Ontario has some of the best small towns. Visit a small town in Ontario and you will find nothing but charm. The slower pace of quiet streets filled with quaint shops. Small towns don’t offer visitors any tourist attractions per se. The best ones are often in the most scenic areas in Ontario. Each one offers something a bit unique and special. These quaint towns are considered off-the-beaten-path and hidden gems that only the locals know about. (Updated: November 2022)

Unmissable Small Towns in Ontario

Visiting a cute small town makes for the perfect day trip don’t you think? But with so many spread across the province, where does one begin? This list features the best small towns in Ontario west of Toronto. 

Bayfield Ontario

Bayfield Ontario is situated on the scenic shoreline of Lake Huron. The village of Bayfield features beautiful parks, beaches and a historic downtown.

Bayfield is located in Ontario’s West Coast in Huron County. This charming village is known for its incredible views of Lake Huron, as well as, its beaches, parks and historic downtown. Bayfield may be tiny in size, but big in appeal. Find the heart of the village of Bayfield by wandering the historic Main Street lined with unique shops, restaurants and galleries. Visit Bayfield’s Pioneer Park for a breathtaking view of Lake Huron before you head to its main beach. 

Want to read more about Bayfield? Check out my featured article about the Top Things to Do in the Village of Bayfield

Driving distance from Toronto to Bayfield = 2.5 hours

Elora Ontario

Elora Ontario, a charming small town located in Wellington Country, is known for the Elora Gorge and historic downtown.

Elora, located in Wellington County, sits on a stunning gorge alongside the banks of the Grand River. The 25-meter limestone cliffs offer many adventures all year round. From rafting, repelling, ice climbing, ziplining or riverside walks. The downtown in the village of Elora is incredibly charming. With its 19th-century-old buildings being transformed into art studios and galleries, boutique stores and eateries. And, the restaurants, there are plenty! Elora Brewing Co. provides a true craft beer experience not to be missed.

Want to read more about Elora? Check out my featured article about Why You Need to Go to Elora

 

Driving distance from Toronto to Elora = 90 minutes

Fergus Ontario

Fergus Ontario is a beautiful small town in Wellington County known for its popular festival - Fergus Scottish Festival and Highland Games.

Fergus is a pretty little town that sits on the Grand River in Wellington County. It has deep Scottish roots dating back to 1833 when its earliest settlers called it “Little Falls.”  The best way to see scenic waterfalls in Fergus is to walk along the river through Templin Gardens.  

Next, take a stroll through the historic downtown along the main street. There are over 200 buildings built in the early 19th century that are now turned into unique shops, antique stores and restaurants. Lastly, the annual Fergus Scottish Festival and Highland Games are held in August. This is the largest Highland Games festival in North America drawing crowds of over 30,000 people to Fergus.

Driving distance from Toronto to Fergus = 75 minutes

Galt in Cambridge Ontario

Small Towns in Ontario are some of the most scenic places in Ontario. Visit Galt in Cambridge in Waterloo Region.

Cambridge is a new and thriving city in the Waterloo region since it amalgamated 4 small towns of Galt, Hespeler, Preston and Blair in 1973. There is a long history of Galt in Ontario. Visit here and you will see it resembles a little piece of Europe. The historic limestone buildings dating back to the mid-1800’s are built right up against the Grand River. Even its farmers’ market dates back to 1830, making it one of the oldest markets of its kind in Canada. 

Walk or bike along the waterfront trails where you will have spectacular views from atop 400-year-old limestone cliffs. End your day and dine at Cambridge Mill overlooking the Grand River. Or, indulge yourself by visiting Langdon Hall, a Relais & Châteaux property, known for its spa services, fine dining, high tea and luxurious accommodations. 

Driving distance from Toronto to Galt (Cambridge) = 60 minutes

Goderich Ontario

The small town of Goderich Ontario offers visitors a great mix of history, a vibrant downtown and sandy beaches on Lake Huron. Perfect spot for a weekend getaway with lots of things to do in Goderich Ontario.

Goderich is located in Ontario’s West Coast in Huron County. It sits on the scenic shores of Lake Huron. This Ontario town is described as “the prettiest town in Canada” by Queen Elizabeth II. As a coastal town, visitors flock to Goderich for the beach, but it also features an interesting history. The largest underground salt mine is located under Lake Huron, along with the oldest lighthouse and former jail, Huron Gaol, which operated from 1841 to 1970. A former jail has since been converted into a museum and offers a guided ghost tour.  

