Looking for a getaway to see holiday lights that’s an easy drive from anywhere in Southern Ontario? Pack up the car for a road trip and head to Lights On Stratford! This free winter light festival, now in its fourth year, brings the entire city together with colourful displays, a festive atmosphere, and collaborations from numerous downtown businesses.
The fourth annual Lights On Stratford festival runs from December 15, 2023, to January 13, 2024. The displays are active Thursdays through Sundays from 5:00 to 10:00 PM. Here’s a look at what you’ll see when you visit!
Wander through the city to check out the art installations
Lights On Stratford sees art installations set up throughout the city. This gives you plenty of reasons to get out and explore.
The festival’s centrepiece is Dandelion. This art piece was first revealed in Sydney, Australia, and is making its North American debut here in Stratford. Positioned right in the centre of town in Market Square, this dynamic feature flashes through myriad colours and patterns set to music. You can watch from a distance or step inside and see downtown Stratford in a whole new light! (See what we did there?)
Next, take advantage of the free hop-on hop-off shuttle buses. These stop right by Market Square every 15 minutes and will take you to Tom Patterson Island, set in the Avon River a short distance from Stratford’s iconic Festival Theatre. During Lights On Stratford, Tom Patterson Island transforms into Space Island. Here, you’ll find a large inflated replica of our solar system and the Lunar Lamp Posts exhibit. The Lunar Lamp Posts are a musical group of touch-responsive lights that encourages movement, dance and play.
Back downtown, the Lightwall exhibit is installed on the side of 70 Ontario Street, an iconic building at the end of Downie Street. Talk into the receiver near the corner, and the 25-foot-tall light banners respond with a cascade of colour. This display has now become a permanent installation in downtown Stratford and stays active year-round.
Keep exploring and you’re sure to find more displays throughout the city. There are even more smaller installations, and lights in shop windows contribute to the atmosphere. Even the shuttle buses join the fun: their interiors are decked out in Christmas lights!
Don’t forget to keep an eye out for the spots where you can tap your payment card to donate to this year’s local charitable beneficiary, the Wellspring Cancer Support Centre. Wellspring provides supports to local residents and families who are being impacted by cancer. The first 200 people to donate $10 or more at the tourist information centre at 47 Downie St. receive a complimentary chocolate from Rheo Thompson Candies!
Find Lights On Stratford special features at local bars and restaurants
The Lights On Stratford festival inspires plenty of local businesses to find unique ways to take part. We’ve listed some of the highlights here. You’ll find a full list of specials and collaborations on the Lights On Stratford website.
To celebrate Dandelion’s arrival, Black Swan Brewing Company is featuring a limited edition Cosmic Dandelion Pale Ale. It’s made with galaxy hops and dandelion root as a nod to the festival’s two largest installations. The light-up glass is a perfect finishing touch! Enjoy a pint at the bar’s new custom-built lit table created by Stratford-based Burnt Brydges Wood Co.
You can also find Lights On themed drinks at Bluebird Restaurant and Bar, where their Bluebird Lights On-tini features Empress Gin, lemon juice, elderflower liqueur and egg white. Just off Market Square, The Starlight lounge offers a canned cocktail, the Lights On Spritz, which you can take to go or on site amid the fun mid-century modern vibe.
Make a day of your visit to Lights On Stratford
While the famous theatre productions of the Stratford Festival take a break during the winter months, there’s still plenty to do if you’d like to extend your stay in the city.
During Lights On Stratford, the William Allman Memorial Arena is offering free skating on select dates. Check the Lights On Stratford website for details.
You can also easily fill a day or two by wandering through the many great restaurants, bars and shops in and around Stratford. If you’d like a little direction for this, visit the tourist information centre at 47 Downie Street to pick up passes for the Chocolate Trail or the Bacon and Ale Trail. Both trails operate year-round and encourage you to explore local businesses and their unique offerings.