If you live or are visiting Toronto, you may want to head out of the metropolis for a weekend getaway to experience something different. One of the best day trips in Toronto is just over an hour drive to the quaint, small town of Paris, Ontario, voted “the prettiest little town in Canada.”
In a previous post on some of the best road trip ideas across Europe, we shared our thoughts on European road trips that are perfect for anyone who loves to drive, enjoy scenic routes, and get yourself immersed in the local culture. While we cannot venture outside of Canada at this time of the pandemic, there are still tons of options for day trips. One of the options we explored this summer was a day trip to Paris, Ontario.
Interesting facts about Paris, Ontario
Have you heard of the term plaster of Paris? It refers to the gypsum plaster out of a fine white powder that hardens when moistened and allowed to dry. In medicine, it is used to make casts to immobilize broken bones while healing. However, its most common use is for precast to hold parts of ornamental plasterwork placed on ceilings and home décor pieces.
Paris, Ontario, was named after the gypsum deposits in the area used to create such plasters. This small town incorporated in 1850 became a busy spot as plasters were exported more and more. It made history 24 years later when the receiving location of the first-ever telephone call was made by Alexander Graham Bell from Brantford, around 13 kilometers away.
The town of Paris is situated at the point where the Nith and the Grand Rivers meet. While it is famous for being named “the prettiest little town in Canada,” it is also known as the “cobblestone capital of Canada” with its rich cobblestone buildings and other architectural gems.
How to get there
Paris is located within Brant County in Southern Ontario and is only around 15 minutes northwest of Brantford, well-known as the “Telephone City” because of its famous resident, Alexander Graham Bell. From Brantford, you can reach it by taking Paris Road and Brant County Highway 2.
If you are driving from Greater Toronto Area, the easiest and quickest route will be via Highway 403 to Brant County Highway 2, passing by the city of Hamilton. If you are coming from Waterloo Region, you can take Ontario 24 South to Regional Road 14 if you are coming from Cambridge or take the scenic route via the Trussler Road if coming from Kitchener.
While in Paris, you should be able to find several parking lots downtown, although they are limited to 2-3 hours. Otherwise, you can find some street parking just outside the town center and start your exploratory walk from there.
What to see and do
There is so much to explore and discover in this quaint town. Also known as the cobblestone capital of Ontario, Paris is littered with architectural gems of various styles. You can explore and admire the architectural treasures and other attractions right at downtown.
Our day trip was a spur of the moment decision when we saw the perfect day-trip weather forecast. All we had was a downloaded self-guided walking tour courtesy of the Paris Museum. The itinerary allowed us to discover some of Paris’ highlights at a relaxed pace, enough to fill our day. Here are some of the architectural gems we admired during our walk around Paris downtown.
- The cobblestone house at 16 Broadway Street was built by Levi Broughton, a stonemason from New York State. When close to the building, you can marvel at the intricate details of Greek-inspired carvings and other details.
- The building at 91 Grand River Street is where the world’s first long-distance telephone call in August 1876, made by Alexander Graham Bell, was received. While retail establishments now occupy it, you can easily find the plaque on one for the columns signifying that event.
- The Norman Hamilton Home, a fine example of Paris’ masonry, was the northern-most point in our self-guided tour. We had to admire it only from across the road as construction was on-going.
- Various Churches – There are the Paris Presbyterian Church (a beautiful Romanesque church), the St. Paul’s United Church, and the Paris Baptist Church.
We did not want to miss another attraction – the Penman Dam, which was built way back in 1918 by the textile industrialist John Penman as a source of power to operate his clothing company mill. A great view from the William Street bridge, it is just a short walk through a shaded pathway. But you can also drive up there, with lots of parking close by.
With good viewing areas, it looks like a great area to relax and enjoy the sound of the water flowing through the dam while admiring its picturesque view, with the train bridge hovering above it. You can also find a few benches and picnic tables where you can have your lunch while admiring the area and the sight.
While we were at the dam, several people (adults and kids) were enjoying fishing. Being quite accessible, it is also a vantage point for those going for kayaking or paddling activities on the river. We also learned that the dam is lighted at night, offering a romantic view.
