In small towns across Ontario, you’ll see a mix of quaint shops, natural beauty and an abundance of hospitality. Elora is just one of those towns. From the one-of-a-kind local shops to the incredible beauty of the raging Grand River, Elora has that small town charm that people come from all over to explore. Now you can too! Here are all the things to do in Elora to soak up the small town charm and leave happy and refreshed.
Full disclosure – I grew up in the same township as Elora, just 15 minutes down the road, so I consider it my hometown. For 20 years I’ve experienced the beauty of this place and am totally biased in my thinking that Elora is one of the prettiest towns in Ontario.
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But I’m not alone in this thinking. A.J. Casson, one of the famous Group of Seven painters – called Elora “Ontario’s most beautiful village.” It’s a lot to live up to, but once you visit, you’ll never want to leave.
Elora is located along the gorgeous Grand River in Southern Ontario. It’s one of many small towns make up rural Ontario.
Indeed there are so many things to see and do in this little town, a little bit for every type of traveller. For the outdoor lover, there are parks and extreme activities like river tubing and zip lining.
For the artsy folk, visit the several galleries, take in a movie at the little theatre or make your own art at one of the many classes offered.
For the foodie in you, there are several places to chow down, from fine dining to quaint cafes. For the shopaholic, you’ll love the one-of-a-kind shops that dot the downtown.
Whatever reason you’re visiting Elora, you’ll find something to do! Check out the map at the bottom of this post.
What to see outdoors in Elora
The Grand River cuts through Elora like a knife. On one end you can walk along the river’s edge, then further down the river has gouged out the rock to make a steep gorge. There are spots you can do some rock climbing and even ice climbing in the winter.
The Elora Quarry
The Elora Quarry is known around the world as a summer destination with beautiful turquoise waters and steep limestone cliffs.
Located on the western edge of town, this literal watering hole was once a limestone quarry. Now owned by the Grand River Conservation Authority, the Quarry offers a beach, swimming and hiking.
The GRCA has imposed a 1,300-person daily limit to lessen the environmental impact of the area. The fee is $10 to enjoy your day at the Elora Quarry.
Bissel Park in Elora is a hub of activity. In the summer, it is host to a farmers’ market every weekend. Bissel Park is located along the river’s edge and even had a boardwalk you can take a stroll on. There is also a pavilion and a kiln oven that is used frequently by Kitchen in the Park Project, a community-driven cooking experience.
There’s even a secret path along the abandoned millrace that you can follow to get a lovely view of the river. Bring along a blanket and grab some food from one of the many restaurants in Elora for a summer picnic.
Elora Gorge Conservation Area
The Elora Gorge Conservation Area is a nature lover’s playground. This conservation area surrounds the Grand River gorge with 22-metre high cliffs, riverside trails, camping, as well as tubing and kayaking in the fast-paced rapids. There’s even a splash pad for kids and kids-at-heart.
Is there anything more thrilling than rushing down the river in a tube?
If you’re not a camper, the conservation area is open from 8 am to sunset from May to October. A day pass costs $7. Campsites costs range between $39 and $48 depending on the type of site.
Elora Gorge lookout
If you want a free way to explore the gorge, then Victoria Park is for you. Just a short walk from the downtown, Victoria Park is the intersection of the Grand River and Irvine Creek. In the park, you can walk along the trails that follow the cliff side.
In the summer, you can walk down a set of stairs into the gorge. Down by the river you can easily see the famous St. David Street Bridge and you might even spot people scaling the cliff side.
One Axe Pursuits
If you want to take your Elora Gorge adventures to new heights, then you’ll want to check out One Axe Pursuits. Not only do they offer ice climbing, rock climbing and caving, but you can soar over the gorge with a zip lining adventure.
The experience is open for the daring every weekend in July and August.
Elora Bicycle tours
Another way to explore Elora is by bicycle. Elora Rapids offers two-hour, 10 km bicycle tours that takes you from the beautiful downtown, along the Grand River and through historic streets.
Each bike is equipped with a GPS audio tour, so you’ll be sure not to lose your way while you’re soaking in all the details of Elora’s past. This adventure is a self-guided tour, so you can go at your own pace.
Raft Rides in Elora
If riding a bicycle isn’t your style, then how about a leisurely raft ride? In the calm section of the Grand River, captains of the punt boats – a flat-bottomed, square boat – take patrons on a leisurely cruise along the water while learning about the wildlife of the Grand and the history of Elora.
