Waterloo (Ontario)

Waterloo, Ontario, is one of three neighbouring cities, together with Kitchener, and Cambridge, forming a tightly-integrated metro area within the larger Region of Waterloo in Southwestern Ontario. Waterloo is known internationally for its two Universities: Wilfrid Laurier University and the University of Waterloo.

Understand

Waterloo is part of Canada's Technology Triangle, and many companies such as PTC, Sandvine Inc, BlackBerry (formerly Research In Motion (RIM)), Maplesoft, Open Text, Google and Sybase are either based or have branch offices here. Technology companies thrive due to the convenience of the University of Waterloo, which boasts the largest math and computer science undergraduate program in the world. The university is also very famous for its psychology program. Waterloo pioneered the concept of university co-op where students alternate terms of study with terms of paid work experience. Today it boasts the largest co-op undergraduate enrolment in the world.

Waterloo was once known as the "Hartford of Canada" due to the large number of insurance companies that once had their headquarters here. Insurance is still a major industry in Waterloo due to the presence of Manulife Financial and Sun Life Financial.

Farmland is quite close outside the city limits, and many Mennonites live close by. St. Jacobs is a small village immediately to the north of the city, with markets and stores that have come to be very popular.

The city of Kitchener is located immediately to the south of Waterloo. These two cities, often referred together as "Kitchener-Waterloo" (abbreviated to "K-W"), are separate municipalities, but share a long, seamless border. If visiting Waterloo, take Kitchener's attractions into consideration as well. Waterloo's central business district is referred to as "Uptown", in contrast to Kitchener's, which is referred to as "Downtown". Note, however, that Uptown Waterloo is not particularly large compared to neighbouring cities' downtowns; Waterloo is essentially a suburban city. The distributed nature of the city does mean that Uptown Waterloo has maintained a small-town atmosphere (for now; plans to intensify the Uptown are afoot).

Get in

By car

From Highway 401, take exit 278 (if coming from the west) or 278A (if coming from the east). Take Highway 8 North to Highway 85 North (the Conestoga Parkway). There are four exits in Waterloo:

By bus

Greyhound has express buses connecting the University of Waterloo and Wilfrid Laurier University with Toronto, and also provides rush hour services to the Sun Life building, a five minute walk south of Uptown. These buses usually run two or three times per day, with increased service on Fridays and Sundays for students travelling to and from the University.

The Charles St. Terminal in downtown Kitchener is better served by inter-city bus, with Greyhound, Coach Canada and Cherrey Bus Lines stopping there regularly, so many people coming to Waterloo by bus take the bus to Kitchener, and then catch a Grand River Transit bus to Waterloo.

Grand River Transit is the transit authority in the Region of Waterloo. If coming to Waterloo from Cambridge or Kitchener, the iXpress, a limited-stop express bus connecting the three cities, is fast and direct. Other routes that connect Kitchener to Waterloo are routes 7 (runs along King Street), 8 (runs in a loop along Westmount Road, University Avenue, and Weber Street) and 12 (runs along Fischer-Hallman Road, Keats Way, and University Avenue, then through suburbs in eastern Waterloo). All four routes serve the two universities and (except for route 8) Conestoga Mall, and Uptown is served by the iXpress and route 7.

By plane

Region of Waterloo International Airport (YKF) is serviced by a limited number of airlines. WestJet has regular domestic service to Calgary, AB. American Airlines offers service from Chicago. For travelers coming from afar, Airways Transit offers shuttle bus service between Toronto Pearson International Airport and Kitchener/Waterloo. Pearson Airport provides flights to and from a large number of destinations, and is located approximately 1 hour away from Waterloo by car in good traffic conditions. Buffalo/Niagara International Airport in Buffalo, New York is an alternative to Toronto. It is about 2 hours away and requires a border crossing, but flights are often much cheaper, particularly if travelling to/from the US or Caribbean.

