Waterloo, Ontario, is one of three neighbouring cities, together with Kitchener, and Cambridge, forming a tightly-integrated metro area within the larger Region of Waterloo in Southwestern Ontario. Waterloo is known internationally for its two Universities: Wilfrid Laurier University and the University of Waterloo.
Waterloo is part of Canada's Technology Triangle, and many companies such as PTC, Sandvine Inc, BlackBerry (formerly Research In Motion (RIM)), Maplesoft, Open Text, Google and Sybase are either based or have branch offices here. Technology companies thrive due to the convenience of the University of Waterloo, which boasts the largest math and computer science undergraduate program in the world. The university is also very famous for its psychology program. Waterloo pioneered the concept of university co-op where students alternate terms of study with terms of paid work experience. Today it boasts the largest co-op undergraduate enrolment in the world.
Waterloo was once known as the "Hartford of Canada" due to the large number of insurance companies that once had their headquarters here. Insurance is still a major industry in Waterloo due to the presence of Manulife Financial and Sun Life Financial.
Farmland is quite close outside the city limits, and many Mennonites live close by. St. Jacobs is a small village immediately to the north of the city, with markets and stores that have come to be very popular.
The city of Kitchener is located immediately to the south of Waterloo. These two cities, often referred together as "Kitchener-Waterloo" (abbreviated to "K-W"), are separate municipalities, but share a long, seamless border. If visiting Waterloo, take Kitchener's attractions into consideration as well. Waterloo's central business district is referred to as "Uptown", in contrast to Kitchener's, which is referred to as "Downtown". Note, however, that Uptown Waterloo is not particularly large compared to neighbouring cities' downtowns; Waterloo is essentially a suburban city. The distributed nature of the city does mean that Uptown Waterloo has maintained a small-town atmosphere (for now; plans to intensify the Uptown are afoot).
From Highway 401, take exit 278 (if coming from the west) or 278A (if coming from the east). Take Highway 8 North to Highway 85 North (the Conestoga Parkway). There are four exits in Waterloo:
- For Uptown Waterloo, exit Bridgeport Rd.
- For universities, exit University Ave. E.
- For destinations in north Waterloo, exit King St. N.
- For destinations in north-west Waterloo, exit Northfield Dr. W.
Greyhound has express buses connecting the University of Waterloo and Wilfrid Laurier University with Toronto, and also provides rush hour services to the Sun Life building, a five minute walk south of Uptown. These buses usually run two or three times per day, with increased service on Fridays and Sundays for students travelling to and from the University.
The Charles St. Terminal in downtown Kitchener is better served by inter-city bus, with Greyhound, Coach Canada and Cherrey Bus Lines stopping there regularly, so many people coming to Waterloo by bus take the bus to Kitchener, and then catch a Grand River Transit bus to Waterloo.
Grand River Transit is the transit authority in the Region of Waterloo. If coming to Waterloo from Cambridge or Kitchener, the iXpress, a limited-stop express bus connecting the three cities, is fast and direct. Other routes that connect Kitchener to Waterloo are routes 7 (runs along King Street), 8 (runs in a loop along Westmount Road, University Avenue, and Weber Street) and 12 (runs along Fischer-Hallman Road, Keats Way, and University Avenue, then through suburbs in eastern Waterloo). All four routes serve the two universities and (except for route 8) Conestoga Mall, and Uptown is served by the iXpress and route 7.
Region of Waterloo International Airport (YKF) is serviced by a limited number of airlines. WestJet has regular domestic service to Calgary, AB. American Airlines offers service from Chicago. For travelers coming from afar, Airways Transit offers shuttle bus service between Toronto Pearson International Airport and Kitchener/Waterloo. Pearson Airport provides flights to and from a large number of destinations, and is located approximately 1 hour away from Waterloo by car in good traffic conditions. Buffalo/Niagara International Airport in Buffalo, New York is an alternative to Toronto. It is about 2 hours away and requires a border crossing, but flights are often much cheaper, particularly if travelling to/from the US or Caribbean.
VIA Rail provides regular service to Kitchener. Regular rush hour service is available on weekdays between Kitchener and Toronto, with reduced service on weekends. As the station is closed between 1PM and 5PM (between train arrivals), guests may not always find the ticket counter open and should consider booking online. To reach Waterloo from Kitchener station, the easiest option is to take a cab (there are usually some to be found at the station around train time); cheaper options involve walking two blocks, either westward to King Street or eastward to Margaret Avenue, and catching a route 7 or 8 bus, or even walking north along Weber Street (Waterloo's city limits are a 15-minute walk to the north).
