Charming Ontario Small Towns You’ll Fall in Love With
BY STEPHANIE · PUBLISHED OCTOBER 16, 2017 · UPDATED MARCH 31, 2018
Big cities draw the bulk of travellers across the globe. There is plenty of things to do, a diverse mix of restaurants and cafes, and convenient public transportation. But visiting small towns can leave you just as satisfied. There’s something comforting about exploring small towns. The shop owners and locals are more welcoming. The ‘attractions’ are more quaint. And you leave feeling like you made a difference with your travel dollars.
Ontario is chalked full of charming small towns. Many have unique features and surprisingly diverse shops, restaurants, and cafes. Some are home to astounding natural wonders, others are full of history, and many – if not all, you’ll fall in love with.
Top Ontario Small Towns
Located at the northern most tip of the Bruce Peninsula is Tobermory. Three hours north of Toronto, Tobermory is this adorable little village that oozes charm. Situated on two harbours, Big Tub and Little Tub, Tobermory is easily one of the top Ontario small towns. You won’t find chain stores here. There’s a mix of diverse shops and places to eat, all of which are local. Even the people are lovely, from the shop owner who recommends where to eat to waitress at the pub retelling witty tales. Its places like these that draw us in and make us feel right at home. It’s no wonder why people visit Tobermory again and again.
Tobermory is a great place to visit, especially for nature addicts! With two National Parks – Fathom Five National Marine Park and Bruce Peninsula National Park, there’s no shortest of wild places to explore. From hiking the awesome trails to hopping on a cruise and even stopping at Flowerpot Island, Tobermory’s wild beauty with blow you away.
Where can you enjoy an epic music festival, walk among towering limestone cliffs, as well as shop and eat to your heart’s delight? Elora, Ontario! Many know Elora for the Elora Festival. It’s one of the most heralded summer music festivals in Canada.
But Elora is one of those picturesque Ontario small towns that make you feel like you’re in England opposed to Canada. A historic main street of stone and brick buildings line Mill Street with a backdrop of the Grand River. Home to fabulous shops selling everything from unique gifts to antiques. Elora is a great place to take a day trip. After shopping and taking in an art gallery you’ll find it difficult to choose from its list of great cafés, restaurants, and pubs.
For outdoor enthusiasts Elora is a mecca for awesome adventures and incredible natural beauty. Want to cool down on a sweltering summer day? Head to the Elora Quarry, a scenic and popular swimming spot. The Elora Gorge, running right through town, is one of the best places to experience nature in Ontario. Eighty-foot high limestone cliffs create an otherworldly atmosphere. Enjoy a hike along the Elora Gorge, zipline across it, or jump on a tube to ride through it along the river.
Just a 10 minute drive from Elora, Fergus is another great day trip or weekend trip combined with Elora. Also situated along the Grand River, Fergus has more great shops, a stunning riverfront, and a divine handcrafted chocolate shop. Its deep Scottish roots are prevalent everywhere, from its name to its main street of St. Andrew. They even hold the Fergus Scottish Festival & Highland Games every year. And if you want to learn more about this charming small town there’s a self-guided walking tour of its historic sites, even a ghost walk when Halloween nears.
In the heart of Muskoka you can find another charming Ontario small town. Bracebridge is literally built around a waterfall, and can definitely be called one of Ontario’s prettiest towns. Home to multiple waterfalls, great shops, and many delicious bakeries, you’ll love wandering Bracebridge’s historic streets.
Take a walk around the Bracebridge falls and along the Muskoka River to discover more about this small town’s past, with plaques along the way. Be sure to check out Bracebridge’s Clock Tower. This beautiful old brick building was once the post office 100 years ago. But it’s now home to galleries and boutiques. And if you’re a waterfall chaser, Bracebridge is home to three beauties. The main falls in the centre of town, Wilson’s Falls is just down the road, and High Falls is just off the Highway 400.
Home to waterfalls, cranberries, and great music, Bala is one of those charming Ontario small towns that’s bursting with things to do. Situated on the west end of Lake Muskoka, Bala is known as the Cranberry Capital of Ontario. There’s even a huge Bala Cranberry Festival in the fall.
Bala may be small but there’s plenty to do and is an ideal weekend getaway in cottage country in the summer. You can visit the Bala Falls, take in a show at Kee to Bala, or check out the Bala Museum which shares Lucy Maud Montgomery’s connection to Bala. Kee to Bala is a concert venue where for over 80 years bands have played, everyone from Duke Ellington to The Tragically Hip. Bala also has a heritage walking tour. Discover Bala’s history through this self-guided tour of its historic buildings, cottages, and popular places. And to round out a great day, be sure to visit Don’s Bakery for some scrumptious goodies and a warm cup of Muskoka Roastery Coffee.