Elora Cataract Trail
No outdoor Elora adventure would be complete without spending some time on the Elora Cataract Trail. This 47-kilometre rail line-turned-trail runs from Elora to the Forks of the Credit. It’s relatively flat and is perfect for a multitude of uses. Take a stroll or ride a bike, either way, you don’t want to miss out on this stunning trail, especially in the fall.
Elora is more than a place to eat, shop and explore nature. There is a thriving arts community here with dozens of studios and galleries and plenty of art and music events. So come for the attractions but stay for the culture!
The Green Space
What was once an old gas station, then a gravel lot, the Elora Green Space is now a community hub. Lounge on the grass or in one or the red Muskoka chairs. During the summer, the Green Space turns into a stage for local musical performances or for the local theatre troupe to put on a play.
Take your picture with the Tall Man, a finger pointing sculpture created by Scott McNichol, actually titled “Who’s in Charge.”
Get a taste for music of all genres at Riverfest Elora. This weekend-long event is one of the highlights of my year.
Three stages continuously play music set in Bissel Park, a lovely, riverside park in the heart of Elora. Past artists from the festival’s 10-year history include Mother Mother, MGMT, Metric, The Sheepdogs, Walk off the Earth, Tokyo Police Club, Wintersleep and so many more.
There’s also a food courtyard where dozens of vendors offer delicious bites and an artisan alley to check out the latest creations.
Riverfest Elora is committed to being bottled water free and a waste-conscious event. That means you can bring an empty reusable water bottle that you can fill up at the free water stations. You can also purchase a reusable mug for beer, wine or cider, which doubles as a souvenir!
Sitting on a blanket in the middle of the park listening to amazing bands with the river lazily flowing beside you is one hell of a magical experience, so if you come to Elora for one reason only, let it be for Riverfest Elora.
ReFIND Salvage workshops
Always wanted to get crafty, but not sure where to start? ReFIND Salvage is a vintage and recycle shop where you’ll find one of a kind items. But the shop also offers workshops ranging from crochet to embroidery, to calligraphy to sign making.
Workshops are offered continuously throughout the year at their cute little studio right downtown. What are you waiting for? Let’s get making!
The Gorge Cinema
This little theatre is a pillar of the Elora Community. Before it was renovated into The Gorge Cinema, this stone building was home to the Historic Commercial Hotel dating back to 1848. This cash-only theatre offers films from Hollywood blockbusters to Canadian cinema to documentaries to the occasional indie movie. They even put on events showcasing local filmmakers.
Growing up, the cinema was always a destination for school field trips to see historical movies. I’d always love the popcorn that would be topped with olive oil and sea salt rather than butter.
The owners who opened up the cinema 44 years ago recently passed on the torch, and two animators and family friends now run it.
Churches of Elora
Like any small town in Ontario, you’ll find a multitude of churches, many of which are old and beautiful. In Elora, it’s no different.
St. John’s Anglican Church is the red-roofed red-bricked building just outside the main town centre. It’s known for its beautiful architecture and altar as well as its outstanding choir known around the world.
The Knox-Elora Presbyterian Church is one of the famous Elora churches as it’s located in the middle of a roundabout. The church’s history dates back to 1837 where the first building was an old log cabin. The majestic structure that stands now was built in 1873 and has been there ever since. Inside the church features stained glass windows and a massive organ.
Lastly, there’s St. Mary Immaculate Church, a Catholic church built in 1871 but with history dating back to the early 1800s. The red brick structure is modelled after the classic gothic style.
Elora Centre for the Arts
The Elora Centre for the Arts is located in the beautiful old stone Elora School, which has stood for over 160 years. While the building has transformed, the opportunity for learning has not.
Not only does the Elora Centre for the Arts showcase art in two galleries, but it also offered numerous art programs for both children and adults. They even put on events throughout the year, the most famous being the two-day summer Creative Spark in the Yard – formerly known as Art in the Yard.
Creative Spark in the Yard features dozens of vendors, live musical performances, and, of course, food trucks! They even have art-making stations.
Twilight Zoo by Tim Murton
When the sun goes down during the twilight of October, prepare yourself for a fright lurking in every corner of Elora. The town is taken over by magical creatures who have come out to play. Look up and around every corner; you won’t know what you’ll run into.
The Twilight Zoo is the brainchild of Elora’s own Tim Murton, not to be confused with Tim Burton, who has been decorating the streets of Elora for over 20 years.