By train

VIA Rail provides regular service to Kitchener. Regular rush hour service is available on weekdays between Kitchener and Toronto, with reduced service on weekends. As the station is closed between 1PM and 5PM (between train arrivals), guests may not always find the ticket counter open and should consider booking online. To reach Waterloo from Kitchener station, the easiest option is to take a cab (there are usually some to be found at the station around train time); cheaper options involve walking two blocks, either westward to King Street or eastward to Margaret Avenue, and catching a route 7 or 8 bus, or even walking north along Weber Street (Waterloo's city limits are a 15-minute walk to the north).

Get around

Unlike a metropolis such as Toronto, it is relatively quick and easy to get from one point to another by car because the distances aren't far, and the traffic isn't too busy. Looking at a map of Kitchener-Waterloo, one of the first things visitors from other parts of Ontario will notice is that, far from forming a grid pattern, the streets are not straight, curving and wiggling in surprising patterns. For example, there are two streets, King and Weber, which are parallel for most of their length, but cross each other 3 times in K-W. The irregular road pattern dates to the earliest settlement in K-W; unlike most Ontario townships, whose roads were laid out in a grid pattern, Waterloo Township was laid out without road allowances, allowing settlers to build roads where they were needed.

King Street is the main street that travels roughly North-South through the downtown of Kitchener and Waterloo. In Waterloo, it is labelled King St. North and South, with the transition at Erb Street (in Kitchener, it is labelled King St. East and West).

Grand River Transit is the transit authority for the Region of Waterloo. Students at the two universities have a GRT bus pass included in their student fees and so, many of the bus riders in Waterloo are students. Therefore, the main routes in Waterloo are those that run near the universities, namely the 7, 8, 12, and iXpress, described above, and the route 9, which travels between Conestoga Mall and the two universities via the Lakeshore subdivision. These routes offer 15 minute service during the day, at least at peak times, and 30 minute service on evenings until around 1AM and on Saturdays and Sundays. These routes are probably the only ones a casual traveller needs to take, as together they run near most of the city's attractions, hotels, shopping centres, etc. There are several other routes, which generally serve outlying subdivisions, but most of them have 30 minute service on weekdays, reduced evening and Saturday service, no Sunday service, and not-always-convenient connections. Bus schedules are available at ; alternatively, you can acquire them piecemeal on buses, or all at once at either of the universities.

There are three taxi companies that serve Waterloo and the surrounding area:

Waterloo is reasonably bicycle- and pedestrian-friendly, so travelling by bicycle or on foot is reasonable for shorter trips. Uptown Waterloo and the two universities are within walking distance of each other.

See

Do

Learn

Shop

Being mainly a suburban city, you'll find strip malls and the like at just about every major intersection. If you're looking for somewhere more inspiring to shop, there is:

Eat

Going Uptown (the King/Erb area) will provide traditional and cultural foods for many price ranges. Waterloo Region was one of the first municipalities in Canada to ban smoking in all restaurants and bars.

Budget


Mid-range

Splurge

Drink

Sleep

Bed & Breakfast

Budget

Mid-range

Go next

Waterloo is within short driving distance of many southern Ontario locations, such as London, Guelph, Niagara Falls, Toronto, and Stratford. Towns on the shore of Lake Huron, such as Kincardine or Goderich, are great places to enjoy the beach in the summer.

Waterloo is the gateway to Mennonite country, being located just to the south of St. Jacobs. Immediately to the north of the city is the St. Jacobs Farmers' Market, which attracts locals and tourists, with fresh produce, baked goods, ethnic foods, clothing, refurbished phones, etc. The market runs Thursdays and Saturdays 7AM-3:30PM, with Tuesdays 8AM-3PM being added in the summer (June until Labour Day). Three kilometres to the north is St. Jacobs, the ideal place to shop for gorgeous jewellery at Radianze, clothing at Le Creme, quaint quilts and household items at St. Jacobs Mennonite Quilts, antiques at Arcitects, little treasures at Angel Treasures, etc. Besides shopping, there are excellent choices for dining and sleep including Benjamin's, the Gardenia and Jakobstettel.

The Elora Gorge is also a worthwhile getaway, being roughly 30km from Waterloo. Aside from exploring the cliffs carved by glacial meltwaters, you can go tubing, swimming, camping and canoeing.

Routes through Waterloo

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