I spent both my high school and university days in the seemingly unremarkable town of London Ontario. At first glance, there doesn’t appear to be anything special about this place, but over time I slowly discovered London has much more than meets the eye. I’ve included it all in this comprehensive list of things to do in London, Ontario, with a few special call-outs for completely underrated yet awesome activities. Enjoy!
Things to do in London Ontario
Man, guys, if I had a dollar every time my young-adult-self googled “things to do in London Ontario on a Friday night” (and another dollar every time I was disappointed by the results) I could buy a plane ticket to the actual London and find things to do there. It felt like all the options were either clubbing or staying in watching Netflix. Never fear though! I eventually solved the mystery and found where the fun evening entertainment lies!
The Grand Theatre – London’s professional theatre located at Richmond and Queen offers a somewhat fancy evening of high quality theatre. Each season they offer a combination of classic theatre (like Shakespeare and Broadway musicals) and modern productions by local and emerging playwrights. The tickets can be a little pricer, but there are a few ways to snag afford an affordable tickets.
London Knights and London Lightning – To many newcomers’ surprise, London has two decent sports teams. The Knights play for the Ontario Hockey League and won the Memorial Cup in 2015-16. Though they don’t have the same fan fare, the Lightning have won 6 of the past eight seasons for the National Basketball League of Canada.
Palasad Social Bowl – Please don’t roll your eyes. I know everyone knows about Palasad. But even though it’s a little cliche, I still love it. The bowling is fun, they have billiard tables and they cook their pizza in a wood burning oven. The drinks are fairly priced and they bring snacks right to your lane.
Snap for the London Poetry Slam – On the third Friday of every month, the London Music Club hosts the London Poetry Slam. Poets from across and outside London perform slam poetry and are judged, with a winner announced at the end of the evening. This ain’t your grandma’s poetry night – the performers are all incredibly talented with poetry ranging from extremely hilarious to beautifully tragic.
London Music Hall – Despite London small size, this venue at Queen & Richmond manages to attract some impressive artists. You’ll regularly find Indie bands playing, like Busty and the Bass and Oh Wonder, but also mainstream artists like The Chainsmokers. Keep an eye on their schedule for upcoming events.
HB Beal Musical Theatre – H.B. is the Arts high school in London and hosts a few shows in May each year. This is not your typical youth theatre. These are high quality production shows, with incredibly talented cast and crew – some of whom will go on to Stratford, Juilliard and Broadway. You can find their upcoming shows here.
Bars and pubs – And if you are into it, London has an extensive bar and pub scene, largely driven by the thousands of party-crazy Western students who flock to London each fall. If you want to avoid these flirty and belligerent twenty-somethings, avoid Ceeps, Frog and Jacks on Thursday, Friday and Saturday night. Barney’s Patio is a summer classic (and a personal favourite of mine) and The Runt Club has a good selection drinks. Call The Office sometimes has good indie live music, though you never know what crowd you’ll find.
Support local businesses in London
Looking for something to do on the weekend? Might I suggest exploring some cool local London businesses?
Covent Garden Market – I can’t think of a better way to spend a Saturday morning than at the Covent Garden Market. Come here in the summer to shop local produce from farmers right outside London. Grab lunch at one of the many food stands (my favourite is a breakfast burrito from The Salad Bowl or a feta-spinach burek from the Greek stand). The Market is home to my favourite cafe, The Tea Haus, located on the Mezzanine. Even if you aren’t shopping, the Market is an excellent place to catch up with friends over lunch.
The Market at the Western Fair District – The Western Fair Market is like the burly older brother to the Covent Garden Market – it’s got much more hustle-and-bustle going on inside. Only open weekends, the Western Fair Market is a more traditional farmers market – there are more farmers and more produce on offer, and not many lunch stands or places to eat.
Visit London’s own Craft Kombucha Brewery – Booch Organic Kombucha is available on tap throughout the city. However, Booch also has a location where you can buy big (and small) jugs of any of their six traditional flavours or try out special featured flavours not available elsewhere. I’m an avid kombucha drinker (I’m drinking some right now) and can attest to the high quality of Booch, but even if you haven’t tried much kombucha before this is a great place to try it out. They offers samples in store!
Curly Brewing Co. – This nano brewery is a great place to grab some locally brewed beer you can’t find anywhere else (seriously, it’s only sold in house). They also feature a vegan brew cafe – a plant-based take on your usual burger and sandwich pub-grub.
Chick Boss Cake – If you’ve ever wanted a unicorn-rainbow-kaleidoscope in cupcake form, this is the bakery to try. Every treat is bright and colourful and super tasty.
Interested in amazing local restaurants you can support? Check out my post The Best Hidden Restaurants in London Ontario.
Outdoor Activities in the Forest City
London is also known as the ‘Forest City’ (by who, I’m not sure, but the city website claims it is). True to the name, London does have a few wooded areas for recreational activities. You sadly won’t find any impressive waterfalls or mountain ranges to hike to, but we have a decent bike path and a few great parks for chilling with friends.