Gravenhurst, another Muskoka gem, is another of those Ontario small towns that are full of things to do. Wander its charming downtown, along Muskoka Road. Here you can start a self-guided historic walking tour that will take you through Gravenhurst’s over 100 years of history. A few notable historic buildings that are must stops are; the Gravenhurst Opera House, Post Office, Albion Hotel, and the Bethune Memorial House. Enjoy delicious sweets from outstanding bakeries, shop great boutiques, and then head over to the Muskoka Wharf.
On your way to the Wharf stop at Lookout Park for a sweeping view of the Wharf and Lake Muskoka. Only a short ride from downtown Gravenhurst, Muskoka Wharf is a great place to stop for a stroll, grab a bite to eat overlooking the water, or relish in a Muskoka cruise. From here you can hop aboard the oldest operating steamship, the RMS Segwun, for a wonderful cruise.
Creemore is not only a great place to eat but also to explore. Full of delightful shops and great options to eat and dine, from bakeries to pubs. There’s even a pub that’s been around for nearly 100 years, The Old Mill House Pub. Their burgers are made fresh daily with fresh cut fries from locally grown potatoes.
This is definitely one of the charming Ontario small towns you should stop in. From great food and beer to eclectic shops with everything from antiques to fun home décor. You can even grab a self-guided tour booklet from Curiosity House Books and Art Gallery, for a mere $2 donation, to learn more of the wee town’s history. From gothic homes to North America’s smallest jail, Creemore has a rich history.
Creemore is also close to many amazing trails, including Ontario’s Bruce Trail, making for incredible hiking. Nearby you’ll find Noisy River Provincial Park, where you can hike through woodland, marsh, around lakes, and if you’re crafty discover a hidden waterfall.
Sitting on the shores of Georgian Bay, Midland has something for everyone. Rich in history, surrounded by a wealth of wilderness, as well as great food and shops. Delve into the history of the area at Sainte Marie Among the Hurons, a living museum that shows 17th century mission life. Open year round, one of the most beautiful times to visit is in November and December for First Light, when over 5000 candles line the walkways. There are also various activities and performers, all creating a magical experience.
For those who love the great outdoors head over to the Wye Marsh Wildlife Centre. The Wye Marsh is set on 3000 acres and home to great trails, wildlife, and plenty of activities to partake in year round. Or jump aboard the Miss Midland and explore Georgian Bay’s 30,000 islands.
Midland is also home to Ontario’s Best Butter Tart Festival. Rapidly growing every year, the festival takes place every June. Midland’s main stretch, King Street, becomes pedestrian only. Here you can indulge in tons of all things butter tart – from butter tart popsicles to every flavour of butter tart, enjoy street performers, and shop the various fun and homey shops.
There are also over 30 murals scattered across Midland’s downtown. Ranging from small to massive, Midland’s Murals represent everything that this Ontario small town is about, history, wildlife, and incredible people. And wandering town in search of them is a great way to explore this quaint town.
With an attractive downtown full of great shops and a wide assortment of restaurants, Gananoque is a pleasure to wander. Its rich history is still apparent in its heritage buildings and museums. From the Playhouse Theatre, a jewel for theatre buffs, to taking a cruise of the 1000 Islands, you won’t be pressed for things to do and see in this small town.
Along with a variety events throughout the season and fabulous plays, Gananoque is another great small town for nature lovers. Surrounded by the Frontenac Arch Biosphere Reserve and on the shores of the St. Lawrence River, you can enjoy a hike, hop in a kayak, or take a boat cruise.
Probably one of the most famous of the Ontario small towns is Niagara-On-The-Lake. Located in Southern Ontario, on the shores of Lake Ontario, Niagara-On-The-Lake draws people from across the globe. Indulge in their fine local wines, enjoy a show at the Shaw Festival, or wander its picturesque flower-lined main street. You’ll be transported back in time surrounded by stunning Victorian buildings. One dominates Queen Street, the grand Prince of Wales hotel. Even if you aren’t staying there be sure to take a peek inside.
Beyond the beauty of Niagara-On-The-Lake is its rich history. Take a walking tour of this historic small town, with guided and self-guided options available. Head to Fort George, built by the British in the 19th century to defend against American attacks. Or, if you dare, take a ghost tour. Niagara-On-The-Lake is thought to be one of Canada’s most haunted towns.
One of the best places to step into the pages of history, and for free, is the Niagara Apothecary Museum. Originally opened in 1868, the Niagara Apothecary has been restored to appear as it did when it was a pharmacy. Rich wood accents, beautiful coloured glass lights, and brilliant white moulded shelves reaching the ceiling all create a magnificent interior. And pharmacy relics line shelves and period display cases conjuring up images of strange cures and practices of days gone.