Ontario is full of charming small towns. They make an excellent day trip and usually less than 2 hours from Toronto. Check out www.DreamPlanExperience.com for Best Small Towns in Ontario. Which ones do you think made the list?
North America

The Best Small Towns in Ontario

Ontario has some of the best small towns. Nothing but charm and the slow pace of quiet streets filled with quaint little shops. They make for the perfect day trip and escape from our energetic city life. 

Small towns don’t offer visitors any attractions per say. The best ones will offer pretty boutique stores, a delightful tea house, and interesting antique shops. And, more recently you will find local craft beer and distillery spirits popping up.

Just an hour west of Toronto, you will find Huron-Perth-Waterloo-Wellington regions known for its pastoral landscape and growing urban cities. It is a mecca for culinary and outdoor experiences. And, is the place I now call home. Let me share some of my favourites in this region.

Elora

Elora an artist small town that is chock full of boutique shops and restaurants. | Best Small Towns in Ontario | www.DreamPlanExperience.com

Elora sits on a stunning gorge alongside the banks of the Grand River. The 25-meter (80 feet) limestone cliffs are perfect for water adventures all year round. Elora has plenty of outdoor activities, from rafting to repelling to river walks, and even its own music festival called Riverfest

The 19th century-old buildings have been transformed into art studios and galleries, boutique stores and eateries. And, the eateries, there are plenty! Let your taste buds transport you to France and dine at The Evelyn a french inspired menu and atmosphere. Or perhaps Italy, and dine at La Fontana where it offers fresh pasta and wood oven baked pizza. Of, if you are after farm to table pub-style eateries that serve up a really good cocktail head to The Porch Light or The Friendly Society. And, Elora Brewing Co. provides a true craft beer experience not to be missed.

Elora makes for a romantic getaway, especially if you stay at the historic landmark Elora Mill and Spa. The recently renovated luxurious accommodation is a definite splurge, but offers you such a unique experience that it’s worth it!  

Elora an artist small town that is chock full of boutique shops and restaurants. | Best Small Towns in Ontario | www.DreamPlanExperience.com
Elora an artist small town that is chock full of boutique shops and restaurants. | Best Small Towns in Ontario | www.DreamPlanExperience.com

Driving distance (from Toronto) = 90 mins

Fergus

Fergus, a lovely small town with deep Scottish roots | Best Small Towns in Ontario | www.DreamPlanExperience.com

Fergus is a pretty little town that sits on the Grand River. It has deep Scottish roots dating back to 1833 when its earliest settlers called it “Little Falls” because of its scenic waterfalls. The best way to see them is to walk along the river through Templin Gardens. Beautifully landscaped garden beds are set against the limestone trails and gorge. Especially the large historical set of stone stairs spiraling down the gorge wall to the river’s edge. 

Next, take a stroll through the historic downtown and take in the over 200 buildings built in the early 19th century that are now turned into unique shops, antique stores and cafes. There is even a Grand Theatre that seats 252 people, offering cultural events since 1928. Continue past the downtown and you will see the lovely historic homes that have been preserved, each one donning a sign with the year of the house, resident’s name and  occupation. This will take you to the historic mill which has since been converted to modern condos. 

The Fergus Scottish Festival and Highland Games is the town’s largest and most recognized festival. Actually, it is the largest Highland Games festival in North America. It’s an annual tradition that draws over 30,000 people each year. 

If you are interested in learning more about Fergus and the surrounding area, a visit to the Wellington County Museum is a must. Located just outside of Fergus on your way to Elora is this historic building that was once the county’s poorhouse. 

Fergus, a lovely small town with deep Scottish roots | Best Small Towns in Ontario | www.DreamPlanExperience.com
Fergus, a lovely small town with deep Scottish roots | Best Small Towns in Ontario | www.DreamPlanExperience.com

Driving Distance (from Toronto) = 75 mins

Galt (in Cambridge)

Visit Cambridge's downtown and you will feel as if you are in a small European town. | Best Small Towns in Ontario | www.DreamPlanExperience.com

Cambridge is a new and thriving city since it amalgamated 4 small towns of Galt, Hespeler, Preston and Blair together in 1973. The history of the area is a diverse and interesting one.

