A charming, hidden gem of a city located in southern Ontario in Canada, Peterborough is most noted for Trent University, the Quaker Oat Factory, the impressive lift locks and the General Electric Factory — but as today’s city guide writer, Melissa Wilson says, “this city has a lot more to offer than a Tim Hortons off the highway.”
Just two hours east of Toronto — at the tip of the Kawarthas — it’s chock-full of great amenities for the perfect weekend destination, but is also the proud home of many locals who enjoy its many walking and cycling trails, parks, ski clubs, cottage country, farmers’ markets, artisan shops and lakeside cafés. With snowier winters and cooler summers, it’s not for everyone, Melissa says, “I’ve seen neighbors cross-country ski to work,” but the laid-back attitude and charm of its people (and their love for wool socks) make up for it.
Melissa is proud to call Peterborough, Ontario home, saying, “Three years, two apartments, a yoga teaching certification and a pile of new friends later, I’ve narrowed down my top places to eat, shop, drink and go,” which is still a pretty generous, all-encompassing list. Enjoy! –Sabrina
Photography by Melissa Wilson
WHERE TO EAT + DRINK
A lot of people don’t eat breakfast at home for the sheer excuse to go out.
Black Honey is downtown favorite. It’s open late, has a wide variety of breakfast options and a staggering dessert selection.
ECBC is stocked with sourdough loaves, doughnuts, tarts, scones, cookies and the flakiest croissants/pain au chocolat/almond croissants you’ve ever had — you might have to take a to-go box. They also offer all local, in-house-made breakfast, lunch and weekend dinners.
Amusé is trés chic to say the least. The cafe is accented with Parisian photos, café tables, chandeliers and a constant smell of pastries. With a wall of loose-leaf teas on one side and a counter brimming with macarons, madeleine and croissants on the other, you can’t help but feel as if you’re in Paris. They also offer French-inspired soups, paninis and salads.
There is a town-wide countdown for for the opening of The Silverbean Café, which is the central hub of the city from May-October. With a customer of the day, weekly community events and the staff knowing you by name, this spot encapsulates small-town living. Located on Little Lake and right on the Rotary Trail in Millennium Park, it’s the perfect place to grab your friends, a bike and a towering cone of Kawartha Dairy Ice Cream.
Lunch is a countdown in Peterborough, with so many people working downtown, it’s a social event in itself.
Soupsçon is one of the most popular lunch spots and well worth the line-up. With 6-8 daily soups made from scratch, from a 500-recipe repertoire, each day includes a variety that’s dietary-friendly for everyone. People go crazy over their famous beer bread or vegan baguette served on the side. At $5 after tax, it’s probably the best deal in town.
The Planet is vegetarian with vegan and gluten-free options. They serve comfort food with a side of no-guilt. Sandwiches are made on house-made bread, bursting with sprouts, veggies, hummus and tempeh. Soups are hearty, salads are enormous and everything in between is equally as satisfying. If you have room, pick up a monster-sized cookie, square or brownie.
The Food Forest is strictly vegan and gluten-free. An impressive juice and smoothie selection makes it an easy start, while you browse the hearty and unique menu. They take a traditional meat dish and turn it into a vegan creation. If you choose a towering veggie burger, a power-food bowl or indulgent lasagna, you’ll be happy. They also know believe in balance, and offer gluten-free cookies, muffins and endless cheesecake creations.
The worst thing about dinner in Peterborough is deciding where to go.
Two Dishes is the ultimate in gourmet comfort food. With a constantly rotating menu dictated by seasonal produce, you’re always going to get something different.
Everything is made from scratch and elevates homemade classics. A simple hamburger will have house-made ketchup, pimento cheese, onion rings, pickles and (of course) local greens. The plates are towering, visually stunning and full of bold flavors. The desserts are the same: over-the-top, crammed with goodness and always generous portions.
St. Veronus is a Belgian-style gastropub. It’s nice enough for a date, but casual enough for a pre-show meal. Almost every dish has beer in it, whether it’s beer-braised beef poutine or beer-steamed moules and frites. The drink menu is a four-page brochure of rare and common Belgian and international varieties, with extensive descriptions of each.
Attached to St. Veronus is Le Petite Bar, a truly unexpected restaurant gem. It’s a cozy, art-nouveau-adorned, french-inspired café. Known for their Charcuterie boards and a small tasting menu, it’s where you go to indulge. The drink menu features sought-after wines, liqueurs and aperitifs, local beer and most notably, imaginative from-scratch cocktails.
At the end of a night out, everyone funnels to The Night Kitchen. They sell full-sized pizzas, but what people really want are slices. The tiny storefront is mainly made up of seating and a display case — which houses 10+ varieties of pizza slices. All of which are bigger than your head, have magically thin/crispy/chewy crust, and the most creative combos you’ve never heard of.
