The Native | Marc Kosciejew shows us around London, Ontario

Travelling is always risky business – get stuck in a touristy area and your meals are terrible, as is the rest of your holiday. Marc Kosciejew shows us how to hang around London, Ontario like a native.

London, Ontario in Canada
London, Ontario in Canada

Travelling is always risky business – get stuck in a touristy area and your meals are terrible. The same can be said of sightseeing, hotels and nightspots. Travelling to a place where you know people to recommend the right places makes your stay all the more enjoyable.

Marc Kosciejew
Marc Kosciejew

Marc Kosciejew, (37), was born in London, Ontario, Canada, and lived in there for around 25 years. If you’re visiting London (the Canadian version), these are the places he recommends to hang out like a native.

The Museum of Ontario Archaeology features a life-sized replica of an aboriginal village
The Museum of Ontario Archaeology features a life-sized replica of an aboriginal village

Best spot for sightseeing

London has an old history. It was settled by Europeans in the late-1700s and prior to this contact was the site of several aboriginal villages (the aboriginal people had resided in the area for the previous 10, 000 years). It is also the site of a battle during the War of 1812 between Canada (then known as Upper and Lower Canada) and the United States.

To commemorate and celebrate this long history, London has a few historical museums and natural conservation areas including the Museum of Ontario Archaeology, the Fanshawe Pioneer Village, and Eldon House.

The Museum of Ontario Archaeology displays the 13, 000 years of all human occupation of the London region (southwestern Ontario) with a particular focus on aboriginal settlements before (and during) European settlement. It is surrounded by deep forested ravines, features a life-sized replica of an aboriginal village, and offers various historical, cultural, and educational programs, events, and exhibitions.

The Fanshawe Pioneer Village presents a life-sized full 19th century Canadian village, telling an immersive story of rural community life in the London area of the 1800s. It is located in the Fanshawe Conservation Area outside the city limits. It offers historical, cultural, and educational programs, events, and exhibitions as well as seasonal and holiday themed activities, such as Thanksgiving dinner and haunted Halloween hay rides.

Michael’s on the Thames is one of the better fine dining establishments in London with superb continental cuisine, tableside cooking, and outstanding service
Michael’s on the Thames is one of the better fine dining establishments in London with superb continental cuisine, tableside cooking, and outstanding service

Eldon House, located downtown, is an original 19th century mansion converted into a museum. It is an official heritage site displaying the lifestyles, sensibilities, and personal histories of an upper class Canadian family (the Harris family) during the Victorian and Edwardian eras. Eldon House also features gardens and croquet lawns, and sits atop wooded bluffs overlooking Harris Park (named after the family) and the Thames River. It offers various tours, lectures, and seasonal and holiday themed events, including Thanksgiving, Halloween, Christmas, and New Year’s Day festivities.

London is also home to Storybook Gardens, a family-centred amusement park nestled in the woods of Springbank Park. Storybook Gardens features an enchanted storybook world based on fairy tales and nursery rhymes. During the summer season, it features amusement rides, themed play structures, water play areas and splash pads, costumed characters and mascots, and daily entertainment of puppet shows, stage presentations, storytelling, music, etc. During the winter season, its walkways are transformed into skating trails illuminated by holiday lighting.

Best place to eat

The Grand is a critically acclaimed professional theatre located in the downtown core of London
The Grand is a critically acclaimed professional theatre located in the downtown core of London

London has a diverse range of restaurants with culinary delights to satisfy everyone. Michael’s on the Thames is one of the better fine dining establishments in the city. This local favourite offers superb continental cuisine, tableside cooking, and outstanding service. It also hosts seasonal events, such as its popular New Year’s Eve dinner. It has an elegant yet relaxed atmosphere, with an oversized stone fireplace and views of the wooded Thames River, and live music most evenings. It is a perfect spot for couples, families, and either small or large groups who desire a comfortable and intimate fine dining experience.

King of Pigs is another local favourite offering authentic Portuguese-inspired meals. It is particularly famous for its delicious charcoal chicken and homemade Piri Piri sauce, golden French fries baked to perfection, and salad dressed with a gentle homemade vinaigrette. There are two locations, in the cosy Cherryhill Village Mall (in the west end) and the original establishment on Hamilton Road (in the east end).