What makes this community so special? Nestled along the Grand River is the former Galt.  It resembles a little piece of Europe with its historic limestone buildings dating back to the mid 1800’s built right up against the river’s edge.

The best way to experience the charm of this community is to attend the the weekend farmers’ market, which dates back to 1830, making it one of the oldest markets of its kind in Canada. Then head to one of the community’s many hipster coffee shops like Monigram Coffee Roasters or Grand Cafe or Blackwing Coffee Bar. Along the way you will see a variety of quaint shops along the oldest streets of this community. 

Then walk or bike along the 58 km trails — many along its waterfront — and spectacular views from atop 400 year-old limestone cliffs. End your day and dine at Cambridge Mill as you dine and overlook the views of the Grand River. 

One of the biggest draws to the Cambridge area is Langdon Hall, which is a Relais & Châteaux property. But visitors making the trip to the luxury resort and dining destination would be remiss to pass up a visit the historic downtown area, which is one of the prettiest in all of southern Ontario.

Visit Cambridge's downtown and you will feel as if you are in a small European town. | Best Small Towns in Ontario | www.DreamPlanExperience.com
Visit Cambridge's downtown and you will feel as if you are in a small European town. | Best Small Towns in Ontario | www.DreamPlanExperience.com

Driving Distance (from Toronto) = 60 mins

Paris

Paris is one of Ontario's prettiest towns | Best Small Towns in Ontario | www.DreamPlanExperience.com

Paris is often referred to as Ontario’s “Prettiest Little Town.” This picturesque town is located where the Grand and Nith Rivers meet. Against the backdrop of the two rivers sits the small downtown lined with little shops and cafes.

A couple of my favourites are Chocolate Sensations, The Peddler, a quaint tea and gift shop, and the Paris Bakery. Grab yourself a sweet treat and then meander through Glen Heron Books or John M. Hall, an old-fashion linen shop that has been in place for over 120 years. Lastly, and most definitely worth the drive, is Piper and Oak – an upscale home interiors shop. Looking for a hip cafe and market? Venture a couple streets over to The Paris Wincey Mills Co. – a historic building that dates back to 1889 that has been been transformed into a year round market with local vendors. 

Next, take a stroll past some of the town’s most pristine buildings that feature many different architectural styles, including Victorian, Edwardian, Gothic and Post Modern. Paris is best known for the cobblestone buildings. Builders used over 14,000 cobblestones all of near identical size drawn from the Grand and Nith Rivers to create several homes and buildings. My favourite is the Charles Mitchell House, a beautiful historic cobblestone home from 1842. If you love architecture, then a day trip to Paris is a must!

Paris is one of Ontario's prettiest towns | Best Small Towns in Ontario | www.DreamPlanExperience.com
Paris is one of Ontario's prettiest towns | Best Small Towns in Ontario | www.DreamPlanExperience.com

Driving Distance (from Toronto) = 75 mins

St. Jacob's

St. Jacob's, a Mennonite community in Waterloo region | Best Small Towns in Ontario | www.DreamPlanExperience.com

St. Jacobs is located in the heart of Old Order Mennonite community. You will see many families on the country roads in traditional horse and buggy. St. Jacobs is famous for its massive all-year round Farmers’ Market. You can catch over 300 local vendors on Tuesdays (summer only), Thursdays and Saturdays. Part of the seasonal market includes a craft and flea market.

After the market, head to the cute village of St. Jacobs, home to boutique shops and artisan stores. There you will find your typical tea house, bakery and many one-of-kind artisan shops. One of my absolute favourites is tucked away on a quiet side street, Artefacts Salvage and Design. A store devoted to architectural salvage items like doors, columns, windows, door knobs, lights and more. If you are looking to add a bit of history to your home reno, then this is the place to seek out.

Now that you have worked up a thirst, head to Block Three Brewing, the local craft brewery company to sample some of the fantastic beer selections. Or go to The Village Biergarten that features Block Three beers on tap as well as a Mexican cuisine. 