WHERE TO SHOP
Like I’ve said, Peterborough loves local. So much so, there’s been a clothing line launched in its honor. Flavour and Plush Boutique sell T-shirts, tank tops, hoodies, hats, toques and baby onesies all dedicated to landmarks of various parts of Peterborough, including its tinier neighbor, East City.
There’s somewhere for everyone to go downtown. Aside from clothing stores, there’s a number of used bookstores and antique shops to browse through, Tribal Voices will get your hippy fix, and Wild Rock is a landmark for outdoor activities, especially cycling. With tons of trails stemming from Peterborough, the staff will outfit you for whatever kind of activity you’re looking for, complete with maps, directions and where to stop for coffee along the way.
Burrow is probably one of the most unique and well-curated shops downtown. It’s a gift and home store, but does a very good job of feeling like a (really cool, trendy and well-outfitted) home. Lit with stylish fixtures, couches and beds cover the floor with cozy Hudson Bay blankets, plush pillows and over-stuffed ottomans. Shelves are lined with flatware, glasses, art and other home accessories. There’s a nook full of more art, stationery and little trinkets; there are pretty things everywhere.
The back is dedicated to babies, and even if you don’t have one, it’s hard to walk by. With adorable organic cotton onesies, blankies and pillows, not to mention toys, books and plush carpets, it’s just as intriguing as the home section. Megan, the owner — who is usually joined by her 1-year-old daughter — is always ready to answer your questions, give advice and just chat; making you feel right at home.
For a taste of Peterborough, if you don’t want to eat out at EVERY meal, there are plenty of artisan shops to choose from. From May-November there is the Wednesday Farmer’s Market downtown, with weekly chefs featuring the vendors’ bounty. If you want organic vegetables, gourmet fudge, fair trade coffee or local eggs, it’s all here. There’s also a larger market on Saturdays that runs all year, moving inside in December. This market has farm stands, but also gourmet chocolate, handmade soaps, natural remedy products and endless options for local organic meat.
If you’re the one hosting, Community Butcher is the only place you need to go. With meat from farms within the area code, shelves of gourmet condiments and dry goods and seasonal local organic vegetables, the hardest part is choosing what you want.
Naked Chocolate is another little piece of Europe. Tucked off the main street, it has gourmet chocolates, macarons, eclairs as well as seasonal artisan gelatos and ice cream. The smell wafts into the street if you can’t find it.
WHAT TO DO + WHERE TO GO
Everyone and their professor go to The Only, which is great because you always see someone you know. With an extensive beer menu, jam-packed sandwiches, multiple sharing plates and literally floor-to-ceiling artwork and photos, there’s no place like it.
In the summer months, the patio is overflowing with all types of people, basking in the shade alongside the river, mingling and talking. The Gordon Best Theatre is located above the bar, hosting everything from comedy shows to private parties and rock concerts — it’s really the only place you need to go.
Now after all of the indulging, fear not, there are plenty of activities to choose from. Yoga has its own festival in Peterborough, but if you’re not here that weekend, Salti Yoga offers beginner yoga, aerial silks and even visitor passes. You’re likely to run into plenty of hula-hooping, grass-dwelling yogis in the parks during the warm months as well.
Stand Up Paddleboarding is another lifestyle essential in this active town. The SUP rentals shop is steps away from Little Lake, making it impossible not to give it a try.
The summer has plenty of opportunities to check out a festival, or three: The Peterborough MusicFest, The Peterborough Folk Festival, Rotary RibFest, Dusk Dances and Hootenanny on Hunter, just to name a few. All events are family-friendly — it’s expected to see packs of barefoot kids running around or dancing; it makes it more welcoming for everyone else to join!
If you’re traveling with kids, the Riverview Zoo is a (FREE!) no-brainer. An hour scenic trail walk (or bike ride from downtown or a short drive) will take you to train-touring zoo — remember you’re still in the city!
Trent University offers a gorgeous sprawling campus to explore, situated along the Ottonobee River, or you can explore its nature trails if you’re feeling a bit more rugged. It’s not uncommon to see profs and students alike kayaking, swimming or rowing along the river between classes.
During the winter months, skating at the lift lock and along the canal is a serious social event. If you drive a bit farther, you can also bike, snowshoe and hike at Harold Towne Conservation Area and cross-country ski at Kawartha Nordic Ski Club. If you require more speed, Devil’s Elbow and Brimacombe downhill ski clubs are less than an hour away off of the highway.
Throughout the year, there are rotating gallery shows to see as well. Most local businesses feature artists monthly, supporting and promoting art is very important here. There’s also The Art Gallery of Peterborough to wander through, The Gallery in The Attic downtown and numerous craft fairs and pop-up shops throughout the year. There really is never a dull moment in Peterborough!