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Beyond Oktoberfest: What To Do in Kitchener-Waterloo

By Sue Nador

Read time: 5 minutes

Late autumn is that fuzzy time between summer fun and holiday cheer. What’s a restless Toronto couple to do? My husband and I decide to try something new, and spend the weekend in Kitchener-Waterloo, curious about its transformation from industrial heartland to tech hub with its burgeoning hip infrastructure. While Oktoberfest drew 700,000 revellers a few weeks earlier, we were seduced by more intimate fun things to do in Kitchener-Waterloo.

Friday Night Tapas and Jazz

Our weekend gets off on the right foot as we check into the Walper Hotel. Kitchener’s early lodging has a solid and beautifully preserved 1893 façade with a modern boutique interior. The Walper foreshadows the rest of our visit; Kitchener-Waterloo rocks at making the old new again.

A room at the Walper Hotel (©Walper Hotel)
©Walper Hotel

Dinner is our first priority. We go to Public Kitchen and because calories don’t count on romantic weekends, we order with abandon. “Wow,” I say sipping my Autumn Sour craft cocktail, its flower petals artfully arranged above chai-spiced ice cubes and frothy egg white. And “wow” many more times as we devour sharing plates of tapas. Would it be too decadent to order another dish of beef tartare with lime-pickled onions and fried capers?

The night is still young and The Jazz Room is the place to go. Tonight, Montreal’s guitar-pianist duo Jalbert and Beaulieu perform, including a particularly “spicy” piece written by Jalbert after putting too much hot sauce on a taco.

 Saturday Morning Market, THEMUSEUM and More

Honey vendor Doug Eiche at Kitchener Market
Honey vendor Doug Eiche at Kitchener Market

Our morning walk starts at Kitchener Market. It’s not too early to think about seasonal gifts, and we discover many unique vendors beyond the usual market produce. We can’t resist buying pretty-packaged bars of artisanal chocolate at Anna Tolazzi’s. I predict the “Maharaja” with its surprising combination of tamarind, cinnamon and rock salt won’t make it back to Toronto.

As we continue walking, the signs of revitalization are everywhere. The 1880’s Lang Tannery building, its name still prominent on the brick façade, is now an innovation hub. At street level is Abe Erb, one of a slew of craft breweries springing up across Kitchener-Waterloo. Many offer outstanding food as well, which we happily discover at Arabella Park later. (Hint: The Bone Marrow mousse goes really well with cider.)

Bone marrow mousse at Arabella Park
Bone marrow mousse at Arabella Park

Settlement Coffee is a good place to refuel before hitting the THEMUSEUM. CEO David Marskell describes this place as: “A little bit science centre, a little bit art gallery, a little bit museum with a dash of STEM programming.” He’s not exaggerating. Are there other places where Andy Warhol has been exhibited on one floor and robotic dinosaurs on another?

THEMUSEUM (©Explore Waterloo Region)
THEMUSEUM (©Explore Waterloo Region)

Afternoon Field Trips & Bistro Dinner

The Canadian Clay and Glass Gallery, a fusion of art space and retail therapy, houses creations of over 150 Canadian artisans. The translucent glass orbs, hand-painted ceramics, and stained glass are eye candy—but it’s the display cases of jewellery that beckon me. I buy a chunky silver ring with delicate etchings by Lynda Carr, which I may never take off.

The Clay and Glass Gallery
The Canadian Clay and Glass Gallery (©Explore Waterloo Region)

We reach Schneider Haus — Kitchener’s oldest building — in late afternoon, touring in semi-darkness given electricity didn’t exist when it was built in 1816. I admire a canvas of perfectly stitched letters of the alphabet, a skill also learned by boys who needed to know how to close wounds (pre-hospitals) or fix leather wagon straps. There’s also a tiny “tramp” bedroom built for itinerant workers who came to Kitchener by railway, once it arrived in 1856 (a game changer for local commerce).

The next day we ogle vintage clothing at the fabulous Fashion History Museum in nearby Cambridge, including an 1878 silk dress from Henry Morgan & Co. (Canada’s first department store).  Modern Canadian designs include a replica of the gown Sophie Gregoire wore to the White House. Old meets new. Again.

Vintage undergarments at the Fashion History Museum (© Explore Waterloo Region)
Vintage undergarments at the Fashion History Museum (© Explore Waterloo Region)

Our day ends on a succulent note at The Berlin. Our knowledgeable server gives us “full-bodied” explanations of each wine paired with exquisite dishes on the tasting menu. We feel guilty disturbing the artful presentations but get over that quickly.  You can’t stare at Caramelized Sweet Potato Coconut Custard for too long before the Goat Yogurt Ice Cream starts to melt!

Sunday Morning Spirits

We wake craving comfort food.  The recently renovated 1930’s Harmony Lunch delivers. Our sunny waitress pours us steaming coffee as I watch my husband dive into the generous “Breakfast Sammy,” (pork and eggs, on a bun with a side of apple-pickle salad). Not normally a big breakfast person, he declares: “I want Breakfast Sammy’s back home.”

There are great places to walk in Kitchener-Waterloo including popular Victoria Park. My husband and I love cemeteries, so we take a Sunday morning stroll through the lush, forested grounds of Mount Hope Cemetery. We find the final resting place of Abe Walper, who built our hotel. The blend of old and new spirits in this cemetery is the perfect metaphor for Kitchener-Waterloo.

Walking bridge in Victoria Park (©Explore Waterloo Region)
Walking bridge in Victoria Park (©Explore Waterloo Region)

Our weekend in Kitchener-Waterloo transported us forward and back in time, its retro-hip offerings sparkling brighter against the backdrop of a lovingly preserved past. It was a perfect destination for roaming and romance.


Top image: The Walper Hotel (©Walper Hotel)


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