Gibbons Park – Gibbons Park is a large park with a nice trail running parallel to the river. It offers big fields surrounded by tall trees, perfect for playing frisbee or soccer with friends. There is a kids’ playground and public pool, which probably isn’t of interest to you (there are also swing sets though which I think are fun at any age).
Thames Valley Parkway – The Thames Valley Parkway is a walking / biking trail that extends across the city. The nicest section would probably be the one that connects Ross Park and Ivey Park, via Gibbons Park and Harris Park. This section would be ~5km and make for a good run or bike ride. It follows the river and offers some nice views along the way.
Visit Boler Mountain any season – Also maliciously known as ‘The Boler Bump’, London’s attempt at a ski hill is a fine place to learn to your ‘pizzas’ from your ‘french fries’, but for anyone else, the two-minute runs leave something to be desired. That said, Boler Mountain has some surprisingly fun summer activities. They Treetop Adventure gets you right up in the trees, navigating swings bridges and over wooden beams. They also offer mountain biking, and the short runs are perfect for those new to the sport.
Medway Valley Heritage Forest – This area is nestled right behind Brescia College and has a few nice trails for light hiking, jogging and dog walking. It runs right along the Thames River and the thick forest makes you feel like you’re got your own secret patch of wilderness in the city.
Victoria Park – This popular park is in the centre of downtown and is a common hangout spot for all walks of life in the summer. In the summer, it is home to a variety of events and festivals like SunFest, RibFest and Rock the Park. Grab lunch from one of the many restaurants near by, find a picnic table and do some people watching.
Springbank Park – Springbank is a large park with some walking trails in Byron (West London). It’s along the river, though I find you can always hear the traffic on Commissions Rd.
Arva Park – A five minute drive north of Masonville Mall, this big park offers a slightly more wilderness experience than the parks mentioned above. It nestled among farm land and a new subdivision, but has forest trails and an opportunity to get out of the city. Perfect for joggers and dog walkers on a sunny Sunday morning.
Get out of Town for a Hike: Located 15 minutes west of London lies Komoka Provincial Park with several trails perfect for an afternoon hike, morning dog walking adventure or long run. My favourite time to visit is in October when the red, orange and yellow autumn leaves look really beautiful here.
Sightseeing & Tourist Attractions
Who wants to be a tourist in their own city? I know, I know. ‘Sightseeing’ and ‘Tourist Attractions’ in mid-size cities are almost always super lame and underwhelming. I hear you. But there are still a couple places you might be interested in checking out.
Museum London – Don’t expect something as grand and impressive as the Smithsonian (this is London, Ontario after all) but even still, the Museum London is a decent way to spend a rainy afternoon if you like museums. They have an impressive art collection in a permanent exhibit. They also run featured exhibitions for a few weeks at a time. Some will be of absolutely no interest to you, but every once in a while one will peak your interest (like the JUNO Photography Exhibition or Guilty Pleasures and Bad Habits).
The Banting House National Historic Site of Canada – London’s claim to fame would have to be Sir Fredrick Banting and his discovery of insulin. Located in North London, Banting House was purchased by Banting for a private practice after he was denied a staff position at Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Kids. It was in this house, on October 31 1920, that Banting awoke in the middle of the night with the idea for insulin. (Although he would later return to Toronto to conduct the necessary research on insulin, London remains knows as the “birthplace of insulin”.)
Take a Tour of the Labatt Brewery: The largest brewery in Canada, Labatt’s is a manufacturing marvel. The automated bottling process – with bottles going in every which way getting filled, labeled and packed – is weirdly mesmerizing to watch. And of course, there’s an all Labatt’s bar with inexpensive beer. Even for a London local, it’s actually a really good time (I’ve done it twice).
Richmond Row – The most attractive part of London’s downtown core, Richmond Row stretches from Oxford Street to Dundas Street and features a variety of restaurants, boutiques, Victoria Park and two gorgeous cathedrals that straight out of a Lonely Planet guide for Europe.
Looking for more things to do in London Ontario?
Head to the Tourism London website for upcoming events and additional places to be and things to do.
Have you been to London Ontario? What did you do and what did you like? Anything you’d add to the list? Let me know below!
Visitor to the city? Here is where to stay in London Ontario
Despite being a local, I’ve actually stayed in a few hotels in London for various reasons. Here are a few I’ve liked:
The Park Hotel London – This hotel has the best location, situated right at Richmond Row. You’re a stone’s throw from excellent restaurants, bars, shopping and Victoria Park. All of their rooms are suites (although they don’t have a kitchenette).
Delta Hotels by Marriott London Armouries – This is a well-known hotel located downtown. It’s so popular because it’s the only hotel in London that resembles a castle.
Doubletree by Hilton London – Pretty standard hotel with comfortable beds, large rooms and fast wifi. It’s located downtown and walking distance to the train station.