Looking for Ontario shopping daytrips? Discover the best places to buy art, crafts, fashion, souvenirs in great shopping destinations like Toronto, Ottawa, Niagara, and small Ontario towns.
Ah, the perfect girls’ getaway ... browsing the boutiques and markets for art, crafts, antiques, gourmet food and fashion. Stopping for lunch at that sweet corner café, or having a picnic in the park.
Who doesn’t enjoy a little shopping trip once in a while? I certainly do. On the practical side, I often use these Ontario shopping daytrips to pick up unique Christmas and birthday presents for friends and family. It’s a fun and stress-free way to get your gift shopping done ...early!
Over the years I’ve had a chance to explore many interesting Ontario shopping districts in big cities and small. Here are some of my favourite Ontario shopping daytrips.
While big cities like Toronto and Ottawa obviously offer great Ontario shopping choices (and I’ll get to them below), smaller Ontario cities and towns also feature a lot of unique local shops that you won’t find anywhere else. You’re sure to discover one-of-a-kind boutiques with local art work, crafts, and regional food.
Dundas is a great little place an hour's drive from Toronto. You'll feel like you've stepped into the early 1900s with its brick storefronts and gingerbread trim and old-fashioned main street shops.
For art lovers, let me draw your attention to Glen Williams Ontario. It’s a tiny historic village not far from Toronto where you’ll find great artists’ studios in an old renovated mill. Here you can buy art and craft items directly from the artists and watch them at work. There’s also an antique mall, and a cool bookshop that sells new and antique/vintage books as well.
Lovely Elora has several boutiques, a culinary tour, a bustling artist community with many galleries, a farmers market, and a historic downtown.
St. Jacob’s Ontario makes for a unique Ontario shopping daytrip too. It’s in southern Ontario near Kitchener-Waterloo in the Region of Waterloo, and it’s known as the “Mennonite village” because of the large Mennonite community in the countryside on the outskirts of town. You’ll find a lot of handmade crafts like Mennonite quilts, fine handmade furniture, and delicious food etc. in the downtown shops plus at the largest Farmers Market in Canada, St Jacobs Farmers Market.
You might also want to take in a play at one of the local live theatres in the St Jacobs area. (I still remember seeing “Cats” there a few years ago.) Or perhaps you'd like to hunt for antiques at Market Road Antiques, a big antique mall with multiple antique dealers.
Speaking of antiques, in Ontario shopping for collectibles is a blast. I’ve written a separate article about antiques in Ontario (one of my passions), so check this out if you want more detailed information: Ontario Antiques.
Stratford Ontario is famous for its Stratford Shakespeare Theatre but tourists also enjoy shopping in many of the great boutiques along the main street and off on the side streets as well. You'll find Aboriginal art, bookstores, a Scottish shop, fashion shops and gourmet goodies as well. The main street is lovely:
If you love food (who doesn’t?), don't forget to include it in your Ontario shopping daytrip. You can visit some of the local Farmers Markets, like the big one in St. Jacob’s mentioned above or the Kitchener Farmers Market.
Remember, these Ontario farmers markets don’t just carry local produce; they also have prepared items, deli items, artisanal cheeses, sweets, etc, and places where you can sit down and have lunch. I always like to sample the local chocolates and pastries too wherever I go. (Calories consumed on daytrips don’t count… besides, you’re walking it off, right?). Some of them like The Kitchener Farmers Market and the St. Jacob’s Market have craft booths too.
Many small towns offer great little gourmet food shops as well, like this fine cheese shop in Dundas:
Are you, or is someone you love, a wine connoisseur? Come to the Niagara Region. Start in Niagara-on-the-Lake, St. Catharines, or Jordan and tour the surrounding local Niagara wineries. Local wines that you can’t find in the stores but that can only be bought at the winery make unique gifts that any wine-lover will appreciate. Many of the wineries also sell fancy schmanzy “wine accessories” like decanters, bottle bags or carriers, cheese plates, and champagne buckets, and wine-related food items like jellies, ice wine chocolates, etc. Some of the larger producers have gone upscale in recent years and boast their own cafes and fine dining restaurants so you may even want to plan on having lunch or dinner there instead of going back into town. (Just writing about this is making my stomach growl!)
Picton is also a wine-lover and foodie haven. It's a great place to stay while you're exploring rural Prince Edward County.
I’ve probably forgotten other towns I’ve visited over the years. And then there are all those that I am STILL planning to visit (as soon as I can). My friend Wendi has suggested a few other Ontario shopping daytrips that I’ve added to my “Must Do” List. I’ll share her suggestions with you:
“Flesherton is a small town that is growing with its interesting shops. A specialty cheese shop that imports fabulous cheeses. An art studio that sells very interesting things. Organic market. Paisley has some interesting shops. A very cool art studio with lots of natural elements like stones and wood. I love it there. Back Eddies coffee shop, a toy shop and soap shop and a bakery.”
Note: You can find more information about these towns I've mentioned above at my Ontario Cities for Tourists page.
The downtown streets of Ottawa, the Canadian capital, are chock-a-block with shops. Check out Sparks Street, or the Byward Market (which is a whole neighbourhood, not just a building) for handcrafted items, classy (and tacky!) Canadian souvenirs, First Nations and Inuit art work, bookstores, fashion, gift and handcrafted jewelry stores. If you’re going to the National Gallery of Canada, stop in and visit their gift store; I bought a lovely pewter tulip pin there one year while attending the Ottawa Tulip Festival… a souvenir I can actually use.
If you’re looking for cool Canadian art including Aboriginal art, one of the best places to look is the Galerie d'art Vincent at the Fairmont Chateau Laurier, a beautiful historic hotel in downtown Ottawa.
