Kitchener, 66mi (107km) west of Toronto, is one of Ontario’s great lesser-known cities, offering all the excitement of a big city while retaining its small-town charm. If you happen to make a trip to this scenic region of the province, be sure to consult this list of the 12 best things to do in this thriving Canadian city.
Right in the middle of Kitchener’s downtown area is the beautiful Victoria Park. As well as its landscaped open space, perfect for a variety of recreational activities, the park also boasts a lake, a children’s playground, a basketball court and a pavilion. As an important landmark within the city, it’s also the location of many major seasonal events, such as the Christmas Fantasy holiday celebration and the Kitchener Blues Festival, held every August.
Kitchener’s TheMuseum is a great family-friendly museum, featuring five floors of interactive and science-focused installations and constantly changing exhibitions. You can explore the galleries to discover more about the extinction of dinosaurs, the making of animation films and much more. It’s also worth keeping an eye out for its regularly changing events, which take the form of many different live shows and creative workshops. TheMuseum is in the heart of downtown Kitchener on King Street West.
The namesake of the Schneider Haus was the architect who constructed this early-19th-century home – Kitchener’s oldest dwelling. Now a living history museum, the authentically restored building gives you a glimpse of the area in the 1850s. With the help of period-costumed staff, the museum allows you to learn about the harsh reality of daily life in the 1800s, as traditional tasks are demonstrated and explained.
The present-day Kitchener City Hall opened in 1993; before, it was housed across multiple sites. The modern building is still the primary basis for the city’s council representatives, but thanks to its spacious, contemporary layout, it can also host a variety of public events, including a Canada Day rooftop fireworks display. The square in front is also a popular spot for enjoying a sunny lunch break or, in winter, outdoor skating at the city’s rink.
With a mission to showcase local history and more internationally focused temporary exhibits, the Ken Seiling Waterloo Region Museum provides a great general introduction to the Waterloo-Kitchener area. One of the museum’s main highlights is the Doon Heritage Village, an attraction that recreates a fully working version of community life during the early 20th century. The main exhibition space goes even further into the city’s history, tracing its origins back to more than 12,000 years ago when the region was under the First Nations.
A small, but immaculately presented Kitchener attraction is the Homer Watson House and Gallery. Once the home of the artist Homer Ransford Watson during the late 19th century, the building is now a light and airy exhibition space, hosting various displays on Watson and other Ontario artists. The foundation supports not only the work of those involved in creative pursuits, but also the local artistic community in a series of children’s, adults’ and seniors’ art outreach programs.
Now a national historic site operated by Parks Canada, Woodside was once home to the country’s 10th and longest-serving prime minister, William Lyon Mackenzie King. The house, dating back to 1853, is currently preserved in its traditional style, complete with nearly 12 acres (5ha) of wooded grounds and gardens. Much of the interior remains the same as it would have been during the mid-19th century, even down to the King family’s heirlooms. You have the option to join a costumed interpreter on a one-hour tour.
Another great place to visit for art enthusiasts is the Kitchener-Waterloo Art Gallery, housing more than 4,000 works. As the leading destination gallery in the region, this venue is home to a variety of contemporary art pieces, aiming to increase public engagement through “the shared experience of art.” The permanent collection has plenty to offer in itself, but it’s worth looking out for the temporary exhibitions, covering everything from geometric design to the representation of music in art.
Centre in the Square is Kitchener’s major arts and performance venue, featuring the largest theatre in the Waterloo region. It’s the current home of the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony Orchestra, whose signature series is exceedingly popular. However, fans of other genres are also catered to, with hundreds of different events held here, ranging from musical-theater performances to comedy shows. The venue is within close proximity to a range of restaurants and bars, with popular choices including the Bauer Kitchen and Borealis Grille & Bar.
Experience “Canada’s Greatest Bavarian Festival” – the world’s largest Oktoberfest outside of Berlin. The festival, founded in 1969, celebrates Kitchener-Waterloo’s unique German-Canadian heritage with the likes of oompah bands, biergartens, sauerkraut and, of course, lederhosen, which you are encouraged to wear. Every October, the nine-day event starts the Friday before Canadian Thanksgiving with an official opening ceremony, where trumpets are played from the city’s rooftops. Celebrations take place in several venues across Kitchener, with many on King Street in its downtown area.
If you’re looking for a great place to enjoy the beauty of Kitchener’s outdoors, the Huron Natural Area is the biggest nature reserve in the city. Here, you can try out one of the area’s hiking or boardwalk trails, which will take you through scenic wetlands, forests and meadows and to a range of lookout areas. It’s also the location of Strasburg Creek, a coldwater stream that acts as a haven for natural wildlife, including yellow- and black-billed cuckoos, woodpeckers and blue jays.
One of Ontario’s most popular ski centers, Chicopee offers activities for all seasons. During winter, you can ski or participate in other winter adventures, such as snow tubing. The ski hill here is fairly small, with a maximum vertical drop of 200ft (61m) and 11 runs, making it a great place to learn or teach the kids before heading to a larger ski resort. In summer, you can take advantage of 4mi (7km) of bike trails, an 18-hole disc-golf course, outdoor climbing facilities, tennis courts and volleyball courts. Equipment rental is also available.