The city of Toronto has plenty to offer tourists who come looking for entertainment. With neighborhoods that celebrate the diverse cultural backgrounds of the population of more than 2.7 million, winning sports teams, and food options that lure Instagram aficionados the world over, the city is enjoying a tourism high note.
Its theatrical offerings are also noteworthy. Widely believed to be the third largest English-speaking theater district in the world after London and New York City, you’ll find everything from Broadway-style shows at the Mirvish theaters, to culturally diverse productions of the Obsidian Theatre Company, to kid-friendly fare at Young People’s Theatre.
For travelers who long for a theatrical getaway, a trip outside the city is equally rewarding. If you want to combine a day trip with your city explorations, these two theatrical hot spots offer plenty to see both on and off the stage.
Niagara-on-the-Lake: The Shaw Festival
Each year the Shaw Festival celebrates the works and influence of George Bernard Shaw through a selection of plays that cater to a variety of audiences. The 2016 playbill is the swan song of artistic director Jackie Maxwell, who has been at the helm since 2002. The diverse slate offers everything from Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street to Alice in Wonderland.
The festival’s four distinctive theaters are spread throughout the gorgeous Niagara-on-the-Lake community, and it’s not unusual to spot theatergoers strolling the streets and popping in and out of antique stores, candy shops, and quaint cafés between matinee and evening productions.
When you’re not attending a play, the area boasts several other attractions to make for an exciting weekend trip. Start with the world wonder Niagara Falls about 20 minutes away from the theater hub. First-timers will easily wile away a day exploring the falls from all angles, including an outing on Hornblower Niagara Cruises that takes you to the base of the thundering waters.
As you wind your way to Niagara-on-the-Lake, consider stopping at the local markets for fresh fruit, touring War of 1812 heroine Laura Secord’s home, or renting bicycles to explore part of the paved, 35-mile (56-kilometer) Niagara River Recreation Trail with stops at local wineries on the way.
Getting there: Niagara-on-the-Lake is a straightforward one-hour drive southwest from downtown Toronto. If you opt to hop on a seasonal summer train, you can easily taxi or catch the seasonal WEGO shuttle to Niagara Parks (12 Canadian dollars round-trip for adults).
Where to stay: There are several bed-and-breakfast options in the area, but for a luxury stay in a vintage property try Queen’s Landing or Pillar and Post. Both are in the heart of town and within walking distance of theaters and restaurants.
Stratford: The Stratford Festival
It’s no surprise that the town named after Stratford upon Avon in England boasts a love of all things Shakespearean. The Stratford Festival has been drawing audiences of all ages to the charming area since the early 1950s, and hosted a variety of talents—including a young Christopher Plummer—on its stage.
This season the four festival theaters will showcase Macbeth, A Chorus Line, and The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, among others. Ticket prices are flexible (some as low as 25 Canadian dollars) and discount offers include two-for-one tickets for Sunday, Tuesday, and Thursday evening performances.
Book a tour with the festival for a chance to try on costumes from past productions, or get a theatrical explanation of the gardens in town. Afterward, embrace the local life with picnic lunches, leisurely kayaking, afternoon tea times, and local swimming holes. Stratford Farmers Market is a Saturday morning must-see for locals and tourists alike. The wide variety of bookstores offer everything from cheap reads to antiques. Dining options range from swanky plates at Revival House, to casual dining at Madelyn’s Diner. And then of course there’s Justin Bieber. The singing sensation was raised here, and you can hum one of his tunes to yourself as you pass the steps where he used to busk in front of the Avon Theatre.
Getting there: Stratford is an easy 1.5-hour drive (or a $25 return bus trip, bookable on the festival site) west of Toronto. You won’t need a car once you’re here; the town is walkable.
Where to Stay: Book ahead if you plan to stay overnight. The more than 70 bed-and-breakfasts can fill up fast in the summer months. Try Hatfield House on Hibernia for modern touches in a vintage Victorian home.