Although technically it’s a city (population about 32,000), Orillia has all the personality and warmth of a small town. Downtown is very walkable, with a charming streetscape of red brick Victorian storefronts. Located between two lakes, Orillia offers year-round outdoor fun on land and water. It’s an easy 90-minute drive from Toronto, suitable for a day trip.
How To Get To Orillia By Land
From Toronto: Take Highway 400 North to Barrie and then Highway 11 to Orillia, at the north end of Lake Simcoe. From east of Toronto, Highway 12 up the east side of the lake is shorter.
Ontario Northland bus service connects Orillia to Toronto, and to both Sudbury and North Bay on two different northern routes. Check the schedules and book in advance.
How To Get To Orillia By Water
Boaters love Orillia because it’s a natural stop on the Trent-Severn waterway system, between two navigable lakes, Simcoe and Couchiching.
The Port of Orillia operates a public marina with over 200 slips. The onshore service building has washrooms, showers, and change rooms. In season, the waterfront is full of people fishing, walking, biking, swimming, and generally enjoying the grassy expanse of the lakeside parks.
The marina is a short walk from the Metro grocery store, the LCBO (liquor and beer), and the main street, Mississaga Street, with its shops, pubs, eateries, art gallery and museum, and opera house.
Kayak rentals are available in Orillia. There are several private marinas in the area for information about all things boating.
Music Has A History In Orillia
The Orillia Opera House is a historic building graced by a pair of chateau-style round towers with conical roofs. On the corner of West Street and Mississaga Street, the opera house’s main auditorium seats 677.
A Musical Legend With A Close Connection
In front of the opera house, you can’t miss the bronze bust by Gino Cavicchioli of hometown legend Gordon Lightfoot, unveiled in 2017.
Born in Orillia in 1938, the world-renowned musician sang at the opera house and in the St. Paul’s Church choir as a boy soprano.
The Lightfoot Trail, named for Gordon, is a dual pedestrian and bicycle path along the Lake Couchiching shore, paved in parts. Walk it for about half an hour from the foot of Mississaga Street and you’ll reach Tudhope Park, 65 acres of lakeside green space for family recreation. Here, the Golden Leaves statue by Timothy Schmalz shows Lightfoot in a cloud of maple leaves, the symbol of Canada.
A Granddaddy Of Folk Festivals
The Mariposa Folk Festival, founded in Orillia in 1961, bounced down to Toronto for awhile, and then came home. Since 2000, it’s been an annual fixture in Orillia.
Held in Tudhope Park, Mariposa celebrates “song, story, dance, and craft” for 3 days every July. Expect big-name headliners, established performers, and rising talent. It’s a fun and lively gathering, and a real community event supported by numerous volunteers.
For a peek at Mariposas of the past, where it seems every famous folkie has had their turn on the stage, check out this video collection.
Book early for tickets and accommodation.
Roots Music To Welcome Spring
As the fishermen drag their huts off the Lake Couchiching ice and the snowmobile trails melt, it’s time to enjoy spring in Orillia. The Roots North Festival was postponed due to COVID in 2021 but expects to carry on in the future. If this video is anything to go by, the live festival will be full of great music in the historic St. Paul’s Church.
Outdoor Summer Concerts And The Town Band
Orillia has a town band, which performs indoor and outdoor concerts.
Cross your fingers for the return of Sunday evening big band concerts in Couchiching Park.
With so much interest in music, as well as access to the huge talent pool living in and touring through southern Ontario, Orillia is a place to watch for future festivals and shows.
The Biggest Game In Town
Nearby Casino Rama with its 5,000 seat venue is an established Ontario entertainment destination with ever-changing featured performers. Catch shows like rockers Chilliwack and Streetheart, the traditional Irish Rovers, pop’s Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, comedians Bill Engvall and Russell Peters, country star Travis Tritt, and local favorite Gordon Lightfoot.
The Casino has a hotel, spa, and a selection of restaurants.
Many Choices For Eating And Drinking
Popular for its atmosphere and menu, The Common Stove is close to the Opera House. At the other end of downtown, Fionn MacCool’s at the Champlain Hotel has live local entertainers on select nights. Enjoy the craft beer at Couchiching Craft Brewing Company and Brewery Bay. Check the Hog N’ Penny for a British pub experience.
Away from Mississaga Street, Theo’s Eatery on Memorial Avenue is a good place for a quiet dinner out with the tried and true favorites: pasta, Caesar salad, chicken parmigiana, garlic shrimp, and steak.
Across the road, Thai Plate offers Thai cuisine prepared by a Thai chef for a Thai owner. Get the message? I’ve had takeout and dined in, and been very happy every time.
Nearby Uncle Perry’s Fish & Chips, Steak and Seafood serves nice fish and chips. I’d go back.
A little out of town, at the Orillia Rama Regional Airport, you can watch the floatplanes and have your tasty meal just steps away from the aircraft at Tailwinds Bar & Grill.
Books, Comics, Collectibles
I’m not a comic book aficionado, but I know someone who is. Christmas shopping for him would be easy if I lived in Orillia because of Dr. Comics on Mississaga Street, and MVP Cards and Collectibles on Atherley Road.
Manticore Books is “the largest independent bookstore north of Toronto” and definitely worth a stop if you’re a reader. It stocks the mainstream selections, books of local interest, nominees for the big awards, a healthy repertoire of Canadian literature, and books speaking to current issues.
I like the cozy board game cafe, Cards and Coasters for a coffee or lunch. I’m not a gamer, I just enjoy the feel of this little place.
Museums, Art, History
Orillia is in a culturally and historically significant location. At Atherley Narrows, the channel connecting Lakes Couchiching and Simcoe, there is a National Historic Site, the Mnjikaning Fish Weirs. Its use dates back to at least 3300 B.C. This is a special place whose deeper meaning is part of the local indigenous culture. The weir’s wooden stakes are mainly underwater and not always visible.
Downtown, the Orillia Museum of Art and History anchors the Arts District, a collection of galleries showing local work.
Just off the Lightfoot Trail on the lakeshore between downtown and Tudhope Park sits the former home of Stephen Leacock, a National Historic Site with a museum and coffee shop adjacent. Leacock (1869–1944) was the best-known humorist in the English-speaking world from 1915 to 1925. Groucho Marx, Jack Benny, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Charlie Chaplin were among his admirers. Leacock’s fictional town of Mariposa bore more than a passing resemblance to Orillia.
Tips For Enjoying Orillia
Wear comfortable walking shoes to get the best out of exploring old Orillia and looking at its many heritage buildings.
Both Couchiching Park and Tudhope Park have playgrounds. Older kids like the skate park.
In winter, there’s lots of snow. Try cross-country skiing on the Lightfoot Trail.
Last thing: Sooner or later, everyone ends up at Mariposa Market for coffee and cake.