Unlike a metropolis such as Toronto, it is relatively quick and easy to get from one point to another by car because the distances aren't far, and the traffic isn't too busy. Looking at a map of Kitchener-Waterloo, one of the first things visitors from other parts of Ontario will notice is that, far from forming a grid pattern, the streets are not straight, curving and wiggling in surprising patterns. For example, there are two streets, King and Weber, which are parallel for most of their length, but cross each other 3 times in K-W. The irregular road pattern dates to the earliest settlement in K-W; unlike most Ontario townships, whose roads were laid out in a grid pattern, Waterloo Township was laid out without road allowances, allowing settlers to build roads where they were needed.
King Street is the main street that travels roughly North-South through the downtown of Kitchener and Waterloo. In Waterloo, it is labelled King St. North and South, with the transition at Erb Street (in Kitchener, it is labelled King St. East and West).
Grand River Transit is the transit authority for the Region of Waterloo. Students at the two universities have a GRT bus pass included in their student fees and so, many of the bus riders in Waterloo are students. Therefore, the main routes in Waterloo are those that run near the universities, namely the 7, 8, 12, and iXpress, described above, and the route 9, which travels between Conestoga Mall and the two universities via the Lakeshore subdivision. These routes offer 15 minute service during the day, at least at peak times, and 30 minute service on evenings until around 1AM and on Saturdays and Sundays. These routes are probably the only ones a casual traveller needs to take, as together they run near most of the city's attractions, hotels, shopping centres, etc. There are several other routes, which generally serve outlying subdivisions, but most of them have 30 minute service on weekdays, reduced evening and Saturday service, no Sunday service, and not-always-convenient connections. Bus schedules are available at ; alternatively, you can acquire them piecemeal on buses, or all at once at either of the universities.
There are three taxi companies that serve Waterloo and the surrounding area:
- Waterloo Taxi (519-886-1200)
- United Taxi (519-888-9999)
- City Cabs (519-747-7777)
Waterloo is reasonably bicycle- and pedestrian-friendly, so travelling by bicycle or on foot is reasonable for shorter trips. Uptown Waterloo and the two universities are within walking distance of each other.
- Waterloo Park, Young St. West. Waterloo Gardens, a beautiful lake adjacent to a replica grist mill, several sports fields, picnic areas, trails, and more. Special
- Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics, 31 Caroline Street North. Started by a $100 million donation by local entrepreneur, Mike Lazaridis, founder and co-CEO of Research in Motion (RIM). The institute presents several free lectures that are open to the public (usually held at Waterloo Collegiate Institute on Hazel Street) and also hosts the occasional concert (admission usually around $20). The ticket office is at the Old Post Office on the corner of King Street North and Dupont Street West.
- Canadian Clay and Glass Gallery, 25 Caroline Street North, ☎ . Tu-Sa 10AM-5PM, Su 1PM-5PM. Located in Uptown Waterloo. The collection is small enough to be seen in an hour. Admission is FREE.
- Kitchener-Waterloo Oktoberfest. Together with Kitchener, Waterloo hosts this Bavarian festival, held annually in October. It is the largest in the world outside of Munich, Germany. The following two Festhalle are located in Waterloo: Heidelberg Haus (located at the Moses Springer Community Centre), and Ruedesheimer Garten (located at the Waterloo Memorial Recreation Complex, 101 Father David Bauer Dr.). As well, there is a free Oktoberfest Luncheon at the Waterloo Memorial Recreation Complex the day before Oktoberfest officially starts, family-friendly activities on King Street in Uptown Waterloo on the first Saturday of Oktoberfest, and the Oktoberfest parade (which occurs on the Thanksgiving Monday) passes through Waterloo.
- Laurel Creek Conservation Area, 625 Westmount Rd. N.. This conservation area, centred around a reservoir, offers camping, as well as a beach and other water activities. Trails are available for hiking as well as cross country skiing during the winter.
- RIM Park, 2001 University Ave. Waterloo ON, ☎ . Waterloo's largest and most modern community centre and sports complex is host to many recreational youth and adult sports leagues and contains: 4 olympic size ice pads used for organized team activities as well as public free skates, 1 large indoor turf field which can be divided into 3 fields for recreational soccer, 2 NBA size Gymnasiums, 700 person banquet hall, several meeting rooms and a food services facility. Most of the above facilities can be divided to serve a larger number of teams or groups. Several organizations use the facilities for trade shows and special events such as career fairs. The property is on 500 acres of land which includes the Grey Silo golf course and several trails and outdoor sports fields.
