Waterloo is the smallest city of the three cities that make up the Region on Waterloo. In fact, the city is so small that it is often joined with Kitchener to make up Kitchener-Waterloo, which is sometimes referred to as the ‘Twin-Cities’.
Waterloo is often rated as one of the top ten cities to live in the country. It is also a fantastic place for a holiday, having several notable attractions, and hosting a plethora of festivals and events. You can eat, drink and shop in Waterloo, as well as enjoy the outdoors or delve into the region’s history.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Waterloo:
1. Enjoy the outdoors….and the indoors
The two square kilometre RIM Park is city park with both indoor and outdoor facilities. The park sits on the northeast side of the city, part of which is on the edge of the Grand River.
Enjoy the outdoors by walking or jogging along the seven kilometre loop trail, playing beach volleyball or having a picnic. There are also 12 multi-purpose fields, a playground and six ball diamonds.
RIM Park is also home to the Manulife Sportsplex and Healthy Living Centre, which features four Olympic-sized ice pads, two gymnasiums and an indoor field.
2. Play a round of golf
This can be done right in the city at the Grey Silo Golf Course. The 18-hole golf course is a public course that happens to be located within RIM Park.
The course was designed by Steve Young and opened in 2000. It is a breath-taking course that is owned and run by the city.
The Grey Silo Golf Course hosted the Manulife Financial LPGA Classic between 2010 and 2014. It also holds other tournaments throughout the season.
3. Stare at works of art
Not painting, sculptures and photographs like many other galleries. Instead, the Canadian Clay and Glass Gallery exhibits ceramic, enamel, glass and stained glass works of art.
This is only art gallery in the country that is exclusively dedicated to this type of art, with over 900 pieces in its collection. The permanent collection is spread across five galleries, with art work dating from the mid-20th century to today.
Over 20,000 people visit the Canadian Clay and Glass Gallery each year to look at the beautiful works of art. Afterwards, head to the gallery shop and take a beautiful piece of ceramic or glass art home with you.
4. Wander around campus
Waterloo is known for its universities, in which there are two in the city; the University of Waterloo and Wilfrid Laurier University. Wander around the grounds of either of these lovely campuses.
The University of Waterloo sits on 404 hectares of land. The oldest building on campus is the Graduate House that dates back to the 19th century.
Wilfrid Laurier University was established in 1911 as the Waterloo Lutheran Seminary of Canada. Despite this, today it also has plenty of modern buildings amongst the greenery and the gardens.
5. Go on a historic walking tour
Waterloo is a historic city and a historic walking tour is a great way to delve into this. There are two neighbourhoods that are great this; the Mary-Allen neighbourhood and Uptown Waterloo.
The Mary-Allen neighbourhood is a 2.5 kilometre historic walking tour that begins at Waterloo Square. Sites seen include the 19th century Heritage Park, the Gothic style 28 George Street, St. Louis Church and the Victorian double-house at 222 and 224 King Street South.
The 1.8 kilometre historic walking tour around Uptown Waterloo starts at the Waterloo Public Library. A few sites you will see on this walk include the Tudor style 47 Albert Street, the American federal style 71 Albert Street, the Georgian style 109 Albert Street and the Arts and Craft style 73 Dorset Street.
6. Drink like you would in Germany
The annual Kitchener-Waterloo Oktoberfest is the largest Oktoberfest outside of Germany. It has been running for over 75 years and attracts over 700,000 people.
Beer is the main theme at Oktoberfest, especially during the opening ceremonies. However, there is also a cultural aspect to the renowned festival.
Some events that take place during the 9-day festival include a barrel race, a 5K Fun Run and a parade. There is also the Miss Oktoberfest Gala Ball, Rocktoberfest and the Oktoberfest Car Show.
7. Head to the mall
Like any North American city, Waterloo would not be complete without a large shopping mall. In this case, it is Conestoga Mall.
This 63,292.2 square metre mall is home to over 130 shops and services, in addition to having numerous places to eat. It also boasts a museum that contains over 10,000 historical artefacts.
