There’s a reason Waterloo, Ontario is filled with thousands of students, and it’s more than just school that keeps them thriving. If you’re thinking about attending the University of Waterloo, but aren’t so sure about the city, consider this your personal guide: here are all the best things to do in Waterloo.
Take it from someone born and raised in Waterloo, Ontario – this city has so much to offer.
Now that I’m in university, it’s not very often that the new people I meet are also from Waterloo Region. Students come from all over the place, and they usually don’t know a lot about this city. Since I’ve lived here all my life, I’ve become sort of a tour guide for my newer friends. I’ve gotten used to showing people around, naming the best restaurants, and even giving small tips like where you can find free parking.
So whether you’re visiting Waterloo for the first time or just looking for fun things to do in the city, consider me your personal tour guide: here are all the best things to do in Waterloo.
Where to eat in Waterloo
Waterloo is home to a diverse amount of cuisine, so if you’re a big foodie then you’re in luck.
Uptown Waterloo is a hotspot for an array of restaurants
- with Italian food at Famoso’s,
- delicios ramen bowls at Kinton Ramen,
- and the best sushi you’ll ever try in your entire life (no exaggeration), at Jinzakaya.
Besides those, some of my other favourite places to go out with a group of friends after a day of classes include Kentucky’s, Piper’s Arms, and Beertown. They regularly have deals going on, and the prices are suitable for students.
Waterloo’s coffee shops are also worth checking out, and there are plenty of options. For those days you want to sit in a cute café and study with a friend, or sip on a coffee and eat a few pastries, some great choices include Cafe Pyrus, Café 22, and Williams Café. Plus, we have more to offer than just caffeine! Bubble tea is a huge hit in this city, with Sweet Dreams Teashop, Chatime, and Noon Moment as popular favourites, so there’s probably a drink to quench all of your thirsts.
One thing I love about Waterloo is that I’m always finding new spots to check out. I recently discovered the best brunch place called Pür and Simple and it’s honestly my new favourite! Going out for breakfast is a hobby of mine, and City Café Bakery is another favourite of mine – they have amazing prices, delicious croissants, and a cute small-town feel.
If those restaurants alone aren’t enough to have you sprinting to your car and gunning it to Waterloo to try the best sushi ever (again, it really is the best sushi ever), I asked some of my local friends what they think about their hometown for some more perspectives.
It’s an up-and-coming area with a lot of hidden gems. It’s incredibly diverse and inclusive and there’s something for everyone.
There were a few times when I was younger and travelling, and people would ask my family and I where we were from. Whenever we’d tell people “we're from Waterloo”, they’d look at us with confusion, and we’d have to explain that it’s close to Toronto.
Living near the big city, Waterloo Region sometimes tends to get overlooked, because of its smaller population. Although it’s smaller than Ontario’s capital city, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have a lot to offer – it also has a great tight-knit community. In fact, it’s often referred to as one of the best cities in Ontario to live in, from many different sources.
It’s great for families and students because while it has some amenities or features of a big city, it also has the familiarity and community of a small town, and it really thrives on that.
Less than 150,000 people live in the city and depending on where you’re from, that’s either a lot or absolutely nothing. It’s not exactly a ghost town, and there might be the occasional traffic jam at rush hour, but it’s definitely not constantly buzzing like a bigger city, so I can promise that you’ll be able to get a peaceful nights’ sleep.
On average, Waterloo’s population is younger than most of Ontario and Canada, with 27.6 per cent of the population between 20 and 34 years old. The younger population can be largely credited to the three big post-secondary schools in the city.
The University of Waterloo has around 36,000 undergraduate students, Wilfrid Laurier has around 15,000 undergrads, and about 23,000 undergrads are at Conestoga College, making it a perfect town for students! This means that there’s a lot of great activities and events geared towards us and there will always be something to do.
For those who are familiar with the city, Waterloo is most often recognized for its tech sector, and for having hundreds of startups. There’s a Google office right in the middle of Waterloo, and the region is also the birthplace of BlackBerry. In 2020, Waterloo was home to the two fastest-growing tech companies in Canada! As much as this city is a place for students to have fun, it is also a great place to develop professionally, especially if you’re keen on the tech industry or want to start a business.
