Summer Festivals in Ontario: Live Theatre at its Best

Drawings of theatre costumes fill a wall at the Shaw Festival

Find out why you won’t want to miss what’s on at the Stratford Festival and Niagara-on-the-Lake’s Shaw Festival.

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Stratford Festival

The Stratford Festival is a highlight to any trip to the charming town of Stratford. Running from April through October, the festival showcases classical theatre plays and musicals, but the Bard gets the most attention. Performing these plays and musicals are the gifted actors who form the largest classical repertory theatre in North America. If you can catch a performance here, you have to jump on the opportunity. The performances and production values make the Stratford Festival one of the best summer festivals in Ontario. And a reason why Stratford is known as the place in Ontario for the arts.

Not to be outdone, during four weeks from late July to late August, Stratford also plays host to the Stratford Summer Music Festival. Music lovers rejoice at the world-class music on display representing a wide variety of genres.

During a few magical summer weeks when the Stratford Summer Music Festival overlaps with the Stratford Festival, you may have to hustle around so you can fit in all the impressive live performances in a day. Here’s a suggestion for a fantastic day in Stratford enjoying some of the best summer festivals in Ontario:

  • Start by the Avon River, eating a picnic meal while listening to the free lunchtime concerts on the floating stage of the MusicBarge.
  • From there, it’s a short parkland stroll to catch a theatre matinee at the Festival Theatre.
  • Then there’s just enough time for a pub snack before tapping your toes to an evening musical performance at the Festival Theatre or be rapt in emotion at a Shakespearean drama.
  • Round out your full-day theatre blitz with a late supper of French fare and cabaret performance at the Revival House restaurant, where Stratford actors appear both onstage and off.

Don’t forget; there are plenty of restaurants and shops to explore in Stratford, so be sure to include time in your visit to enjoy the vibrant city centre. And for some fun, don’t miss out on the behind-the-scenes experience of a costume warehouse tour.

Shaw Festival

It’s impressive how the Shaw Festival has been running for over 58 years. And that’s not bad for a festival that began as a four-weekend experiment! See why the Shaw Festival at Niagara-on-the-Lake is one of the best summer festivals in Ontario. With nine productions ranging from invigorating musicals to thought-provoking plays, each season of the Shaw Festival is sure to astound audiences.

Every summer, the lineup of theatre works changes, giving audiences new reasons to come back season after season.

Transform your theatre trip into a true weekend getaway by pairing it with a gourmet day of wine tasting. The region has a rich tradition of vineyards, and it would be a shame not to sample some of it. Here are a few suggestions for your trip:

  • Begin your day with a relaxing drive through wine country.
  • Enjoy lunch on a winery patio overlooking the vineyards— visit the award-winning Peller Estates to try out their signature chardonnay, or sample the local flavour ofSunnybrook Farm Winery’s premium fruit wines.
  • Leave some extra time to stretch your legs with a stroll down Niagara-on-the-Lake’s historic Queen Street before taking your seats in the theatre. Don’t miss BeauChapeau Hat Shop to check out their fantastic selection of divine hats (and even ladies fascinators) with vintage flair.
  • Finish the day by taking your seat in the Shaw Festival theatre, then sit back and relax as the evening show begins.

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