Want to read more about Goderich? Check out my featured article about Goderich – one of the prettiest small towns in Ontario

Driving distance from Toronto to Goderich = 2.5 hours

Paris Ontario

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

Paris Ontario is located in Brant County where the Grand and Nith Rivers meet. It is often referred to as Ontario’s “Prettiest Little Town.” Against the backdrop of the two rivers sits the small downtown lined with little shops and restaurants. Venture a couple of streets over to The Paris Wincey Mills Co. This historic building dates back to 1889 and has been transformed into a year-round market with local vendors.

Another thing to do in Paris is gaze upon the town’s different architectural styles, including Victorian, Edwardian, Gothic and Post Modern. Paris is best known for its cobblestone buildings. Builders used over 14,000 cobblestones all of nearly identical size drawn from the Grand and Nith Rivers to create several homes and buildings. 

Driving distance from Toronto to Paris = 75 minutes

Port Dover Ontario

Port Dover is a laid-back beach town located on the shores of Lake Erie in Norkolk County, Ontario.

Port Dover sits on the shores of Lake Erie in Norfolk County. This laid-back beach town offers up a whole lot more than fun in the sun. Port Dover’s lighthouse from the mid-1800s is this small town’s most famous beacon. Walk along the long pier for those panoramic lake views. The lively downtown offers many restaurants and several unique shops. 

Want to read more about Port Dover? Check out my featured article about this beach town and the surrounding area in Day Tripping to Hidden Gems in Norfolk County

Driving distance from Toronto to Port Dover = 2 hours

St. Jacobs Ontario

St. Jacobs, a Mennonite community in Waterloo region, is a must-visit small town offering visitors a large Farmers Market but also a cute village filled with shopping and restaurants..

St. Jacobs is located in the heart of the Old Order Mennonite community in the Waterloo region. 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, visit the cute village of St. Jacobs, home to boutique shops, artisan stores, restaurants and its own craft brewery.

Driving distance from Toronto to St. Jacobs is 75 minutes

St Marys Ontario

The historic town of St. Marys, Ontario is a pretty town with an interesting Canadian history. With a cute downtown, scenic Thames River, and lots of trails there are endless options for things to do in St Marys.

St. Marys is located at the junction of the Thames River and Trout Creek in southwestern Ontario. St. Marys is such a pretty town with lots of green spaces and bridges spanning calm river waters. It has a surprisingly rich Canadian history with many designated National Historic Sites. Stroll the Main Street lined with stores in the historic limestone buildings. And, wander a bit beyond to gaze upon the lovingly restored century-old homes. 

Want to read more about St. Marys? Check out my featured article about Discovering the Historic Town of St. Marys

Driving distance from Toronto to St. Marys = 2 hours

Stratford Ontario

Stratford Ontario the home of the Stratford Festival, Canada's largest Shakespeare theater production.

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. Beyond this small town being a cultural hub, it is also a foodie hot spot with many top restaurants. Lastly, explore the historic downtown lined with 19th-century buildings filled with many shops and restaurants.

Want to read more about Stratford? Check out my featured article about The Best Ways to Experience Stratford

Driving distance from Toronto to Stratford = 100 minutes

Other Day Trips in Ontario

If you are looking for more inspiration, look no further than these other small towns. This list focused on the best small towns in Ontario west of Toronto. But, as we know there are many charming small towns spread across the province.

Check out these featured articles, of the best things to do in:

As a holidaymaker…

Within a little more than an hour west of Toronto, you can find yourself in one of these pretty small towns. There is nothing better than spontaneously hitting the road and spending the day in a small town in Ontario where life is a little simpler and a bit more charming. Let me know in the comments if there are other small towns west of Toronto that are worthy of adding to this list. 

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87 Comments

  1. My top 3 are Goderich. Paris, and St. Mary’s. The first 2 are the prettiest, so they say, and the third has many heritage sites. Wish I can remember the little town where we camped for 3 weeks!

  2. have never been to Canada but have been longing to go. Planning now is very difficult though. These are some cute little towns which would be in our list when we finally go.

  3. I love it when small towns are featured in a travel post. Often overlooked, but they have this calmness which I don’t get from big places. Among these towns, I seem to like St. Jacobs and Galt. It would be a nice experience to see and meet the locals riding the traditional horse.