- Uptown Waterloo Jazz Festival. Held every year in July, Waterloo funds a free jazz concert showing various styles and talent throughout jazz.
- Waterloo Buskers' Carnival. Held annually in August. Celebrates its 20th anniversary in 2008.
- Waterloo Central Railway, 10 Father David Bauer Dr. A tourist railway that runs a train consisting of historic passenger cars, and historic steam and diesel locomotives between Waterloo and St. Jacobs on market days. Offers special runs during Oktoberfest. $15 (students and seniors $12, children $10).
- Waterloo Public Square. An open-air event and gathering space at the corner of King Street N. and Willis Way in the heart of Uptown. Year round programs include festivals, markets, concerts, activities such as Yoga, Tai Chi and Ballroom dancing.
- Swing Dancing, 42 Erb St. East. Beginner lessons start at 8:30PM & live music goes on until 11PM. $8.
- University of Waterloo. Established in the 1950s, UW is one of Canada's youngest universities. It is well known for its co-operative education program and for fostering innovation. Several spinoff companies are well-known, such as Research in Motion and Open Text. It was also the starting point of Engineers Without Borders. Visitors might be interested in the Earth Sciences Museum in the CEIT building, and the Optometry Museum in the Optometry building.
- Wilfrid Laurier University, 75 University Ave W (corner of King and University). WLU is best known for its School of Business and Economics; its Music, History, and Kinesiology programs are also well-known. The School of Music hosts at least one concert per week, admission to which is often free.
- Conestoga College was founded in 1967 as the Conestoga College of Applied Arts and Technology, one of many such institutions established in that time by the Ontario government to grant diplomas and certificates in career-related, skills-oriented programs.
Being mainly a suburban city, you'll find strip malls and the like at just about every major intersection. If you're looking for somewhere more inspiring to shop, there is:
- The Atrium, 33 Erb St. W. (Uptown Waterloo). This mall is a small but quaint house-like building close to both Waterloo Town Square and King Street, with various restaurants and stores to enjoy, including The Cobblestone Gallery, a store that sells unique arts and crafts from over 200 Canadian artists and artisans, Englert's, a religious card, book, souvenir and gift shop, and others.
- Conestoga Mall, 550 King St. N. (just north of King St. interchange). Waterloo's largest shopping mall.
- King Street in Uptown Waterloo. Waterloo's city centre contains a large number of unique shops.
- Waterloo Town Square, 75 King Street South (Uptown Waterloo). Recently renovated and consists primarily of upscale stores.
- The Boardwalk, Ira Needles Blvd. A recently-opened commercial development over one kilometre along the western edge of Waterloo. Contains many of the larger big-box stores. Free Parking, accessible via GRT routes 4 and 29.
Going Uptown (the King/Erb area) will provide traditional and cultural foods for many price ranges. Waterloo Region was one of the first municipalities in Canada to ban smoking in all restaurants and bars.
- Benny's Family Restaurant & Lounge, 183 Weber Street North. This is one of the best places in the region for breakfast, served until 2PM. A good breakfast with three eggs, a side, hash browns, and pancakes for under $10. A short drive away from the universities.
- Just N Pita, 150 University Ave W. Egyptian pitas. They may have a silly name, but the food is tasty, and it's good for lunch or a smallish dinner. A pita will cost you $5-8. Not great when in a rush though—service is friendly but not always quick.
- Kismet Restaurant, 150 University Ave W. Indian food. The naan is very good there, they prepare it on the side of their clay oven. The butter chicken is amazing. The decor is bland, but the food is good. Around $10 for the curry dishes, and it comes with either naan or basmati rice.
- Hot Pot and Bubble Tea King and Hickory. Chinese Hot Pot. Hot Pot is amazing, don't let the appearance of this place fool you. All you can eat for under $15. Freshest food in Waterloo.
- Mongolian Grill, University Shops Plaza (on University Ave, just across the tracks from UW), 747-4400, . Grab a bowl and fill it with your choice of meats, veggies, sauces and spices. Then, give it to the grillers, who will chop, fry, and thrash your meal into shape right before your eyes on a huge round grill (3m/9' across, temp 300°C/600°F). $17 for all you can eat, including rice and tortillas to go with your stir-fry. Be forewarned: there's often a wait in the evenings, especially on weekends.
