London, Ontario may not be the first city on your list of places to visit in Canada, but you should definitely consider making the trip. Although London is not (yet) known for its tourism, the city is working hard to change that. It already has well-deserved reputation as an education and medical hub with Western University and Fanshawe College, and our hospitals (and Robarts Research Institute) are renowned for their groundbreaking research and medical training. But as its culinary and art scenes continue to grow, the city is on the brink of becoming a new tourism hub. It’s the perfect size – large enough to attract entrepreneurs, small enough to not overwhelm. Plus, there are lots of fun things to do in London, Ontario!
My own family’s history began here in London through a link to both education and medicine, when my dad, who was attending Western’s Medical School, met my mom, who was at the (then) Victoria School of Nursing. Throughout my life I’ve come and gone from London many times, but finally settled here for good 25 years ago. I love living in this city (along with over 350,000 other Londoners) and I’m still finding new and exciting things to do.
Let Me Entertain You
When you think of theatre in Southwestern Ontario, Stratford is likely the first place to pop up, followed by Niagara-on-the-Lake and other smaller playhouses best known for summer entertainment. But what sets London’s Grand Theatre apart is that its productions are staged primarily during the fall and winter. Their playbill continues to be top notch year after year with an impressively curated lineup. If what’s happening onstage isn’t entertaining enough, the theatre itself comes with its own haunted tale about the strange disappearance of Toronto entrepreneur Ambrose Small who operated the Grand until he mysteriously vanished in 1919.
In addition to theatre, the Grand also hosts the popular Jeans ‘n Classics concerts, combining world-class musicians and symphonies’ creative interpretations of well-known contemporary musicians. This year’s Heartland: Current and Classic Country concert features the music of Miranda Lambert, Carrie Underwood, Johnny Cash, and Keith Urban, while the Apollo Hall of Fame concert highlights American swing.
With this sort of creative talent it’s not surprising that London is quickly gaining a reputation for its music scene. The Aeolian Hall is definitely worth a visit, having twice been awarded “Best Live Venue” at the Jack Richardson Music Awards, and chosen as one of the Top 10 Halls in Canada by the CBC. They have an incredibly diverse line up, from Celtic and flamenco, to Broadway and soul. Recently, I saw the Japanese Drum (taiko) group Nagata Shachu perform there. They were mesmerizing and a true work of musical art.
Fresh. Local. Organic
Not to be left out of the booming culinary scene across Canada, London also boasts many amazing independent restaurants. One of my favourites is The Root Cellar. Judging by how many times I’ve been invited to join my friends there recently and how packed it is, you can consider this place local-approved.
The inside décor is very warm and funky. Their tagline “farm to fork & plough to pint. Fresh. Local. Organic.” says it all. I’m into the organic wine, but for those who prefer a local brew, they offer beer as well. Salads are so fresh you’d think the ingredients were picked the same day. My go-to order is the AVO WRAP – Avocado and black bean salsa, old cheddar, caramelized onion, lime aioli and greens grilled in a sun-dried tomato wrap. It’s truly amazing. The organic burgers are also a stand-out: free-range, pasture-raised local Water Buffalo, anyone?
Richmond Row: Shop and Eat
When you’re done licking your fingers, you might want to head over to Richmond Row, another local favourite and bustling retail locale where independent retailers offer unique items. If you haven’t had enough to eat yet, this is another place to find great meals. From fine dining at Garlic’s of London (close to the Grand Theatre so you can make your 8:00 show), to the more relaxed Prince Albert’s Diner which boasts “the best milkshakes in London”, and I have to agree they are hard to top.
Covent Garden Market
No, you’re not in the UK. London has its own, albeit smaller, version of Covent Garden Market. In the summer the front patio becomes an outdoor farmer’s market, extending the offerings inside, and in the colder months it’s turned into a skating rink! Inside there are booths with fresh food, gifts, flowers, and prepared food to go. I love weaving in and out of the open-concept stores, and I always make sure to grab a few chocolate truffles from The Chocolate Factory while I’m browsing.
London hasn’t yet made its mark as a “destination” location, which makes it a true hidden gem. It’s got everything the big cities have to offer, but on a more intimate scale (and without the long lineups!) Spend a day or even a weekend wandering with my list of fun things to do in London in your pocket and you’ll understand why so many of us have chosen to call this place home. I wouldn’t consider living anywhere else.
Do you have any favourite hang-outs in London? Send us your recommendations in the comments below!
For more information about what to do in London, visit http://www.londontourism.ca/Events.