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:
- Downtown Elora Shopping
- Places to Eat and Drink
- Outdoor Attractions and Activities
- 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)
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.
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)
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)
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)
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.
Looking for more? Check out these festivals and activities that support the local arts & culture community.
- 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.
- Blown Away Glass Studio – either watch or try your hand at glass-blowing by signing up for one of their classes
- ReFIND Salvage Workshops – join a DIY Arts & Crafts workshop held in their studio available for kids and adults.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
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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.