St. Jacob's, a Mennonite community in Waterloo region | Best Small Towns in Ontario | www.DreamPlanExperience.com
St. Jacob's, a Mennonite community in Waterloo region | Best Small Towns in Ontario | www.DreamPlanExperience.com

Driving distance (from Toronto) = 75 mins

Stratford

Stratford, the cultural small town is more than just the Stratford Festival | Best Small Towns in Ontario | www.DreamPlanExperience.com

Stratford, sits on the banks of the picturesque Avon River, just like England’s Stratford.  Take a stroll along the pathway along the gentle flow of the river with an abundant amount of swans linking five beautiful gardens in full bloom in spring, summer and fall. 

Stratford is famous for its theatrical productions, in particular, showcasing the plays of William Shakespeare. The Stratford Festival began in 1952 and welcomes just over 500,000 attendees in a season. 90 percent of visitors to Stratford come for the Festival. 

While this town is a cultural hub, it is also a foodie hot spot. From its fine dining choices of The Prune Restaurant, Revival House, or Bijou to its cute little cafes like Balzac’s Coffee Roasters or Edison’s. 

Explore the historic downtown, from early 19th century and unique boutique shops like Watson’s Chelsea Bazaar, Bradshaws, or Wills and Prior, just to name a few. Most of the original historic buildings are from early 19th century. 

Visit Stratford, and you’ll feel like you are in small-town England.

Stratford, the cultural small town is more than just the Stratford Festival | Best Small Towns in Ontario | www.DreamPlanExperience.com
Stratford, the cultural small town is more than just the Stratford Festival | Best Small Towns in Ontario | www.DreamPlanExperience.com

Driving distance (from Toronto) = 100 mins

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Looking to plan a day trip? Why not visit one of these charming towns. | Best Small Towns in Ontario | www.DreamPlanExperience.com
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42 Comments

  • samantha karen

    Love to see Ontario small towns represented! There are so man quaint little beauties in Ontario, I especially love Paris!

    • The.Holidaymaker

      Thanks for your comment Sam! Yes, Paris is a little gem, it definitely has a lot to live up to with being named after one of the best cities in the world!

      • Justine

        Another fantastic blog that makes me wanna see more of Canada! Galt looks right up my street, but I also can’t resist finding out more about this lesser known Paris 😉 Keep ’em coming! Would love to read more about Canada… really hope I can get there within next couple of years 🙂

  • Faith Coates

    That felt really good to visit some familiar places – I’m originally from London, Ontario so I know all these towns really well. It made me feel a little homesick being locked down in Europe and not getting a chance to get home. My favourite will always be Elora although St. Jacobs runs a close second due to the fabulous market.

    • The.Holidaymaker

      Yes indeed this would be close to home if your hometown was London. I too adore Elora. It is my absolute favourite. Thank you for your comment Faith.

  • Eric Gamble

    So I bet exploring the small Mennonite community in St Jacobs would be fun. Kind of reminds me of the small towns in Pennsylvania. But in reality, I think Fergus sounds the coolest of these Small towns in Ontario. I mean who wouldnt want to walk into a little Scotland hiding in the middle of Canada. I bet it must be a ton of fun at the festivals or the highland games!

    • The.Holidaymaker

      Thanks for your comment Eric. Yes, St. Jacob’s is definitely like the Pennsylvania Amish, except it has one very large Farmer’s Market, with over 300 vendors! Fergus is definitely a quaint little town and yes, I need to check out the Scottish Festival.

  • Delphine Mignon

    I didn’t know Canada has such charming little towns… I always think of Canada in terms of deep forests and high mountains… Paris and Stratford look absolutely lovely, with that European touch!

    • The.Holidaymaker

      Yes, there is definitely more to Canada than forests and mountains. Ontario is full of charming towns. Thanks for stopping by Delphine and your comment.

  • Emma

    Saving this for my next trip to Ontario which will hopefully be by the end of the year as my boyfriend’s family live near Toronto. We went to St. Jacob’s last time I was there, loved the market. But some other places I wouldn’t mind checking out on this list too

    • The.Holidaymaker

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting. I recommend Elora and Fergus, they are just beyond St. Jacob’s and definitely are my favourites.