- Jane Bond, 5 Princess St. A wonderful vegetarian restaurant with great atmosphere. They make wonderful martinis and have a great selection of wines and beer as well. They also have live entertainment some nights. Right across the street from Princess Cinema.
- Symposium Cafe, 4 King Street North. A restaurant with a bit of a modern-art touch. Great food and a groovy, relaxed atmosphere.
- Ennio's Pasta House, 384 King St N. 893-0543. At Ennio's you will find authentic Italian cooking at its best. The love of fine cuisine!
- Ye's Sushi, 583 King Street North (Northern extent of Waterloo), ☎ . All-you-can-eat Sushi.
- Solé Restaurant & Wine Bar, 9 Father David Bauer Dr (in Uptown Waterloo), ☎ . Offers updated versions of classic Italian and Canadian cuisine.
- Janet Lynn's Bistro.
- King Street Trio, 65 University Ave. E. Upscale dining with live jazz every Wednesday through Saturday night.
- Failte Irish Pub, King Street North, Waterloo at King & Bridgeport Streets, The building itself just looks like an authentic Irish pub from the old country. Part of the Molly Bloom's chain, serving good pub food and the best Guinness around. Small cozy interior brings patrons together. Feels like you're in the local watering hole of a small Irish town. Live music most nights.
- Ethel's Lounge, 114 King Street North (just south of WLU). 725-2361. "No live entertainment; one TV." Ethel's serves up Mexican and roadhouse fare in a cool retro-chrome-diner atmosphere. Don't be intimidated by the surly-sounding menu; the staff and patrons here tend to be a personable, if outlandish, bunch. Entrees $5-10.
- Huether Hotel. Uptown restaurant rebuilt from an old hotel. The restaurant boasts great food and serves locally brewed beer from the Lion's Brewery. Divided into sections including a cafe, restaurant, bar and 'The Jazz Room' so there's always something for everyone. All are worth checking out, but especially The Jazz Room, a not for profit organization showcasing local and not-so-local musicians.
- Morty's Pub, Boasts best wings in Waterloo since 1982.
- Starlight Night Club. A great venue for a plethora of bands. Past performances include: The Sadies, Hawksley Workman, Cowboy Junkies, Hollerado and Snow Patrol. DJ Charless is a must see. Affordable and great atmosphere. See  for upcoming shows.
- Destination Inn, 547 King St. N., ☎ .
- Comfort Inn, 190 Weber St. N., ☎ .
- The Waterloo Inn, 475 King St. N. (on service road just south of Highway 85 interchange), ☎ .
Bed & Breakfast
- Sugarbush Guest House Bed & Breakfast, ☎ , e-mail: email@example.com. There is four very nice and cosy rooms available with beautiful garden around. Single rooms prices start from $70 per night. Reduced rates for long stay.
- Hotel Laurier, ☎ , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Wilfrid Laurier University rents out empty residence rooms in the summer under the pseudonym "Hotel Laurier". Single rooms come in as low as $40 per night; there are reduced rates for weekly or monthly stays, and further discounts for seniors, groups, and WLU staff and students.
- Waterloo Hotel, ☎ , toll-free: , e-mail: email@example.com. An 1890 hotel with modern amenities, this hotel is in the centre of Uptown Waterloo, on the corner of King and Erb Sts.
Waterloo is within short driving distance of many southern Ontario locations, such as London, Guelph, Niagara Falls, Toronto, and Stratford. Towns on the shore of Lake Huron, such as Kincardine or Goderich, are great places to enjoy the beach in the summer.
Waterloo is the gateway to Mennonite country, being located just to the south of St. Jacobs. Immediately to the north of the city is the St. Jacobs Farmers' Market, which attracts locals and tourists, with fresh produce, baked goods, ethnic foods, clothing, refurbished phones, etc. The market runs Thursdays and Saturdays 7AM-3:30PM, with Tuesdays 8AM-3PM being added in the summer (June until Labour Day). Three kilometres to the north is St. Jacobs, the ideal place to shop for gorgeous jewellery at Radianze, clothing at Le Creme, quaint quilts and household items at St. Jacobs Mennonite Quilts, antiques at Arcitects, little treasures at Angel Treasures, etc. Besides shopping, there are excellent choices for dining and sleep including Benjamin's, the Gardenia and Jakobstettel.
The Elora Gorge is also a worthwhile getaway, being roughly 30km from Waterloo. Aside from exploring the cliffs carved by glacial meltwaters, you can go tubing, swimming, camping and canoeing.
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