How to spend 48 hours in Kitchener
Kitchener-Waterloo is more than “that place where Trudeau tapped the Oktoberfest keg,” really. Like many areas once rooted in manufacturing, Kitchener-Waterloo is in transition, finding ways to capture its cultural history within avenues of revitalization.
Tech employment is booming and with the arrival of new companies, comes a population interested in supporting craft breweries, locally-focused restaurants, and other things clad in reclaimed wood panels.
Trendy aesthetic aside, more substantial changes are underfoot, too. Growing demands for transit, from light rail construction to Uber are paramount in two cities without identifiable borders. And community-wide support for locally-owned businesses and budding artists are at the forefront of discussion.
Here's how to spend 48 hours in Kitchener-Waterloo.
Transit options to Kitchener are pretty limited from Toronto for the time being, so unless you’re driving, plan to rise with the sun to grab a train or a bus.
You’ll be surrounded by commuters (students or programmers) who have skipped their caffeine fix in Toronto so that they can stumble off the train and into Smile Tiger Coffee.
Smile Tiger is bright, furnished with restored wooden tables and is home to one hell of a coffee (they roast in house to boot).
Your day will be filled with tourist favourites, craft beer and things served on cutting boards, but not at Slice’s. Right next to city hall, Slice’s is the hole-in-the-wall of your childhood and your grandpa’s.
The staff is just as no-nonsense as the food. Order your $4 breakfast, wait for someone to yell that order, grab your tray and enjoy your perfectly done over-easy eggs on a cozy bed of greasy, paprika-dusted potatoes.
By now, you’re full of coffee and potatoes. Walk it off by taking an architectural tour through Kitchener’s historic downtown. Within a few blocks from each other you’ll find everything from a heritage jail to manufacturing giants-turned technology hubs.
You can’t miss Google’s logo printed vertically on a four-storey silo attached to what was once the Breithaupt rubber manufacturing building.
The Walper Hotel, built in 1893 is the perfect mix of Kitchener history and shifting culture. But don’t expect a hotel with a pool and complimentary make-your-own-waffle station.
The Walper’s perks include a basement bar that make you feel like you’re in a wine cellar, a second storey lounge that makes you feel like you’re in an art gallery, and all over décor that makes you feel like you’re playing the lead in a Bond film.
The Walper will have made a serious dent on your bank account. Save some cash by walking across the street to Legacy Greens, an all-local grocer, to build your own tapas platter and get a sense of the region’s flourishing agricultural industry.
From here, find a shaded spot under one of Victoria Park’s willow trees for picnicking and people watching. Depending on the season, you can rent a canoe or paddleboat to float through the lazy river. And if you’re looking for less physical effort, lounge around on The Boathouse patio with a pint.
The bill will be hefty, but you can find solace in knowing the menu is planned daily, and that you’ll be eating $0.50 tacos for dinner tomorrow.
Fused to the side of an unassuming office building, a small flashing marquee is the only hint of the Apollo Cinema. Don’t worry, you’re not headed to the theatre for a flick you could catch at home.
Apollo’s encouragement of the film scene, dedication to cult classics, and free screenings of everything from the election to Christmas favourites has turned their theatre into the city’s living room. It gets better: local beer is on tap and you can order from a stellar in-house menu from your seat.
Grab a nightcap on your way home from The Grand Trunk Saloon. The walls are clad in vintage train paraphernalia, soul food studs the menu, and the folks behind the bar will make you the best old fashioned in town.
Cure the hangover you likely have at The Yeti, it works every time. This microscopic breakfast joint (four tables, maybe), shows off Kitchener’s quirks perfectly.
Order a pregnant cowgirl (a bagel sandwich layered with a fried egg, thick cut bacon, avocado, greens and a killer aioli). Sit amongst the weird, weird plate-collection décor reminiscent of your aunt’s curio cabinet and wait for the The Yeti to cure what ails you.
Once you’re back on your feet, feel free to the walk right next door to see what other snacks you can find at the Kitchener Market; there’s no shortage of local, Mennonite-made sausage, bread and cheese.
Make your way to one of Kitchener’s many budding craft breweries. Descendants Beer & Beverage Co. is hidden just outside the core, but promises great taster flights and loads of seating in the open, warehouse-style brewery-restaurant hybrid.
Pair buck-a-shuck oysters with a seasonal brew and chat with the diverse crew of beer aficionados or families that will fill a community table with you.
People move pretty fluidly between Kitchener and Waterloo and everyone loves to argue about possible amalgamation. Take a trek through the expanse of inner city green space, the Iron Horse Trail, that connects the two city centres.
Eventually you’ll find yourself in uptown Waterloo, a mish mash of industries and populations. Student bars parallel world-renowned academic hubs (Centre for International Governance Innovation, the Balsillie School, The Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics) and ritzy condos break up seas of university housing or family neighbourhoods.
It’s going to be another long night. Stop for coffee at the Princess Cafe, where it’s sure to be served in mug that says something like “Happy 40th Dad” or “Class of ’96.”
You’ve got some time to kill before dinner. Pull out your phone and check Facebook for arts events happening in the area. Chances are, especially in the summer months, you’ll find some kind of outdoor arts festival, and loads of them are free.
Ethel’s is an institution in Waterloo. Seniors who’ve been throwing back pints at this watering hole since the early 90s line the bar, and every other generation competes for a patio seat on taco night (four tacos for $2, you would compete for those seats, too).
The well priced pitchers, killer spicy Caesar and tex-mex inspired food will keep you around for a few hours. If you stay that long, chances are you’ll be pals with the owner by the end of the night, too.
The closing ceremonies for your foray into Kitchener-Waterloo take place at Chainsaw, a bar as grungy as you’d expect with a name like that.
Order a Chainsaw pitcher (anonymous beer is cool, right?), throw your name on the karaoke list and take your choice of yelling over the loud renditions of Teenage Dirtbag or dancing up a storm on the space that isn’t really a dance floor but always turns into one.
Stay too late, grab an Uber back to The Walper Hotel and be sure to leave the Chainsaw stamp on your wrist before bed – it’s a badge of honour.
Unless you want to walk back to Toronto, get the hell out bed and grab your train or bus back to Toronto. Come back for Oktoberfest when Kitchener-Waterloo momentarily renounces its favour for trendy cocktail bars or experimental art and reverts to a lederhosen-filled, schnitzel-eating, oompah-pah-ing German community for two weeks straight.
Wikimedia Commons. Writing by Allison Leonard.
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