His unique lantern sculpture creatures are scattered throughout Elora every October turning the town into a spooky little village.
During Monster Month, you’ll also be able to take part in the Fergus Ghost Walk, a lantern-guided tour through the dark history of Fergus, enjoy cauldron cocktails at the Elora Mill, or become a monster yourself in the annual Monster March Parade.
Where to Eat in Elora
With all the things to do in Elora, you’re going to have to fuel up with one of the many cafés and restaurants in the town. From a quick bite to eat to a fine-dining four-course meal, there’s plenty to choose from.
Cafe Crêperie of Elora
This little café is perfect for those who can’t decide what to eat. They’ve got delicious savoury crepes as well as melt-in-your-mouth dessert crepes. They offer salads and croissants baked fresh daily. The café has been open for over a decade, providing amazing French recipes passed on through the generations.
They also offer gluten-free and vegan crepe options – so it’s really a great place for everyone.
Every once and a while the café stays open late on Saturdays to hold music nights. There’s even an ongoing art gallery with new artists every month.
Lost and Found Café
The Lost and Found Café has been my favourite spot since it opened a couple of years ago. The adorable décor and the delicious food make me want to hang out here all day.
It’s set in the beautiful Elora Mews, a limestone pedestrian market in Elora’s downtown. The Lost and Found Café offers incredible, mouth-watering sandwiches and delicious treats. They even have vegan options. My personal favourite is their featured lattes that change every month.
The Elora Café
The new kids on the block can be found at the Elora Café, a funky little café at the north end of the downtown. I love the pops of yellow in this adorable place, and their food is quite amazing.
Whether you fancy soups, sandwiches or delicious treat, they’ve got it all.
Elora Bread Trading Co.
Have you ever tasted bread so delicious you could eat the whole loaf? Well, Elora Bread Trading Co. specializes in handcrafted artisan bread to die for.
They supply bread for local retailers and restaurants, but they also serve up a mean sandwich at their shop in downtown Elora. Definitely, something to call home about!
The Shepard’s Pub is an Elora staple. It’s lived in the lower floor of a beautiful blue building FOREVER. But since summer 2018, the pub moved into a new home at the corner of Mill St. and Metcalfe St. Here you’ll find a cozy atmosphere, delicious British pub food and your choice of local brews.
The Porch Light
About ready for a cocktail? The Porch Light is serving! From the Lavender Hunter to the Dark and Stormy, they really have thought of everything.
It also has some incredibly creative tapas and food that is almost too beautiful to eat. Of course, they have a rich ambience on the porch that’s always welcoming.
Elora Brewing Company
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The Elora Brewing Company was a game changer for Elora. This rustic craft brewery is the talk of the town. From the incredible atmosphere to the rich flavours, this place has been taking the town by storm.
Lady Friend, Three Fields and Elora Borealis are always on tap, but they also feature seasonal brews too. You can’t leave without digging into the menu! The crispy chicken bites, Three Fields Mussels and housemade pickles are crowd favourites.
The Cellar Pub and Grill
On a warm summer evening, there’s nothing better than a good meal, with a refreshing drink on the river’s edge. You can get that at the Cellar Pub and Grill.
They have their own take on pub favourites and border on the fancier side. But nothing beats the patio right on the edge of the Grand River, surrounded by trees and string lights. Definitely a magical experience
Want a little more sit-down-dinner style of eating? Then you have to check out the trendy causal fine-dining restaurant The Cork. This restaurant boasts a pretty incredible wine selection as well as many creative dishes that you won’t find anywhere else.
The Evelyn is one of Elora’s newest restaurants. This French-inspired casual fine-dining spot is home to some incredible dishes, like the Coq Au Vin and Ratatouille. They even have a wine club for those who just need to celebrate every month.
Lastly, you can’t talk about Elora without mentioning the Elora Mill Restaurant. This fine dining restaurant opened in 2018 to resounding praise. It offers breakfast lunch and dinner seatings, with rooms in a big glass atrium that overlooks the Elora Gorge. Try the seasonal menu before it’s gone!
Want a more casual setting? Then try the Penstock Lounge, a beautiful rustic bar where you can have a cocktail by the fireplace
Where to shop in Elora
All this food is making you energized for a shopping trip around Elora. There’s no better place to find one-of-a-kind purchases. You’ll never run out of things to do in Elora, even if you just want to window shop.
