Studying is definitely an integral part of being a student, but it’s also important to have fun and try new things.
For many of you, going to university is your first time living away from home, so you might be anxious about meeting new people and exploring your surroundings. I get that. Unfortunately, most of us are also broke — I get that too.
Keeping all that in mind, I’ve pulled together six free things to do in the Kitchener-Waterloo (KW) area that you can check out!
Enjoy the area on foot
Take a walk in Waterloo Park
The first item on this list is one of the simplest ones, but it’s also one of my favourites. Waterloo Park is a huge park that includes Victorian-style gardens, forests, paved trails, baseball diamonds, a skatepark, a splash pad, a cricket pitch, a farmstead with a variety of animals, and tons of green space.
It even features beautiful bodies of water, Silver Lake and Laurel Creek, which look especially fantastic at sunset. Spots like the Grist Mill, a replica of the first mill built in the city by Abraham Erb in 1816, is a spot you must check out.
Waterloo Park is located just south of Waterloo campus and is basically in the backyard of Claudette Millar Hall (CMH), one of the residences at Waterloo. It's a great place to take a walk, go for a run, toss a frisbee around, or even take that special someone on a date.
There are a number of popular events that take place each year in Waterloo Park, including Wonders of Winter (an annual festival of lights each December) and Movies in the Park, occurring May to September.
Stroll through Uptown
The city of Waterloo is home to the University of Waterloo, Wilfrid Laurier University, and Conestoga College, so you could definitely say that this is the city for students.
Uptown Waterloo is just two stops away from campus by ION light rail and has a unique vibe with tons of cool places to see and explore. You can go for a casual stroll to take it all in, or bring some money to buy a treat along the way.
Whether it's for a coffee date, working on a project with friends, or even just enjoying some time alone, be sure to check out some coffee shops in Uptown like Seven Shores and Café 22. Going to these cafés is a great way to mix up your coffee lineup from the drinks you get every day on campus!
Uptown is also one of my favourite places to grab a bite to eat. There are so many different restaurants of all different types of cuisines, I can always find something, no matter what mood I’m in.
Pub on King is a great place to grab a hearty meal on a student budget ($7.95 dinner? Yes please!) and the baked goods selection at The Bauer Bakery & Café is hands-down the best way to celebrate with dessert and friends.
Plus, with lots of specialized boutiques and shops to explore, you might find a unique gift for yourself or a loved one.
Take advantage of the season
Make the most of winter
Winter can be tough with exams and all the dreary weather. But not to worry, there are a bunch of things to do in the city, and one of the main spots for fun winter activities is Waterloo Square.
One of my favourite things to do in Uptown is to go skating on the outdoor rink.
If you take the ION light rail from campus to Waterloo Public Square/Willis Way station, you can be at the square in Uptown in under 10 minutes! In the winter, there are so many things to do like ice skating on the outdoor rink, watching the city Christmas tree lighting ceremony, visiting the Winterloo festival, and much more.
Kitchener is also only a short ride away on the ION light rail system. It has some awesome winter festivals and an outdoor rink outside City Hall. My favourite winter activity is the Christkindl Market, a traditional European holiday market with musical performances, handcrafted decorations, and warm holiday drinks.
Enjoy a summer movie night
In the warmer months, Waterloo Park has a really cool event where they show a movie in the park and people gather together to watch it under the stars. It's simple, but it makes for a really great time.
My friends and I grab a bite to eat at the University Plaza (which is only five minutes away) before walking over to the park to catch the movie. We usually bring some blankets and have a little picnic. We end up having a blast just being together and watching the movie. If you’re looking for a way to de-stress and spend some time outside, this event is definitely for you!
Spend Saturday morning at the market
The St. Jacobs Farmers Market is a place for people to shop for organic and local groceries and products, including fresh fruits and vegetables, quality meats and cheeses, locally produced maple syrup, honey, preserves, baking, crafts, housewares, wearables, and more.
It's a great place to grab a bite to eat and spend time with your family or friends. Going to the market is a fun way to spend those crisp fall mornings, even if you're just wandering around and taking in the atmosphere.
Every year, I visit the market with my housemates, and we buy all the produce we need to make homemade soup. We spend the afternoon together making all sorts of recipes and put it in the freezer so that we have dinner made with fresh, local produce all year round.
It's one of my favourite bonding experiences and a great way to take a break from studying. The market is open all year round, so I would recommend taking advantage of the great products and experiencing what the market is all about.
Visit a festival
The Waterloo region has a great arts and culture tradition with festivals throughout the year. With so many talented and creative individuals sharing their work, from art and music, to performances and food, there's sure to be a festival you’ll love.
While you might decide to spend a few dollars on a snack or to buy a unique creation, taking in the festival atmosphere won't hurt your wallet.
Perhaps the most iconic festival is Oktoberfest, the largest celebration outside of Munich, which celebrates the region's German-Canadian heritage every October.
In the summer, Taco Fest and Ribfest show off some of the best food and drink in the area, while Jazz Festival, Blues Festival, and Busker Carnival bring alive public squares to show off local and national talent.
You can't forget about winter festivals like all the holiday markets and Winterloo to help the cold, snowy winter pass by a bit faster. I love the atmosphere outside during the music festivals, with people wandering through, shopping local, and moving along with the music.
Know where to look
There are so many great things to do in the area and there’s always new things and events popping up. With a large chunk of the area's population being students and young professionals, the city caters to this demographic with lots of free and cheap activities.
To stay in the know, check the websites for Kitchener and Waterloo often, and be sure to follow your favourite local spots on social media. Also, The Waterloo Chronicle newspaper has up-to-date event listings. Have fun!