old mill limestone building on water
Canada

Why you Need to Go to Elora Ontario

So what makes a small town in Ontario so great to visit? Is it the historic architecture? Perhaps it’s set in a beautiful natural setting close to water. Or maybe, it has a thriving art and cultural community. And, when a small town offers all three, like Elora Ontario, it goes straight to the top of the list of the best small towns in Ontario to visit. Here’s why you need to go to Elora and all the amazing things you can do there. 

Why you need to go to Elora

When one of the famous Group of Seven painters, A.J. Casson, called Elora “Ontario’s Most Beautiful Village” you know it has to be pretty special. Elora lies along the scenic Grand River in Wellington County. This area is known for its incredible rural setting and year-round festivals. The closest major metropolitan city is my hometown of Kitchener-Waterloo, which is a short 30-minute drive. While Toronto to Elora is a 75-minute drive, it’s still a popular day trip or weekend getaway for many southern Ontarionians.

Despite being such a small town of only 7,800 residents it sure does offer an endless amount of things to do that suit a wide variety of interests. That’s why I’ve decided to break it all down for you into four easy categories:

  1. Downtown Elora Shopping
  2. Places to Eat and Drink
  3. Outdoor Attractions and Activities
  4. Arts and Culture

1. Top Things to Do in Elora for Shoppers

There is nothing I love more than strolling a historic downtown filled with boutiques that are independently owned by passionate people. Elora is such a place. The striking 19th-century limestone buildings that line the downtown Elora streets offer a wide array of things new and old that you didn’t even know you were looking for. Everything from home décor to art, fashion, books, and so much more. Each of these shops is the perfect solution for finding a gift for that hard to buy for person. Explore the main strips of Mill and Metcalfe streets, and watch for tiny side streets too. Here are a few of my favourites to seek out: 

Mermaid – an eclectic mix of unique items that you won’t find anywhere else specializing in paperweight clocks, door knockers, maps, and jewellry. The attractive building was built in 1869 and was once the home of the Elora Observer newspaper and then later a tinsmith shop. Walk around the side of the building where you will see the prettiest instagrammable photo op! (106 Metcalfe St)

Hanscomb Glass Studio – full of pretty glass creations by a husband and wife team located in a historic house painted a sunny yellow with turquoise trim – you can’t miss it! (40 Church St)

Karger – exceptional one-of-a-kind quality pieces for your home, as well as, fine art, jewellery, and fashion located in an ultra-modern architectural gem that features a lux Airbnb on the upper level (14 Mill St)

Epiphany Apparel – a mix of woman’s fashion and accessories with a sister shop called Jammed Lovely, offering cute home décor items. The best part – is the pretty window displays (22 and 36 Mill St)

Elora Mews Shops – are tucked behind the iconic limestone wall left standing after a devastating fire destroying a furniture factory in 1950. Now, it’s a quiet courtyard with tiny shops and eateries, like ReFIND Salvage and Chanticleer (45 Mill Street West)

The shopping in Elora is amazing, especially if you love finding those one-of-a-kind treasures. There are many more shops that you’ll find beyond the few favourites I’ve shared. 

tall metal clock
Hidden gems in Elora alert! Look for the Elora Clock Tower that stands tall between Mermaid and Hanscomb Glass Studio. It's a joint Elora art installation and just so happens to be one of the coolest things you'll find in Elora.  

2. Best Places to Visit for Foodies

Elora is teeming with delicious eateries making it near impossible to try them all, but a great reason to return again and again. The best part is there’s not a fast-food chain in sight. Here are some of my favourites that I’ve tried and highly recommend.

Best early-to-mid-day options: 

Café Creperie – sweet or savory, take your pick, both are delicious at this popular spot (40 Mill St)

Lost and Found Café – is the perfect coffee shop that has some great laid-back vibes. Give in to your temptation and try their fresh baked goods or a delicious bagel sandwich (Elora Mews)  

Elora Bread Trading Co – the only bakery in town that draws people here for their bread alone. Tip, get here early as they often sell out fast, especially on Saturdays. NOTE: due to a small kitchen fire this amazing bakery is temporarily closed (73 Metcalf)

The Wild Tart – all it takes is one bite, and you’ll instantly fall in love with this European-style patisserie. Creations are created by Michelin-starred pastry chef Marc Collyer. Enjoy their high tea in the patio garden and you’ll think you are on the set of Bridgerton (61 Metcalf)

teal banquet with table setting
Best dinner options:

The Evelyn – French-inspired menu, delicious food, cozy vibes no wonder this is a local’s favourite, yes, and mine too! (130 Metcalfe)

La Fontana – is known for its wood-burning pizzas, but it’s their delicious homemade pasta made fresh daily that won me over (15 Mill)

The Cellar Pub – has one of the best patios in Elora overlooking the lazy Grand River for that casual lunch or dinner (13 Mill)

Elora Mill Restaurant – enjoy a refined fine dining experience in their two-story restaurant where Chef Jonathan Gushue, formally of Fogo Island Inn in Newfoundland, creates magic. Nothing is more romantic than dining river-side with views of the Grand River (77 Mill)

outdoor dining
Best specialty shops:

Sweet Distractions – for those that have a sweet tooth, this is an old-fashion candy shop is a must stop, also offers ice cream (16 Mill St)

Scoop Ice Cream – made on the premises, this is my go-to ice cream shop in Elora offering both the classics and seasonal flavours. My favourite combination is Strawberry Buttermilk and Vanilla Bean – so good! (58 Mill St)

Sugar Skulls Ice Cream – this fun, Mexican-themed ice cream shop is open from spring to fall only. 70 flavours with unlimited sweet-tooth toppings, or try something new like churros & dip or nachos & ice cream – the menu is just as fun and playful as the vibes of this shop (22 Metcalfe)

Elora Mercantile – offers a delicious offering of homemade food, local products, and all the cheese and charcuterie needed for fab grazing (58 Geddes) 

ice cream shop with red door
Best pubs and drinks:

Elora Distilling Company – giving a nod to the classic cocktail lounge – every elegant detail has been carefully selected. For the undecided, I recommend going with the cocktail flight so you can sip on 3 to discover your favourite. Join a tour or cocktail making class will be a top fun thing to do in Elora (102 Metcalf)

The Friendly Society – Elora’s favourite casual spot serving up all-day pub food (102 Mill) 

Elora Brewing Company – Elora’s very own local craft microbrewery where you can purchase, sample a flight, or enjoy a meal (107 Geddes)

The Porch Light – slowly graze over a charcuterie board while sipping on a delicious cocktail, this is the perfect spot for a pre-dinner gathering, even better Sunday night is live music  (82 Metcalf) 

3. Best Places for Outdoor Adventurists

Elora Gorge Conservation Area – you can’t go to Elora without visiting the Elora Gorge falls. It is easily one of the most incredible you’ll see. The fast-moving Grand River rushes past 22-metre high cliffs. The entire loop is a little over 5km in length. If you’d like to do a shorter hike, follow the riverside trail along the southern edge of the Grand River, from the Hole in the Rock to the bridge and back. This is the most scenic and interesting part of the trail. Bonus, this is a dog-friendly hiking trail. There’s one scenic lookout point down a flight of stairs. From the river’s edge, you will be able to watch the kayakers and tubers make their way down through the rapids. 

Elora Gorge Tubing – what is more fun than floating down the Grand River on a raft? Reserve your spot with Grand Rapids where they will supply you with the equipment you’ll need (Located in the Grand River Raceway Parking Lot)

Elora Quarry Conservation area – as one of the best Elora attractions in the summertime it’s easy to see why. This two-acre limestone quarry is surrounded by sheer cliffs up to 12 metres high that will make you forget you’re still in Ontario. You have to plan your visit here, reservations are required, and unfortunately, no dogs are allowed.

Zipline and Repelling – the best way to see the Elora Gorge is by ziplining over 61 metres and rappeling down 24 metres to the Grand River. The best thing to do in Elora in the winter is ice climbing.  

Bissell Park – a short walk from Downtown Elora, Bissell Park features a boardwalk that runs alongside the Grand River. This family-friendly park is now the location for the Elora Farmers Market on Saturday mornings starting mid-May to mid-October in 2022. Walk the new pedestrian bridge crossing the Grand River offering some pretty views.

Victoria Park – a public park in the middle of downtown Elora. Walk along a path until you reach the first lookout point. Next, continue walking until you reach a big staircase heading down to the gorge. From there you can walk along the river After admiring the scenery from the lookout, continue walking and you’ll reach a big staircase heading down into the gorge itself. It’s worth it!

Elora Cataract Trail – formerly a railway line, now a 47-km trail perfect for hiking and biking, even cross-country skiing and snowshoeing in the winter. The Elora Cataract Trailway is dog-friendly, family-friendly, and just an overall easy trail to enjoy.