Soothe your sweet tooth at Sweet Distractions, Elora’s candy boutique. You’ll find all sorts of delicious treats here, and even some darn good gelato – perfect for a summer’s day. You can’t leave the shop without trying some of their traditional bonbons in all the flavours.
Epiphany Apparel/ Jammed Lovely
These two stores, an apparel store and a gift shop, are packed with interesting finds. Jammed Lovely has funky, locally-sourced gifts. You’ll be able to find something for everyone here. The shop just re-opened after doing some major renovations to their new location in downtown Elora.
Epiphany Apparel is a clothing store with a vintage feel. You won’t be able to find these clothes in too many other places. You’ll even be able to find a couple of home décor items.
Stepping into the Elora Mews stone courtyard feels a little like stepping back in time. From the old-timely street lanterns to the beautiful stone walls, the Elora Mews is a lovely little spot to do some shopping. Check out the home decor shops and the fun clothing stores.
Twice Loved Books
I’ve never seen a second-hand book store that offers so much selection! There are dozens of selves with books from all genres at Twice Loved Books. I love perusing the shelves to see what I can find, but the best section is the Blind Date with a Book.
They wrap books and include a small description that lets you go on a “blind date” with the book, rather than based on the cover.
Twice Loved Books even buys your gently used books for store credit or cash. The goal is to reduce waste by recycling and reusing already printed books. The cute store is the cherry on top.
Mermaid in Elora
If there’s anything iconically Elora, it is Mermaid in Elora, formerly known as Mermaid Antiques. It’s a hard place to describe, an angled cozy cabin that is bigger on the inside than what it appears.
The first room is filled with necklaces, rings, and other jewellery, followed by the second room, which has metal trinkets like compasses and globes. And the third room is filled with leather goods, books, posters and other one-of-a-kind goods. And you can’t miss the Door Knocker Room, which holds the most extensive collection or door knockers in Canada.
There is so much to discover in every nook and cranny.
This vintage and upcycle shop called Honeychurch Lane is nestled among some of Elora’s beautiful stores. Here you’ll find some neat stuff, like painted furniture, chandeliers, knobs, vintage glassware and more.
They offer workshops so you can change up your home with custom paint jobs. There’s even a pop-up shop in the corner of the story that changes all the time, offering new and exciting things.
Where to stay in Elora
If you’re visiting for more than a day (I mean there are so many things to do in Elora), then you’re going to need somewhere to rest your head.
Elora Mill Hotel and Spa
I can’t mention places to stay without the new Elora Mill. Let me tell you, it is the epitome of luxury. There are 30 guest rooms and suites with absolutely jaw-dropping views overlooking the gorge. There are so many luxuries like fireplaces, walk-in showers, natural stone and wood and so much more.
While you’re there, you have to visit the Stable Spa and let the natural beauty and relaxing atmosphere wash away your stress.
So if you’re in the mood for extravagance, you’ll find it here at Elora Mill Hotel and Spa.
The Drew House Bed and Breakfast
The Drew House Bed and Breakfast offers a quaint retreat in the heart of Elora. The 19th-century house was the childhood home of former Ontario premier George Drew. It now provides multiple suites to rest your head and includes breakfast every morning.
You can even take cooking classes with Chef Roger Dufau.
White Garden Bed and Breakfast
The century home in the residential area of Elora. The Elora White Garden Bed and Breakfast seems like it’s out of a storybook, with its stunning gardens, lovely white home.
Guests have access to the living room, dining room, library, and even the pool. And, of course, there will be breakfast!
Sweet Ella’s Bed and Breakfast
These rustic rooms at Sweet Ella’s Bed and Breakfast are perfect for a little giveaway. The home dates back to the mid-1800s. And who can beat that claw foot tub!
They offer a traditional breakfast, free Wi-Fi and even offer bicycles to guests.
Victoria Street Retreat
This adorable yellow house is home to the Victoria Street Retreat. It’s just steps away from pretty well everything in Elora, but you’ll also be able to relax in the airy, comfortable apartment. Can go wrong with this perfect spot in town.
Things to do in Elora
Whether you are visiting Elora for the jaw-dropping natural beauty or going on a shopping spree at all the fun and unique stores or you’re here to chow down on all the fantastic food, Elora offers everything you need for a weekend getaway to charming small-town Ontario. Take a chance, because there are so many things to do in Elora.