What to bring along
Your day trip will likely give you great memories, which you would want to capture through travel photos. These photos will be handy when telling your experience back home and reminisce about a great time during your trip. To have quality and vivid shots, it is always good to have a quality camera on top of your smartphones. Check out our previous post, comparing the camera to smartphones.
In addition to a good camera, you should also plan to bring with you several essential-for-travel items that can make your trip not only memorable but also attach colors and drama to each experience. Stunning landscapes, wildlife sightings, spectacular architecture, good food, and exciting adventures may greet you during your trip. You can ensure that you will not miss any of these by bringing essential gadgets. Check out our post on the items we brought during one of our trips involving similar travel experiences.
As we only had the day to spend in Paris before heading back to Toronto, we brought with us our packed lunch, which we consumed at one of the picnic tables at the Penman Dam Park. However, if you have time or extending your stay, some of our friends suggested a few dining places worth considering:
- Juniper Dining Co. – While exploring the eastern side of the Grand River after Penman Dam, we saw a French bistro owned by Chef Andrea Legacey and husband, Brandon. It looked an excellent place to have dinner or even to enjoy their wine and cheese pairings after a day of exploring. We also understand that their half-priced oysters and $5 house wines from 5:00 pm-7:00 pm every weekday is a hit among locals and visitors alike.
- Stillwaters – If you want to have a good view of the Grand River from a rooftop patio while enjoying your food, this is a scenic eatery that will fit the bill. Diverse, globally-inspired Canadian fare in a vibrant setting with water views from a rooftop patio. Owned by Matt Cummings and Chef William Thompson of Food Network’s Top Chef Canada, Stillwaters provides a mixture of comfort, fun, and fantastic food in a fantastic atmosphere.
- The Wincey Mills – This is a historic building put to good use. This 125-year-old building used to be the staging point for distributing wool wares from Victoria to Halifax has been transformed into a year-round market, offering incredible local food, treats, and produce.
Where to stay in Paris, Ontario
As you can tell by now, there are so many things to do in Paris and nearby areas. Chances are you will want to be back or even decide to extend your stay! Either way, here are some accommodations you might want to consider.
- Arlington Hotel – A good friend of ours told us that they once stayed at the historic Arlington right in the heart of downtown Paris. Each room is uniquely decorated and inspired by famous artists such as Leonard Cohen, and literary giants like Ernest Hemingway.
- The Carriage House Flat – This is an attractive option for those who prefer apartment-style accommodation. We gathered that this is the only Greek Revival Plantation home in Canada.
- Brantford – There are more options, just 15 minutes drive away, particularly if you would like to go to hotels.
Other places to explore in the area
While in the locality and have extra time, you may want to explore other nearby places or attractions, such as:
- The Bell Homestead National Historic Site – This was the familial Victorian-era home of Alexander Graham Bell in nearby Brantford.
- Pinehurst Lake Conservation Area – The Carolinian forest that surrounds the 9-hectare kettle Pinehurst Lake offers visitors a great place to camp out or picnic, swim, fish, paddle, or hike. It is also a great place for snowshoeing and ice-fishing during winter.
Heading back to Toronto
Before driving back to Toronto, we took advantage of the outdoor shops at the Marketplace at the parking lot where we parked at the front of The Wincey Mills Building. They were starting to pack-up for the day, but one lovely lady sold us a bunch of flowers for a song. We also had a few scoops of Bixby Ice Cream to cool us down.
This Paris had no Eiffel Tower or River Seine, but the charm of this little town in Ontario rivals its namesake in France. With a good day exploring this town, and a bunch of fresh flowers to take home, we decided to head back to Toronto at around 3 pm. The drive back was easy as we listened to our playlist of relaxing summer hits.
If you want to escape the hustle and bustle of the Greater Toronto Area, hop on your car and have one of the best day trips in Toronto by heading out to Paris. A short, rewarding drive to experience a bit of history, nature, and architecture. We hope that the information we shared above useful for you to plan your day trip to Paris, Ontario. Following the day trip out and you would like to plan other activities, click the banner below.
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