Fun things to do in Waterloo
Like I said, there’s a lot of things targeting the student demographic, no matter what you like, and all places are easily accessible by bus, LRT, or within walking distance. Besides the bars and clubs in Uptown Waterloo, going to board game cafes, escape rooms, a virtual reality arcade, and bowling with friends is just as fun.
If you’re looking for a fun bar though, Revive Game Bar is my favourite, because they have video games for you to play at your table, and they sometimes have live entertainment and karaoke nights! If you’re into something more relaxed, you can do painting at the local pottery studio, or check out some exhibitions at Waterloo’s Community Arts Centre.
Big movie person?
Conestoga Mall is easy to get to by bus or LRT, but there are also a lot of thrift stores in the area, with Luster and Oak being my favourite. Maybe you’re tired of going to the grocery store for all your meals – visit St. Jacobs Farmers Market! Open Thursdays and Saturdays (and Tuesdays in the summer!), with over 250 vendors providing fresh, local fruits and vegetables, and lots of other essentials. This place should be on the top of your list – and their apple fritters should definitely be the first thing you try, trust me.
Events at Waterloo Town Square
Uptown Waterloo isn’t just a hot spot because of all the establishments, but because of the ongoing events in Waterloo Town Square. From skating, to salsa nights, to campfires, to Winterloo – there are things to keep you busy all year round! Some of the bigger events in the city include Oktoberfest, Canada’s largest Bavarian festival, and Buskers, an annual carnival with fun rides and entertainment! If you drive, the cherry on top is that the Waterloo Town Square Lot has free parking, and you can also park on the surrounding streets, so you don’t have to worry about those parking fees.
Local parks to visit
Picture this: It’s a nice summer’s day and you just got off work at 4 p.m. The sun is beaming, and after being cooped up all day, you want to soak up some rays and spend time outside. You grab the nearest blanket and some of your favourite snacks, round up your friends, and make a pit stop at Four All Ice Cream, before heading to a grassy field at Waterloo park for a beautiful summer picnic. You’re enjoying your dessert, laying in the sun, catching a tan, playing games and throwing around a volleyball for a few hours. To end your night off, you and your friends take a nice walk to check out the animal farm, and see all the llamas and chickens before you leave the park. Doesn’t that sound like a simple yet great way to spend an evening (assuming you’re not lactose intolerant and you think llamas are cute)?
If picnics or playing sports on the many fields in Waterloo Park doesn’t peak your interest, there are other recurring events like Movies in the Park or Wonders of Winter, a festival of lights with over 100 colourful and pretty displays!
The fun doesn’t stop there – Waterloo Region is home to several parks, and each park has activities and yearly events to keep you busy. Victoria Park has always been my favourite, because of the awesome playground I was obsessed with growing up. While I don’t go down the slides as often as I used to, I still make sure to visit the park for the annual Multicultural Festival, Tri-Pride celebration, and my ultimate favourite, Rib Fest.
If you’re really outdoorsy, Laurel Creek Conservation Area is another park that offers activities like swimming, places to fish, picnic tables, and campsites. The University of Waterloo Outers Club even offers low-cost equipment rentals to student members, so you could rent a canoe and take it out on Laurel Creek! Another honourable mention is McLennan Park, which, besides having a volleyball court, basketball court and skatepark, has amazing tall hills where me and my friends go sledding every winter. Just because we’re young adults doesn’t mean we can’t entertain our inner child every now and then!
Come explore Waterloo
I know what you might be thinking – I’m being biased, because I’m from here, so obviously I’m going to like it. Bias or not, I can also promise you that I know what I’m talking about. There’s a reason Waterloo is home to thousands of students, and I can guarantee you they’re not sitting around being bored for four years straight. They’re making the most of their experiences, and enjoying the places, events, and activities that come with living in a smaller town.
So, when I say that all these places in Waterloo are worth visiting, I really mean it, and when I say that you won’t regret coming to Waterloo to see all the city has to offer, I’m absolutely sure of that. Happy exploring!