  4. This is timely. We’re actually coming to Ontario next month and would love to explore as many areas as we could. Thank you for sharing this list of small towns. They look so charming. Would love to visit Goderich. It would be cool to have a guided ghost tour too!

    1. How wonderful that you are coming for a visit. These small towns will definitely look a bit different in our Canadian winters. Check before you go what is available or restricted due to COVID.

  5. Oh wow, all of these look adorable! I tend to be drawn to water so walking the waterfront in Galt and checking out the view from the Paris lighthouse grabbed my attention. So did experiencing Mennonite culture in St. Jacobs, I will be sure to schedule on a market day. Great ideas

  6. Ontario has so many places to visit. I did not know about Paris , it seems interesting to visit this small town here. Also Galt and Fergus are amazingly pretty. Thanks for sharing this blog.

  7. I actually did a double read when I saw the names of the towns. Were we talking of Europe or Ontario? But after reading this entire bit, I realized why they might have named the towns that way. They do have similar characters. And I definitely am game to explore them especially Galt. Thanks for sharing this

  8. Loved to read a little about each of these historic towns. They all seem unique and inviting. Small towns have so much charm and cuteness. It is fun to stroll around, visit their markets, talk to locals. Fergus and Galt look picturesque in the pictures. It is good to know that Canada also has a Paris. I would love to visit Stratford for plays of William Shakespeare.

      1. These Ontario small towns take my breath away! The lake side views of Goderich, the sparkling waterfalls of St. Mary’s to the historic towns of Galt, Paris and Port Dover make these small towns so desirable.

  9. I absolutely adore small towns as they have their own character. All these beautiful towns look amazing and I am definitely adding them to my list. I do have another Canada trip planned sometime when I can and I am surely spending more time visiting these small towns as well. Thanks for this. Also, it is amazing to find another Paris.

  10. Small towns may not have many tourist places, but they have a certain character. I love strolling through the streets at leisure. And your pictures make these look fascinating. I would love to visit these and probably find loads of generational stories, in lieu of places to see.

  11. Being from South Wales I’m very partial to a small town, and I really didn’t know
    That Canada would provide such amazing looking town. Galt Sounded rather interesting and like somewhere I would love to visit.

  12. Canada is def on our bucket list especially the area of Ontario. This list you’ve put together is exactly our style. We prefer small towns and offbeat destinations. Galt Cambridge looks the most charming for us — kinda reminds you of a place somewhere in Europe!

  13. Loved the pretty heritage towns of Ontario. Didn’t know there’s a place called Paris in Ontario. The store fronts are so pretty with colorful facades. Thank you so much for sharing.

  14. Galt looks so pretty with its European style architecture. People can easily think you are somewhere in Europe when taking pictures here. I wonder if the menonite people in St. Jacobs let you take their pictures? But I really want to visit Fergus during Highland Games. I think it will be phenomenal!

  15. I haven’t been to Ontario yet, but it’s on my dream list. Because I traveled around Canada for two months and fell in love with this country, I want to return to Ontario, among other places. And since I love small charming towns, I would like to add them to my list. It is such an inspiring article! I like Elora as it sits on a gorge alongside the banks of the Grand River. I want to visit Fergus during the Fergus Scottish Festival and Highland Games. I had no idea that there is also a Paris. So for sure, I added it to my itinerary with it Chocolate Sensations.

  16. I love pretty little towns like these! They are not only charming, but also easy to explore. Fergus is my favorite from your list, because it sits on the river and seems very old. I’d also like to visit St. Jacobs, located in the Old Order Mennonite community, and see carts pulled by horses.

  17. These little towns look so pretty! I didn’t know that there’s a town called Paris in Ontario. I’d love to visit Paris Bakery and wander around some shops there. St. Jacobs with boutique shops and artisan stores is surely a charming place to visit as well. Stopping by the local craft brewery there would be ideal for us.

  18. All these towns look so cute – I would not know which one to visit first. St Jacob’s definitely looks very charming. But I would also go to Elora for some craftbeer tasting!

  19. 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!

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

  20. 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?

    1. 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.

  21. 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!

    1. 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.

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

  22. 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!

    1. 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.

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

  23. 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!

  24. 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!

    1. 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!

  25. 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!

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

  26. 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!

    1. 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.

    1. 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.

  27. 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!

    1. 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.

  28. 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

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

  29. 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!

    1. 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.

  30. 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!

    1. 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.

  31. 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.

    1. 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.

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

    1. 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!

      1. 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 🙂

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