What to do for a getaway to Kitchener-Waterloo
Apart from celebrating at Oktoberfest, there used to be little reason for Toronto residents to take the hour-long drive to Kitchener-Waterloo. But the neighboring cities, which together with Cambridge make up the Tri-Cities, have changed thanks to the tech boom. Companies like Shopify have recently moved in, with young people moving to the area, opening cafes, bars, galleries, and shops. Combined with its rich history and the surrounding green spaces, KW is an idyllic haven for funky fun.
Here’s a guide to a weekend getaway in Kitchener-Waterloo.
Where to sleep:
The Walper Hotel
The lobby of the Walper Hotel in Kitchener was completed after the renovation in 2016.
There are several chain hotels in KW, but they don’t offer the intimacy of the Walper Hotel, a historic boutique hotel in downtown Kitchener. The hotel opened in 1893 and completely renovated in 2016, adding 92 guest rooms, adding a bar and lounge on the second floor, and relocating the entrance and lobby. Some things have stayed the same, including the wooden floors in the hotel’s Crystal Ballroom and a small balcony where jazz legend Louis Armstrong once stepped and played his trumpet. Hotel guests enjoy Skoah products and Smile Tiger coffee in their room, as well as free access to Queen Street Yoga next door.
Where to eat and drink:
Michelle da Silva
Enjoy the award-winning Knock On Wood cocktail in the local bar.
There are a number of bars and restaurants for a drink, but you can also start in the eatery on the second floor of the Walper. The focus here is on cocktails, but wine, beer and non-alcoholic sodas that are fermented in-house are also available. One of the delicious cocktails created by bartender Melissa Baumunk is the Knock On Wood, a smoky sipper that uses gin from the Willibald Farm Distillery in nearby Ayr.
Cocktails are also available at TWH Social, a restaurant and bar below the Walper that’s popular for dinner and weekend brunch. Chef Jeff Ward’s extensive menu includes pub favorites like burgers and cobb lettuce, or shared Italian dishes like tomato and goat cheese bruschetta. There are also plenty of seafood options – a Mediterranean grilled octopus, prawn linguine, and the catch of the day from local Caudle’s Catch Seafood are all on offer.
For nightlife beyond Irish pubs and dive bars, hop on a taxi to downtown Waterloo, where the bar district stretches for several blocks. One of the livelier bars is Becky’s Apartment, which takes inspiration from your most basic friend’s college block – including mismatched furniture and specialty drinks.
Down the block is Jane Bond, a retro bar with an all-vegetarian menu and live music several nights a week. White Rabbit serves upscale pub grub like Deviled Eggs and Mac and Cheese with its drinks, while the Loloan Lobby Bar (the latest from the owners of Bhimas Warung restaurant) combines Asian fusion with Tiki-inspired cocktails.
Michelle da Silva
Swing by Smile Tiger for coffee and Goodvibes Juice for kombucha.
During the day, refuel at Smile Tiger, a small coffee roaster near the Kitchener train station, or stop by its sister shop Death Valley’s Little Brother, which sells coffee, whiskey, and baked goods in Waterloo. For the health-conscious, Goodvibes Juice Co. is a one-stop shop for cold-pressed juices, nut milk and kombucha.
A trip to KW cannot be complete without a stop at one of the local breweries: Abe Erb, Block Three and Grand River are popular choices. The latest pop-up is Descendants Beer in Kitchener, a 5,000-square-foot facility that opened in 2016. Tours are only offered on Saturdays, but the beer hall, which serves a full menu, and the bottle shop are open daily.
Michelle da Silva
Find vinyl records, CDs and DVDs at Kitchener’s Encore Records.
As in any small town, KW has a number of shopping gems, from vintage stores to record stores, indie bookstores and even more unusual experiences. Start with Encore Records, which has been based in downtown Kitchener since 1981. Just down the street is White Tiger Vintage, a clothing boutique with everything from broken Levis and leather jackets to dead sunglasses and 1950s clothes.
Next to Kitchener City Hall is Open Sesame, a three year old gift shop and arts center. It’s a great place to read locally made zines and cards, find cool housewares like tea towels from Vancouver’s Forest and Waves, and shop for a sassy enamel lapel pin as a souvenir from Kitchener’s Bearface by BRFC Designs. Open Sesame also regularly hosts events such as art exhibitions, book readings, and concerts.
Flickr / Laurel L. Russwurm
Fresh apple fritters are a hit over the weekend at both the Kitchener Market and St. Jacobs Farmers’ Market.
There are two large farmers ‘markets to choose from on Saturdays: the St. Jacobs Farmers’ Market north of Waterloo and the Kitchener Market in the city center. During my visit, I checked out the Kitchener Market, which includes a food hall and marketplace on the upper level of the market and a sprawling farmers market with fresh local produce on the lower level. Here you can find everything from fresh flowers and fruits to homemade cakes, cider, pickles, cheese and bread. Be sure to buy a dozen apple fritters before you drive home – they are a regional specialty.
Kitchener is home to over 200 parks and downtown Victoria Park is the city’s crown jewel. The park has been open since 1896 and includes an artificial lake, scenic bridges, and a clock tower near the entrance. Victoria Park is connected to the Iron Horse Trail, an easy 5.5-kilometer hike that features a scenic corridor from Kitchener to Waterloo. It is one of several hiking trails around KW that are open all year round.
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