Some big name international shops you will find in the mall include Old Navy, Apple, H&M, Bench and The Body Shop. There are also big name Canadian shops, like Sport Chek and Winners.
8. Ride a steam train
Relive history and ride an active steam train at the Waterloo Central Railway. There are a number of heritage cars in service that have been restored so that visitors can hop on and go for a ride.
There are three runs a day, starting at the St. Jacobs Farmers’ Market in the Village of St. Jacobs and ending in Elmira, Ontario. Once on the train, you can enjoy popcorn or you can go to the snack bar for something else.
Take it one step further and join the engineer in the cab! Afterwards, go to the railway museum to learn more about the steam engines’ history.
9. Go to the market
Speaking of St. Jacobs Farmers’ Market, this is also an attraction in its own right and this, together with a train ride makes for a great day. It is Canada’s largest year-round market and attracts roughly one million visitors each year.
The market is a farmers’ market and flea market rolled into one that was established in 1975. It was originally just a bunch of tents, but today is massive 3,200 square metre building.
There is fresh locally grown food, arts and crafts, baked goods, jewellery and plenty more at the market. The market also has bouncing castles, horse drawn tours and an animal farm.
10. Have a picnic on a beach
Yes, there is a beach in Waterloo where you can swim, windsurf, canoe or have a picnic. The beach is located in Laurel Creek Park in the northwest part of the city.
Laurel Creek Park also has over 120 campsites, so you can fully immerse yourself in the outdoors. The park also boasts over four kilometres of hiking trails along the reservoir and through forest.
There are quite a few facilities at the park, including a boat launch, two playgrounds, a ball diamond and gatehouse.
11. Watch Shakespeare plays
Although the Stratford Festival is not actually in Waterloo, it is definitely worth attending. The internationally recognised festival is known for its Shakespearean plays.
The Stratford Festival runs from April to October, so there really are no excuses for missing it unless you are here in the winter. It is happens to be one of the country’s most prominent arts festivals.
There are four venues for the festival, which never change from year to year. In addition to Shakespearean plays, there is also a few contemporary works as well as at least one musical.
12. Splash around
On a hot day grab the kids and head to Bingemans Big Splash in neighbouring Kitchener. The water park is a great place to cool off and have some fun.
The water park is home to quite a few attractions, including AquaTube slides, a wave pool and a water playground. There are also plenty of other fun things to do to cool off.
If you prefer not to get wet, Bingemans Big Splash also has a massive indoor family playground, an arcade and a bowling arena. Plus, it boasts an outdoor mini golf course.
13. Go to the races
Grand River Raceway is a horse racing and gaming destination in the village of Elmira. Elmira is just northeast of Waterloo and is the last stop on the Waterloo Central Railway.
Watch a live horserace in the grandstands or even ride a horse yourself! The raceway offers a hands on experience where you actually get to ride in a double seated jog cart, with assistance of course.
You can also try your luck on one of the 230 slot machines. The Grand River Raceway also hosts Bingo nights, murder mystery nights and trivia nights.
14. Be awed with virtual reality
Canada’s first ever virtual reality arcade opened in 2016 right in Waterloo. This is Ctrl V’s flagship location, boasting 16 different virtual reality station.
There are a number of games that you can play that range in theme and age group. Some are geared more towards kids, while others are for the older crowd. Games also range from beginner to pro gamer.
Each station can be booked for one hour, though you can of course book for more than one session. Enter the world of virtual reality and be completely awed.
15. Play sports
Whether you want to play golf, enjoy batting cages or play football, Max’s Sports World is the place to go. The sports centre has a variety of sports to play for all levels.
There is both an indoor and outdoor driving range, two 18-hole miniature golf courses and even a golf simulator. If you would rather play baseball, enjoy one of the six batting cages.
Football fans will want to try Bubble Soccer where you actually play football while inside an inflatable PVC bubble. If that doesn’t appeal to you, try archery or axe throwing.