  • Linda (LD Holland)

    Toronto is my home town. I know many of these towns. But was delighted to read about a few that will go on our local travel planning list. I always smile when we go past the sign for Paris. I will have to make it a point to stop the next time. Especially to visit the Chocolate Sensations. Thanks for some local inspiration!

    • The.Holidaymaker

      Thank you Linda for your comment. You won’t be disappointed if you made a quick stop in Paris. It’s a lovely way to spend a couple of hours.

    • The.Holidaymaker

      Thanks Hannah for dropping by. Yes, Toronto is the most well known, but small towns are what make our province unique. We have so many of them just outside of the city and it is always makes for a great day trip to escape to.

  • Riana Ang-Canning

    As someone who grew up in Toronto, you’re really making me rethink my home town! There are so many cute places around I should have been visiting. I’ve been to Stratford as a kid and have family in Fergus. But the rest of these places are new to me. Definitely adding to the list for the next time I’m in Ontario! St. Jacob’s looks so cute!

    • The.Holidaymaker

      Thanks Riana for stopping by and commenting. If you go to St. Jacob’s you definitely have to go on market day – Tuesday, Thursday and Saturdays. It is the biggest one in the province.

  • Sarah

    These towns look charming! I’d love to visit Fergus for the Highland Games as it sounds like it would be a very interesting experience to compare it to the ones here in Scotland!

    • The.Holidaymaker

      Thank you for your comment Sarah and stopping by. Yes, I would need to attend the games in Scotland to see how it fairs! 🙂

  • Brooklyn

    I’m from Ontario (Port Colborne, Petawawa, and North Bay) and while I’ve heard of all of these places, I’ve never actually visited any of them! Just driven through at most. I love the charming small town feel they all seem to give off!

    • The.Holidaymaker

      Well hello fellow Ontarian! What, just drove by. You’ll need to make a point and stop next time. I love and have visited Port Colborne, Petawawa and North Bay!

  • Lissa

    We are just across the border in Detroit so many of these are easily accessible to us. We’ll be mostly road tripping for the foreseeable future, so we may have to check some of these out once we’re allowed to cross the border and it’s safe to travel again!

    • The.Holidaymaker

      Thank you Rudy for your comment. Yes, agreed, the European influence is definitely evident.

  • Kailyn Travels

    All these towns look so cute! I have only been to big cities in Canada and I hope I get the opportunity to drive around and see some of these. I love cities along water, so I love that most of these are on rivers!

    • The.Holidaymaker

      Actually every single one Of these small towns are on a river. The least prominent one is St. Jacobs. Hopefully you be able to visit some of these one day. Thank you for your comment Kailyn.

    • The.Holidaymaker

      Thanks for your comment Juliet! It might be the reason why it’s named one of the prettiest towns.

  • Zarina

    I love this post so much!!! I love exploring smaller and lesser known places and all the towns you list here look so charming and well worth a visit indeed. It’s funny how almost all of them are named after European cities too, it gives a glimpse into history. So lucky you live in this region, it looks beautiful!

    • The.Holidaymaker

      Thanks Zarina for your comment. Yes, Ontario especially has some quaint and charming towns. They make for great day trips on the weekends for me.

  • Mukund @ Discover New Paths

    I had no idea Ontario had so many quaint towns nearby! Or that they had similar names to places in Europe – Cambridge and Stratford definitely reminded me of Cambridge and Stratford back in England. I wonder what the historical context is behind the link?

    • The.Holidaymaker

      Well, most of Canada was discovered and colonized by English and French explorers who came here and established the towns. Maybe lack of imagination or they were homesick. Thank you for your comment.

    • The.Holidaymaker

      Thank you for your comment. Yes, Galt especially has that European flair doesn’t it?

  • Kez

    I love how Ontario has borrowed town names from all around the world. I remember going through Windsor, Sydney, Perth and London when I was there. It seems I missed Paris though!

    • The.Holidaymaker

      Yes, you are so right Kez. Many towns have linkages to elsewhere in the world. Thanks for stopping by.

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