4. Top Things to Do for Art & Culture Lovers

You don’t have to look very hard to find all of the amazing public art in Elora. Simply stroll the downtown and you’ll find so much creativity all done by local artists. Summertime is the most popular time to visit Elora. But, the other two other times I enjoy going to Elora are in October and December. October is Monster Month – where local artists transform the town with spooky creatures of ghosts and goblins; along with a monster walk parade. And, in December is Starlight – where the downtown shops stay open late into the evening for a holiday shopping. The entire town is decorated for the season, stores serve apple cider or mulled wine, and even carolers roam the streets. This is one of the best Christmas festivals in Ontario not to be missed.

statue and gardens in park
art display of tree on building

Looking for more? Check out these festivals and activities that support the local arts & culture community.  

  1. Riverfest Elora – is popular three-day music, arts, and culture festival held in August (August 19-21, 2022) in Bissell Park. Amazing past lines have included City and Colour, Blue Rodeo, MGMT, The Trews, and many more. 
  2. Blown Away Glass Studio – either watch or try your hand at glass-blowing by signing up for one of their classes 
  3. ReFIND Salvage Workshops – join a DIY Arts & Crafts workshop held in their studio available for kids and adults. 
  4. Elora Centre for the Arts – features a gallery with rotating art exhibits throughout the year and an artisan shop spotlighting hand-made pieces. Join a workshop to bring out the inner artist in us all. 
  5. Wellington County Museum – as a National Historic Site this museum is worth visiting for the building alone! Built in 1877 it has served the county as a place for the poor and aged, today, it holds all of the historical and educational interests of the county. Nine curated galleries, a writer’s festival, and access to historical and ancestry records are just some of the things you will find here.  
outdoor kitchen with stone oven
Hidden gems in Elora alert! Kitchen in the Park Elora, or known as KIPPELORA is a way to bring the community together through food. Through its outdoor oven and shelter, this not-for-profit project plays host to many community events. Visit on a Saturday and enjoy their featured events like Cinnamon buns, Bagels, Pizza, and even a bake your own. (Located in Bissell Park)

Best Places to Stay in Elora

There’s no question the most gorgeous place to stay would be the Elora Mill Hotel and Spa. A restored and renovated 175-year-old mill has been turned into the ultimate luxury stay and dining destination. Whether it be the rooftop pool, the spa, or the restaurant – each offers a prime viewing spot overlooking the gorge. There are a plethora of Airbnbs and B&Bs too. I’ll let you do your own search to find the right accommodation that suits your budget and style. 

As a holidaymaker…

Have I convinced you why you need to go to Elora? It’s the ideal small town. It’s scenic, charming, and offers an endless amount of things to do. If you were ever to move to a small town – Elora would be it! The vibe is just different here. 

buildings
building reflection on river

57 Comments

  • Carolin

    This looks right up my alley, you actually had me during your intro when you mentioned your three key criteria: historical architecture, art and culture. Those are also my top factors when visiting a place and if I can get engaged with it or not. Elora makes every good first impression on me with its neat and manicured streets and shops. I love the design and quality that speak to me through your excellent pictures. The Clock is so cool. I’m also happy you’ve included a section for outdoor adventures and hikes. Thanks ever so much for putting Elora on my radar.

  • Gail

    I’ve never been to Elora but you’ve outlined some very nice spots to visit. I think I’d visit Elora Cataract Trail when I’m in the area, as I love to walk & it seems as though I’d be able to walk for quite a distance here. 🙂 Thanks!

  • Lasma

    Wow, I never heard about this town! I think it’s a real hidden gem with so many treasures to discover! Thanks for sharing Elora!

  • Kelly

    Living not far away, find myself in Elora quite often. It doesn’t matter how many times I’ve been, I always discover something new. I love this little town!

  • Emma

    Oh my gosh I love Elora. I went here lay year on a visit to Ontario and had the best time, I didn’t want to leave. The artwork all over the town was one of my favorite things, as was the gorge and going down there for a nice long walk. Can’t wait to go back again

  • Clarice

    Wow! I would love to go on a shopping trip to Elora. I am particularly interested to see the glass studio and Mermaid. Happy to know too there is so much to see and do in this little town. Dinner at The Cellar Pub sounds wonderful.

  • Pam

    I’ve never heard of Elora before but looks like such a quaint place to visit! The Cafe creperie sounds right up my alley!

  • Maria Veloso

    Elora appears to be a fun spot to visit, and because it’s a small town, it’s certainly much easier to get around. And I believe that is a benefit for travelers and tourists with limited time. Thank you for giving specific names of noteworthy boutiques, cafes, bars, and parks. I also enjoy seeing Elora’s beautiful public art! I’m going to save this article. Your blog content is fantastic!