Searching for that perfect fabric to recover your granddad’s easy chair? or lace to decorate a wedding gown? Or some great antique dresser for your bedroom? Check out Ottawa Street in Hamilton where you’ll find all this and more. The street has a long history as “THE” place to buy fabrics and notions in Southern Ontario, and it’s recently gained another layer of appeal with the influx of antique shops. See more in my article about Ottawa Street.
Toronto, the capital of Ontario and the most populated city in the country, is one of Canada’s great shopping destinations. Whether it’s art, fashion or food, you’ll find it all in Toronto.
Let’s start with ART. Although commercial art galleries are scattered all over the city, there are two areas with large concentrations of galleries where you can easily spend a day: Yorkville and West Queen Street West.
Yorkville first. My favourite art galleries in Yorkville are the ones specializing in First Nations and Inuit art, like Maslak McLeod Gallery and Fehley Fine Arts, but you’ll find all kinds of art here, from historical to contemporary, from traditional to avant garde, Canadian and international artists. The Guild Shop is the place to go if you’re looking for fine contemporary Canadian craft of museum-level quality (including a big room of Inuit art as well). While you can just wander through the streets (Hazelton Ave., Cumberland, Scollard, etc) and stumble upon the galleries randomly, you can also pick up a brochure with a map of the galleries in many shops in the area, or even take a free guided tour of the art galleries once a month (see http://www.yorkvillenews.ca). I can spend most of the day here.
Next stop: Queen Street West. If you’re looking for funky and ahead-of-the-trend art and décor, be sure to check out the Arts and Design District, West Queen St West, in Toronto. Note: start late, as many of the galleries don’t open til around 10 or 11...they’re artists, remember.
Now what about FASHION? If you’re into fashion too, you’ve hit the jackpot with Yorkville and Queen Street West. You can combine both of your passions (art and fashion) in these two districts. Both of them feature designer clothing stores, with Yorkville catering to the older, more conservative and richer crowd in general and Queen West the younger crowd.
Not tired of clothes shopping yet? Explore the Fashion District along Spadina, or, if you enjoy vintage fashion, visit Kensington Market, and for Indian clothing, try Little India on Gerrard Street East. Here's a shop in Kensington Market:
Are you a FOOD fan (or foodie)? Check out the markets: the city’s oldest, St. Lawrence Market in downtown Toronto near the lake, or Kensington Market just west of Yonge Street. Or what about ethnic delights, like Chinatown or Little India or Little Italy? For an overview of Toronto districts, see my story on Toronto Neighbourhoods. Remember, gourmet foods (chutneys, chocolates, and cheese!) make great gift items as well as souvenirs.
I’m not a real fan of SHOPPING MALLS, but I do need to mention one, mostly because it’s so famous that overlooking it would raise eyebrows: the Eaton Centre. This place is huge, and is smack dab in the middle of downtown Toronto. You’re got your brand name stores and the department stores as well, and a chain bookstore. You’ll also find many different places to eat, both full-service restaurants and the underground food court.
If I say shopping and Niagara Falls and you automatically think “tacky souvenirs”, then it’s time to update your impressions.
A blossoming arts district along the recently restored Queen Street in
downtown Niagara Falls has sprung up over the past few years, and it’s
changing the landscape of shopping in this touristy town. While the art
selection is drastically smaller than Toronto’s Queen Street (only a few
blocks), the neighbourhood is worth checking out if you’re down in
Niagara for the day. Count on maybe an hour or two on Queen Street.
Museums and Art Galleries
Most of the museums and art galleries in Ontario have shops attached to them, and many of them sell local art work and crafts. Some of my favourites are the Gardiner Museum in Toronto which has great pieces by contemporary Canadian ceramic artists, the Art Gallery of Hamilton (jewellery, painting, glass, sculpture, books, etc), the Canadian Clay and Glass Museum in Waterloo, and The Textile Museum of Canada. The Royal Ontario Museum and the Art Gallery of Ontario also have large shops featuring art books, art and gifts.
Farmers Markets Ontario
As I mentioned above in the Small Town Shopping and Toronto Ontario Shopping, if you're looking for farmers markets Ontario has plenty! Check out St Jacobs Farmers Market, the Kitchener Farmers Market, Kensington Market or St. Lawrence Market in Toronto, the Hamilton Farmers Market, Byward Market in Ottawa, as well as the many outdoor summer-only farmers markets in small towns and cities across the province.
Artists’ Studios & Studio Tours
What’s even more fun than shopping for art in galleries? Visiting an artist’s studio and getting to watch them at work. There are many places in Ontario where you can do this. One of the best is in Glen Williams, which I mentioned above in the Small Towns section. Then there’s the Donn Zver Pottery and Café (read my review here: Donn Zver Pottery). That's just a taste.
Although not all artists and artisans maintain studios open to the public, many do open the studios to guests once a year at the annual studio tours in different communities across the province. If you’re visiting one in Toronto (the Beaches Studio Tour for example) you won’t need a car; you can walk to most of the places. But if you’re visiting one out in the rural areas then you will definitely need to drive or bike. For more information, do an internet search using the words “studio tour” and your choice of location, or if you’re open to various locations, simply search “Ontario Studio Tour” and see what comes up. Most of the tours take place during the fall (Sept-Oct) but keep your eyes open; there are some spring ones as well.
Ontario Shopping Shows, Art Shows
Art, antiques, crafts: These all have their special annual shows, usually held over a weekend in everything from a big convention center to a small church basement to a big open field or park.
Toronto has some biggies: the International Art Show, and the One of a Kind Show and Sale. Both of those require an admission fee. The Toronto Outdoor Art Show however is free and you’ll get to see many wonderful artists and artisans here.
And don't forget, I have a whole page about Shopping for Antiques in Ontario: Antiques.
Ontario Travel Secrets > Shopping