation destination is surprisingly affordable!

If you’re visiting Canada from the United States, your dollar is much stronger than the local dollar. The exchange rate is constantly in flux, but I have never been to Stratford and had my dollar be weaker than theirs. Sometimes it’s even as dramatic as an extra 25 cents on the dollar! Regardless, set your vacation budget, and then add a little extra. Your bank account won’t even know the difference!

Pro tip: get a credit card with no international transaction fees. Or if you don’t have a card like that, plan to hit an ATM on the first day of your trip and work through your vacation in cash. That way you’ll only be charged the transaction fee once, when you make your withdrawal!

Experience the Stratford Festival Magic

Convinced? Check out Stratford’s upcoming season here! 

I return to this magical, peaceful place almost annually. It’s become something of a pilgrimage where I revel in amazing art, honor past versions of myself, and dream about my future. I hope you find it as magical as I do.

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Love and Shenanigans,


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