  • Agnes

    Elora seems to be a perfectly charming town. And it’s pretty photogenic. I love the pictures of reflections of Elora Mill, and I would like to take this type of photo there. Downtown Elora offers excellent walking and shopping opportunities, as I love handmade jewelry. Also, glass creations seem intriguing. I add to my bucket list Elora Clock Tower – it’s a fabulous installation!

  • Umiko

    Èlora sounds like my kind of small town. There are places for shopping, eating, and of course ice cream. I also like the outdoor activities that you can do there, as well as looking for outdoor arts.

  • Bea Pinnegar

    Elora looks like such a beautiful town. This is a wonderfully detailed guide – I’m definitely saving it for later. And your photos are absolutely gorgeous – so aesthetically pleasing!

  • joanna

    Elora looks like such a charming little town. I love that there are so many things to do in Elora. For me, a combination of good food and outdoors activities makes the perfect day trip. I would like to walk in the Elora Gorge and see the 22 meters high waterfall.

  • Brittany

    Elora looks so charming! I love that it’s a great place for foodies and outdoor adventure because those are two of my favorite ways to enjoy a vacation. Thanks for sharing this great guide!

  • Jill

    I love the way you broke all of the activities down into categories! I’m a bit of an outdoors girl so repelling near Grand River would have to be first on my list I think! Thanks for sharing 🙂

  • Lasma

    I love that clocktower, it reminds me Laima clock in Riga, my hometown! Also, I had no idea about this place, but you have convinced me and I will make sure to add it to my other bucket-list destinations. There are many, but I will get there haha.

  • Leah

    What a beautiful little place! I’d absolutely love to visit and do some shopping there. Your photos are stunning.

  • Linda (LD Holland)

    It is always fun when I read about a local gem that we have not yet visited. We will need to make a day trip and enjoy Elora. But with so much to see and do maybe we need a fun weekend away. I love strolling in these small towns and appreciate the great suggestions for food stops. I would like to try a cocktail flight at the Elora Distilling Company!

  • Steve

    I love checking out local breweries wherever I go. Thank you so much for sharing. I guess I know where I am going the next weekend.

  • Sue

    What a beautiful place! I love discovering small towns like this & especially when they have so many unique shops & locally owned businesses. What a gem!

  • Jackie

    Elora Ontario looks to be the type of place I’d love to revisit again and again. With all the unique shops, dining, drinks, and scenic attractions, it’s my kinda place! Add to that the art influence, and Elora definitely deserves a spot on my bucket list. We have three practicing artists in my family (one of whom blows glass). So, this trip would keep us all very happy! Thanks for tipping me off to Elora!

    • Puloma Bhattacharya

      Elora looks like a charming town with colorful boutique shops selling eclectic items. Besides strolling by the quaint cafes selling authentic ice creams, breads and pastries and watching the beautiful artwork scattered across the city right from glass sculptures, jewelry to home decor.
      The Elora clock tower is definitely not to be missed.
      And of course with so much of outdoor activities to indulge Elora stands out as a popular tourist spot I would love to explore!

  • Bhushavali

    Ontario’s most beautiful villages? You’ve convinced me, I have to make a trip to Elora. The little shops filled with curiosities are just so stunning. So yeah, when I visit I have to set aside a budget for shopping and keep the trunk empty to bring back stuff! My dinner would definitely be at La Fontana. Wood burning pizza and homemade pasta? I sign in! Elora Gorge hike is only 5km? That’s good.

  • Michele

    I have never heard of Elora, but after reading your post, I want to visit. The festivals, shopping, food, and activities sound delightful.

  • Deirdre Jenkins

    I grew up 1.5 hours away from this place and I’ve never heard of it! It looks fantastic though. I totally missed out on a beautiful quaint town. Thank you for bringing this to my radar.

  • Barry

    The photos you show of the town are such an eclectic mix of styles – wood, stone, grand, homely, dormer windowed and glass-fronted shops. – love the diversity.
    As for Scoops Ice cream shop – haven’t been in one of these since I was a kid (now I only see stalls or ice cream vans), so I would definitely head to that shop for ice cream. The Elora Distilling Company for cocktails might be the stop that gives the ice cream shop a run for its money with me though.
    All those art and cultural places would fill my day there and I’d need another one to explore that magnificent scenery nearby. Canada in general has so much beauty in its landscapes and Elora typifies that fabulous panorama.

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