Wortley Village is a village within the city, nestled in London’s Old South quarter and was recently selected as Canada’s best neighbourhood
Wortley Village is a village within the city, nestled in London’s Old South quarter and was recently selected as Canada’s best neighbourhood

Best place for a night out

London is home of the Grand Theatre, a critically acclaimed professional theatre located in the downtown core. The Grand, as it is commonly referred to, stages diverse plays and musicals by international, Canadian, and local authors and playwrights. It also hosts the popular ‘Jeans N’ Classics’ concert series featuring music from classic and contemporary rock, pop, jazz, and R&B scenes. It also collaborates with international and national performing arts organisations to bring high quality fare to the city. There are numerous quality restaurants located around the Grand for dining or drinks including The Church Key, Garlic’s of London, and the Black Trumpet.

Best place to stay

Covent Garden Market is also a downtown commercial landmark featuring stalls, kiosks, and small shops of local artists, food producers, clothiers, jewellery makers, chocolatiers, confectioners, etc
Covent Garden Market is also a downtown commercial landmark featuring stalls, kiosks, and small shops of local artists, food producers, clothiers, jewellery makers, chocolatiers, confectioners, etc

London has many clean, safe, and leafy neighbourhoods; however, Wortley Village (where my family’s home is located and where I lived during my Masters and PhD studies) is arguably its most distinctive area with its own unique identity and sense of place. Wortley Village is a village within the city, nestled in London’s Old South quarter. Regarded as one of the most-coveted places to live in London, it is one of the city’s oldest residential neighbourhoods. It features tree-lined streets with Victorian and early-20th century homes and a cosy village centre with a public library and eclectic array of shops, bars, bistros, cafes, and offices.

Wortley Village was recently selected as Canada’s best neighbourhood, winning a clean sweep in the annual Great Places in Canada prize, overseen by the Canadian Institute of Planners, recognizing the country’s best streets, public places, and neighbourhoods. Wortley Village was honoured with the grand prize for best neighbourhood in the nation, and also won the voting-based people’s choice aware in the same category. The judges, and people, were impressed by the village’s diverse mix of housing, tree-lined streets, bike-friendly roads, thriving local businesses, walkability, and strong sense of community.

Best spot for shopping

Victoria Park is the city’s central park. It hosts a handmade ice rink throughout the long winter months
Victoria Park is the city’s central park. It hosts a handmade ice rink throughout the long winter months

London features many commercial and shopping districts including the downtown core. In the city centre, Richmond Row is one of the main shopping streets, featuring many local retail shops, restaurants, and bars. Covent Garden Market is also a downtown commercial landmark featuring stalls, kiosks, and small shops of local artists, food producers, clothiers, jewellery makers, chocolatiers, confectioners, etc. During the winter, the Market’s front plaza is converted into an ice rink for skating.

London also has many malls and big box plaza centres featuring typical North American retail stores, chain restaurants, and Starbucks locales. Two of its major malls anchor the south and north ends of the city. White Oaks Mall (located in the south) and Masonville Mall (located in the north). These malls are considered premier shopping mall experiences with hundreds of brand name stores, restaurants, and entertainment venues.

Best areas to wind down and enjoy nature

London is considered an urban forest because of its many wooded areas, leafy neighbourhoods, tree-lined boulevards, green parks, natural conservation areas, and surrounding forests. It is consequently called the Forest City. Its many parks and trails must be experienced to appreciate its rich natural environment.

Victoria Park is the city’s central park, with the downtown wrapping around it and City Hall anchoring its southern end. There are winding walkways, historical statues and plaques, a large bandstand, and picnic tables and benches. It is decorated with multi-coloured lights during the Christmas season. It also hosts a handmade ice rink throughout the long winter months.

Some of the many beautiful parks and trails that can be explored include the wooded trails following the Thames River; Springbank Park; Fanshawe Conservation Area and pioneer village; Gibbons Park; Kilally Valley Park; Westminster Ponds; Sifton Bog; Warbler Woods; and Komoka Provincial Park.

How to get there

There are no direct flights between Canada and Malta. A connection somewhere in Europe is required to get to Canada. Connections are typically in Paris, Frankfurt, Munich, or Rome.

To get to London, Ontario, a flight from Europe to Toronto is necessary. Once in Toronto, there remains a relatively long distance (roughly 200km) to travel to London. A few transportation options are available such as direct flights to London’s airport, bus shuttles to London, or car rental services.

Currency

The currency is the Canadian dollar.

Best time of year to visit

The fall season (specifically September through November) is the best time to visit because this Forest City is covered in majestic tapestries of red, gold, orange, and yellow. The fall is also a special season of North American holidays including Thanksgiving (in Canada, it is celebrated in October) and Halloween.

Visas

For people from Malta and the European Union, a valid passport and an Electronic Travel Authorization (ETA) document are required to travel to Canada. An ETA can be applied for online using a valid passport, credit or debit card, and email address.

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