Although cutting-edge companies are taking over once-abandoned factories and turning them into swanky open-concept loft offices, the twin cities still are far from beautiful. These are industrial towns that are undergoing a metamorphosis, which means cool cafes and restaurants are coming online. But we wouldn’t recommend visiting Kitchener–Waterloo without an itinerary, be it antiquing, farmer’s markets, or donning lederhosen for the annual Bavarian harvest festival. The main draws are Oktoberfest (the world's second-largest) and the St. Jacobs Farmers Market (Canada's largest); see below.
In St. Jacobs, the Mennonite Story (1406 King St. N.; tel. 519/664-3518) runs a short multi-media film, The Old Order, about the Mennonite way of life (Apr–Dec Mon–Sat 11am–5pm, Sun 1:30–5pm; Jan–March Sat 11am–4:30pm, Sun 2–4:30pm; $5 per person suggested donation).
OKTOBERFEST: If the names Kitchener and Waterloo don’t sound particularly Bavarian, that’s on purpose. Originally, Kitchener was called Berlin, but during WWI the town voted to change its name in an effort to ease tensions between the German and British people living in the area. Today, a large population of Kitchener locals can still trace their lineage back to German settlers. Outside of the city, you might hear people in bonnets and broad-brimmed hats speaking a language that sounds like German, but it’s actually Plautdietsch, a low German dialect spoken by the Mennonites who live in the area.
Every year, Kitchener welcomes some 700,000 visitors to celebrate its German heritage during Oktoberfest (www.oktoberfest.ca; tel. 888/294-HANS [888/294-4267] or 519/570-HANS [519/570-4267]). The 9-day Bavarian festival attracts lederhosen-sporting revelers who come mostly for the beer-based portion of the celebrations. But the festivities also include beauty pageants, live concerts, a parade, beer tastings, a golf experience, barrel and leg races, and more.
ST. JACOBS FARMERS MARKET: Eight kilometers (5 miles) north of Kitchener is the town of St. Jacobs. The year-round Farmers Market, at 878 Weber St., is a whopper, Canada's biggest farm market, with some 300 vendors. Three indoor buildings serve the market in the colder months, and in seasonal weather, the market overflows outside. The Waterloo Region is home to the largest population of Old Order Mennonites in Canada, and many of the vendors at the farmers market are Mennonites. Make sure to try some of their homemade regional specialties like shoofly pie, apple butter, birch beer, and summer sausage. The St. Jacobs Farmers Market is open Thursdays and Saturdays from 7am to 3:30pm year-round (and Tues during summer months) (http://stjacobsmarket.com; tel. 510/747-1830).
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.